If you've ever considered backyard chicken keeping or have first-hand experience, you know that building a coop is hard work! Anyone that dreams of having the perfect coop for their chickens realizes that the most important element is safety. As a chicken keeper myself, I've spent hours reading (and posting to) backyard chicken forums asking questions about coops and reading horror stories about predators taking out entire flocks.
It takes a village when it comes to building a chicken coop and in this case, it took a family with passion and amazing carpenter skills to build this beautiful, safe coop for their 27 chicks. Behind every family of chickens is the story of a family that brought them together. Meet the Sweats, a family of first responders with serious carpenter chops, that came together to make this custom chicken coop, built with good ol' American ingenuity and hard work in Florida.
When Zack posted some of his photos in the Chickens, Chickens, Chickens Facebook group that we love here at Wide Open Pets, it immediately grabbed our attention. What struck me about Zack's story is that it started out as a nightmare with raccoons, foxes, possums, and coyotes all attacking his chickens. After reaching out to him, though, I learned the real story: his new coop's construction was a family project built over a year. Fresh eggs for everyone!
I asked Zack, "Why chickens?" and what inspired him to build such a beautiful coop. The story, written from our correspondence, follows. Zack has always loved chickens and grew up with them. He currently lives with two dogs (a chihuahua and blue nose pit), a rabbit, two tortoises, 27 chickens, and a goldfish. When asked what he loves most about being a backyard chicken keeper and the inspiration for the coop, he told Wide Open Pets via email,
"Our inspiration was mainly safety and my wife's happiness. We have very busy schedules and I just love when we're both off work and we get to relax at home and hang out with all our animals. It makes my wife so happy!"
Given the issues they've had in the past with predators, they'll only free range the birds when they're home relaxing. Of the free range time, Zack wrote,
"Recess is only permitted with parental supervision. Probably just days we know we'll be home and outside."
Zack is a firefighter from a line of first responders, and serves his community every day, showing up on the front lines of emergency calls. Lacey Sweat, Zack's creative wife, is a busy dental assistant. The project was a family affair and the chicken coop took about a month to build.
"We worked weekends and whenever we didn't have other things going on. We are a family of fireman. I have been a fireman for 4 years. My wife is a dental assistant. My father is a retired fireman of 25 years. My father is also a carpenter. And I've worked with him since I was 15 years old."
Over the years, Zack learned to trust his father and just go with it. That trust absolutely paid off with this coop design!
"We often build things and I'm thinking.... what in the.... then he says wait and see. It always turns out amazing.
Also, my mother and wife get together and come up with some crazy requests, the baskets, chicken swings, etc. we are both always happy to tackle whatever build they may come up with."
Zack has had about 10 different coops over the years, ranging from free materials and poor planning to the new coop recently constructed. He explained that the coop took a lot of planning, but not in the way you'd expect: Zack's family sketched some plans on a sheet of paper and a few napkins. The Sweats relied on his father's vast experience as a carpenter.
Chickens have fairly basic needs. Zack created a design that addressed each of these with every detail taken care of by the Sweats whenever they found the spare time. When you plan your coop, it's important to follow the Sweats' lead and keep four elements in mind.
1. Space and shelter from the weather
The general rule is that chickens always appreciate more space if allowed! I've learned this the hard way. Zack explained that it turned out taller than they expected so they could put a decent pitch on the roof. The best happy accident of the chicken coop? It faces south! He explained why that matters,
"It allows for at least 8 hours of natural light every day in the run... the coop is facing south and it worked out great (we didn't plan that). We also built it so that we can add on, maybe another run or room to expand.
I've noticed location is very important. Northern states have to build differently than us in the southern states."
So Northerners, take note!
2. Protection from predators
No roos this time around! Zack's last rooster was aggressive and this new coop is built with "hens only" in mind as they won't be free-ranging unless supervised. Many of us can relate to Zack's decision for a roo-free flock!
The safety features Zack's family incorporated to protect against digging predators are:
- The 2-foot trench circling the coop
- Heavy gauge wire to anchor the baseboards
- A locking chicken door in the interior coop and a double swinging access door (one is wire and one is wood)
- Sealed every air gap between the metal and rafters of the roof so the only open air space is the wire on the front
3. Nest boxes and roosts
Zack ended up lowering the roost bars and he received a lot of good advice on Facebook in the Chickens Chickens Chickens group. Some heavier breeds have trouble jumping up on roost bars that are really high up in the coop. One tip is to place your roosting bars in an area so they're easy to get to as you don't want your birds sleeping in the nesting boxes! He told us,
"I have them higher than the nesting boxes but not too high, so hopefully, nobody gets hurt."
To keep your coop fresh, you want to use a bedding material that is easy to clean! There are many bedding options and we love wood shavings, but do add straw when it's super cold as it acts as an insulator.
The most important feature of the coop? Well, the most memorable characteristic isn't built yet! They are going to take a family portrait and frame it on the wall of the coop. While we didn't clarify with Zack if that'll include the entire Sweat brood, dogs and tortoises and chickens included, we hope so!
If you want to follow Zack's progress and look through all the wonderful comments from other chicken keepers, follow the backyard chicken keeper's Facebook Group, Chickens, Chickens, Chickens.
This DIY chicken coop is unique to the Sweats, and a wonderful coop design to consider for anyone with predator issues. Your hen house can be an A-frame design or you can consider a portable chicken coop! It's really up to you how you'd like to raise chickens. Hardware cloth is a much better material than chicken wire so always look at that type of material when building a house for your flock (or small flock). We also took a hard look at egg collection designs as it's much easier to gather eggs that are clean if you plan to give them to neighbors or friends.
There are many free plans online and remember that the number of chickens should dictate the designs of your coop. More floor space equals happy chickens, so always build a coop that's bigger than you think you need. Create a materials list and make sure you have your step by step instructions before you get started.
You can also find chicken coop plans in this post we wrote pending the number of hens in your flock.
What designs and plans have you used for a chicken coop? Did you sketch out your design as Zack did or did you buy a web tutorial? Please leave a comment and let us know!