Introduction: Chicken Playground
This spring I purchased 15 chickens and although It feels like they arrived just yesterday, they are now 6 weeks old. Now that they are a little older if I have to keep them in their run, they get bored very quickly so I decided they needed a playground. I went online and found that buying just a simple swing was way to expensive, so building it was really my only option. Here is the process I went through to build them a playground. Although I built this when they weren't full grown, this playground would be perfectly suitable for full grown chickens.
I didn't want to go shopping for any of the supplies for this project, so most of the wood is recycled, if you plan on using different sized boards, you may need to adjust some of the measurements, I'll elaborate more later.
- 1"x4"s (The boards I used are 100-year-old floorboards, so they have wood ridges in them but normal 1x4s would work better)
- 2"x2"s, 1"x2"s or a tree branch at least 1 inch in diameter
- 12"x12" plywood board
- 1-1.5 inch wood screws
- 2-2.5 inch wood screws
- Four small eye hooks
- String or Paracord
- 1/2 inch hardware cloth or chicken wire
- Soil + Grass/Grain seed -- or -- Dust Bathing Dirt
- Cordless Power Drill (with various drill/screw bits)
- Miter Saw
- Tape Measure
- Staple Gun
- Assitant (optional but recommended)
Step 1: Design
The Design I created for this project includes swings, a grass box, monkey bars, and a climbing ladder. Some chickens love swinging as the motion relaxes them. The grass box will allow them to forage even if they are too young to free range. The metal mesh is optional, however, if it is left out they will likely kill the grass within a few days. A great alternative to the grass box is a dust bathing box. If you would rather have the box be for dust bathing, you don't need the grass seed nor the hardware cloth. The climbing ladder and monkey bars encourage the chickens to climb to the top of the playground. Having places for chickens to climb decreases their boredom which can help decrease pecking, a common side effect of boredom.
Step 2: Cutting the Swing Set Boards
First, we must create the frame for the swing set. In order to do that, you will have to cut the 1x4 boards to specific sizes and then assemble them with screws. You will need the boards to be the following lengths:
4 - 24-inch boards
2 - 32-inch boards
1 - 28-inch board (I'll call this the cross board)
In addition to those cuts, you will have to add angle cuts to the four 24-inch boards. With a miter saw, cut one end of each board to 50 degrees such that the long end of the board is still 24 inches.
I also recommend adding angles to the top of the 32-inch boards. For these, cut 45-degree angles out of the tops but make sure to leave about 1 inch of a flat surface, refer to the picture for clarity.
Step 3: Building the Swing Set Frame
Now we will assemble the boards to make the frame. Although I was able to do this step alone, a second set of hands will make it easier. First, we'll make the sides using two of the angle boards and one of the 32-inch boards; you will also need a guide board, if you don't have any straight-edged scrap boards, you could use the cross board. On the guide board make a mark near the center, now create two marks 13 inches from the center mark on both sides.
Working on level ground, place the two angled boards so that the angles line up and the bottoms line up with the two outer marks on the guide. Now place the 32-inch board so that it's center is aligned with the center mark, and make sure it is perpendicular to the guide board and the flat side is touching the guide board. The 32-inch board should look centered between the two angle boards and the seem should no longer be visible. Apply pressure either with your foot or with an assistant so none of the boards move, and screw in two of the shorter screws through the 32-inch boards into both of the angle boards as shown in the picture.
Repeat the same process with the other two angle boards and the other 32-inch board, however, whichever way the angle on the 32-inch board was facing, make it face the opposite way on the second one. Now you should have two frames as pictured in the last photo where the top angle is facing different directions on each one.
Step 4: Assembling the Swing Frame
Now we will add the 28-inch cross board to be the crosspiece for the swing set. First, you will need one of the frames from the last step I will now refer to them as A-frames. If you are doing this alone, I found the easiest way to attach these two is to prop both up at and angle so that the seem is flush. Look at the first and second picture for how I propped them up. You want the end of the cross-board to align with the very top of the A-frame, where it is still flat. You also want the A-frame oriented such that the tallest board is on the inside. To make it easier, pre-drill two of the longer screws into the top of the A-frame just enough they won't fall out. Now prop them into position and with one hand holding both of the boards and the other on the drill, screw the screws the rest of the way into the cross board.
Now you must add the other A-frame. To do this, first pre-dill in two screws into the very top of the A-frame like the two on the other side. Hold the cross board so it is perpendicular with the ground, and so that it is flush with the top of the A-frame. Like the other side, the longest board of the A-frame should be on the inside, facing the other A-frame. Now hold the two boards together as pictured, screw in the two screws.
The swing set frame is now complete, the rest of the playground will be attached to this.
Step 5: Cutting the Boards for the Monkey Bards
For the monkey bars, you will need the following boards.
1 - 31-inch 1x4 board
(if you used something other than 1x4s this may be different just wait and make this cut in the next step.)
2 - 24-inch 1x4 boards
The two 24-inch boards will need to be cut with angles on either end. You will want to cut 30-degree angles like the picture, where the angles open in opposite directions, creating a parallelogram.
5 - 9.5-inch rungs (1x2, 2x2 or a natural tree branch)
Step 6: Beginning the Monkey Bars
To assemble, you either need an assistant, or a clamp. The first step is to measure up the length of the 32 inch board and create a mark at the 20 inch mark. Now you want to position one of the 17 inch angle boards such that the angle is flush with the side of the board you just marked. The angle board should be on the outside of the tallest board of the A frame. Use the clamp to clamp it in place so that it angles upward and the very top of the board is level with the highest point of the playground. Now is a good time to make sure what you have matches the picture above. If yours matches, use two of the shorter screws to attach the angle board. Now go to the other side of the playground and repeat so that both of the angle boards are facing the same way. Now measure the length from the outside of one angle board to the outside of the other, for me it was 31 inches, if it is something else, adjust the length of the longest board from the last step.
Step 7: Completing the Monkey Bar Frame
Now that you have measured and adjusted the longest board, tip the whole playground on it's side so that the two boards you just added are facing the sky. set the 31(or however long it is for you) inch board so that it is siting of the end of the two boards from the last step. Now using either your other hand or an assistant, carefully pre-drill through the 31 inch board into the board underneath it, making sure it stays flush the entire time. Add the screws to one side, if you here cracking stop and pre-drill a larger hole. Once the two screws are in one side, repeat with the other side. When you tilt the playground back to a standing position, you should now have another cross beam level with the first.
Step 8: Adding the Bars
Measure the distance between the insides of the two cross beams, if it isn't 9.5, adjust the size of your five rungs to match your distance.
Now take the first rung and place it as far the the right as you can, make the top of it flush with your two beams. Put screws in on both sides, going through the beam into the rung. Now repeat, but put the second rung all the way to the far left as far as you can. Now measure the distance between them and make a mark at the halfway point. Center your third rung there and install it with two screws from the sides. Now measure the distance between the right most rung and the center one, mark at halfway and install the next rung there. Now measure from the center to the left, mark at halfway and install the last rung.
Step 9: Ladder Boards
Next is the ladder! I like the way the ladder looks and some of my chickens prefer it to getting to the top, however if your chickens are more that a few weeks old, they don't necessarily need a ladder, so it's up to you if you wish to include it. The ladder design is very simple and will require the following:
4 - 12 inch rungs
( you can use 1x2s or tree branches, but I used small strips of plywood)
1 - 34 inch board
( 34 inches is a minimum here, if you want a ladder that isn't very steep make this boards closer to 40 inches)
- shorter screws
Step 10: Ladder Assembly
This is pretty simple, there is no fancy hinge or mounting bracket here, the ladder is simply held on by two screws. First, lean the ladder board up on either of the tall 32-inch boards just above the board supporting the monkey bars. Next, I recommend pre-drilling two holes and then screwing in two of the longer screws through the ladder board into the playground frame. Now if you used a 34-inch board you will want to make a mark with a pencil every 7 inches starting from the top, if you used a 40-inch board these should be 8 inches apart. Using one of the five rung boards from the last step, align the bottom one so it is centered with the ladder board. Use one screw to attach it, make sure it stays level while you do this. Next move to the second one, first measure along the rung board, and make a mark at 7.5 inches. Align this board so that the mark is centered with the ladder board and install a screw in line with the mark. The next board will be like the last, except you must measure to 9 inches, and center it there. The last one you can either measure to 10.5 inches or just align it so it is flush. Make sure that the screws in all of these are tight, if they feel as tight as they can go but the boards still aren't stable, add another screw an inch in either direction from the first. Make sure yours now matches the picture of the completed ladder. If any of the ladder rungs feel loose, you can add wood glue or another small screw to keep them in place.
Step 11: Prepping Grass Box Materials
Next, it's time to assemble the grass box, or dust bath box if you would rather it be for that. The following are required for either:
2 - 15 inch 2x6 boards
2 - 12 inch 2x6 boards
1 - 12x12 inch plywood board (optional)
Dirt either soil of dry dusty dirt
If you plan on using this box for planting grass you will also need:
- Enough grass seed for 1 sq foot ( I highly recommend wheatgrass)
- 1 - 14x14 inch piece of hardware cloth, or chicken wire
- Wood Staples
Step 12: Building the Box
To build the box, you will first need to stand up the two 12-inch boards 12 inches apart so they are perfectly parallel. Then place the 15-inch board on top so that the sides are flush. Screw in two screws that are at very least 2 inches long, longer than that would be better. Once one corner is well attached, make sure the distance between the boards is still 12 inches, then attach the other corner so both the 12-inch boards are attached to the 15-inch board. You should now have 3 sides of the square. Before adding the last side, insert the plywood piece and tilt the whole box so that it is resting on one of the 12-inch boards as it is in the fourth photo. Apply pressure to the top of the box so that the plywood can't move, keeping pressure, pre-drill through the 2x6 into the plywood, pre-drilling is very important here as plywood can split very easily. Now that one screw is in, move to the opposite side of the 12-inch board and put another screw in. Now flip it over and put two screws through the other 12-inch board into the plywood as you did on the other side. It should now look like the eighth picture. Place the last 15 inch board on top so that all sides are flush, both with the sideboards and the plywood. Screw in 4 screws, two into each sideboard. You now have a completed box. If you plan on keeping this in one spot, you could skip the bottom plywood as the dirt in the box won't go anywhere if the playground doesn't move.
Step 13: Moving the Playground
Before attaching the swings and filling the dirt box, now is a great time to move the playground where you want it to be. I recommend find a semi-permanent spot as it can be a pain to move after it has dirt in it and swings attached. Grab an assistant and carefully move the playground to a very level area, if the playground is made of untreated wood, you must either put it in a covered run or paint it later on.
Step 14: Swings Materials
Chickens love to swing, however, they are picky about what they swing on. In order to make them happy, the swing needs to be well weighted so that it doesn't swing back and forth to quickly. The easiest way to add weight that I've found is to attach 2x4s to the sides of the swing seat. Here'es what you'll need:
4 - 5-inch 2x4 boards - treated is better because they are heavier
2 - 7.5 inch 2x2 boards - sanded so that the edges are slightly rounded down
4 - eye hooks
4 - 32-inch section of string, para-cord or twine will work
Step 15: Building the Swings
To build the swings, stand up the 2x2 and carefully balance one of the 2x4s so that the 2x2 is centered underneath it. Screw in one long screw through the center of the 2x4 piece into the 2x2. Flip it over and add another portion of 2x4. Make sure it matches the picture, if everything looks the same, repeat with the other three boards so you have two matching swings. Using an awl, make an indent on the tops of both of the 2x4s matching the sixth picture. Use a hammer to tap two eye hooks into the holes, then screw them in by hand as far as you can, once you can no longer turn them by hand, use the leverage of the awl to turn them until the all that's left is the hook. Tie one string to each hook, then add the hooks and strings to the other swing.
Step 16: Attach the Box
To attach the box you will need a small scrap of 1x4 board. Whichever side doesn't have the ladder clamp the scrap board to the bottom of the centerboard. Now slide the box to that it is touching one of the angle legs and the centerboard. Using the longer screws screw the board into the angled leg of the A-frame and the centerboard, if your screws are long enough they should go through the box, through the scrap piece, and into the centerboard. If you are unsure whether or not they made it into the center leg, screw in two screws into the centerboard towards the box. The box should now securely be attached to two of the feet.
Step 17: Filling the Box
Now that the box is attached and the playground is at its permanent home, fill the box with dirt. If you want the box for dust bathing, just fill it with a dust bathing mixture (if you don't know what to put in it here's a helpful link).
If you want it to be a grass box fill it will high quality soil, and make sure to fill it almost to the surface, about a quarter of an inch away. Add the grass seeds and add a little bit more soil on top. Place the 14x14 inch hardware cloth from earlier on top of the box, center it, and add staples to it using a staple gun. I recommend 5 staples per side. Use a hammer to pound them in all the, if the stables aren't well secured, the chicken may try to pull them out and possibly eat them. Your box is done, remember to water frequently, especially if it is in a covered area.
Step 18: Attach the Swings
First, you must mark and drill the cross board to attach the swings. Measuring from either side of the main cross-board make a mark at 2 inches, 12 inches, 16 inches, and 26 inches. Drill holes at each mark about an inch up, make sure the holes are large enough to thread string through them.
To attach the swings, thread the first string from one of the swings through the holes made earlier, once it is about an inch off the ground securely tie a square knot. Now thread the other string from that swing into the other hole, before tying it, pull the string to where the swing is level with the ground, then tie it. If your chickens are new to swings, I recommend making the swings pretty close to the ground. I also like to make them slightly different heights. Add the second swing by tying one string at a time like before making sure it is level.
Step 19: Finishing Touches
And just like that, you're done! Almost...
If you plan on putting somewhere it won't be covered, most wood will rot over time. Unless you chose to use cedar or treated wood, then the playground won't last more than a couple of years. If you want it to last longer, I recommend painting it with an exterior primer, putting a finish on the wood, or putting the entire playground in a covered area.
Step 20: Tips / Trouble Shooting
- If you have some scrap pieces of the boards you are using test the screws you plan on using to see if they cause the boards to crack at all if you find the boards to crack frequently, I recommend pre-drilling out all of your holes.
- If your chickens are new to swings, it may take them a few days to learn to use them. Don't force your chickens on them right away.
First Prize in the
Pets Speed Challenge