Chickens at Home: How to Plan and Build a Coop for Your Backyard Flock

Our first flock found our home in the summer of 2016. We purchased grown Rhode-Island Red hens as a way to dip our toe in the water without committing to all the gear chicks entailed. Little did we know the hens we got were around 3 years old and had significantly slowed down in laying potential. We got maybe 4 dozen eggs total from that first flock but they taught us a lot.

Our second flock we raised from chicks. Reinvigorated to do it right and get the most out of a flock we could I poured over research on the best birds to get for our little homestead, made huge changes to our coop and run set up and jumped in. All of my hard work paid off. That flock laid diligently for us and even moved with us from our rental to the Farmette to live out the remainder of their days!

Our newest flock is just about to start laying and they are living the high life in their custom built, a-frame moveable coop tractor and majorly benefitting from all of the lessons we learned raising our first two sets of chickens.

Coop & Run Must-Haves

Building a chicken coop can be as expensive or as cheap as you want to make it. More important than the materials you use, however, is that you have the right components to make owning chickens easy and pleasurable for you and safe and healthy for them! It is totally normal to want to make changes as you learn what matters to you and your flocks needs!

This is our list of must haves in any coop we build!

  • Proper square footage. Aim for a minimum of 2-3/bird in the coop and 8-10sqft/bird in the run.
    • Keep in mind that you will occasionally need or want to clean out the run so being able to maneuver a tool or bring a wheelbarrow in or close enough is very helpful!
  • Ventilation without drafts – Good ventilation is crucial in a chicken coop for 2 reasons:
    • Moisture builds as the chickens breathe at night in the coop. In the winter, this moisture could cause frost bite or even death.
    • Chicken waste produces ammonia that can be very damaging to their respiratory systems in confined spaces.
  • Wide flat roosts that are higher than the nesting boxes – Chickens Chickens want to sleep high and lay eggs low. They don’t wrap their talons around posts like other birds. Rather, they keep their feet flat so they can keep it completely warm under their feathers. A wide flat roost – like a 2×4, will give the chickens plenty of space to stretch their toes. Make sure to paint it so they don’t get splinters or cuts that can lead to nasty infection!
    Sometimes when there is no safe high place available they will climb into the nest box where it is dark and feels more secure. Sleeping chickens still poop and leave messy nesting boxes, which means messy eggs. We block our chickens from the nesting boxes during the winter and as chicks when they first move into the coop so they don’t develop bad habits.
  • Sufficient Nesting Boxes (1 per 3 birds) – You could put unlimited nesting boxes in a chicken coop and they would still pick their 1-2 favorite and only lay there. Having more than one means there aren’t as many traffic jams during egg laying time though!
  • Window to check in at night without disturbing them – This is specifically nice in the winter when I don’t want them losing any heat in the coop overnight but want to make sure they are all tucked in! It also makes it easy for you to see wayward eggs!
  • Fully enclosed run in heavy duty wire – this means walls and roof at minimum. Some people bury wire around the base of their chicken coop to protect from digging predators like coyote. The larger the predators in your area the more “security” you need. In mountain regions they even surround their coops and runs with electric wire and “unwelcome mats” to protect their birds from bears
    • 1/2″ Welded Wire – racoons cannot reach through this wire and it is very sturdy against digging predators
    • Hog Panel – racoons and cats can reach or fit all the way through this wire and chicks can escape the larger holes so its better for grown birds
    • 2×4″ Welded Wire -racoons and cats can reach all the way through this wire and chicks can escape the larger holes so its better for grown birds.
  • Three Points of Access
    • Chicken access door with pully system or solar door – Chickens have an amazing internal clock and will put themselves to bed in the coop each night. The peace of mind that our chickens are closed in, safe, and warm while we are away or when its just too cold to go outside is irreplaceable. We use the XX solar door.
      If you don’t want to pay for a solar door the girls need some kind of door that you can close to protect from drafts when it is cold and damp. We strongly recommend you attach it to some kind of pully system or handle that you can reach without having to climb into the coop or run every night.
    • Nesting Box Access
      • ROLL AWAY – these are the perfect option if you have egg eaters or do not want to interact with the chickens at all. The nesting boxes are at a slight angle so when the egg is laid it rolls to the back and ends up in a small compartment
      • Lift Up Lid – Most wood lids are heavy enough that a raccoon cant lift them but a bear can. This is a great option if your girls lay in the coop rather than the nesting box because you can still reach other eggs. Remember to put roofing on the lid to keep it from rotting in the winter!
      • TILT OUT – these require more bending over and can’t always reach the wayward eggs
    • Large access door for cleaning – chickens poop a lot and bedding needs to be removed a few times a year. A large door with the base at waist height to be able to get full sized tools in the coop is crucial! This door also provides access to the birds at night if you need to treat or check on their physical health.
  • VINYL FLOORING for easy clean up – smooth vinyl rather than rough plywood is easier to sweep and wipe clean as needed.

Take a walk down memory lane with us…

Our First Coop: KIT COOP

If I remember right, we spent around $250 on this whole set up that didn’t even last us a whole year! Kit coops are notoriously expensive and flimsy but it got us through our first flock. We learned a lot of tough lessons from this coop set up – let me spell them out so you don’t make them too!

  1. Make sure your run is tall enough to stand in! We learned this one the hard way.  A chicken will absolutely lay a wayward egg every once in a while.  Usually in their run. One of us would hold up the run while the other crawled in. It was disgusting and dirty and very short lived.
  2. Coop on the ground – cleaning out the coop or collecting eggs meant bending over. Save your back and build your coop at the height that is convenient for you.
  3. No shade or cover from the elements – we assumed chickens would go in the coop to get out of the rain. News Flash! They won’t. Anytime it rained they would huddle in the corner until we crawled under and put them back in the coop. See #1 disgusting and dirty!
  4. Elevate feeders and waterers – hanging feeder help keep rodents from stealing your feed and the chickens from making too big of a mess when scratching through the dirt
  5. Keep the peace with sufficient square footage – Chickens establish a pecking order and can be a little bit evil when enforcing it. Think teenage girl hazing – our first flock tortured one girl by not allowing her to sleep safely on the roost with group and keeping her away from all of the food meant she lost all of her feathers from stress. Aim for 2-3 sq ft per bird in the coop and 8-10 square ft per bird in the run at minimum.

It wasn’t all mistakes – we did make a few good decisions in that set up

  1. Fully enclosed run with wire roof – this protected them from any arial predators
  2. Fly Control – even from the beginning we have always been serious about fly control. Flies carry a lot of disease and can kill animals in a variety of ways.
  3. 2×4 wire is a middle tier wire – much stronger than chicken wire but not as sturdy as welded wire.


We knew we needed to make major changes after the kit coop roof ripped off and left the girls even more vulnerable. I called my dad to discuss our building options. As we were pricing out all the materials needed I stumbled upon a local coop builder and this yellow coop was a screaming deal at $250! We couldn’t build it ourselves for that price and we leapt at the opportunity.

It was heavier than hell but was sturdy and large. It acted as a full panel in our run and gave the girls something to hide under away from the beating sun and elements.

There were significant improvements made to this coop and run set up.

  1. We were capable of standing upright in the run for cleaning and med checks
  2. Coop elevated off the ground solved two problems – we no longer had to bend over to clean out the coop and the chickens could huddle under the coop from the sun and elements.
  3. This picture doesn’t show it but we used heavy duty plant hangers to elevate our feeders and waterers – which helped keep rodents out and their water crystal clear.
  4. More than doubled the square footage with the same number of birds – chickens will always have a pecking order but too tight of accomodations will lead to bullying.
  5. We purposely arranged the coop to be able to access the egg boxes without entering the run and to be able to see the chickens going to bed at night from the kitchen sink window.
  6. Fly control continued!
  7. We upgraded to 1/2″ welded wire – stronger against digging predators like fox!

We did make one major mistake though – can you spot it?

  1. We no longer had a roof on our run which left our flock vulnerable to arial predators – we lost 2 birds to arial predators in this coop. Not bad considering it stayed this way for 3 years.

The A-Frame Tractor

This is our current coop at the Farmette! It is 6’W x 10′ L x

We purchased our home in the fall of 2020 – a brick ranch from the 80’s in rough shape. I had been researching homesteading for years and after being inspired by Kelsey Jorissen at Green Willow Homestead and her moveable chicken tractors so I knew I wanted a moveable a-frame coop. The chickens could scratch up our weeds and fertilize as they went. I drew out what I wanted and sent it to my dad (our unofficial general contractor) and he went to work making my dream structurally sound.

We built it over the winter in the garage of the new house while the girls stayed in the Rosemary Coop at the rental. They moved in just as the grasses and dandelions were getting out of control. We moved it every couple of days until winter and they got every dandelion they could. Unfortunately structurally sound and extra safe means extra heavy so while it is on wheels and can be moved around the yard, it is now mostly permanent and we have since built a smaller, crap-tastic (as my dad would say) tractor that we can move them around the yard in if needed.

We have not lost a single hen to a predator in the two years we have used it.

Even so, there are changes that we would like to make like adding a smaller chicken door to let them free range easier, corrugated panels on the triangle portion to block wind and snow in the cold months, and painting the wire black in for a better view through it.

The bottom line is that you won’t know what you don’t know until you start!

Think of yourself like goldilocks, you will likely change your set up and gear a few times before you get it just right. Especially if you fall trap to chicken math and need to add more square footage.

We love to see and hear about your adventures on your property, big or small! Please leave a comment or tag me on Instagram with @TheFryFarmette and #TheFryFarmette so we can cheer you on!

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