Keeping chickens does not require elaborate housing. As long as they are protected from predators and the elements, a very basic structure will suffice. The average do-it-yourselfer can complete a chicken coop for very little cost and a weekend's worth of work.
Building a Chicken Coop
With the rise in popularity of backyard chicken keeping, many people are turning to cost-saving methods to expand their flocks. Building your own chicken coop from scrap wood and straw or hay bales, or converting an existing structure like a shed or playhouse are all effective ways to create housing for chickens. Although coops are generally thought of as permanent structures, chicken tractors, or portable chicken coops with runs attached, are also an attractive option for housing a small flock.
Deciding whether to build a stationary or portable coop depends upon the number of chickens you wish to raise, the amount of space available and whether or not the chickens will be allowed to free range.
The major considerations, regardless of which you decide to build, involve what the chickens require to remain healthy. Make sure you allow for about 4 square feet of space per chick and at least one nesting box for each four hens. You can make nesting boxes from old fruit crates turned on their sides and cushioned with straw. Perches should also be installed about 18 inches from the ground; they can consist of something as simple as an old ladder or a broom handle. There should be enough perch to allow about 10 inches of space per bird. Ensure that your coop is sealed tightly to protect against predators, drafts and extreme weather.
Secondary considerations include ease of use for the flock's tender. Height is an important consideration to be able to easily get into the coop for cleaning and egg collecting. Exterior doors to nesting boxes are a convenient feature that allows collection without entering the coop, but a tight fit and a locking mechanism is important to prevent predators from violating the structure.
When using hay or straw bales, be sure to wrap the entire structure with chicken wire or snow fencing to ensure that it will hold together well if predators attempt to dig it out. Securing the roof directly to the ground, instead of simply resting it on top of the bales, will ensure a tight fit as well as prevent it from blowing away in a storm. Andy Lee's book "Chicken Tractor" details using bales for coops and offers several suggestions for roofing materials and strategies.
Using an existing structure is by far the easiest way to create a stationary coop. Simple modifications, like the addition of nesting boxes and perches and a ramp for chickens to exit and enter the coop, may be all that are needed.
Creating a portable chicken coop adds a few extra considerations. If the coop sits flush with the ground, a wire skirt should surround it to prevent animals from digging under the coop. Determining if the coop needs to have wheels or if it will be dragged to a new location will be a matter of preference, but adding wheels generally makes the coop less unwieldy and also elevates it off the ground.
Unless the flock is to be completely free range, coops should have caged runs attached so the chickens can access fresh air and sunshine. Use the same cautions when building this portion of the coop as with the actual structure. Consider if the pen should have a wire top to it to prevent hawks and owls from attacking the flock and what kind of gate and locking mechanism will provide the easiest access for you and the least access for marauders.