The chicken coop is almost certainly going to be your biggest expense when you’re preparing for your first flock. Building your own will save money over buying a pre-fabricated one, but it can still be expensive.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to cut down on those costs even further without compromising on the space, weather resistance, predator prevention, and temperature control that chickens need to stay happy and healthy.
1. Do all your research before making any coop decisions. Knowing exactly what you need in a coop is the best way to make sure you build the right one for your flock. It will save you a lot on extra or incorrect materials if you know how many birds you’ll have, what breed and sex they’ll be, and what they’ll need out of a chicken coop before you plan for or buy anything.
2. Find a free plan online. This is the one area where the most straightforward way is also the cheapest. Hundreds of high-quality chicken coop plans are available online and can be downloaded for free. Find one that meets all of your needs, or alter an existing plan to design the perfect coop for you and your birds.
3. Choose the perfect location. If you find the perfect coop location, you won’t have to spend time and money building extras to correct the spot’s deficiencies. For example, if it’s shady enough, you might not have to build a run shelter or buy fans to keep it cool in the summer. If it’s elevated, your coop will last much longer without water damage.
4. Reuse, repurpose, and salvage. You may be surprised by how many elements of a chicken coop are already sitting around your house, waiting to be used. Sheds, cabinets, bookshelves, and pallets can all become parts of a coop structure; milk crates and scrap wood can become interior features. You can also ask your friends, neighbours, and local businesses if they have scrap wood, old pallets, or extra screws and rivets you can use to build your coop.
5. Ask for advice from more experienced keepers and builders. No matter how much information you get online, it will always be more helpful to talk in-person with an expert who can hear all of your specific needs and concerns. Chicken keepers always love to talk about chickens, and most carpentry-minded people won’t mind giving you some tips and tricks to do it right. If you’re lucky, they might even turn into some free volunteer labor.
6. Use the right materials for your climate. If you use good, sturdy materials that will hold up well in your climate, your coop will last longer and better protect your hens – cutting down on long-term maintenance costs and vet bills. A metal roof might overheat your hens in a hot, dry climate, requiring you to spend more on fans and air exchangers, but it will stand up to heavy rains and wet weather better than a wooden one.
7. Measure twice, cut once. There’s a reason the age-old carpentry advice is still passed on by overeager dads to this day. It will not only save you the time and annoyance of redoing parts of the project, but it will also save you money to use your supplies as efficiently as possible, so you don’t buy wood that ends up as waste or excess scrap.
8. Build cautiously and correctly. The most expensive way to build a chicken coop is twice. Making sure your first build is sturdy and meets your specifications will require some tedious calculating, reinforcing, and triple-checking, but it will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
9. Don’t add extras you don’t need. It can be easy to get caught up in the many bells and whistles some companies will try to sell you, but pause and ask yourself if this is something you really need. Chickens are very good at staying warm, so you won’t need to spend on a heater unless you live in a very cold region; if someone will be home to put the hens in, an automatic coop door is an unnecessary expense.
10. Make as much as you can yourself. The ease and simplicity of buying pre-fabricated elements for your coop can be tempting, but it is often much cheaper and almost as easy to build your own. Nesting boxes and perches can be assembled from scrap wood; predator deterrents can be made from reflective tape or old CDs.
11. Cut costs, not corners. Knowing where you can skimp and where you can’t is tricky, but crucial. Using old pallets or plywood for the walls instead of lumber is a great idea, but covering your floor and windows with chicken wire instead of hardware mesh is not – the short-term cost savings will be eaten up by the long-term expenses of replacing chickens attacked by predators.
Saving money is an important consideration when you build your first chicken coop, but perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that the best way to save money in the long term is to build the best coop possible.
Best doesn’t mean flashiest or coolest, but the one that best meets your birds’ needs and will keep them safe, secure, warm, cool, happy, and healthy for the longest.