Which wood is best for a chicken coop?

Share Button

Most chicken coops are made of wood, and all wood eventually rots. You can deal with this fact in a number of ways:

  • Build with wood that’s infused with pesticides (pressure-treated “PT”)
  • Use a naturally rot-resistant wood (like cedar, redwood, or tropical hardwoods)
  • Choose a softwood (like Douglas-fir, hemlock, or pine) and apply a sealer
  • Use a composite material instead of wood

Many factors will weigh into your choice, but I’ll deal with the two biggies: toxicity and cost.

Toxicity

Treating lumber with a non-toxic preservative

Treating lumber with a non-toxic preservative

Anything put into or onto wood may find its way into your chickens, then into you. This makes PT generally a poor choice. The EPA advises against using any kind of PT “in circumstances where the preservative may become a component of food, animal feed, or beehives.” (One exception to this may be YellaWood®, available in the South. Its manufacturer claims that it is an environmentally preferable product because of the special way it’s treated. I don’t have personal experience with it to give an opinion.)

As for sealers, choose carefully to avoid toxic ingredients. Personally, I like the products from TimberPro CoatingsEcohaus in the Pacific Northwest also offers some safe options for exterior use, including the brand Osmo. Finally, using naturally rot-resistant woods gets you around the toxicity problem altogether, but leads to the second issue. . .

Cost

Let’s start with cedar. It’s pricey, and while praised for its rot-resistance, this characteristic is true more of the heartwood than the sapwood. Two local lumber stores told me that most available cedar comes from second-generation forests and lacks the longevity of old-growth heartwood. Both steered me away from it, saying that you’d have to seal it, and if you’re sealing it anyway, you might as well use cheaper softwood. Other costly options include the composite material used for decks and FSC-certified tropical hardwoods, both of which are more expensive than cedar, yet can last unsealed for decades.

The best choice?

I’m not sure. But I can share some principles:

  1. Mix materials based on how exposed they’ll be in your finished product, investing in longer-lasting materials where it pays to do so.
  2. Remember that once you attach hardware cloth to the wood, you will likely never get the chance to seal it properly again.
  3. Use a non-toxic preservative such as Internal Wood Stabilizer from TimberPro UV on any unsealed softwoods.
  4. Build so that you can replace pieces without having to dismantle the whole coop. This way, a rotten board every few years isn’t such a big deal.
  5. Remember that the best wood may be what you can reclaim from another project. Make sure it is free of toxic paint, seal it up, and you’re good to go.
  6. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Don’t let your search for the ideal materials or design get in the way of building something. After all, it’s just a chicken coop!
Share Button

16 Responses to “Which wood is best for a chicken coop?”

  1. Jisele says:

    I have really gotten the run around form Home Depot and have no idea what to use. They sold me Pressure Treated wood and then said not to use it for a coop because it warps and twist for up to 6 months. Now I’m back to step 1. Should I just by regular 2x4s for framing. Do I seal them before using them? Is 1/2 inch plywood ok for the floors and 1/4″ laminate for the walls? I was using tin for the roof and someone said to put up plywood and then tin. If so, 1/2″ or 1/4″.

    I am 61, disabled, and love chickens. If I could start over I would have given up my dream of chicken. If I could rehome my chickens I also would give up. This is affecting my health.

    • Jisele, I typically recommend using regular framing lumber and preserving it with TimberPro UV’s non-toxic Internal Wood Stabilizer. It’s great stuff and very pleasant to work with. But I’ve also had several customers use pressure treated wood for their coops without the warping issues you mentioned, so if that’s the best option for you (considering cost and availability), I wouldn’t rule it out. You do need to take some precautions when handling it and cutting it, and you want to treat any cut ends with a sealer.

      I would use a 1/2″ or thicker plywood for the floors, unless people will be walking on them too, in which case go with 3/4″ or thicker. For the siding, I would use 1/2″ or thicker plywood siding, fence boards (new or recycled), or any other product intended as siding. For the roof, if you have a well ventilated design like The Garden Coop, you can attach a tin roof directly to 2×2 or 2×4 purlins — no need for plywood underneath. The recommendation you received to use plywood probably had something to do with limiting condensation under a thin-material roof, but that’s more critical in a sealed structure where humidity can build up. You want your chicken coop to be well ventilated. Just make sure to install your coop roof according to the manufacturer’s instructions so that you have the right amount of support beneath and to minimize the chance for leaks at the attachment points.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Tommie says:

    With all I have read about cedar I will not use it at all. If the toxic part is released in shavings how would it not be released when they peck the wood? I live in the southern part of the United States. It’s nothing for us to get in the upper 90s and even over 100 degrees I’ve put to much time and effort into my girls to line their home with a potential toxin. I’d much rather replace messed up boards from time to time.

  3. Della says:

    Any cedar wood will release fumes when heated or cut (such as using cedar bedding and cedar coops in summer temperatures). The fresher cut and younger wood releases more, but even well-aged cedar has toxic components to it.

    It’s always safer not to use cedar if you can help it, especially cedar bedding and fresh timber.

    A good rule of thumb for any bird or reptile owner (even for chickens) is if the product you are using has a odor to it, don’t use it, even if the odor is natural like cedar wood.

  4. Keith says:

    I ordered Timber Pro Internal Wood Stabilizer last week at the same time that we purchased all of our other supplies for our coop. Unfortunately, there was a 5 day delivery on the Wood Stabilizer. We had such beautiful spring weather here over the weekend I just couldn’t wait to start assembling the coop. It went faster than I thought and I’ve completely finished the framing and the rafters. I skipped attaching the roof because I wanted to apply the wood sealant before I did that. I did skip ahead and go ahead and frame out the hen house and the door. The Timber Pro product is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Am I going to lose the effectiveness of the Internal Wood Stabilizer by applying it at this stage and not being able to saturate all sides of the boards evenly? Tips on how to make the best of the situation? Also, I’ve been told to wait 30 days after applying the Internal Wood Stabilizer before staining the wood. Won’t that be difficult once the hardware cloth is installed? Suggestions on ways to do that? Or would it be best to leave the wood bare at that point? Thanks for your help. We love the coop design and are looking forward to completing it.

  5. Janice in northern Minnesota says:

    In the spring of 2011 my husband & I remodeled an old cedar sauna into a very nice chicken coop with windows that opened on the north & south sides. By fall the chicks had grown to 10 healthy egg-laying chickens that free-ranged in our yard until the snow came. We had the windows open enough to provide ventilation and the old building itself was not air tight. There was never an ammonia smell and they all seemed o.k. The roosting spots in demand were the ones by the 5′ & the other 2′ window. In fact, they would almost sit on top of each other in order to fit. As the winter went on, they became more and more tattered looking. It was about March when they all quit laying. This was not a molt as we made sure they always had at least 14 – 15 hour of light. They never started laying again. They did start looking better during the course of the summer and we let them go through a good molt as the days got shorter again in the fall. Much to our dismay, there seemed to be plenty of evidence that pointed to cedar toxicity. Reluctantly we lined the coop with poly & sheeted over it with 1/4″ painted OSB. The girls started roosting on the lower roosts right away. I thought they just wanted to look outside but it must have been their attempt to get better air. We put down pine shavings and they were back up by the windows. My theory is that they have become extra sensitive because most everyone in the area use the pine shavings for bedding. Only one chicken began laying again. Since adding the poly the ammonia has been more evident … will have to do something to improve the ventilation. Because of this experience, I am convinced that cedar at any age or in any form is toxic.

  6. sherry says:

    Western red cedar is also a problem. Look at the OSHA guidelines at the link below. Scroll down to the final paragraph under “Health Effects”. There may be irritating oils in eastern red cedar which are not discussed in these guidelines, but the guidelines indicate that western red cedar is particularly high in a certain one, plicatic acid, which is most irritating to the lungs. Also note that the guidelines indicate that heavy exposure to sawdust from any kind of wood can be a problem. For all types of wood, it is the degree of exposure that is important. If your chickens free range most of the day, it won’t kill them to spend the night in a well ventilated coop with cedar shavings, if that’s your only option. If they are confined 24/7, use something else.
    http://ohioline.osu.edu/aex-fact/0595_1.html

  7. Tim in K'ville, TN says:

    Came here to check on the cedar coop issue. Just wanted to add that I saw recently that it’s the oils from EASTERN red cedar (aka aromatic cedar), not WESTERN red cedar, that is harmful when inhaled. This is supposed to be true for both animals and people. Just an FYI.

  8. Alana Chandler says:

    We have a chicken rescue. A new government study found that it was the aromatic oils not the dust that lead to tumors, kidney problems and liver problems in both adult and young chicks. Because of this, I would suggest no fresh cut cedar at all in your coops.

    • Alana, thank you for your comment. I agree the phenols are the issue, but it’s the grinding or shaving of cedar into bedding (or into sawdust, for people who work in mills) that releases those oils in potentially harmful quantities. The studies I’ve seen generally caution against 1) cedar bedding and 2) the use of concentrated cedarwood oils (used as a pesticide) around small animals.

  9. sherry says:

    Yup, it’s only cedar bedding (shavings or sawdust) that are potentially problematic for chickens. All of the animal studies showing that cedar causes illness were done with cedar bedding, not cedar cages. It’s the ground up wood that releases the compounds. Ground up wood (wood dust) can also be directly inhaled into the lungs of the animal, carrying all those irritating compounds with it. A board of cedar wood doesn’t release enough of the irritants as gases to cause illness.

  10. Ginger says:

    I’ve read on other sites that cedar could be toxic to chickens. If so, it’s not a good choice for a coop or run. Do you know anything about this?

    • Ginger, the potential problem with cedar is with cedar shavings, not with the whole wood. Many people recommend not using cedar shavings with young chickens because the ground-up wood releases phenols (aromatic oils) into the air that, if allowed to build up in a poorly ventilated space, can damage their sensitive respiratory systems. This is not the case with whole wood. So cedar is perfectly acceptable to use to build your coop. Your question is a good reminder, though, that chickens need a well ventilated space to prevent build-up of ammonia, excessive moisture, mold, and anything else that might stress their lungs.

Leave a Comment