Introduction: Hen Saloon
This compact coop was designed to be functional, aesthetic, and easy to build.
At 37 square feet, it is sized for two to six chickens with the idea that they would also be let out periodically to roam in a larger yard. The concept is a deep-litter compost system. As the chickens poop and the straw becomes dirty, fresh straw is laid on top, and over time, the straw ferments providing extra nutrients to the hens and creating rich compost for your garden. This efficient, low-maintenance coop only needs to be cleaned once a year. When the garden goes dormant, shovel out all the compost and place it on your garden beds. In the spring, you'll have fertile soil ready for the new year. Pictured is the prototype we built for my mom. We salvaged the roof off an old cabin to build it, so that is why the wood looks aged and has tongue and groove. I have updated the design in this how-to to be standard lumber sizes.
Step 1: SketchUp File
I’m a licensed architect who has raised chickens since childhood.
This is the sixth coop that I’ve built, so there are many things that I’ve learned over the years that I’ll share with you here. One thing that may be controversial is the lack of a bottom for the roosting box. In the wild, chickens roost in trees to sleep. This design prioritizes air-flow and does not enclose the chickens into a box where the air becomes fouled by their prolific pooping. If you live in a temperate climate, just the four walls should be enough to keep the wind off them and allow them to sleep comfortably. Chickens originate as a species in South Asia, so their feathers are more adapted to deal with hot-humid climates than cold climates, however, some breeds are better adapted for cold climates, the Wyandotte for example. That being said, this design may not be appropriate for climates that see heavy snowfall. Feel free to use this SketchUp file to gain a better understanding of the design and make changes as you need to accommodate your site.
Step 2: Location Location
Choose a suitable spot for the chicken coop.
It should be reasonably level to make construction easier. Check your local ordinances, some cities require that coops are placed at least 20’ away from any house. This is generally a good rule of thumb. It’s also good to keep the coop at least four feet away from any fences. That way, if you have cats or dogs, they can travel around the whole perimeter to chase away pests. This also makes construction easier, since you won’t have to squeeze into a tight spot to drive fasteners. Chickens do need sun, but they do better with partial shade or full shade. This is also advantageous because they can inhabit areas in your yard where plants would not be as productive.
This coop is located partially shaded by a large pine tree.
Step 3: Price It Out
This is a PDF containing a rough budget and materials list.
It is not exhaustive and there are many tools listed here that you will need in order to complete this project. Check your local hardware store prices to get an accurate idea of the final cost.
Redwood is specified because it is naturally rot-resistant and the prototype is un-painted. If you decide to use another type of wood, plan to paint it to protect it from rotting prematurely.
Step 4: Getting Started
This is a list of cuts required to build this design.
It is up to you to verify against the design that the numbers are accurate before you begin to cut the pieces.
It is also good practice to measure as you go in case something shifted due to site conditions.
Step 5: Lay the Foundation
Once you’ve settled on a suitable site, dig a 4" deep, level, rectangular hole the dimensions of the footprint of the coop. Place the corner blocks level with each other. Fill in the drain rock level to the top of the blocks. Build the inner frame according to the dimensions in this picture. Staple two layers of weed barrier and one layer of hardware cloth across the bottom. This step is critical, it will keep pests from getting in and your drain rock from getting clogged with compost. Lay the frame on the blocks and adjust until level and the corner blocks are aligned so that they will also support the front and rear faces of the coop. The coop is held to the foundation with gravity. Once it is fully constructed it will be quite heavy, but if you live in an area where this may not be adequate, you could drive some rebar stakes and attach them to the frame at this point.
Step 6: Build the Coop
There are many ways to go about it, so I'm just going to describe how we did it.
First, we constructed the front and rear faces of the coop.
Two sawhorses and a flat concrete area really helped at this stage.
Staple the hardware cloth every 4 inches, and drive three screws for every connection point on the 2x6s.
Step 7: Kissing Booth Open for Business
We attached the face frames to the foundation frame with three screws below each vertical member.
Prop them upright and vertical using a level and temporary pieces of wood cut at 45-degree angles and screwed into place.
Step 8: Structural Reinforcement
We installed L50 angles for added security on the four middle vertical members.
The corner members should be stable enough once all the trim is screwed into place.
Note that I am not a structural engineer, however, I do often draw and review structural drawings, so I have a basic understanding of what is necessary for a sturdy design.
Step 9: Install the Siding
Next, we installed the exterior 2x2 trim for the side panels and screwed the 2x6 siding into place.
Note there could be some cost savings here if you decided to go with 1x6 siding throughout instead, just remember to purchase more 1 1/4" screws.
Notice that the 2x2s are cut at an angle to match the slope of the roof, we also cut notches in the rafters with a hand saw so that they would lay flat on the top plate.
Step 10: Constructing the Roof
We built the frame on the ground and then propped it up on sawhorses so that we wouldn't have to bend over as much while fastening the roofing material. The manufacturer of the polycarbonate called for 2" screws on every other hump and overlap of 1-2 humps. Lay all the sheets out in their final configuration before screwing everything down and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for whatever roofing material you choose.
It took four people to lift the finished roof into place on top of the coop. Each rafter is secured to the front and rear frames with H2.5 ties. Once the roof was in place, we installed the soffit boards. These are key because they fully enclose the coop and further secure the roof into place.
Step 11: Make the Three Doors
Once that was done, we set about constructing the doors.
This step would have been much easier with a chop saw that would have given us consistent 45-degree angles. Cutting the acrylic for the nest box window was also a challenge. We bought a special saw blade for the purpose and taped the lines with blue painters tape then cut with high RPMs and the blade moving slowly through the material. We hung the doors and installed the handles and then the security clasps.
The updated design shows a double-hung door. This is useful for throwing compost in without worrying that the chickens will slip out past your ankles. You could also open just the lower door to let the chickens out during the day.
We also wanted the lower door of the double-hung door to be an acrylic window but decided to finish it with hardware cloth since we didn't have enough material and the chickens were arriving the next day.
The larger upper part of the double-hung door is braced at the corners with straps to make it more rigid.
Step 12: The Chicken Ladder
This ladder functions as a roost and a ladder so that the hens have more options for roosting during the day.
The open rungs also allow for poop to fall through and not accumulate on the ladder. The consistent steps allow them to navigate the ladder even in low light. Be sure to drive two screws into each end so that the rungs do not rotate.
Step 13: Installing the Roosts
The roosts are positioned specifically to maximize the roosting area of this compact coop.
Poop management is critical in the roosting box. Chickens have a natural instinct to seek the highest roost, so it is important that the roosts are higher than the nest box.
It is also important to install square roosts and not round ones. Chickens like to lay flat on their breast bone as they sleep, so round roosts create an uncomfortable pressure point for heavy birds.
Step 14: The Nesting Box
The edge of the nest box is beveled to discourage roosting on it and soiling the nests.
The bottom of the nest box is sloped with a 1" gap at the bottom to make the nest boxes easy to clean.
Dust and hay should slide right out.
That being said, this part of the design is untested. It may turn out that the chickens prefer a deeper nest, and in that case, it would be easy to change the design to accommodate that.
Alternatively, the bottom could be wood slats for easy cleaning.
Step 15: Finishing Touches
Trim the interior with 2x2s to cover the raw edges of the hardware cloth.
Install the screw eyes centered on the middle rafters and hang the feeder and waterer from them with chain. Hanging the food and water is ideal for this system because you can adjust the height as the floor level rises throughout the year. We had to buy sturdy key rings to link the carabiners to the chain because the size of the links didn't allow for the carabiners to fit through. This can be easily avoided.
Place the cups for grit and oyster shell. They are there so that you have a visual cue if you are running out of either of these critical additions to your coop. The feed is stored in a metal trash can that is kept just outside the coop and the extra hay is on two cinderblocks behind the coop. One more thing to note is the solid wood corner. This is a key element of the design because the chickens need to have a place to shelter in case a predator starts to chase them from outside of the coop. Without the solid corner to hide in, a predator could chase them around and around until they die from fright or exhaustion. The corner is also a good place to find shade or shelter from wind during the day.
Step 16: Just Add Chickens
And start enjoying all the joys of chicken keeping.
They are beautiful pets that are fascinating to watch and will naturally reward you by processing your leftover food scraps into delicious eggs. Check the chickens regularly to ensure they always have feed and water available. Collect the eggs daily.
This design is meant to be low-maintenance. As the hay becomes soiled and damp place fresh, dry hay on top. Eventually, the floor of the coop will become a thick layer of compost. The top layer should always be dry so that the chickens don’t develop scales on their feet.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading through my post, and feel free to post any questions or comments. I’m a licensed architect who loves chickens and has raised them since childhood. I hope that by making this design free and widely available it will provide chickens with more secure and comfortable housing and improve their lives.
Let us embody the spirit of providing the best care possible to that which sustains us.
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