The reality of beginner chicken keeping is that you'll need a chicken coop sooner rather than later. Baby chicks grow up fast! Here's how to turn a shed into a chicken coop so you can easily provide your birds with a safe place to live.
Yes, we should all be organized and get everything ready for our chicken-keeping adventure ahead of time. But that’s not what always happens. I know from experience. The Easter Bunny delivered our first flock and we spent the next weeks raising baby chicks and building a grow-out coop and constructing a permanent chicken coop.
Many flock iterations and two coops later, the time recently came for a new coop. We decided to purchase an 8’ x 8’ garden shed kit from a home store and turn it into a coop. From previous builds, we knew my husband and I are not great carpenters and the entrance to our yard is too small to move in a pre-made coop. For us, the garden shed would take the guesswork out of the building part and allow us to take lessons learned from our previous coops and integrate them into this project.
If you’ve already got a garden shed in the backyard, you may be wondering can I use my shed as a chicken coop? Yes. In fact, you’re one step closer to a wonderful coop than we were. You just need to make the adjustments to accommodate your chickens.
Here’s how we turned a shed into a chicken coop, including our thought process and modifications we made to our prefab shed.
Site selection was the hardest part for us since neither of our previous sites fully fit our needs. While site selection isn’t a huge topic in chicken how-to’s, it really should be a significant consideration. If you don’t get it right and you don’t have a mobile coop, then you’re stuck. I'll share with you my site selection pitfalls so that you can avoid them.
Our first coop site was bucolic, it was away from the house and up a small hill. The coop was sunny during the cooler part of the day and shade during the warmer part. It also got some nice breezes and full sun during the winter to keep it warm. The bad part was the hill. Carrying supplies, namely water and food bags, up that hill was tough; especially in the winter and wet weather. It was like our personal and unwanted slip and slide. Also, the people who watch our chickens when we’re on vacation are older and they couldn’t traverse the hill.
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Hence the second site. It was at the base of the hill, closer to water and supplies and easier for our vacation caregivers. It was at the edge of a treeline giving it some nice shade. But, the base of the hill collected runoff. You’d think it would drain well, given that it slanted down, but it stayed damp enough that the summer heat and humidity led to rotting wood.
Our new site is on the flattest part of our yard. It’s in a sunny area to prevent rot, but it does have some nice shade for the run and one side of the coop. We may have to look at providing more shade if it gets too hot, but we’ll address that situation if it arises.
|The entrance from the coop to the run is a busy place. This Barred Rock is heading out to stretch her legs.|
Know Your Local Regulations
Always consider your local regulations; you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law when building a coop. That's part of the beauty of buying a pre-fab shed. Check the specs and you’ll normally see that it already meets building codes. If so, you’ll usually just be required to get a permit and pay a small fee.
Zoning codes can also determine site selection. Some codes regulate how far off the property line your shed can be built. Some also regulate the dimensions and height. Figure this out before you get started - even before you purchase your chickens. If you can’t build something that gives your birds enough space, then a smaller flock or no flock at all may be your course of action.
Space is important. Too little space leads to disease and behavioral problems like pecking, bullying and even cannibalism. It’s best to err on the side of more space, especially since raising chickens can be addictive and most soon find that their first small flock will expand.
You need to consider space inside the coop and space in the outdoor run separately. Minimums are two to three square feet per bird in the coop and three to four square feet per bird in the run.
The Inside Setup
Two choices stand out for chicken coops, straw and pine shavings. My preference is pine shavings. They are inexpensive, easy to acquire and store and they dry well. Pine shavings are also kiln-dried so you shouldn’t have a problem with the shavings harboring mites.
Shavings should be added to the coop floor about six inches deep to give the chickens a cushion as they jump from roost bars and nest boxes.
💭Coop Modification Tip💭 Install a piece of wood (1x6 or 1x8) horizontally so the width of the wood is vertical across the door frame to keep bedding from spilling out as chickens and humans walk into and out of the coop. Just don’t forget it’s there and trip over it!
|Notice the board in the coop entrance, it keeps bedding in the coop. Entrance steps are made of open slats so they can easily be cleaned.|
How about the interior walls? A normal pre-fab shed has exposed studs framing the walls. On both our other coops, we left those studs open. For this coop, we installed plywood from the floor to ceiling covering the studs. We did this because it was always a pain to clean bedding completely from those studs, especially in the corners. Plywood walls now give us a smooth surface to clean.
💭Coop Modification Tip💭 I paint the walls of my coop with white, washable paint. I use barn and fence paint that’s safe for livestock. There are two reasons for this; pest prevention and poop. Paint hinders mites from burrowing into the wood, and painted walls allow for easy cleanup when poop gets on the. If the paint stains and I think it’s an eyesore, then I spot-paint over it. I re-paint the whole coop once a year or so.
Who's Nest is Best?
Nest boxes give chickens a clean, private space to lay their eggs where you can easily gather them. When you turn a shed into a chicken coop, you'll need to add next boxes. The rule of thumb is one nest box for every three to four chickens. Always provide the suggested amount of next boxes, but know that’s a book rule and not a chicken rule. Your hens will sense the most popular box and all want to use it at the same time, creating a squabble and sometimes a tussle as two or more hens try to squeeze into the box at the same time.
Nest boxes are normally 12-inch cubes. You can buy them from a hatchery or farm supply store or make them yourself. Our nest boxes are recycled from a small starter coop that we no longer needed. People get creative with them and use all sorts of things including wooden crates and plastic cat litter boxes.
|Three nest boxes provide plenty of space for nine hens.|
Whatever you use, clean nest boxes equal clean eggs. I line my nest boxes with pine chips, collect eggs frequently and change the chips regularly.
Chickens prefer nest boxes that are in a quiet spot in the coop. Our shed has two doors. We keep one door closed and have the nest box located right inside that door. This allows us to open that door and easily collect eggs without having to step in the coop. Nest boxes should be raised off the floor so they aren't trampled and filled with dirt but not as high as the roost bars so your birds aren’t tempted to roost in the nest box at night.
Chickens sleep on roost bars at night to stay safe from predators. They need about 12 inches of horizontal space per bird. In the heat of summer, you’ll see the chickens spread out a bit more on the bars than in the winter when they huddle together.
Roost bars can be laid out in two ways — horizontally so that each bar is at the same height spaced about 18 inches apart or vertically so the bars are placed like a staggered ladder with bars spaced 12 inches apart horizontally and at least 12 inches apart vertically. Spacing should be based on your birds, smaller birds need less spacing than larger birds.
|To give maximum room, these roost bars are spaced vertically, but not too much to create a power struggle during nightly roosting.|
Spacing is important for comfort and also for poop. Chickens poop at night while they roost. With the vertical bars, the chickens need to be far enough apart so they don’t poop on each other.
Wood is best for roost bars. Do not use plastic pipes because they’re too slippery or metal which can cause frostbite. In previous coops, I used tree branches that are about three to four inches wide. In this coop 2 x 3 (you can also use 2 x 4) lumber placed with the wide side laying face up.
An outdoor run that’s attached to the coop gives your birds a safe place to get outdoors each day. We purchased a dog-style type of run from our local farm store and attached it to the coop walls. To facilitate the bird’s movement from coop to run, cut a hole in the lower side of the coop where the run will be located. You can keep the cut piece of wood and frame it to make a flap door that can be safely secured with a latch at night. For this pre-fab coop, we recycled a decorative opening from the aforementioned starter coop. It’s the prettiest run opening we’ve ever had!
Prefab garden sheds don’t usually have working windows. A chicken coop must have windows for air. When you turn a shed into a chicken coop, you'll need to add working windows. We purchased two windows and installed them across from each other to promote good airflow. To prevent predators from breaking through the window screening when the window is open, add a layer of half-inch wide hardware cloth that is firmly attached inside the coop.
💭Coop Modification Tip💭 Chicken coops need ventilation, not wind, but an area that promotes fresh airflow. This helps to prevent frostbite and disease, especially in winter when humidity and ammonia can build up in a battened down coop. We purchased a metal air vent to install high on the back wall. It can be covered if it gets too cold.
|Windows are lined with hardware cloth to keep predators out.|
By having chickens, you’ve basically put an all-you-can-eat buffet for wildlife in your backyard. If predators can easily get food, they will. It’s your job to make it hard for them and that starts with the coop. Here are a few tips.
• Use half-inch hardware cloth to line openings like the windows and ventilation cover.
• Dig 12 inches deep around the run and line it with hardware cloth.
• Put a secure cover on the run so it is completely enclosed.
• Make sure all latches are raccoon-proof. Raccoons are dexterous and smart. A padlock is the best, though it can be inconvenient.
• Do not use chicken wire, it is decorative, not protective.
• Put all food and water inside at night. Leaving it out is nothing but a temptation.
Once you have the basics in place, and you've turned a shed into a chicken coop, you can make your coop look as decorative as you’d like. Lighting, landscaping, and signs add personality. Just remember that cleanliness, ease of use and safety are the most important factors for a coop that you and your chickens will love.
Originally published in The New Pioneer magazine.