Setting Up a Chicken Coop

Raising backyard chickens can be a rewarding experience that requires careful planning and research. Before you bring your flock of chicken’s home, you need to think about the type of chicken coop you’ll need. Coops come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. Choose from pre-built versions or use your carpentry skills to build your own.

A chicken coop is your flock’s space for foraging, sleeping, playing, and living their life to the fullest. A spacious and clean coop can lead to healthier and happier chickens. Choosing the right home for your birds can significantly affect their quality of life and egg production. Our guide covers the fundamentals of setting up your flock’s first home.

two chicks on nest

Chicken Coop Essentials: What’s Inside?

person walking into room with chicks with heat light

Chicken coops can be small and simple or large and elaborate. It all depends on your imagination, budget, and building skills. Buying pre-made is an accessible way for homesteaders to explore raising chickens in the backyard. All chicken homes require a few essential components to raise healthy chickens.

  • Nest boxes are safe enclosures where your birds can lay fresh eggs. Nest boxes are usually placed inside the coop to keep your birds safe from predators and the weather.
  • A roost can be a raised bar, branch, or plank used by chickens to sleep. Chickens naturally gravitate toward higher ground to sleep.
  • A chicken run is the main area where your chickens can run around, forage, dust bathe, and drink water. Enclosing your chicken run is critical to keeping your birds safe from harm.
  • Feeders and waterers keep your chickens full and hydrated. Feeders and waterers are usually located in the run.
  • Bedding materials such as wood shavings, straw, and hay line the run, coop, and nest box. Choosing the right bedding can help your coop stay cleaner for longer.
  • Supplementary lighting may be needed in some regions that get limited daylight and warmth to keep the steady supply of eggs coming.

Mobile vs. Stationary: Which Is Right For You?

chickens in an enclosure

As a backyard chicken owner, how you will set up your chicken coop depends on how you intend to use it.  Will your chickens live inside for most of the time with some access to a run?  Will you need to move your coop for efficient grazing of your large pasture? Knowing the answer to these questions can help you decide between a mobile or stationary structure.


A moveable coop can be relocated to provide fertile grounds for chickens to forage. Known as a chicken tractor, this mobile coop caters to a chicken’s innate need to forage tender vegetation. Chickens love to graze on grass, weeds, and insects. After getting their fill, they leave behind their nutrient-rich manure to regenerate your soil.

Mobile structures give you the convenience of moving it for a variety of reasons. They can also provide temporary housing, if needed. If you need to use the space, you can move it. If the weather is bad in a certain area, you can reposition it to a safer area. Generally, however, coops are moved every one to two days.


Stationary frames are built in a certain area of your backyard and can’t be moved. These permanent fixtures in your backyard can provide consistency in maintenance and cleaning. Some owners prefer the protection level you get from stationary coops since you can place hardware underground to keep burrowers away.

If set up properly, a stationary home for your birds can meet all of you and your birds’ needs. A backyard garden can be too small to accommodate a moveable “tractor.” For most backyard chicken owners, a stationary coop is their best bet. It provides your birds with enough room to sleep, roam, and live comfortably.

Build or Buy?

chicken on a ramp

Build Your Own Plans

Building your own chicken coop plans requires patience, experience, time, and money. Some people already have a shed or similar structure that can be repurposed into a chicken coop. Others may need to buy all the materials at once. Building your own coop can meet your specific needs, but requires a few key considerations.

When building your own chicken home, consider the type of material you’ll be using. Plywood is an affordable and durable option. It’s easy to work with and cut out holes for windows and ventilation. For your coop walls, wood or heavy-gauge wire mesh can keep predatory animals at bay. Your roof can also be plywood or a piece of sheet metal.

Before you build your structure, consider your unique permit considerations and budget. Feel free to sketch out your preliminary designs on paper and physically mark the ground where you’ll be building it. Once you’re ready to build, head on over to your nearest lumber supply store to determine how much material and which tools you need.

You’ll need to dig holes to place your fence posts for your run. Some people choose to sink them in concrete for better support. Just make sure each post is straight using a level. Keep posts about six to eight feet apart. U-shaped nails can help attach your fencing to your fencing posts. 2×4 boards can be screwed horizontally into the posts to create a sturdier frame and keep large animals out. Don’t forget to add a spring-loaded door for you to get in and automatically close behind you.

Before bringing your chickens home, prepare your garden. Remove any poisonous plants that can be harmful to chickens. Search online for a comprehensive list of these toxic plants. Additionally, avoid using pesticides and other harsh chemicals on your lawn. Since chicken’s love to graze on grass, they may ingest these dangerous chemicals.

Buying Pre-Built

Buying pre-built chicken coops is affordable and easier than building your own from scratch, especially if you’re not too keen on woodworking. Coops can be purchased for as little as $150. $200-$400 can get you a decent coop for your small flock. Second-hand coops can work, but may need some revamping before you can use them.

If you are planning to buy a pre-made chicken coop, avoid choosing ones that are too cheap. You may save some money in upfront costs, but you may end up spending more if your coop can’t stand up to its environmental elements and nearby animals. Flimsy coops can blow away with heavy winds or storms. Carefully vetting out your options allows you to invest in one that can last you for decades.

Pre-made coops can be easily set up in your backyard. Just take everything out of the box and use your tools to assemble everything according to the instructions. After you’ve assembled your coop, you can elevate it with more chicken accessories and toys. Buying pre-made coops can save you time, money, and headaches.

Setting up your first chicken coop takes patience and experimentation. Regardless of which coop plans you go with; you’re bound to learn new things along the way to keep your chickens and eggs healthy and safe. Setting up a coop can be a fun bonding activity between couples or families and it’s a great way to introduce new members to the family.

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How Big Should Your Coop Be?

chickens entering coop or barn

Before gathering all your materials, research your local laws on raising backyard chickens. Suburban and urban environments may need to consider additional factors including local building codes and zoning ordinances. Rural areas may have fewer regulations compared to densely populated ones.

When starting to build your chickens home, don’t make the mistake of underestimating how much space you need. While you may want to start with a small flock, you may decide that you love to raise chickens and want to expand rapidly. If possible, build your chicken coop big enough to give you more room for chickens in the future.

Consider the size of your chosen chicken breeds to determine the size of your coop. Small Bantam chickens, for example, can thrive with about five square feet in the coop per chicken. Medium chickens such as Leghorns may require about eight square feet. Large breeds such as the Rhode Island Red or the Plymouth Rock can require up to 10 square feet inside the coop per chicken.

Coop sizes depend on many different factors. What works for one person may not work for another. Keep in mind, these are just general guidelines to get the right size of your birds’ home. Here are some sizing tips to get your coop size just perfect:

If your chicken has greater access to its outside environment, you may be able to allot a smaller space for your chicken inside its home.

Generally, meat birds require a bit more space than laying hens.

Consider the age of your chicken. A baby chick needs less space than a mature pullet. Ultimately, you want to give your chickens as much space as possible.

Birds that become too crowded, especially for long, periods of time, can become aggressive. Behavioral problems such as pecking can be improved with more space. Crowded flocks can cause chickens to compete for food, floor space, and overall fewer resources. Once your chickens start pecking at each other, it can be difficult for them to stop.h

There is such a thing as too large of a coop. Consider how long it’ll take you to clean and maintain your coop. If you build it too large, you may spend extra time keeping it maintained. Furthermore, an extra-large space can be colder in the winter without extra heat. A smaller coop can contain the chicken’s body heat creating a warmer environment.

Building Materials

hens exiting a chicken coop


Many chicken coops are lined with a plywood floor for stability, especially if the coop is elevated from the ground. Plywood is a widely available and affordable option. Just make sure to use plenty of bedding to make cleaning up easier. Keeping your plywood floor clean is the key to its longevity.

Wooden boards are also a durable and cheap option, but can be a bit harder to clean than plywood since droppings can get trapped in between the boards and in its cracks. Strong wires can keep chickens inside, but can be harder on your birds’ feet and legs and can get drafty. Concrete floors are a durable and expensive option for backyard chicken owners.

A raised plywood floor can reduce moisture at a faster rate than dirt floors or concrete slabs. Some backyard chicken owners cover their plywood with epoxy or similar coating to make cleaning easier.

Most coops don’t require a floor since the dirt ground is good enough. Dirt floors, however, may make chickens more vulnerable to burrowing predators. A dirt floor can also keep moisture levels high in the coop and be hard to clean.

Nest Boxes

Nest boxes are one of the most important additions to any chicken coop. Nesting boxes are particularly important for the healthy production of eggs. Nest boxes provide a safe and secure space for hens to lay eggs. They can be made from milk crates, plastic containers, or other durable housing materials. Nesting boxes are located inside the coop in a low-lit and easily accessible area so you can collect fresh eggs and clean it.

Make sure your boxes are made from predator and weatherproof material. Nesting boxes should be placed a couple of feet off the ground and can be attached to the wall. Add a small lip at the front of the box to keep bedding and eggs inside. Nest boxes usually are lined with bedding such as wood shavings or hay and straw. Nest boxes should be cleaned every couple of weeks.

Generally, one nesting box is enough for an entire flock of four or five hens. Some owners may need to keep their nesting boxes closed when adding new hens to the coop. Sometimes, hens can perch on nesting boxes for sleeping and pooping. Some burlap or curtains can keep hens out when you don’t want them inside and create a more secure environment for them when you do.

When setting up your nesting boxes, check that every nest box is lined with bedding in the same way. Inconsistencies in nesting box bedding and size could lead to all your hens choosing to lay their eggs in a single box. If they choose to have one nesting box to lay eggs, it could cause your hens stress, which can lead to egg damage and egg eating.


Roosts are raised bars, branches, or planks where your chickens can sleep. Chickens have evolved to find high ground during their nighttime slumber. Generally, roosts should be at least 18 to 24 inches off the ground. Each bird should get about 6 to 10 inches of roosting space to reduce bullying. Roosts should be at least two inches wide.

Tree branches can make good roosts, especially if you’ve sanded down the rough edges and removed splinters which could hurt your birds. Cracks and crevices in wood can be excellent hiding spots for mites, so watch out for them. A roost that’s too smooth, however, can be hard for chickens to hold on to. Flat boards can work well if you sand down their sharp edges.

Roost placement is also important for optimal living conditions. Chickens can poop when they’re sleeping. Avoid placing them over any feeders, waterers, and nesting boxes. Additionally, space out your roosts to prevent chickens from pooping on top of each other. Roosts should be able to be easily removed so you can clean them every so often.

Other Building Considerations

Hen in straw

What’s the Best Location?

Your coop’s ideal location will depend on your available space and local regulations. The perfect location should be accessible and within clear view from your backyard window. Many backyard chicken owners choose to set up their coop against a fence. A fence can be a good wind break for chickens.

When choosing your location, look for areas in your garden with plenty of shade to keep your chickens from overheating. Some owners choose to put their coop under a deciduous tree to keep it consistently shaded and protect it from rain. If you choose to set up under a tree, make sure to clean up the fallen leaves and branches and protect your chickens from them.

Choose a coop site that has proper drainage. Drainage is important so that your run doesn’t get too muddy, especially if you have sand as your bedding. Sitting in mud for extended periods of time can make your birds vulnerable to parasites and bumble foot. Plus, a muddy environment isn’t conducive to the dust baths they like.

Ultimately, you want to choose a coop location that is convenient for you. You’ll have to visit it every day in every weather condition. It needs to be close enough where you can hear if a predator is near. Keep it close enough to run electricity to it from your home. Consider the effort needed to clean it and shovel manure, if necessary, and its proximity to your compost collection.


Chicken coops can get muggy quick. Since chickens have a high respiratory rate, humidity levels inside the coop can increase and stay high for long periods of time without the right type of ventilation. A crowded coop can worsen the problem, especially if poop clean-up is infrequent and ammonia levels build up.

Ventilation in the coop can reduce levels of the amount of carbon dioxide from your bird’s breathing and ammonia levels from its excrement.

In some frosty areas, you may need to keep your chicken coop insulated. Openings in your coop can cause a frigid draft if the weather is cold. Openings can also make your chickens more vulnerable to small predatory animals like snakes and mice. Position your ventilation to remove the stale and stinky air from the top without producing a draft that’ll keep your chickens cold.


Some chicken coops may need supplementary lighting to keep hens warm or mimic natural daylight. During the short fall days, you can use extra lighting to keep a continuous supply of eggs. Chickens’ reproduction cycle is determined by the amount of light received. Low light conditions can reduce the amount of fresh eggs you get.

Hens need about 14 to 16 hours of natural daylight to lay eggs. Some regions may receive considerably less hours of light each day. Artificial lighting can be used on occasions where you need to supplement the lack of natural light. A supplementary fluorescent or LED bulb, between 25 and 40 watts can provide warmth and light during the winter months.

LEDs can be more expensive, but last longer than fluorescent lighting and save you some money on energy bills over the long run. Some owners use heat lamps or flat panel heaters that have cooling capabilities. Just make sure to hang your lights far enough away from potential fire hazards such as feathers and bedding.

A timer is essential to consistently turning on and off the lights at night. Place your lighting in an area that delivers the most amount of illumination over the largest area. Avoid simply lighting one single area. Also, clean the bulb regularly (about once a week) to increase its light output.

Security & Storage

Chickens behind a fence

Predator Proofing

Predator proofing your chicken coop is essential to the survival of your flock. Predators in the sky, on the ground, and below will try to infiltrate your mini fortress. One of the best ways to protect your flock is to secure your coop every night. Make sure you count your chickens and keep them inside with locked doors

Raising chickens requires you to research predators that may live in your area. Predators exist in the most rural or suburban environments. Even your pet cat or dog can pose a threat to your backyard hens and their eggs. Here are just some of the chicken’s most common predators:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Hawks
  • Foxes
  • Raccoons
  • Owls
  • Coyotes
  • Snakes
  • Rats
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Door Security

Some backyard chicken owners choose to install an automatic door opener to let their chickens out in the morning and keep them in at night. If you don’t have this high-tech tool, make sure to invest in padlock doors to provide more protection against animals with nimble fingers. Some owners have had success with a carabiner over snap-hook locks to secure doors.

Underground Protection

Many builders choose to elevate their coop on stilts and build a wood floor. Keep in mind, your wood will eventually deteriorate and create an opening for rodents. If you don’t choose to elevate your coop, a ground floor is enough protection for your birds. If possible, bury your fencing under the ground to deter underground burrowers.

Window Covering

When building your coop, ensure you are protecting the windows to prevent predators from entering through these openings used for ventilation. Hardware cloth is a protective material that can keep animals away while keeping windows open, especially during the hot summer months. Make sure your hardware cloth is small enough (about ½ inch) to keep out small critters. If possible, keep your windows closed at night.

Food Storage

Store your feed in durable containers such as metal barrels. Make sure your metal containers are lined with food-safe liner. If not, keep your feed in the bag instead of filling it directly into the metal container. Heavy plastic storage bins can also keep your food safe but may eventually succumb to regular gnawing from vermin.

Feeder and Waterer

Feeder and waterer placement is a personal choice and depends on a lot of factors. What’s your flock size? Is your run protected? Some keep their feeders and waterers inside the coop when possible to avoid attracting other birds and animals during the day and at night. Placing a metal roof or netting can keep animals from accessing food and water in the chicken run.

Guard Animals

Some owners use guard animals such as the Great Pyrenees dog breed to protect the flock at a small farm or garden. Keep in mind, some dogs can get too excited and playfully chase the chickens around. In the worst-case scenario, your pup’s roughhousing can prove deadly for your flock. Make sure you have a close eye on what’s going on around your coop.

Some owners use guinea fowl to protect their flock. Guinea fowl can stand toe to toe with coyotes. They can, however, be too noisy for some. These are better suited for rural environments that can accommodate their noise levels. Others use a rooster, although it may not be able to stand up to larger animals alone and can be noisy, too.

Electric Fencing

Electric fencing can be a good option if you want maximum poultry security. Putting an electric wire on the bottom of the coop can deter underground burrowers. A second wire above it can deter medium-sized animals like racoons. If you live in bear country, an electric net fence can give your intruders a shocking message they won’t soon forget.


When maintaining a chicken coop, you’ll need to safely and securely store your chicken feed. Feed that becomes too moist can develop mold, which can be detrimental to your flock’s health. Ensure your feed container has a tight lid to keep moisture levels down and starving rodents out. Sturdy containers can last many years but eventually need replacement.

A steady supply of egg baskets is another handy storage option for your eggs. An egg basket allows you to store extra fresh eggs you don’t use. Having a supply of egg cartons nearby allows you to easily store eggs in your home or give them away to friends and family. Egg cartons can be reused all throughout egg-laying season.

Outdoor Space

Chicks near flowers

A chicken’s outdoor space is their home for the day. In any outdoor space, you’ll want to provide a place for them to dust bathe. Include areas of dirt or dry soil to ensure your hens can bathe at their leisure. Dust bathing protects them from parasites. A simple dust bathing solution can be a box filled with dirt or sand.

Chicken Run

A chicken run is where your chickens will spend most of their day dust bathing, foraging, and generally having fun. Runs should allot about 10 square feet of room per chicken. If your run is your entire garden, your chickens will love it. Just watch out for your garden and flowers. Chickens can scarf them right down. Also, keep an eye out for nearby predators.

If your chickens aren’t free range, make sure you build or buy a chicken coop with an attached run. Your local farm supply store may sell coops with attached runs that have been built to protect birds against hungry animals. You may need to add some electric fence wiring around your run if you live in areas with large predatory animals.

A fence of about five feet is recommended to keep your chickens inside the run. Runs can be located near large trees and shrubs to avoid installing a roof over it. If your run is relatively open, however, you may want to get a guard dog to keep your chickens safe. Coops that are raised require a ramp leading up to the door in the run.

Wooden boards and plywood are two of the most popular materials used for chicken coop ramps. Plywood and a couple of 2×4 boards can make excellent ramp materials. Ramps should be about eight inches wide. Any smaller and the chickens won’t feel comfortable going up the ramp.

Maintenance & Cleaning

hens eating


Over its base structure, you can use a variety of materials for bedding. Choose from straw, wood shavings, bedding pellets, and other cushioning material. No matter what type of material you choose, ensure it is absorbent to reduce moisture levels in the coop. Bedding material will be used on the floor of the coop and can be used in the nesting box.

Add about four to eight inches of bedding (usually pine shavings). Packing in bedding too deep can create a compacted mass requiring strenuous effort to remove. Bedding material that’s less than the recommended height can require more to keep up the rapidly accumulating moisture from water, droppings, and your chicken’s breath.

Hay and straw may seem like easy-to-use materials for the novice chicken owner, but can end up taking more work than their worth. Hay and straw can hold moisture and become matted making cleaning up a pain. The thick mat of water and droppings can also build up ammonia levels in the stinky coop making the environment prone to mold and the chickens to infection. Dry hay and straw can also be very flammable under the wrong circumstances. High sources of radiant heat such as heat lamps can increase the risk of a dangerous fire.

Sand is a popular option for chicken coops, but is traditionally used for raising pigeons. Sand can make a great bedding material for outside runs. Some owners add a base layer of gravel (a few inches) or a similar material below the sand to improve drainage since sand can get muddy easily.

Most owners use pine shavings for their coop bedding. Pine shavings work well with the deep litter method. Pine doesn’t mat down like hay or straw can. Shavings are an absorbent alternative which can reduce moisture in the coop and slowly release it into the atmosphere. Balanced humidity levels reduce the risk for a bacterial infection.

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Feeders and Waterers

A chicken coop requires feeders and waterers to keep your chickens well-fed and hydrated. Feeders and waterers come in many sizes and styles. Ideally, you’ll want to place your feeder and waterer in the run instead of inside the chicken coop. Chickens spend most of their time in their run. When chickens go to sleep in their roost, they don’t usually eat again.

Feeders and waterers should be kept slightly off the ground to prevent dirt and other debris from contaminating the food and water. They should also be kept low enough for your birds to easily reach them. Some owners choose to use large feeders to fill it less often. Large feeders may be helpful for some fast-growing chickens such as meat birds. A small feeder can be used during your chick’s first few weeks alive.

Plastic or metal bowls can be good feeders, but require more frequent refilling. Most feeder options come in plastic or galvanized steel varieties. Automatic waterers connected to a steady water source can keep your chickens hydrated without a pause. Automatic waterers also reduce the time it takes you to fill their water.

Some backyard chicken owners use hanging feeders or ones with adjustable heights using a simple rope. Feeder containers can be raised as your chickens grow. Other backyard owners prefer the stability of fixed containers. Some hanging containers can spill water if chickens bump into it. Generally, feeders and waterers should be cleaned about once a week.

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Litter removal can be as easy as adding a litter tray under the roost to streamline cleaning and scale back ammonia levels. Litter trays can be cleaned daily or at least once a week. Simply remove the tray from the coop, thoroughly clean it, and add your manure to your compost pile. It only takes a few minutes. Lining your tray with newspaper can reduce the amount of clean up you have to do. It’s that easy.

Many backyard chicken owners use the deep-litter system for coops without a floor. A wood floor can deteriorate at a quicker rate using this method if they’re not cleaned properly. A bare floor can reduce the frequency of clean up. Just add some fresh bedding and diatomaceous earth to keep odor levels down.