7 tips for building a garden-friendly chicken coop

In the urban or suburban garden, limited space, pests, wary neighbors, and the like can make the idea of keeping chickens seem like more hassle than it’s worth. But by designing and building the right kind of coop, you can quickly get past these hurdles and add a whole new dimension to your garden.

Here are seven tips to put your coop project on the right path. . . .

1. Let your chicken coop breathe.

Window on the front of Dan's Austin chicken coop.

A well-ventilated chicken coop helps keep your hens from suffering and your neighbors from complaining. Of course, you do need to stay ahead of any odors, making sure you balance out their poop with plenty of high-carbon bedding like straw, wood shavings, leaves, or shredded paper. We use the deep-litter method and continue to add straw as the chickens add droppings. This mixture begins to compost in place, and the volume builds only slowly. From time to time we move it all to a compost bin to finish doing its thing, then incorporate the rich fertilizer into the garden.

NOTE: The pictures in this post feature coops built by us and by customers of our chicken coop plans. Click on them to learn more about each DIY chicken coop build.

2. Protect your chickens from pests and predators.

Securing the perimeter of the chicken coop

Pests and predators can ruin your day, each in their own way. Pests want to eat your chickens’ food. Predators want to eat your chickens. A well-designed coop will use welded-wire galvanized hardware cloth to secure any open-air areas, not chicken wire, which (despite its name) is too flimsy to protect chickens. Doors should be latched and lockable. These basic measures will help keep the bad guys out and the good gals in.

3. Provide your chickens with enough space.

Chickens appreciate space both inside and out of the chicken coop.

The more room you can offer your chickens to spread their wings, graze, and forage, the better. Within the coop, chickens do best with at least 4 sq. ft. each in the run and 2 sq. ft. each in the henhouse. Outside the coop, offer whatever you can. But remember, chickens are natural-born tillers. They’ll tear down a garden fast, so fence off their daytime run. Some people get creative with this, rotating their hens periodically among multiple paddocks. Others focus the hens’ tilling action where needed by keeping them in a portable coop placed over transitioning vegetable beds. A real simple solution is to build a few of these portable grazing frames to protect the grass and keep your chickens in the green.

4. Design your chicken coop efficiently.

Raised henhouse on chicken coop tractor.

Your chicken coop design should make the most of your materials and space. A raised henhouse lets you fit more under one roof, and it puts the henhouse and nesting boxes at a good height for cleaning and egg collection. It also lets you extend the run over the entire footprint of the coop. Inside the henhouse, stack features like roosts, nest boxes, waterers and feeders to make the most of the interior space. What if your yard is small, or your life mobile? Build a small, mobile coop!

5. Avoid using toxic stuff when you build your coop.

Use non-toxic materials, paints, and sealers on your chicken coop.

I generally recommend against using pressure-treated wood or pouring any concrete, though there may be times when that’s necessary. You want to protect the soil in your garden, not just for you, but for future keepers of the property as well. To protect wood, use a good non-toxic paint or sealer (I like the products from TimberPro UV. If any of your recycled materials have been painted, check that they’re lead free.

6. Build for the future.

Use the right materials to build a chicken coop.

If you’re experimenting with your coop design, make sure you can easily undo whatever you do. It’s hard to resist the temptation to overbuild, but try. Chances are you’ll want to reconfigure, repair, or even remove the coop from your yard at some point, so it helps if you use screws, and ones that are made to last in the elements. You want your whole coop to last, of course, so choose durable materials where it counts, and mix in recycled materials where practical.

7. Make your coop beautiful.

Buddha chicken coop from plans.

My first impulse when building a coop was to focus solely on function and to tuck the coop in the farthest corner of the yard. But a friend turned me around. He said not to skimp on looks and to locate the coop front and center. It was excellent advice. We now spend a lot of time watching our chickens, and we enjoy them more because they’re in a beautiful coop. Our neighbors do too, which is a good thing. You want them to appreciate your chickens, not simply tolerate them.

Get started on your own coop building project now!

Our family got into keeping chickens through gardening. It made perfect sense, yet not knowing where to start with the coop slowed us down. I can’t believe it looking back on it, but it took us about three years from deciding we wanted to keep chickens to actually doing it. Don’t wait so long. Follow these tips and, with the right coop in your garden, caring for chickens will be super-easy. The eggs couldn’t be any fresher, and gathering them gives you yet another excuse to be out in the garden year round.

Many thanks to all our customers who shared their pictures for use on our blog and in this post. Click on any of the images above to learn more about each DIY coop build. And click over to see our chicken coop plans, kits, veggie feeders, waterers, and more


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