Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

The Scoop on My Coop

By Cam Mather

One of the reasons it took us so long to get our own chickens was how intimidated I was about building a coop. There are sooooo many choices and so many nice coops. I’d be happy if my house looked half as nice as some of the chicken coops I’ve seen. I blame Mother Earth News for my intimidation. I have seen some of the most beautiful, ornate, functional, and just darn pretty chicken coops in their pages and frankly I was overwhelmed.

Finally I just decided to order the chickens and that forced me to just build a coop. We were having trouble getting local organic eggs, so I pulled the trigger and ordered the chickens.

I really liked a design that Darcy from The Stumbling Homestead posted.

I like it because it is portable. Or at least movable. I decided I wanted to be able to move my chicken coop around. Partially for the chickens and partially for my soil. My other parameter was that I didn’t want to spend any money on it. This is my instinct with most jobs, but one of the reasons we took so long to get chickens was because we kept saying “well, by the time we house them and feed them, it’s probably cheaper to just buy eggs from someone else.” That probably is true if you buy factory farmed grocery store eggs, but not necessarily if you’re buying locally raised organic eggs like we do.

Our neighbor Don Garrett keeps a scrap pile of his off cuts from his millwork business and I find some amazing wood there. It’s not consistent, but it’s in great shape. There are usually all different sizes and wood varieties, but I’m not into looks – I was just looking for good, free wood. This spring Don had a load of western pine that he wanted to get rid of that he offered to me. Turns out it had been on the original train station in Belleville. The boards are insanely wide, presumably from a time when the trees used were older and bigger and wider boards were available.

I had mentally worked out a few designs and then one day I was behind my horse barn and I noticed my pile of pallets. Most pallets have spaces between the boards, but we had a few pallets that came with shipments of our books that were solid – no spaces between the boards. It seemed to me that one of these pallets would make a good floor for a coop. I wanted the floor raised off the ground so that it didn’t rot. I also wanted it off the ground so that it would serve as shade for the chickens on hot days if they wanted to be outside. Then I started to figure out how to add a roof. Then one of those compact fluorescent light bulbs went off over my head and I realized I could use another pallet. Voila! Instant coop!

Now I’m not a builder, but I know flat roofs are to be avoided if you can. I know this, but like water flowing downhill in your plumbing pipes I followed the path of least resistance and knew I could whack these together in minutes and I’d feel great about how much progress I made. Sort of like answering the easy questions first on an exam. Of course later the questions start getting harder to answer, as was the case with the coop.

Next I added a window. It was one I had rescued from the dump. I believe a rural dump is less a dumping place for trash and more one big free garage sale. I wanted to put a window in the coop so that we could see what the ladies were up to since we’ve never had chickens before. Then I needed a door, so I build a little ramp that we pull up like a drawbridge so that the chickens can walk up and down and we can lock them in at night. I also put a hinge on the back door so we can easily access the eggs with minimal disruption to the chickens.

We had a few rains during the construction of the coop, since it rained constantly this spring, and of course the roof leaked. So I grabbed a leftover piece of rigid insulation from when we had the siding redone on the house. To screw it on I used plastic washers I made out of some old blinds I found at the dump. Then I put on another layer of that western pine for aesthetic value.

I know I will get lots of feedback about my coop because my blog readers are fantastic. And yes, I expect to be told that this is a dumb design. But, so far so good. The massive windstorm that came through last week didn’t budge the coop. So the weight of it is an advantage in that sense.

One thing I was hoping for was to be able to drag it around the yard when I want to move it. Well, as I kept adding stuff the dragging was getting harder and harder. And using a piece of rough, unplaned scrap wood on the bottom just made for even more resistance. Finally I screwed on an old pair of cross country skis from the… you guessed it… the dump. Then I used a good “glider” wax on the bottom of the skis and I can drag it quite nicely. With skis on the bottom I’ll be able to drag it in the summer and drag it even more easily on snow in the winter!

The design has lots of “ventilation” right now that I will have to correct before winter weather arrives. With the amount of work we have around here at this time of year my attitude is that I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I’ve put eyehooks on the door and on the egg trap door, but I’m not sure they’re raccoon-proof. Right now the coop is in the front yard close to where Morgan the Wonder Dog likes to sleep, but he, like me, is getting older, so I’m not sure he’d even notice a raccoon sneaking into the pen.

I’ve noticed that the “girls” like to perch on the boards that I have dividing their “nests” inside, so I’ve added a wooden bar for them to roost on inside too. The coop is very much a work in progress and I’m sure there will be quite a few refinements to be made. For now the ladies seem happy. Now all we need are some eggs.



  1. Joyce

    I too was overwhelmed by all the choices in chicken dwellings. At first all I wanted was a coop, then it became a condo and then it bacame a castle. It is now referred to as the Co-op (this still spells coop but sounds better). The building is even outfitted with solar powered lights to give supplemental lighting in the winter. Now if I could only afford solar power for my home I’d be set for life.

  2. Kathleen

    Congratulations Cam and Michelle on the new additions to your family! Please do investigate the best ways to racoon-proof your coop. Our CSA farmer suffered a terrible racoon attack last year that killed most of the chickens (those left were traumatized). I wouldn’t want this to happen to you!

    • aztextpress

      Thanks Kathleen! Right now the coop and pen are just out the front door where we can keep our eyes on them (Morgan the Wonder Dog is helping too!) When we are away from home (seldomly) we lock them in their coop, and of course, do so at night as well. Once we have determined a more permanent area for their coop, we’ll be building a much more secure pen for them!


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