I started with lots of research. One of the first places I went was BackyardChickens.com. They have a section on the site dedicated to coop designs. They are all nicely organized by size, from tiny, portable tractors to huge coops for dozens of chickens. Most of the coop pictures are posted on the owner’s BYC page along with descriptions, in varying levels of detail, on how they built it. It is a treasure trove of practical information and helped me clarify my requirements for the coop. If you look at these three coops, The Feather Factory, Wichita ‘Cabin Coop , and Chichen Paradise – you may be able to see some common features that made their way into my coop.
I looked briefly at some kits and at the ones local builders are posting on Craigslist, but I decided it was more important to me to design one that fit the space perfectly and optimized the use of that space. I had a 5 x 8 space to put it in/on. By designing it myself, I could control what went where, and the quality of the materials and craftsmanship – at least to the level of my skills. If you have more flexibility in your space, it may be easier to buy a set of plans you like and go from there.
Once I had the coop pretty well envisioned, I took the time to read Building Chicken Coops For Dummies. I had never purchased an xxx For Dummies book before, but it was highly recommended on a few of the chicken sites, and I may now be a convert. The book was pretty well written and presented the info at a level that was good for me – guess I’m officially a ‘dummy’? It also has a nice section on lessons learned – what do you wish you’d done differently? So far, so good – I don’t yet have anything I would add to that section.
I had seen some really nice mockups made in Google SketchUp. I downloaded that and gave it a shot, but I found that the learning curve was more of an investment that I was prepared to make for a coop. Instead, I played around in excel. I sized the rows and columns to make a scale grid such that each square was equivalent to 2″ x 2″. Then I just drew it out by shading in the squares to represent the lengths of 2×4’s. It was enough to help me think through the particulars of the dimensions and figure out how much lumber to buy.
One of the key issues to keep in mind during the design is that hardware cloth, aka welded wire, typically comes in 2′ or 3′ widths. It’s also expensive. Designing the run to use those efficiently without needing to trim 2 inches off of a seven-foot length, or needing to stitch lengths together will save you time and money. In fact – just to accommodate this, I added a 2nd stud to the south wall because then I could span the whole side with 2 lengths off a 2 ft roll.
Next: Site Prep and Foundation