Our next door neighbor became an empty nester at the same time my wife and I needed a nest for our new chickens. Our neighbor had an old playhouse. We needed a new chicken house. Except as a cozy home for mice, squirrels, spiders and wasps, the playhouse had been unused for about 20 years by the time we were ready to raise our first backyard chickens.
Backyard chickens are easier to care for than house cats. The most important thing a chicken owner must do is provide them with a good coop.
Chicken coop functionality
The basic demands for a chicken coop are:
1. Security from predators and weather
2. Access to clean water
3. Access to food
4. A place to roost at night
5. A place to lay eggs
9 chicken coop components
The components vital to a good chicken coop include:
1. Solid, predator-proof house
3. Waterer (I prefer using the hanging nipple waterer. Here's how you can build a DIY water bucket.)
4. Wooden roost
5. Nest box
6. Feed storage
7. Outdoor run
8. Windows for light and ventilation
9. Doors - tiny one for the chicken and a big one for you.
Turning a play house into a chicken coop
By repurposing our neighbor's playhouse, we could build a gorgeous and whimsical coop using almost entirely salvaged materials and spending very little money.
Step 1: move the play house
First thing we had to do was move the structure from their property to ours. This is not as easy as it sounds. The playhouse was entirely overbuilt and weighed a ton. We removed the roof first. Then we deconstructed the walls and floors to both lighten the load and repurpose them for the redesigned coop.
Once we lightened the load as much as practical, we called eight of our dearest and strongest friends. With the promise of pizza and beer, we carried the still very heavy structure about 100 feet over to our property. We leveled the base and set the frame onto cinderblocks.
Step 2: reconfigure openings
With the frame in place, it was time to start re-building it as a coop rather than a play house. We used what was a window frame as the space for the next box. We left cut outs to install doors for easy access to the eggs from the outside. We eliminated the need to go into the coop to collect eggs.
We then built a door frame custom sized for an old salvaged kitchen door we found at Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Also at the ReStore found a couple of old casement windows. We cut custom holes and framed spaces in the rear and sides of the coop to install the windows horizontally. We placed hinges on the top so that when opened the windows protect from rain. The windows are held open with a simple hook and loop latch.
Step 3: repurpose the loft
The original playhouse had a ladder and a loft for the kids to play. We decided to keep the loft for storing pine shavings, feed bags and other chicken gear, but we removed the ladder lest it tempt the chickens to use it as a roost.
Step 4: add electrical
We added a single 110v outlet near to where we would store the waterer and food. This allows us to plug in a water de-icer for winter and a digital timer to control the DIY automatic chicken door (read all about how I built that cool little must-have chicken coop timer).
Step 5: address security
The chicken door was placed at the rear of the coop with a small ramp made from some leftover scraps from the playhouse, opening to a large framed chicken run protected with chicken wire. The chicken wire is not secure enough to keep out night predators like fox or raccoons. So the chicken door is closed each night when the chickens go to roost. The run was built 6 1/2 feet so that adults could go inside without having to stoop. We installed a salvaged screen door in the run also purchased at Habitat for Humanity ReStore (are you sensing a pattern here?).
Step 6: decorate
After learning about the virtues of real barn paint, we decided to honor the new use with a barn motif. Simply by painting the trim bright white, the field true barn red and adding barn door style doors to the nest box, the barn look was complete (if you want to know why barns are red, then this is a must read: Barns are Painted Red Because of the Physics of Dying Stars).
The front porch got some plants and an antique child's chair. Now our chickens have the most stylish digs in the hood. And if you come by on a hot summer day, you might just find one of them sipping lemonade on the front porch.