Since chick days are nearly here again, I’ve started thinking about how we built our chicken coop by converting a barn stall. I know when I was originally planning my coop, I really wish I had seen more pictures of people who had larger coops and other converted stalls since I needed more inspiration, so I decided to share the love. When we bought our house, we were fortunate enough to buy a property that had an old barn. While it was unkept, mice were definitely living in the insulation around the roofing, only a single gutter that was half way down, and there was rot around a number of areas with a completely covered, leaky roof, it had good bones. On top of that, there was also a spot near the garage where the former owners had cut a giant hole through the siding and placed a dog run. Given that our dog is spoiled with walks, the run wasn’t really necessary, but it did provide us with free chicken fencing.
After weeks of research, purchasing a likely excessive number of chicken books and reading adamantly, having my husband beg and plead for me to wait longer despite my gluttony for fresh, organic, free range and pasture raised chicken eggs, I finally got chicks at the local feed store near the end of March. Saving for the fact my Ameraucana actually lays brown eggs instead of blue, they were all good egg layers, healthy (with the exception of some very sickly silkie chicks I bought from a store I won’t go to again), and docile. They were definitely more expensive than ordering from a hatchery online, but less expensive than going to the seemingly snooty hatchery in our area. While I hope to find breeders locally for when I attempt raising meat birds, there weren’t any that I could find originally.
To be clear, I was aware buying chickens wasn’t going to save me oodles of money. Just the start up costs alone (~$100 for chicks, feed, feeding containers, heating pads, etc, with roughly an additional $15-20 per chick to get it to the age of laying thanks to organic feed costs), was spending the equivalent of nearly a year’s worth of eggs at $5 a dozen, and since one happened to be a rooster he turned into a slightly expensive (albeit the most delicious broth I’ve ever made) dinner when he kept attacking the hens for sweet loving and me when I entered the coop.
So why did I drag my poor husband through the joys of poultry ownership? I had tasted the best eggs ever, and I had to drive 30-45 minutes to a farmer’s market in Redmond to get them. Even then, they were only available in the spring. The yolk was a deep yellow, almost orange like a duck’s yolk. The egg white’s were firm, holding their shape and the yolk not breaking even when you were a clumsy mess. I had eaten these eggs of perfection costing me $8 a dozen plus drive time plus only being seasonally available (since otherwise they sold all their winter eggs to a fancy restaurant nearby), and the gourmet snob in me couldn’t go back to the “free-range” (access to outdoors somehow maybe), organic eggs that were far too old to hold their yolks at the grocery store. No, I needed my eggs to have been laid that week, and I needed the chickens to have eaten the bugs they found in the grass and lazed around in the sun getting some high quality vitamin D while getting a dust bath, and I needed that year round. In summary, I’m spoiled.
Don’t get me wrong – I also appreciate the wellbeing of the animals that feed me, but given it was my first time owning birds that weren’t parrots and my first time raising anything to live in a barn, I wasn’t so arrogant to think I would do it better than farmers who had dedicated their lives to caring for animals. Then again, given what I’ve read about commercial poultry practices, maybe I should have been a little bit more arrogant…
You’ll notice there are ducks here. That is a story for another day, but know they very shortly were moved into a separate brooding box because they got very big very fast while the chickens did not. This would have been fine if they also didn’t have a tendency to stampede everywhere they went and swim in their waterer.
I’m going to confess straight up – this was another project that my bum shoulder resulted in my husband and father having to help me / do a vast majority of the work on the project. I had the idea down, but the physical capabilities were drastically lacking. I realized this at one point when my dad was standing on top of rafters he had built with scrap wood on top of the barn stall and using a power nailer to get everything secured.
That said, I did at least make the plans, so hooray. First, as I mentioned before, we were renovating our kitchen and had removed a wall and heightened the ceiling. This left us with a lot of scrap wood. I strongly recommend that if you have any leftover wood from projects that you save it for moments like these, because aside from nails and hardware cloth, building our giant chicken coop didn’t cost anything. In fact, I didn’t even have to build their roost since we already had a giant ladder-shaped object assembled from removing it from our ceiling!
Roughly 4 ft x 50 ft of 1/4″ hardware cloth (I ended up using a little of 2 ft tall stuff my dad had lying around as well)
2 door hinges
More 2×4, 4x4s, 2x6s, and 2×8 scraps than I can count. Get for free from people doing renovations!
Tin snips (to cut hardware cloth)
Nail gun and fun (if you want to be cool like my dad and bust that stuff out fast)
I ended up purchasing the hardware cloth at Amazon, since for 1/4″ cloth that was 4 ft tall and 50 ft long, it ended up being less than half the cost of local stores, though that likely varies depending on where you live. Getting the tallest hardware cloth possible for the price is definitely helpful since it leads to a lot less cutting in general. If you’ve ever slowly cut through 1/4″ hardware cloth, you know it’s not a particularly fun task.
This is a difficult thing to give plans for, since everyone’s coop will vary. That said, I can tell you at least the basics. The predators I was dealing with include raccoons, otters, cats, dogs, coyotes, rats and potentially bears. I conceded that if a bear comes into my barn, they can eat everyone. I will not defeat the mighty bear short of setting up a lot of electric fencing, and given my neighbor’s dogs wander into my yard all the time I didn’t want to subjugate them to a pain barrier. For everyone else, hardware cloth was the answer.
I got 1/4″ hardware cloth to handle my rodent problem, but in hindsight they were dedicated enough to dig underneath my foot deep covers in some areas, and my trailing bottoms in others. My present solution to the rodent problem is a metal bucket to store feed and encouraging the barn owls in my area to set up nests. The rodents also dig underneath the concrete foundation, so I’m not sure that’s a battle I’m going to win. Back when my white silkie liked to sleep on the floor, despite the chainlink over the run that is on top of concrete, when I left the barn door out to the run open one night, something came in and ran off with her. For people not able to be home, some sort of automatic opening and closing method for the coop would be good, but I typically just shut the door earlier and have my automatic timer take care of the lights if I ever have to be gone at dusk.
Things to consider:
- Metal bucket to store feed and keep out rodents
- A roost – my chickens only really sleep at the top of it, though, so doesn’t have to be too fancy
- Nesting boxes don’t have to be complicated. Mine are a plastic storage tub filled with bedding that’s next to the entryway, one next to the bottom of the roosts inside a cardboard box, and two birds still decide to lay behind the feed bin outside of a nesting box entirely. The plastic tub is nice for easily moving broody hens and her eggs.
- Dirt floor unless using a smaller coop, then wood is fine, but dirt floors allow you to do deep litter without rotting wood
- Concrete ground exterior keeps neighbor dogs and coyotes from being able to get into the coop – it’s very nice!
- Hardware cloth covering holes that murderers might get in through
- An elevated place to have chicken water (mine’s on top of a cinderblock I found in my yard)
- A locking door raccoons can’t easily open.
Technically to be considered “organic”, chickens are supposed to have access to feed at all times. My chickens sleep at night, so I personally put my feed away in a metal bucket where rats can’t irritate me at night, and then take it out when they wake up in the morning.
Do I really need a coop that’s over 12 ft x 12 ft? Probably not, but I will say the birds like having the large coop during rainy days. While they love their outdoor run when it’s nice out, they also have plenty of space to scratch and peck indoors when weather isn’t agreeable, and if an emergency comes up where I won’t be able to lock them in at night, it’s nice knowing I can tuck them in early but not feel like I’m holding them captive in a tiny box. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, weather is rarely agreeable. It’s definitely not necessary, but it allows me to use deep litter unlike the small store bought coops.
Wish list for future improvements:
- Painted interior and roost so I can wash off the poos more easily
- Expand chicken run so they have more room outside when they aren’t running wild and free in my yard
I hope all these photos can help someone get inspiration for their own coops! If anyone has managed to keep rodents from digging feet deep to get in their coop, please let me know how!