My Adventures in Chicken Housing

Ok, a number of people have asked, so here goes...
Update 04.30.2017

A LOT of these designs are still working out for me, like the little hoop house, the big hoop house and the big hoop coop, but the breeding pen design was never completed, for a number of reasons. #1, it was too hard to keep clean. #2, the ground holds water too well! It turns into a swamp every time it rains!

The next generation of coops/pens is in construction. We have had an aluminum car port sitting disassembled down the hill for YEARS!  Once it's back up, I have two chain-link dog kennels that will be assembled under the car port. I have a roll-out nest box for each one as well, for easy egg collection. The big hoop house will be retrofitted with one as well. 

Each of the kennel pens will be 10x20 and fully enclosed to prevent escape and predators. Between them and the big hoop coop, the plan is to put the SFH in one, the Dorkings in the other and the eating-eggers in the third, with the turkeys sharing one of the kennels (and dog houses for their nests).

I also played with the idea of a colony pen for the rabbits, but decided to go with large raised cages instead. I used the tractors (4x8 low pens pictured below) for pairs and trios, but the does were not good mothers in these situations, which prompted my change of direction.

Thanks for reading. I've left my original notes below, in case others want to follow my train of thought as things developed.


I originally got interested in chickens back in '94, but at the time had our coop inside the barn with the horses, and they free ranged all day, so housing wasn't an issue and not really something I considered at the time.  Then years later, after several moves, carreer changes and a marriage, I wanted to get some again. I finally convinced hubby to let me get 'a few' and away we went. TSC had chicks on sale at the time, so I picked up 13 assorted bantams. Never having bred anything but barnyard mixes out of my beautiful adult girls, I had no idea what I was looking for in chicks. I wanted bantam cochins, since that's what I loved the most in years past, so I attempted to select just that. What I ended up with was a feather-footed assortment with a couple others added in for flavor. LOL
So now I've got the chicks home, and it's time to build a coop. But what kind???  I hadn't really thought that far ahead. So off to Google we went.
After looking over hundreds (or more?) of coops and designs, I decided the hoop coop would work well.
I modified and consolidated some designs I found and ended up building a 4'x8' frame, used 10' lengths of PVC electrical conduit bent over in an arc and attached to the frame on both sides, spaced at 2' intervals. Then I took 2 pieces of 4' 1" hex wire over the top and used light weight electric fencing wire to wrap the wire to the hoops with.  On the ends, I did the same hoop with a 2x2 at the base on hinges, but instead of the hex wire I used 1x1 welded wire since it's easier to cut a 'chicken door' out of the square wire. I attached the wire to the door hoop the same way and split an old garden hose down one side, to cover the sharp edges of wire over the conduit. I used small screws to anchor the hose to the frame of the door. Then I used a doghouse I had as the chicks' first house.
After a couple weeks in the doghouse, I realized the chicks would soon outgrow that. So I proceeded to build (way over built actually) a small house for them. I got the idea to recycle pallets, so spent over a week disassembling some pallets I got and picking the best pieces to use.  It consists of a 3'x3' wire-covered base, 4' tall at the highest end with an externally hung nest box. Because of its size, I opted for a removable side instead of a clean-out door, but did put chicken doors on the removable side and the front. The doors themselves are the solid sides to computer cases. This coop is sitting on a couple pieces of 6x6 to raise it off the ground a bit.
By this time I had decided what breeds I wanted to work with for LF, the Dorking, and needed to build a suitable home for them as well.  I decided to go with the hoop idea again, but went on an 8' square frame this time. Since the 10' pieces of conduit weren't long enough, and 20' ended up too tall to be easily workable, I ended up cutting some in half and going with 15' hoop 'ribs', again spaced 2' apart with the 1" chicken wire going over the top.  For the ends, hubby convinced me to build a square end with door to attach to the hoop, which I covered with 2"x4" welded fence wire. The side facing the house would have just a hole for access to the coop.
The house was a larger version of my first one as well, but covered in plywood rather than pallet boards. It was built on a 4'x5' base, also wire covered, standing 3' tall at the short end and 4' tall on the other, and resting on 12" plastic bed risers. It also has external nest boxes, one on each side, with 3 roosts inside going lengthwise and double doors on the back for access.
Eventually, as chicken math usually does, I started running out of room. No surprise there, right? But since I was free ranging most of my birds by this time, crowded pens weren't much of an issue. Crowded houses were though! 
Instead of building yet another house, I decided to repurpose my old horse trailer. Being from Maine, and built in 1976, it was "ate up with cancer" as hubby puts it...  The salty roads for close to 6 months a year had taken their toll. As such, it was long past its road-worthiness and hadn't even had tags on it since it left Maine in 1997, though it had been used occasionally until 2003.  It's the style that has a feed shelf in the horse section of it, and a tack room in front. The tack room serves as storage for tractor parts, diesel and other odds & ends, and would not be modified for the chickens. The rear section though, that was fair game.
It was a fairly simple matter of removing the dividers. RIGHT! They were held in by rusted bolts that couldn't have been more solid if they'd been welded in. An air-powered angle grinder made sort work of them though. I added a row of milk crates for nests, a poop shelf over that to keep them clean, and 4 2x4 roosts run lengthwise at 2 different levels. Even the weakest of fliers (the Cochins!) can get to the top roost by stair-stepping their way up. Poop shelf to lower roost to feed shelf to upper roost. Two bags of shavings and a couple days after starting and it was ready for occupation! This was by far the EASIEST coop I've ever 'built'.
OH!  I forgot. I did close in the rear end of the trailer with external grade siding and added a door. The hardest part there was getting the screws used to hold the 2x4 frame through the (still relatively thick) steel skin! I discovered that hex-head drill screws work wonders when paired with 18v cordless drills.  I also eventually made a frame of wire and wood to cover the windows, so I could leave them open in the summer when it got warm.
At this time, the goal is to relocate the horse trailer and build a new coop in the same location, complete with a feed room and externally accessed nest boxes, plus some broody nests  at the floor level that can be kept separated from the flock when the hen has new chicks.
I also decided, around the time I finished the horse trailer, that I needed some smaller breeding/baby pens.  These were also on a 4'x8' footprint and stand roughly 30" tall. The pen takes up 6' of its length and has a lifting top. The other 2' is the house section with a lifting roof. These pens work well for bantams and as chick grow-out pens, covered with 1x1 welded wire on the pen and plywood on the house section.
This is the only image I have of the 3 I've built, but the middle one was modified slightly because of an electrical fire in the house (you can see smoke in the pic) and the far end one has also been modified, as it no longer has a drop door on the end. The middle pen is now just the pen, with the doghouse attached to it. This works just fine as a grow-out or broody pen. 
I had no plans to add the house back on, until a stray dog managed to chew the strap holding the doghouse  to the pen, knocked it over and killed 2 of my bantam cochin roosters. Currently it is unoccupied, but I plan to do something with it soon. I also have one more that is partially assembled that will be finished when I have the time and extra plywood available.
more recently
Finally, I decided I needed a pen more suited to LF as well, but our property is far from level...  After looking over even more coop designs and playing with some ideas of my own, I came up with a modular design of sorts. It's not a portable system, but can be built sectionally and put to use as soon as each section is completed, adding more sections as time and weather allow, and by doing each section separately, it won't matter that the ground isn't perfectly level. 
It's not completed yet, but the idea is to build 4 8'x8' sections, each divided into 2 pens of 4'x8', with an overall footprint of 16'x16'. the house is raised off the ground, wire floors, with doors on the fronts of each house for access to the roosts and nest box. I also decided, once the 8 pens are completed I will add another  section to the end, 16' long and however deep I can manage before I hit the tree line.
This last section will be a shed-style with sloping roof. I may close in the sides and add windows, or I may just wire the whole thing. I haven't gotten that far yet to make that decision. This section will be multi-purposed, as quarantine, hospital, individual breeding cages, or a brooding area, as needed.
The outer walls of the whole setup will be 1x1 welded wire for the bottom 2' and 2x4 welded fence wire above that. The roof is covered with 4' x 1" chicken wire, and the walls between each section are 6' tall 1" chicken wire. 
Here's a mockup of the finished design, and a couple pics of what I currently have done.  
I'm nearly finished with the second 8' section but have the first two already in use by my mille fleur bantam Cochins and my Swedish Flower Hens. 
The cochins aren't great jumpers, so they warranted a ramp to get up to their house, while the SFH are able to jump easily to their house. The cardboard box has also since been replaced with a plywood nestbox.
Each design has had some flaws and led to improvements in the next. So far I haven't had any complaints about the newest pens, except for some leaky roofing material. I upgraded the roofing to include a double layer of 6 mil clear plastic under the roofing material, to help prevent any further leaks in the house sections.
The smaller hoop coop is nice, but a royal pain to work inside. If you don't have external feed and water, then you have to open the end door and chance escapes, or go in and shut it behind you. This could be a problem for ayone over 4'6" tall.  But over the last 2 years, this pen has withstood weather of all sorts, not to mention invasion by miniature horses determined to get the feed inside. It's no longer pretty, but still fully functional.  The solution was to build a bigger hoop pen that was tall enough to enter without bending over double.
The small house now attached to the smaller hoop coop is also fully functional, but more suited for bantams than LF. I discovered early on that they will roost at the highest point possible, which happenned to be the nest box for a while. Then I added another roost higher up, but LF are crowded in here if there are more than 3 birds, so the nest again became a roost at night. This pen is now reserved for breeding groups of 4 to 6 bantam cochins.  
The larger hoop pen works well and has been relocated a couple times, only suffering minor damage in the process. I did have some predator issues last fall because of the 2x4 wire used on the ends (raccoons were able to grab young birds and pull them through the wire). I have since added 1/2" hardware cloth along the bottom to prevent this.
The house is also very nice and well designed, except that the nest box roofs need to be removed to access eggs, because of the roofing material I used. If the roofing were flat, they could just be lifted, but because of the wavy design, that made it impossible. Also, removing roosting birds is problematic because the doors are only just over 3' high, and the roosts are situated above the top of the doors. The solution to this would be to make it taller over all.
The horse trailer is a great all-round house, except the nest boxes sit on the floor which makes getting eggs difficult unless you want to kneel in the bedding on the floor. *ICK* Now I use a pasta scoop to scoop the eggs up one at a time and don't have to kneel down to get the eggs in the far corner nests. If I re-do the trailer, I'll raise the nests up onto the feed shelf.
The only other problem with the horse trailer, the roof leaks. So every time we have any serious amount of rain, the bedding becomes entirely soaked and in need of removal. But when we're scheduled for rain for days on end, the wet bedding stays. This is NOT good for the wooden floor, but short of building a roof over the trailer, it'll have to do. In the winter, it becomes a solid frozen lump and only cleanable once we thaw out sufficiently.
The small breeding/baby pens are also convenient in their size and design, but problematic to move or clean out. The easiest way to clean them, is to move them, requiring either 2 people or a tractor. Also, their location was not my best choice, since the ground there seems to retain water much longer than other areas, making them soupy messes when we have a lot of rain.
So far the only down side that I've found on my newest pen design is that the Cochins didn't seem capable of jumping up to the floor of the house, or to the roosts once they were in the house. This was fixed by adding a ramp for them to walk up from the ground, and once I added the nest box it became the next step to the roosts.  I still need to add roosts in the pen section, but haven't gotten around to that yet.
Southern States wire has much better galvanizing, as the several times I've gotten wire from TSC it has rusted before I even got the wrapping off it! The TSC wire has gone back twice. They wouldn't replace the 3rd roll but did give me a partial refund.
The roofing I use on all my pens is called Ondura and can be found at Lowes. It is a composite material that is flexible in any season and can be cut with a circular saw easily, if you need smaller pieces. It can be anchored down to wood using specialized nails with rubber washers, or on the hoop pens I have just anchored it using ratchet straps for tie downs curved over the wire of the hoops. 
My baby pens have the ondura roofing on the house section, but I used the clear plastic roofing/siding panels over part of the pen to provide a dry area in which to keep the feeders.
Building all the coops & pens, I use pressure treated 2x4s on the ground and 1x2, 2x2 and 2x3 everywhere else depending on what's needed. This provides a bit of savings and makes the pens lighter and easier to work with.  I also use 2x3s for roosts as well, laid flat, to provide ample roosting support for everyone.
For plywood, I prefer to use 5/8" sheathing (4 ply or better). Even those pieces that have been out in the weather for well over a year and unpainted are still quite solid.  If it's going to be under cover, then I go with a 3/8" 3-ply sheathing when it's not needed for structural soundness, such as nest boxes or the dividing sections between my new pens.
Updated 03.16.2014