Until recently, the decision to maintain one’s own chicken coop may have been considered rather granola, but nowadays it’s not unusual to spot one, even within the property lines of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. Take Nicole Richie’s Beverly Hills home, for example, where a custom coop was designed to match the home itself. In upstate New York, Isabella Rossellini’s property includes a 120-strong chicken coop. While the outdoor fixtures have quickly gone from bucolic oddities to glamorous aspirations, it’s certainly still a doable backyard project and one that’s attainable for folks with space to share.
“I would say a key element in the increased popularity of backyard chickens came during the pandemic, as it was a time when people felt the need to become more self-sufficient and build a greater sense of connectivity with nature,” says John Sharp, the principal designer of Studio John Sharp, in Los Angeles, who’s worked with a number of clients on backyard chicken coops, including Sophia Bush, for whom he crafted a midcentury inspired coop to complement her classic California bungalow.
See what four chicken coop enthusiasts share when it comes to the most important steps for backyard chicken coop creation.
Consider your geographic location
For Stephanie Cleary, cofounder and creative director of Morrow Soft Goods, in Los Angeles, planning out a backyard chicken coop meant assessing the specific needs of Southern California living. Considering the heat and the existing wildlife was essential. On the other hand, if you live in a place with long, cold winters, create a plan to keep your chickens warm and cozy when the temperature dips.
Think about property layout
Before building a backyard chicken coop, remember it can take up a good portion of a yard. “The overall size of your coop is dependent on how many chickens you will be housing; the rule of thumb for the run is 10 feet per chicken,” Sharp says. “This can be slightly smaller if you have free-ranging chickens, and are letting them out to forage in your garden during the day.”
Sustainability expert Shelbi Orme, known as Shelbizleee to her 300,000+ YouTube subscribers, and based in San Antonio, Texas, was excited to have a backyard chicken coop, even though it did eat into her gardening space. “I think maybe people don’t realize that it’s going to take up space where you might want to be growing other things,” Orme says.
Choose the right number of chickens for you
The number of chickens you hope to raise will greatly affect every detail of your backyard chicken coop.
“Start with a manageable number of chickens,” says Douglas Friedman, a photographer based in Marfa, Texas, who raised his chickens from baby chicks, and underestimated how much space he’d need. When he started the coop, he thought, “Oh, I’ll start with 30 chicks.” However, he soon realized that’s a lot of chickens. “We actually had to expand the size of the coop and make it bigger to accommodate them,” he says. “I really messed it up. We probably would have been fine with like half as many birds.” Friedman’s coop (documented on Instagram @thebestlittlehenhouseintexas) was restored from a derelict coop on his neighbor’s property, so the excess of chickens meant expanding the existing structure.
Whether you’re buying a premade chicken coop or building one of your own from scratch, make sure your prospective coop is big enough, not just for your yard and for your chickens, but for you to climb into as you’ll have to go in to clean it. Cleary learned this the hard way; she purchased a premade coop and soon discovered it was too small to get inside of, which lead her to then design and make a new backyard chicken coop from scratch.
Buy coop building materials
The right materials depend greatly on just how DIY you want to go. Opinions and experiences differ, but regardless of whether you choose a prebuilt coop or build one yourself, it’s likely you’ll need to do a certain amount of customization to best suit the needs of your location. Consider the core elements of a coop: nesting boxes, roosting bars, and a chicken run.
Here, backyard chicken coop building materials to get you started.
- Chickens (find a local hatchery or buy chicks online)
- Galvanized wire (not chicken wire, the name is misleading)
- Nesting boxes
- Roosting bar
- Prefab coop
One nesting box (with a lid for easy access to gather eggs) per two or three chickens works best. “Though they usually prefer their nesting boxes, free-ranging chickens will sometimes lay their eggs in random places within your yard, just something to keep in mind when gardening,” Sharp advises. He also recommends placing different level roosting bars for the chickens to sleep on. Look for a bar that is at least two to four inches wide, as unlike wild birds, chickens don’t perch.
Protect chicks from predators
Considering the predators in your area is the most important element for keeping chickens safe and happy. This should come into play in your initial prep and building of the coop, but there are always additional ways of protecting beyond a strong wire foundation. “[When we first got a coop,] we didn’t realize that raccoons were slowly digging underneath the chicken run and were slowly ripping apart the chicken wire over time,” Cleary says. “Raccoons are very smart! They play the long game.” Cleary also warned of coyotes and rats which are liable to dig into a coop. “We buried a rectangle frame with half-inch wire mesh below for the coop frame to sit on so no predators could come from below,” Cleary explains. Similarly, Douglas Friedman’s coop had to be crafted much like an aviary to protect the chickens from the flying predators that can be found in Texas.
Entertain the chickens
Like any household pet, it’s important to watch the chickens and make sure all of their needs are met. Naturally, these needs can change over time. Pay attention to the weather, the amount of space they have to roam, and what they have to eat. Chickens also want to be entertained. Attaching lettuce leaves to a piece of string can make for a happy meal. A chicken swing will keep them from getting bored.