Keeping chickens is a rewarding endeavor that is becoming increasingly popular in urban areas. Backyard hens are fun and friendly pets, help to cut down on your household’s food waste, and provide delicious cruelty-free eggs. Before you get chickens, however, you will need to design and build a house (coop) for them, which will protect them from the weather, predators and pests. A well-designed coop can take up very little space, be free or inexpensive to build, and can actually add to your yard’s aesthetics.
Check your municipality's codes and regulations regarding chickens before you begin designing your coop. Many cities limit the number of chickens each household can have, and have specific rules regarding coop placement. Coops will often need to be "set back" a specific distance from existing structures and your neighbors' houses. To find out the rules for your area, go to your city or town's website and type "chickens" into its search feature. Backyard Chicken Forums also has information for most urban areas.
Decide how many chickens you want to keep. Depending on breed and age, each hen will lay four to seven eggs per week. Keep in mind that during moulting, times of stress, and at certain points in her yearly cycle, a hen will not lay for weeks or months at a time.
Choose a location for your coop and decide on its size. Estimate 3 to 4 square feet of coop space per chicken. Add more if your hens will be confined often, less if the coop will have a lot of vertical space and roosting perches.
Consider using building materials that you already have around your house or yard. Building a coop is a perfect way to use up old lumber, doors, windows and fencing. Check your local craigslist for materials; you can often acquire interesting wood and architectural elements for your coop for free.
Design the interior of the coop with enough room for you to access it easily for regular cleaning and to change your chickens' bedding. Your coop will need to contain nesting boxes for your hens to lay eggs in and roosts (tree branches work well) for them to sleep on. Place your nesting boxes where they will be easily accessible, as you will be collecting eggs daily. Plan a specific area for the chickens' food and water where they won't be able to knock it over, it will be difficult for pests, such as mice and rats, to access, and where the chickens' poop will not end up in it.
Make a drawing of the coop you plan to build. Include dimensions in the drawing to make your construction process easier. If you live in a cold climate, consider adding insulation and a light to the coop to keep your chickens warmer and to keep their water from freezing in the winter. Using a light in the evening can also help stimulate egg production during the dark winter months. Add a close-able window for ventilation --- several if your city gets hot in the summer. Remember that your coop does not need the sort of heavy construction you would use in a house or larger shed; for example, you will probably be able to use 1-by-2-inch boards instead of 2-by-4-inch boards.
Add visual interest to your coop. A well-designed chicken coop can be a piece of garden art. Use exterior-grade paints on the outside of the structure to protect it from weather. Spray stencils on the outside of the coop or let your children and friends paint designs on it. Consider adding a window box or green roof to the coop. For more ideas and to look at creative coops other people have designed, go to the website Backyard Chickens.