Whether you’re building The Garden Coop, The Garden Ark, or pretty much any other chicken coop, the instructions that follow will show you in detail how to add external nesting boxes to your coop.
First, a little background. I designed The Garden Coop and The Garden Ark to make efficient use of space, be easy to build, and to have everything under one roof — including the nesting boxes. Personally, I prefer the simplicity of having the boxes in the henhouse, and it has worked well for us and many others for years.
So if you’re new to chicken keeping or coop building, please do not feel as though you have to add exterior nest boxes to your coop.
That said, there’s something about external nesting boxes that just captures the fancy of backyard chicken keepers. . . .
Why build external nesting boxes?
Looks. Some folks really, really like the look of outboard nest boxes. They can make your coop look more functional by directing more attention to the egg-laying enterprise. They can also add visual interest, introducing new angles to the coop design and giving you another area to paint or decorate as you like.
Extra room. This is the reason that compelled us to add exterior boxes to our coop as we grew our flock from 8 to 10. It’s also the reason I hear most often from other chicken keepers. It’s not that you’re adding that much extra space (3.82 square feet to be exact), but it may be just enough to do the trick.
A few caveats before getting started
Assess your skill level. If you’ve used our coop plans to build your backyard chicken coop, this project should be no sweat. Some of the angled cuts involved make it slightly more challenging than what’s in our coop plans (but only slightly).
Time. If you’re building these boxes along with your coop, they will add time to your overall coop project. Figure an extra couple of days to account for the additional construction and painting.
Measurements. Take your own measurements. Do not rely solely on what I give you here. While these measurements *should* work in any Garden Coop built according to plan, they are still a retrofit to a do-it-yourself coop. The more important part to take away from this tutorial is the process (especially if you’re looking to add something similar, but sized differently, to The Garden Ark or another coop design).
Metric units appear in green.
Safety. Read our disclaimer. Follow all manufacturers’ instructions when using tools, materials, or equipment. Protect your eyes, ears, and limbs. Build safe, and have fun!
- 1 sheet 4′ x 8′ (2400 x 1200 mm) exterior plywood or OSB (oriented strand board). I used 3/4″ (19 mm) thickness. Anything 1/2″ (13 mm) or wider should work, on the thinner end only if you’re adjusting the overall size smaller.
- 1 piece of one-by-two lumber. You’ll need about 6 feet (1800 mm) total.
- Exterior screws, assorted sizes. I used 3″, 2.5″, 1.25″, and 1″ (75, 65, 30, and 25 mm).
- Couple of hinges
- Latch or two
- Primer and exterior paint. Or stain and wood sealer.
- Roofing felt and roofing material of your choice. Or you could just paint the top really well.
- Caulk, optional
- Any recycled materials you want to incorporate, like doors, hardware, roofing
- Circular saw and two sawhorses, or table saw
- Power driver with assorted drill and driver bits
- Two clamps, with at least a 2″ (50 mm) capacity
- Tape measurer
- Handsaw (helpful with a few finish cuts)
- Speed square
If this is a retrofit, remove the old siding from the side of the henhouse that you want to attach the external nest boxes to. Remove the short center stud from the side of the henhouse (or figure out a way to cut/work around it). Remove the henhouse floor and set it aside to reattach later. If this is a new build, omit the short stud in the center of the left wall called for in The Garden Coop plan. (Note: photos will appear below the corresponding text.)
Add 2 two-by-four studs spaced 42 1/4″ (1073 mm) apart, or at the width you want your nesting boxes to be. Toe-screw (drive screw at 45-degree angle) these in at the top and bottom, both sides. Make sure they’re flush to the edge on both the inside and outside. And make sure they’re square (perpendicular to the outer edge of the coop, not twisted).
Measure and cut two side pieces from your plywood. 14″ (355 mm) wide, 18″ (457 mm) high on the tall end, and 12″ (305 mm) high on the short end. Attach side pieces to the studs, flush to the back, driving screws through the plywood into the studs.
Measure and cut floor piece. 40 3/4″ (1035 mm) wide, 14″ deep (355 mm). Attach it between the side pieces, driving screws from the side. It should fit flush to the front, back, and bottom.
Measure and cut two side supports from your one-by-two lumber, each 11″ (280 mm) long. Attach to inner front edge of side pieces. These supports will be useful in later steps and will help block light coming into the finished nesting boxes when the door is closed.
Measure and cut the door, 8 3/8″ (213 mm) high, 42 1/4″ (1073 mm) wide. Clamp it to the side supports. It should sit flush to the edges and bottom of the box.
Attach hinges to the bottom of the door section. While pressing the door section flush to the bottom of the box, attach the other side of the hinges to the bottom of the box.
Measure and cut the top front piece, 3 1/8″ (80 mm) high, 42 1/4″ (1073 mm) wide. If you can angle the foot plate on your circular saw, set it at about 30 degrees so that the top cut will match the angle of the side pieces and roof. Line up the bottom edge of the top front piece so that there’s an even gap of about 1/8″ to 1/4″ between the closed door and the top piece. Attach the top front piece to the sides.
Measure and cut the roof piece, 45 1/4″ (1150 mm) wide, 17 1/2″ (445 mm) deep. Measure the dimensions of your studs, and cut out notches from the upper corners of the roof so that the piece will fit around the studs. Attach the roof piece to the side pieces.
Measure and cut the nesting box dividers, 14″ (355 mm) wide, 17 1/4″ (438 mm) high on the tall end, and 11 1/4″ (286 mm) high on the short end. Space them where you want them, making sure they fit between the floor and the roof and sit flush with the edge of the floor (on the henhouse side). Use a square to get everything straight, trace with a pencil on the floor and roof where the dividers will go, then remove them.
For each divider, pre-drill a couple holes between the pencil marks all the way through the floor and again through the roof. Reinsert the dividers, then attach them from above and below, driving through the holes you just made. (Note, the positioning of the hen house floor support on my Garden Coop differs from what’s in the plans, so yours may be in a different place.)
Measure and cut the three door stops from your one-by-two, 12 1/4″ (311 mm) for the left and right stops, 13 1/4″ (337 mm) for the center stop. Attach them from inside the henhouse so that they overlap the outer door opening by 1/2″ (13 mm) or so. These stops will help keep light and drafts out of the boxes. TIP: If your plywood door has a slight inward bow to it, and it runs into the stops before closing flush, loosen the stops a bit until you get good closure.
Prime and paint or stain/seal the wood. Do a couple coats of glossy white on the inside of the boxes for the best protection. Or consider using linoleum or vinyl (see post on using a durable flooring material in your hen house). If you’re not going to add any additional roofing material, add a third coat of paint/sealer to the nesting box roof. TIP: If you like, you can caulk any gaps before you paint. I used a clear silicone caulk and did this step later, after reattaching the siding.
Additional roofing. This is optional. Cover the nest box roof with roofing felt and attach a piece to the henhouse wall to overlap the nesting box roof at the top. You will attach siding over this. (I reused some pretty old fence boards as siding, so I opted to cover the entire wall with roofing felt for moisture protection.) Then attach cedar shakes, shingles, roll asphalt — or, as I did, a remnant of the same SunTuf polycarbonate roofing I used on The Garden Coop.
Put the siding (back) on your henhouse, trimming it around the nesting boxes.
Add latches. Preferably something predator proof. You may need a couple. In our case, because the door had a slight bow, the tension created by the latch at one end was more than enough to keep it secure.
Replace the hen house floor. On The Garden Coop, you’ll have to notch the floor differently than is indicated in the plans to fit it around the nesting boxes and the newly placed studs. To provide support for the floor on the outer wall side, you need to attach a one-by-two or two-by-two to the existing horizontal two-by-four.
Finally, you might want to wall in the outer wall of the henhouse from the inside with thin plywood or OSB. And fashion a front lip about 4″ high to the nesting boxes to keep the bedding and eggs tucked inside. If you haven’t already, seal up any small gaps with caulk.
And one final final tip. To keep the bedding in your nest boxes from falling out as you open the door, cut a two-by-four (or ideally a two-by-three) to the widths of each nesting box opening. Then simply place these stops in there to hold the bedding in place — no need to attach. When it’s time to clean out your nesting box, just lift the blocks out to brush out the bedding. In the picture below, you can see the stops in the far two boxes. I removed the one from the nearest box to show you how well it holds the bedding in place.
External nest boxes complete!
Now you’ve got an extra few square feet of space in your henhouse and three comfy nooks for your hens to choose from at laying time.
I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful. If you want a do-it-yourself coop to go with your fancy external boxes, check out our chicken coop plans, available in either U.S. standard/imperial units and metric units.
I should also mention that, unlike with our coop plans, we do not offer email support for this free nesting box design. But if you have any questions, comments, success stories, or tips to share, please leave a comment below, and we’ll do our best to respond.