My $200 Chicken Coop

They call it chicken math.

It’s basically the justification chicken lovers use when they buy more chicks. How many straight run chicks should you buy if you want eight laying hens? How much room do you need? Two square feet of space per chicken if the coop is only used for sleeping, 4 square feet per chicken for the entire living space. Or is it 10 square feet of run, 4 feet of sleeping space?

It’s the phenomenon that happens to someone who wants “three laying hens, just for a few eggs” and ends up with a backyard full of birds.

It’s how this…

garden coop

Became this…

pumpkins on coop 2 9-1

I started with five chicks, which turned into four laying hens and one rooster dinner. Then I found an online chicken forum. Havoc broke loose. As I got to know other members of the forum, I realized four chickens was just not enough. I mean, I have four members of my family. Really, I do need more chickens if I’m going to feed everyone, especially if one goes broody, right?

But as the chicken math turned to multiplication, I knew I couldn’t humanely keep the number I wanted if I just had my little coop.

I had built the coop for my five chicks, using an empty area beside the garden shed. Really, I could fit six hens in there… more if I let them run around the garden all day. But I wanted more than six hens. Oh yes, I did. I wanted australorps and Rhode Island Reds and cream Brabanters, and exchequer leghorns. Plus, I didn’t want my garden to get eaten.

I knew exactly where to put this coop. Just that past summer, my landlady gave me permission to fill in one of the koi ponds. Now she suggested I use the area for the new coop.

I had three criteria for the coop: First, it needed to house at least 20 chickens at night. Second, it needed to be affordable. Third, it needed to be portable, or at least be able to disassemble if we rented a new house or the neighbors rioted against urban farming.

One friend had used a Rubbermaid shed that she had purchased secondhand on Craigslist. I would have loved to find that deal again, but nobody was offering. If I wanted a pre-fabricated shed that was large enough, that had adequate ventilation and secure doors, I would be spending about $1,000.

Another friend built her chicken coop from scratch. It was solid construction, just small enough that it didn’t need a building permit. It was also expensive.

So I told friends that I sought surplus building materials for a coop. It didn’t take long. One friend had an old bedroom set. Another had just renovated his house and had some sheets of OSB left. Another had a habit of frequenting auctions and buying old industrial racks. (His longsuffering wife is one of my heroes.)

 Here’s what I had donated or on hand to build my coop:

  • Bedroom set: a set of shelves, headboard/footboard and running boards of a twin bed.
  • Part of an old bunk bed, including the ladder, railings, and running boards.
  • Four sheets of OSB, 4’x8’
  • One sheet of plywood, 4’x8’
  • Four industrial shelving units
  • An old door, the very cheap kind. But it had a doorknob.
  • Leftover pieces of laminate material for countertops
  • Two 2x4x8 boards
  • 1/4 gallon oil-based wood stain
  • Paint from my art projects

Here’s what I bought new:

  • Four more 2x4x8 boards
  • 25’ roll of hardware cloth
  • Pint of polyurethane varnish
  • 4 cans of spraypaint
  • A can of oil-based primer
  • 2 6-packs of decorative pine trim
  • Bolts, washers, nuts, a drill bit, screws, and nails
  • Latches, hinges, and handles

By the end of the project, after all the gas for hardware store runs, we ended up spending about $200 on the chicken coop.

russ buries racks

The taller of the industrial racks measured 4’x8’. Since our two worst enemies in Reno are wind and raccoons, the coop had to be planted firmly in the ground. By turning these racks upside down, we had 6 inches of base to bury. This also gave us a flat surface with holes in it to bolt the roof onto. (The feet of the racks.)

missy bolting roof

After burying the racks, we set the sheet of plywood on top of these feet and bolted them down.

nesting box against coop

The old bedroom shelf became the nesting box, and a rather sturdy one at that. We already had three nests on the bottom, made up of the shelves. Russ cut out one side, to allow entrance from inside the coop. I cut pieces of laminate to divide this top portion into separate nests. We bolted the nesting box securely to the metal frame.

coop 2-10 back

The headboard/footboards of the twin bed made perfect windows for ventilation. Just add hardware cloth! We bolted running boards to the metal frame, them bolted the footboards to the running boards. Laminate pieces filled in the bottom space perfectly.

coop 2-10 front

We bolted the door onto the other running boards.

ugly unpainted coop

The other set of industrial shelves became the mini-run. We assembled these into a 3’x3’ block, and bolted this to the original metal frame. Now came time to fill in the spaces. We cut the OSB to fit and bolted that to the framework. We covered the windows with hardware cloth, securing it tightly to the wood.

nesting doors 1

Since we built this mid-February, I only had daylight until about 5pm. After sundown, I took two pieces of laminate inside to paint the nesting box doors. This is where my artistic side comes in.

full coop at night

The 2×4 boards serve as perches for the chickens and to fill in areas where my upcycled building materials didn’t quite fit right. The old railings and the ladder from the bunk bed also provided perches.

Now it was functional, but very, very ugly. My landlady showed great charity and understanding for even allowing us to keep chickens. I had to keep this coop from becoming an eyesore.

coop front

Good thing I know how to paint.

coop back

And here it is! In the winter, I cover the mini-run with plastic, turning it into an air-warming chamber. The air comes into the run through the pop door, where strategically placed pieces of laminate act as a windbreak. The 6mil plastic warms the air, which is then pulled into the coop. Humidity leaves through open vents in the top.

So far, the coop has withstood wind, snow and rain, raccoons, and children. We’ve had to replace a few latches, mostly due to children, but so far nothing has gotten into the coop that wasn’t supposed to.

About Marissa Ames

I’m a working mom, a devoted wife, an author and a homesteader. I spend my free time eating lunch. My homesteading story began 180 years ago, with pioneering ancestors who made drastic changes to preserve faith and values. With each generation the plot repeats: A diligent father works long hours to provide for his family. An innovative mother fills in the gaps while striving to uphold her faith and values. Children follow in their parents’ footsteps, returning to proven methods when modern times fall short on promises of a better life. Now my husband and I live the lessons taught by our parents, working to support our family through conventional careers in addition to urban farming. We raise chickens and other poultry, rely on large-scale urban gardening, and get through the winter with canning and food preservation. In the spring and summer we grow food; in the fall we preserve it; in the winter we make cheese and soap and chronicle the year’s experiences. I began the Ames Family Farm blog on a whim, mostly to secure the name in case I took my talents further and started a greenhouse or an educational system. What came to fruition exceeded my own ambitions. Now I share my experiences through Ames Family Farm, Countryside and Backyard Poultry Magazines, other publications, and social media. I speak at conventions and work with school gardening projects, advocating sustainability and backyard chickens in urban settings. Mostly, I offer what I can as friends and acquaintances seek help with gardening or homesteading endeavors. My current books in progress include Huntsman, the third book in the Tir Athair medieval fantasy series, and a homesteading series to help budget-minded urbanites enhance their living spaces to save money and advocate a healthier, happier way of life. I continue to contribute to Countryside and Backyard Poultry through it all. I believe homesteading is meant to save money rather than cost more. That gardening enhances health and joy as well as cutting costs, that canning and food preservation are keys to self-reliance when bad times hit. That everyone has the ability to homestead. Even if you live in a high-rise apartment and cannot keep chickens, you can make cheese or sew clothing. Even in a food desert you can budget and preserve food to protect your health and way of life.
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