Chicken Coops Part II

It looks like the chicken coop is going to happen. We’re going to be renting an excavator this spring to finish up the landscaping, yard, and driveway, and we’ve cleared a spot for the coop. I’m going to teach summer school in order to have a chicken coop budget…

In other news, after I posted my plans for my coop, I got a couple of interesting responses.

The first is a narrative from Denny Reiter from Washington state. The document is really large, but it’s a great narrative of building his beautifully-crafted coop.

The second is a narrative from Steve McGroarty that was published in the Ester Republic many years ago. He lives in the Fairbanks region (which is much colder than down here in south central AK), and his experiences provide an amusing narrative. It’s printed below. (Thanks Steve!)

“We had talked about getting chickens for years.  We had discussed what breeds and how many birds to get, meat birds vs. laying hens, whether to keep a rooster, where to build the coop, and that is where it always ended  …. “the coop”.  We couldn’t exactly run out and bring home a herd of chickens without a corral to put them in, could we?  I’m pretty good at planning to do things and really good at designing things to build, but what I’m the absolute best at, is not building things.

I won’t go into detail about all the coops that I didn’t build, but suffice it to say, that I didn’t build some pretty nice chicken coops over quite a few years.  In fact, I think that I didn’t build my first chicken coop way back in the mid-eighties when we were just starting to not build our first home up on Murphy Dome.   We also spent three years in Juneau and with all that rain, designing and not building a coop in Juneau is quite a bit different than designing and not building a coop in Fairbanks!

I could have gone on for years happily designing and not building chicken coops were it not for an absent minded purchase that I made some three years ago.  Have you ever gone to the store and when you get home wonder why you bought certain things?  Well, I did that one day at the Alaska Feed Store and when I got home I wondered where I was going to put thirty small chicks.  Two wooden boxes in the storage shed solved the immediate crisis, but I knew that my days of not building a chicken coop were numbered.

Unable to postpone construction any longer, we set about designing the coop.  You didn’t really think that I could actually find any of those old designs, did you?  We wanted both meat birds and laying hens, so I decided to build two coops.  By starting two coops, I could delay completing one a little while longer.  Hey, if you had spent as many years as I had designing and not building chicken coops, you could understand my hesitancy to suddenly bring an end to all that, but the chickens were starting to fly out of the boxes in the shed and do what chickens do best, all over the shed.  Some screens placed over the boxes solved the immediate crisis, but it really was time to start building the coops.

Selecting a site for your chicken coop is almost like selecting a site for all of that stuff that you stockpile for not building your compost pile; you want it close enough for easy access, but you don’t want to smell it from your deck.  It should also be close enough to run electricity out to the coop.

The meat bird coop was going to be faster to build than the one for the laying hens, so we started on it first.  Speed of construction was starting to become an issue.  The chicks were not so small any longer, and they were starting to somehow push the screens off the boxes in the shed.  Some bricks on the screens over the boxes averted another immediate crisis, but even I had to admit that the time had finally come to build the coop.

I set the coop on a post-and beam foundation so that the floor was about three feet off the ground.  The theory was that this would allow a wheelbarrow to be parked immediately under the door for easy cleaning the poop out of the coop.   It wasn’t until the coop was completed and in operation, that I realized that you go into and out the coop every day and only use the wheelbarrow once every week or so.  The daily access to the coop necessitated stairs since it was some three feet off the ground.  The stairs prevented access for the wheelbarrow.  In retrospect, it probably would have been less expensive and quite a bit faster to simply place a pair of rough-cut 4×4’s on concrete blocks, compared to setting four pressure-treated 4×4’s three-feet in the ground and cross-bracing them to withstand an 8.0 earthquake.

The floor of the coop was constructed using 2×6’s and ¾-inch plywood and was 6-feet wide by 8-feet long.  The plywood floor was treated with copper napthenate wood preservative.  The walls were 2×4’s on 24-inch centers with ½ -inch plywood sheeting.  The side-walls were six-feet high and the center of the end-walls was about 8-feet in height.  After the walls and roof were up, I screwed down a “sacrificial” piece of 3/8-inch plywood.  Bears may go in the woods, but chickens go wherever and whenever they please and I wanted to make it easy to replace the floor when it inevitably rotted.  I cut a 4-inch by 12-inch vent in the upper rear side-wall, covered the outside with 3/8-inch galvanized hardware cloth and utilized 1×4’s and a piece of plywood to form a sliding cover on the inside of this vent.  I was then able to regulate the temperature and ventilation in the coop by adjusting how much of the vent was open.  I located two horizontal 2×4’s in the back of the coop with a panoramic view out the window of the almost-built compost pile.  With the construction of a small “chicken-door”, the coop was done.  None too soon either as the chicks had started growling at me whenever I went in the shed for a tool.

The big day had finally arrived.  The coop was completed and we transferred the now five-pound chicks to their new home.  Never having experienced any space larger than their wooden boxes in the shed, they all immediately ran to a back corner of the coop and refused to use the roosts.  A week later they were still “roosting” in the back corner of the coop on the floor.  I built an access ramp so that the chickens could walk up to the roost.  They wouldn’t use the ramp.  We resorted to going out to the coop each night to pick up and place each of the thirty chickens on the 2×4 roosts.  Fortunately for us, the chickens liked the view out the window and after a few nights of “training”, would race up the ramp to get the best spot on the roost.  Another crisis solved.

While all this chicken training was going on, we were building the chicken yard.  The yard is about 16-feet x 16-feet.  We hoped to build the yard so that the chickens stayed in the yard and all manner of animals that dug, walked or flew (and liked to eat chickens) stayed out the yard.  We treated the bottoms of some fire-killed spruce poles for fence posts.  After setting the corner posts, we strung a string around the perimeter to locate additional posts and where the actual fence was going to be.  To prevent the “four-legged diggers” from going under the fence, my dad pounded two-feet lengths of rebar every three inches along the entire outside fence line.  I will leave it to you to calculate how much rebar this required.  We tacked a five-feet high strip of chicken wire all round the perimeter of the yard to keep the chickens in and went over this with a strip of 2-inch x 4-inch welded wire fencing to keep the determined four-leggeds out, namely Sockeye, our husky-shepherd mix.  We then installed rough-cut 1×6’s along the base, the top of the welded wire fencing and at the tops of the posts.  To attach the wire to these boards we used countless horseshoe nails that were just small enough that you couldn’t start them without smashing your fingers about every twentieth nail.  A couple of rough-cut 4×4 posts to support a 4×4 ridge beam and we could now cover the entire yard with chicken wire to complete the carnivore proofing.

Another big day had arrived for the chickens.  We opened the chicken door, and they refused to come out into the yard.  We opened the main door, and they walked up the edge of the floor and looked down into the yard.  We built a chicken access ramp from the coop down to the yard and those smart chickens having learned how to use the ramp to get to their roost, proceeded to march down the ramp into the their new yard.

The coop and yard for the laying hens was a mirror image of the meat bird coop except for it being super-insulated.  The floor was insulated with six inches of fiberglass insulation.  The walls had four inches and the ceiling had six inches.  After installing a vapor barrier, I added a one-inch layer of foil-covered foam insulation and covered this with 3/8-inch plywood.  The main door, chicken door and sliding vent were all insulated with foam.  A four-unit laying box was built and screwed to the wall about three-feet off the floor of the coop.  Each unit was about one cubic foot in size.  Having learned my lesson in the meat bird coop, I installed an access ramp to the roosts.  I ran the ramp close to the laying box but didn’t run it all the way to the floor to make cleaning the floor easier.  The coop was now ready for the ladies.  The chickens thought that the top of the laying box was a great place to roost and do other chicken things.  I used a pair of hinges to mount a piece of plywood to the wall above the box such that it was at a steep enough angle that the birds could not roost on it.  The hinges allowed me to occasionally clean under the plywood.  Another crisis was resolved and actually the slanted piece of plywood provided quite a bit of amusement for me as the chickens continued to try to roost on it!


Locating the laying box three feet off the floor reduced the chances of freezing eggs in the winter and allowed space underneath for a galvanized self-regulating water canister and a galvanized feed bucket for oyster shells.  Placing these two units up off the floor of the coop on concrete blocks helps to keep them cleaner (if anything in a chicken coop can be thought of a clean) and reduces the likelihood of the water freezing.  The chickens thought that this was a great place to roost and do other chicken things on the water and oyster shell buckets.  I mounted a small plywood shelf under the laying box and above the buckets such that there was not enough room for the chickens to roost either above or below this shelf.  Another crisis resolved.

The roof of both coops was supported by a beam, which provided a place to hang the galvanized self-regulating chicken food dispenser from a chain.  We have found that by locating this on a chain, the chickens tend not to roost on it as it shifts under their weight and they apparently don’t like this.  Locating the bottom of the feeder about eight inches off the floor provides easy access for the intake-end of the chickens and they tend not to scatter their feed quite as much.

We ran two electrical circuits from the house to both coops.  One circuit is run to a switch located next to our back door and allows us to easily turn on lights inside and outside both of the coops.  It is a really convenient system and well worth the extra effort to install.  The second electrical circuit provides power to electrical outlets located in both coops.  We have a 100-watt regular light bulb on a timer to provide 12-hours of light in the coop during the winter.  When we rustle up a fresh herd of meat birds in the spring, it can still get cool at night, so we need to be able to use a 500-watt heat lamp on a thermostat.  I was told that if you use the red heat lamp the chickens tend not to peck at each other quite as much.  We use a similar set up in the laying coop to keep the water (and birds) thawed during the winter.  Through trial and error, I discovered that for a given location and setting on the thermostat, I could adjust the sliding vent cover to maximize ventilation and thereby minimize the ammonia buildup that results from the out-put end of the chickens, while still keeping the water thawed.  I have been able to calibrate the sliding vent and used a magic marker to mark the proper amount of opening for –20, -10, 0, +10 and +20 degrees.  During the spring and fall when the chickens want to get out in the yard, but day-time temperatures are below freezing, we open the small chicken door, but close the vent.  This prevents all the warm air from flowing up and out of the coop, which results in a frozen water container every time we forget.

This is our third winter with birds.   Our coop seems to comfortably handle about 12 to 16 chickens.  We get more fresh eggs than our family can use and have found that by selling the extras, we not only pay for the food and electricity, but the original cost of the coop construction should be paid back in only fifty or sixty years.

With both coops and yards finished, the chickens were happy and I was able to return to what I am really absolutely best at… not building the addition to our house, but that is another story.”


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