After months of work and difficulty getting out to the land in the first place, we have a completed chicken coop for our fifty chickens. I thought I’d show it off, and explain what we did to keep costs down.
First off, we don’t currently have anything built on our land, but my girlfriend’s family has a farm right next door, and after exploring a few options for putting a low cost coop up on our own land, we took up the offer to use some unused space in a barn they have. The barn is about 100 years old, and needed a wall built to enclose the area we were being given, but there was an old barn on the property that had been torn down a while back, and the wood from that was used to create the new wall. It cost a box of screws. You can see it in the image to the right, behind the nesting boxes.
Next, we built our feeder and waterer, as shown in the pictures below.
The feeder was built out of a 55 gallon plastic drum that we picked up for ten bucks. We cut a dozen holes around the bottom, and used some 2 inch PVC 90 degree bends to make this (mostly) waste-free feeder. The total cost on the feeder was about $30 for the drum, pipe pieces, and glue. It holds four 50 pound bags of chicken feed, which last our chickens a month.
The waterer was built similarly. We got another 55 gallon plastic drum, washed it out thoroughly, cut the top off so we can use the top as a lid (we wanted an easy way to open it up to clean it when needed), and installed a dozen poultry nipples around the bottom. One thing we learned is that the nipples are often poorly threaded, so we took them apart and used Teflon tape to better seal them so they don’t leak. The waterer holds about a week’s worth of water, which we get from the well that sits right outside the door. We put it on cinderblocks to mount it high enough that the chickens have to reach up for water, and minimizes spillage.
Next, we built some simple roosts. For some, we took a pallet, cut it in half, and used that as the base for some 1 inch wide wooden bars that we cut out of scrap wood. The total cost on that was the ten screws we used. We then put together additional roosting bars around the coop using some more of those 1 inch bars, resting on cinderblocks that we had laying around.
Our chickens were ready, by this point, to head out to the coop. We brought them in a couple of Rubbermaid totes, and as we pulled them out of the tote one-by-one, we showed them how to drink from the waterer by tapping their beak against it. Most of them caught on that day, with the few holdouts catching on by the following day.
We still didn’t have a yard or nesting boxes for them yet, but that was okay, as they needed to be confined to the coop for a while anyways. We started on the yard for the coop by fencing off an area 15 feet by 30 feet. For this, we didn’t skimp. We bought a fifty foot roll of chain link fence, and the posts to mount it on, and spent a day pounding posts and then mounting the chain link to it. For the gate, we lucked out and my girlfriend’s uncle (the owner of the farm) had a spare gate he let us use, and it completed the yard. The fence cost us about $100 total for the chain link and posts.
There was already a hole in the wall between the coop and the yard, and it had been boarded up to prevent animals from getting in. We took those boards down and spent a few hours turning that old barn wood into a servicable door and ramp. We purchased a pair of hinges for it, and a latch to keep the door closed. The door cost us under $10 to build.
Finally, chickens need nesting boxes. At this point, we’re only a few weeks away from their first eggs, so it was time to get those done. For that, we went to a local grocery store and picked up a bunch of plastic vegetable crates, free of charge. With those, and another pallet, I created the nesting box wall. To do this, I simply cut the pallet in half, mounted a board on the wall at the same height as the top of pallet to support the nesting boxes, and screwed the veggie boxes to the wall and to the pallets. The fronts of the veggie boxes were cut off, and filled with straw, and the chickens are happy. The boxes are up off the floor, which keeps eggs away from smaller predators. Total cost of nesting boxes was almost nothing, as all we paid for were the screws.
I wanted to post this today because I’ve seen a lot of people posting chicken coops that house a half a dozen chickens, and they buy them store-bought for several hundred dollars. They give the impression that starting out with chickens costs a lot. In fact, I see a lot of people talk about how their first egg cost them $500 or more, and I have to laugh because these people spend so much for their tiny backyard flock of 3-6 chickens. We spent less than that for a coop that will happily handle fifty chickens or more.
I know that not everybody has a neighbor that can loan them space in a barn, but there are so many alternatives to buying a pre-fab coop that anyone can build. Using pallets is my favorite way of repurposing and saving money. One of the options we had looked at, for instance, was that a local trailer park was getting rid of an old mobile home that wasn’t fit for human habitation. They were looking for someone to take it for free, and they’d even haul it to our farm for us at no charge. If we hadn’t been offered barn space, we’d have used that route, though it would have taken a while to clean out the mobile home and make it fit for the chickens. But the point it, if you look around, there are so many ways to repurpose things and save money that it boggles the mind. You just have to look.