Sunday, January 8, 2012

Free Insulated Chicken Coop Plans

My big project of the year, actually of my lifetime (at least in the building category so far), was to build a chicken coop. Alexia talked about wanting chickens last year; I wasn't as thrilled. But, eventually I realized she really wanted them, and so I got on board. She called our borough, and they said we could have 5 animals. So, now we have one dog and four chickens.

Our first step was designing the project. I suggested we design it on the computer before putting it together in real life. Honestly, I wouldn't have a clue where to start otherwise. I also wanted to put together a design we could share with others, since most of the designs we found online weren't free. Alexia started working in Google SketchUp and got the frame together. Since I'd be doing most of the building, I took it from there. She was the one who had checked out and read several chicken raising books from the library, so she served as my advisor for the project. I'd tell her what I was planning, and she would tell me about insulation, ventilation, height of roosts, etc. Designing the project took a while since we had to learn SketchUp, but I was happy with it. It is based on a popular design called the playhouse coop, which has plans available online. Making our own plans allowed us to customize the design. Our plans appear to result in a more costly and complicated coop, but the coop includes insulation, gives the chickens more room in the actual coop itself, and is customized for our automated feeding, door opening, and watering. We designed the coop to house 4 chickens comfortably. Besides those two plans, there are several other plans available online if you look in the right places. There are also plenty of pictures of chicken coops on BackyardChickens.com to at least give you some idea of the possibilities out there.

Alexia did some scrounging online and found some free wood. We borrowed a truck, broke the wood down enough to fit it in the bed, and brought it home. It saved us quite a bit of money since plywood is expensive, but we still needed to buy a lot of 2x4s. Then Alexia spent a lot of time sanding the wood to prepare it for sealing. Eventually I had a 3 week break from school and started to hit this project full time. It wasn't long before I got the frame together. That was the easy part.


After putting the frame together, I sealed it with a natural sealer. We wanted to go non-toxic since chickens have the tendency to peck indiscriminately and we'd be eating their eggs, however, in the end I'm not so certain this was necessary. All the surfaces available to the chickens (all 2x4s and the inside of the plywood when I put them on) were sealed with AFM Naturals Clear Penetrating Oil. The rest of the plywood surfaces I coated with generic clear sealer from Lowe's. I like the non-toxic sealer, but it required a lot, and it was rather expensive (over $70 a gallon). I think I used over 2 gallons.


Then I started to cut the plywood and screw it on. This part was tricky since I had to do two of the walls in parts because my plywood pieces were not big enough. It was also a lot trickier because we were double-walling the sides and insulating. Some say this isn't necessary, but since we weren't planning on having a heat lamp out there and it gets pretty cold here, we wanted to play it safe. Alexia found some free insulation on Freecycle that did the job nicely.


After the plywood and insulation was placed (I sealed the plywood as I put it up) and the removable plywood floor was installed (works better in theory, as it's a little difficult to get it to slide out without scraping it clean first), I installed the roof. Our landlady had some corrugated fiberglass material that worked wonderfully. I secured it with screws that included rubber washers and caulked the seams. Then I improvised and made a roof cap.

As for the enclosure, everyone up to snuff on chicken keeping seems to advise against poultry fencing and recommend hardware cloth. The problem is that poultry fencing doesn't keep predators out, hardware cloth does. Unfortunately, it is expensive. However, I designed the coop dimensions just right so I was able to get it done with one 50' roll. I then placed a larger mesh apron around the coop that I stapled down to stop digging predators.


That's basically the bulk of the coop. As for the chickens' amenities, here's how they are living. They've got plenty of roosting area in the coop. The feeder is designed to hold a lot of food and is filled from a hatch on the outside. Once we gave away the rest of the chickens we raised from chicks to get down to the 4 we kept, I only needed to refill it once a month. The side of the feeder has a clear plastic window to indicate the level. The waterer is a 6 gallon bucket with nipples screwed in to the bottom (used some teflon tape). For the winter I dropped a thermostatically controlled birdbath deicer. So far, it's been working beautifully. I also only need to refill this once a month. The chickens have two nesting boxes accessible from the outside for egg collecting. Oddly enough, I've noticed
that they are segregating themselves by color of eggs. Blue egg layers on the left, brown egg layers on the right. We've got latches on all the accesses, two windows that are secured with hardware cloth put have plexiglass windows you can slide in for winter. The coop has plenty of ventilation that comes out underneath the sides of the roof. We also have a solar panel which charges a marine battery. This powers a timer that opens a plexiglass door every morning closes it every night. The panel, timer, and battery are available here, and the motor is available here. Finally, I installed a hanging CFL on a timer to extend the days in the winter by coming on at 3AM to keep the chickens laying through the winter. Unfortunately the solar panel and battery only have enough power to run the automatic door, while the CFL and birdbath deicer run off an extension cord. I couldn't find any suitable solar solutions to prevent water from freezing. Solar powered lighting was a bit more feasible, but since we ended up running an extension cord out to the coop for the light during the winter, I figured there was no point in investing in a solar powered lighting which would only be necessary in the winter.























This project took about 10 times longer than I thought it would. However, getting our first eggs was so rewarding. I think a lot of that had to do with all the work I put into it. Which is probably why I am the one that collects the eggs each day out of excitement (sometimes checking multiple times a day). We get 3-4 eggs a day, and the chickens seem happy.



















You can download the model from Google SketchUp's 3D warehouse. You will need SketchUp to view it. Let me know if you end up building it or have any comments, questions, or suggestions. Thanks!

25 comments:

becky s said...

(deleted my first comment b/c I'm so tired--was embarrassed by all the typos... will try again...) congratulations on your chix, and amazing deluxe coop, and happy new year, Gabe and Alexia! I finally updated the dress section of my blog today and found your message, Gabe. I am so sorry to be so delayed. I loved your mention of all the artists... please see my response to your comment on my blog. (gatheringspittsburgh.blogspot.com)
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for taking the time to say what you did. I have a small group show coming up. ...just a few images from this project, so I did not send out emails to congregations this time, but if you are not busy, it would always be fun to see you there. (Info at top of blog.) Otherwise there will be a more comprehensive show in Pgh in the future: I'm determined! Best wishes to you always- Becky

Keith said...

This is awesome, Gabe.

cking said...

Wow, this is amazing!!! Nice work. You have some very lucky chickens.

Brendan said...

Looks like a great coop! could you share any more photos of the build? I'm getting ready to attempt something similar in a cold climate and like the fact the coop is insulated. Any other information would be awesome!

Gabe said...

Thanks for the kind comments everyone. Brendan, I've put up a few more pictures online along with the ones I posted here at https://plus.google.com/photos/115199866256340473127/albums/5718102720945012993. Have you downloaded Sketchup and gotten the plans? As you see in my screenshot of the plans, I have pretty detailed notes about pretty much everything. So, check it out, and if you don't follow the plans, at least some of my notes might help you form your own plans.

I've also reviewed a few of the items we used in building on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/review/RQ0HGM1F49CSJ is a link to the nipples we use to water the chickens. We have them screwed into a 6 gallon bucket with a birdbath deicer to keep it from freezing (http://www.amazon.com/review/R3H28A9RV2OER8). I would definitely encourage you to go that way for a waterer.

Anyway, let me know if there is any other advice you could use. When are you planning on building?

Jody said...

Just curious, the post opens with the assertion that you were allowed to get 4 chickens, but when I scroll down it looks like there is something closer to 10 chickens in that run/coop. Is this coop capable of handling 10 chickens or would it need much modification? I was looking to build something similar but figured if I wanted my 10 chickens to be happy I'd probably do 4 boxes across the width (and make it 6' wide vs 5' in your plan.

Gabe said...

Jody, I didn't realize I never specified how many chickens the coop was designed for. The one picture with a lot of chickens was when we were raising them from chicks and hand't pared our flock down to the 4 we kept. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I've updated the post.

We designed the coop for 4 chickens. If you look online and in books there are a lot of different numbers out there for how much space you need. You can find anywhere from 1 foot to 4 sq feet necessary in the coop for large breed birds, although more common numbers seem to be 3-4 sq ft. As for the run, people say anywhere from 4 to 10 sq ft per bird, with more people on the latter end of the spectrum. You also need 1 nesting box per 3 chickens. Our plans have about 14.5 sq ft of coop, 37 sq ft of run, and 2 nesting boxes.

To be honest, you could probably put more birds in our coop, or any coop for that matter, but I think it is better to err on the side of caution. So, I'm not sure what your best bet is to house 10 birds. You could play with our coop in sketch up, but it may be easier to try to find a shed of some sort and convert it to a coop.

Hopefully this was helpful. If you end up designing from scratch, you may be able to at least use some of the ideas for the feeder, waterer, and automatic door. Good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Gabe said...

Jody,
One other consideration is roosting space. You should have 1 foot per bird to roost, and if you have multiple roosts they should be 2+ ft apart.

Jody said...

Thanks for the update Gabe, that makes a lot more sense and is in line with what I've read so far. I haven't checked measurements in your SKP other than the 5' width but I was thinking 18" wide boxes would net me 4 for the birds, but then force me to change where I put the feeder box. I'll play with the file some but might will be checking back on some of your other customizations. I love the solar panel + de-icer as our coop will be far enough from the house as to make it impractical to simply plug-in. Great planning for this.

I notice in one place you're listed as being in Provo, but then in school in Pittsburg. Based on the plant life and brown dirt I assume this is a PA coop not a UT coop? You made it through the winter so far with just the de-icer and no heat lamp and the chickens were fine? (I'm in CO where it rarely gets sub-zero, but where snow encourages sustained cold temperature... I want to plan for the conditions.)

Gabe said...

Jody,
Unfortunately solar panel and battery only operates the automatic door. I did a lot of research trying to find a solar powered solution to keep water from freezing with no luck. There was a lot of demand, but no solution that I could find. I don't know much about electricity and physics, but it seemed to me that the capacity of the battery and size of the panel, combined with the fact that creating heat seems like an inefficient process, all made this rather infeasible.

As for a solar powered light, there also was a lot of interest in this online, and it seemed possible. However, it seemed rather complex. There was no simple solution. Some people took those solar walkway lights and made the solar panel extend outside the coop while the light was inside, and then when the sun set they would automatically turn on and run for a few hours until running out of juice. That was the most cost effective solution, but didn't seem very reliable or elegant. Others tried to tackle it with large solar panels, deep cycling batteries, and mathematical equations that made no sense to me, but I never really found an example that worked.

So my options were to have two watering buckets and keep one inside unfrozen, while the other one froze outside, and then switch them periodically, run an expensive underground power line out to the coop, or put in a GFCI outlet and put a birdbath deicer in the waterer. I chose the last of those options, and since I was running a cord out there, figured I might as well abandon the idea of a solar powered light.

Technically they don't need the daylight extended, but keeping their daily light intake to 14 hours keeps them laying, otherwise they slow down or stop over the winter. Since the daylight only needs extending in the winter, which is the same time the water needs help not freezing, you only need to run an extension cord out to the coop a portion of the year. The rest of the year you are off the grid.

Not an elegant solution, but the simplest for us. The CFL and deicer don't draw much power, so that lessens the risks associated with running an extension cord outside, but look into the safety issues before you decide to do so. Get an outdoor cord and make sure it is connected to a GFCI outlet. Hope that helps.

Kevin Noel said...

That's nice. You definitely executed the plan well. Good job making your own design for that chicken coop. I like the idea of installing insulation on the chickens' quarter. Chickens have the tendency to get agitated if their quarter has no balanced temperature, and it may cause them to delay laying their eggs. It's a good idea overall.

Kevin Noel

Justin Talbot said...

Your coop design is great. I tweaked your design very slightly to remove the insulation and optimize the raw material usage. I uploaded my model here: http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/details?mid=eb3e983f707a77ca94d7ea883ece95fd&prevstart=0

it includes a full cut list as well. I'll send some pictures this summer when it is up and running.

Gabe said...

Thanks Justin. Looks great. I'd love to see how it turns out. Keep me posted.

Weston Mace said...

I love your design but could not figure out where your material list was?

Gabe said...

Weston,
Thanks. Unfortunately I do not have a materials list. This was my first project of this magnitude, and I was also tweaking it as I went, so no list. However, Justin a couple posts up has a modified version (optimized materials and eliminated insulation) of my coop with a material list. Or if you end up making a material list, feel free to pass it on. Good luck.

Justin Talbot said...

My coop is fully assembled now and my flock is happily living inside. Yet to do is painting, adding rubber roof over the roof sheathing, and installing hardware cloth around the run. We are keeping 4 large chickens and 3 bantams in here, but the free range around through farm fields and our yard during the day. I made a base for the coop with some old white oak barn beams and filled the cavity with a layer of coarse gravel then a layer of coarse sand. Thanks again! Picture attached:
http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad230/Boerderij_Kabouter/Landscape/IMG_0628_zps42fa1c08.jpg

Gabe said...

Justin, looks great! I know that when we built the coop we were pushing the limits of chicken per square foot that we found in books (still well within what the chicken industry does), but in reality our 4 chickens seem to have enough room. So, especially with your free roaming setup, I can definitely see 3 more bantams fitting in (although I think in ours we would have to put up another area to roost). Looks like you have a great setup though. Congrats!

Justin Talbot said...

Yes, I am going to change the feeder a bit so it doesn't take up space inside the coop proper. And I have made a thrown together roost that the chickens are liking so far.

We are definitely below the 4 ft^2 recommendation level, but I think it will work out because they will spend the majority of the time outside. If it doesn't work out there is always the pot...

Here is a pic of the inside:
http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad230/Boerderij_Kabouter/Landscape/IMG_0630_zps5d3f1180.jpg

Monti L said...

Hello. First, thanks so much for posting this. I have been researching coop designs for a bit looking for an ideal one to go on the roof where insulation was vital. I was curious about how much this cost in total to build. I have a goal of not going over $400. Thanks so much!

Gabe said...

Monti, my plans don't result in an inexpensive coop, and I don't know if or when I'll ever break even and save money having chickens. I think the cost of our coop was possibly up to $1000 (and we got half the wood for free), but the automatic door opener and associated electronics was a couple hundred, the natural non-toxic stain was a couple hundred, and insulating it cost more due to increased materials required. All of those are optional, and you could cut costs that way.

Another commenter tweaked my design (including getting rid of the insulation) to maximize material usage. You may want to check out his google sketchup files he linked above.

In the end, chickens are low maintenance animals. They can live in an old shack if you wanted to, however if you skimp on security, you may end up losing chickens. Our intent was never really to save money, so we tried to make it as automated and ideal as reasonably possible for us. Hope that helped!

Monti L said...

Aw ok. Thanks so much. Definitely will be using this as a starting point as the insulation is key for me. Great work!

meg fennelly said...

what was your budget on this?

Gabe said...

Meg, a couple comments up I discussed costs and roughly what was most expensive. Good luck!

Nimblehand said...

Hi Gabe! I'm from Eagle Mountain, about 40 minutes NW of Provo. I came across your blog while looking at chicken coops on Pinterest. I started reading some of your other posts, and they are awesome. My husband and I are Members too. I have a blog on here, but its not nearly as awesome as yours. Its called The Woolen Weasel. I'm still working on it.

Gabe said...

Nimblehand, glad you like the blog. Maybe some day I'll get back in the habit of posting. Thanks for visiting!