Sunday, July 28, 2013

Building a Hoop Coop, How to construct an inexpensive open bottom poultry pen.

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     We have built two hoop coops so far.  I like the concept due to it's low cost and mobility, though we do need to add protection for the winter months.  Last winter we used straw bale walls and a large tarp to get through the winter.  Eventually we plan to build a permanent coop, but having a totally mobile setup allows us to figure out the best location for that coop.  It also gives us some more time to learn what we are doing and what we want in a fixed coop.  The chickens seem to like them quite well, and so far they have been sufficient to protect our flock.  I prefer the open bottom design to any type of floor, not only is it cheaper and easier to make; it allows for pasturing or deep litter method use.

     The basic concept is pretty simple, two cattle panels arched over a 2x4 frame.  There are, however, a ton of options in the details of how to put them together.  Our first hoop coop (above right), was built to be light and movable.  We used untreated lumber and sealed it with a homemade paste of beeswax and mineral oil.  The front and back panels are hog panels and it features flip down wheels and a trailer hitch allowing one person to easily move it.  Our second hoop coop (above left) is built for durability.  It is made from treated lumber and has no wheels, so it takes at least three people to move.  The front and back panels are cattle panels, which are taller and require less additional support.  The only downside of this is that due to the curve in the top, the front panels ended up spaced farther apart requiring a slightly wider door. 

     There are many other differences, but this post will be mainly focused on how to build the second version. It is not intended to be the "end all be all" of hoop coop construction, as there are numerous design options and many other great versions out on the web.  My hope is that this post can serve as a guide that allows a beginner to get the job done.

Tools Needed:

Cross cut saw
Metal saw
Heavy duty pliers  
Hog ring pliers
Framing square


(2) 10' 2x4
(3) 8' 2x4
(2) 8' 1x4
(4) 8' 2x2
(3) Cattle panels
80' of 36" Poultry netting
48" x 5'   ¼" hardware cloth
U shaped fence nails
2" wood screws
2 1/2" wood screws
Hog rings
Baling wire
1 set medium hinges
1 set small hinges
2 latches
Tarps (16' x 12' & 8' x 10' or close sizes)

Step 1:  Build the Base

Cut 2 of the 2x4s at 8' 3" and 2 at 10'.  Screw together into a rectangle with the 10' sides overlapping the shorter ones as shown below.  Use 2 of the 2½" screws per connection.

Be sure that the base is square before step 2.  Check for squareness by measuring the diagonals, when both diagonals match, you will have a perfect square.

Step 2:  Add the corner braces

Cut the 1x4 into 4 corner braces with 45° angels measuring 18" on the long side. 

Trace the outline of the brace on the 4 corners.  Cut 3/4" deep along the two lines, then make several more cuts inside them.  Use a sharp chisel to remove the rest of the material creating an angled recess to receive the brace flush with the top of the 2x4.

     Install the corner braces with 3 of the 2" screws on each connection.  Pre-drill to avoid splitting the brace.

Step 3:  Install the cattle panels

     Lay the two cattle panels side by side with the short side of the panels on the short side of the frame.  center on the 2x4 and attach one side using u shaped fence staples.

U shaped fence staple

Attach the panels on one side, let the other side hang over.

center the panel on both 2x4's and attach using u shaped staples.

      Bend the panels one at a time up into an arch and attach the other side the same way.  (it is a good idea to have someone to help hold the panel in place for this step)

     Once both panels are up, use the hog rings to tie them together.  Alternately you can use baling wire. 

Hog ring and pliers

Step 4:  Attach the back panel

     Lay the third panel across the back 2x4 with one corner lined up with the arched panels and attach to the base using fence staples.

     One the bottom is securely attached, stand the panel up and use hog rings or wire to hold it in place.  Use a metal saw to cut the excess off, leaving a few inches of panel wire overhanging the arch.  Where a corner meets the arch, simply cut it off flush.

Using heavy duty pliers or channel locks, fold over the excess wire creating a secure connection.  Be careful not to pull in on the arch while doing this and change it's shape.  It takes considerable hand strength for this part.

     Take care that the sharp ends are tucked back were they can't catch you or your chickens.

Step 5:  Attach the front panels

Use the remaining cutoff from the back panel for the two front panels.  Count the spaces to determine where the center will be and create to equal length panels with straight ends toward the middle where your door will be.  Attach in the same way as the back panel.

Step 6:  Build door frame

put a 2x4 vertically along the inside of one front panel and mark the top at an angle where it meets the arch.  Cut along the mark so the 2x4 fits under the arch.  Do this for both sides.  Be sure to keep the 2x4 square with the frame, if you are on a level surface then a level works well, otherwise use a framing square.

Attach the bottom of the door frame by "toe nailing" or driving screws at an angle into the bottom 2x4.  Use 2 of the 2 ½" wood screws.  Then check for squareness and attach the top to the arch using the fence staples.

     Do this on both sides, making sure that the width at the bottom of the frame is consistent with the top of the frame.  Then cut the frame top to fit and "toe screw" into place.  I don't give exact measurements for these steps.  As long as it is square it will be fine, you can build the door to fit the opening you end up with.  

     The last step of the door frame is to install the stop.  Cut a 1x4 to fit from the bottom 2x4 to the top of the door frame and install ½ way over the inside on one side of the door frame.  I did this on the right side of the frame, but it needs to be opposite of the hinge side, which ever side you want that to be.  Attach the stop using 2" wood screws.

Frame top in place

Door stop in place

Inside view of the door stop.

 Step 7: Build the door

     The images below shows the dimensions of our door and are for example only.  Be sure to make your door fit the opening you end up with.  Measure the inside dimensions of your door frame, then subtract ½" from each direction to allow for door operation.  This should be the outside dimensions of your finished door.  

     Door Step 1:  cut 2 2x2s to the height of door frame opening minus ½"

     Door Step 2:  Cut 3 2x2s to the width of the door frame minus 3½"  Attach one to the top, one to the bottom, and one 12" above the bottom as shown below.  All of the connections for this frame are made using 1 2½" wood screw.  Pre drill to avoid splitting the 2x2s.

     Door Step 3:  Cut 2 2x2s at 12" and attach them 8" apart in the center of the bottom opening in the door frame.  (Note: This creates an 8" wide by 12" tall chicken door frame in the middle of the big door.  Perfect for chickens or ducks.  If you plan to keep geese or turkeys, you need to make a bigger door.)

     Door Step 4:  Cut a 2x2 for diagonal brace.  This will have an angle on both ends and extend from the hinge side down to keep the door from sagging.  Be sure the door frame is square, lay the 2x2 on top in position, and you can trace the angle cuts needed.

     Door Step 5:  Create the small chicken door.  The door should measure 11 3/4" x 7 3/4" to fit in the small frame.  I made mine by ripping left over pieces of 1x4 in half and screwing them together into a rectangle.  Alternately a solid board or piece of plywood could serve as a chicken door. 

     Door Step 6:  Cover door with 1/4" hardware cloth.  Attach using staples or pan head screws.  Leave the 12" x 8" chicken door frame open.  

     Door Step 7:  Attach chicken door using small hinges and install latch.

I use hook and eye latches with a spring clip to prevent easy opening by raccoons or other predators.  (The above pic is actually from our brooder build, so don't expect it to make sense for this project)

     Door Step 8:  Hang door in frame using Medium hinges and install latch.

Use the remaining hardware cloth to close the space between the door frame and the top of the arch.

Step 8:  Cover the outside with poultry netting

     Cover the front and back walls with poultry netting, folding the excess over the sides and around the cattle panels.  Then cover the arch by stapling the end to the side 2x4 and unrolling over the arch.  It will take three courses of 36" netting to cover the top.  Use lots of small loops of baling wire to attach the netting to the cattle panels.  Take care not to leave sharp points of wire exposed.

Step 9:  Add the Tarps

     This part requires a bit of creativity as there does not seem to be a "best way"  We used a combination of small bungee cords, screws, rope to get the job done.  Remember that chickens need a lot of ventilation, so don't close it up too tight, but make sure they will have shade throughout the day.  Be careful not to create pocket that will trap water, or loose flaps that will catch the wind.


Back Brace: Often people put a vertical brace on the back wall of a hoop coop to help support the arch.  With the panels securely wired together, I didn't feel this was necessary but may be needed in areas with significant snowfall.

Roost: Chickens need some kind of roost.  We used a 10' 2x4 with one side rounded off with a belt sander.  It was cut to fit just longer than the coop so it would sit snugly in the corner of the squares on the front and back cattle panels and secured with baling wire.  This provides enough space for about 20 birds to roost. (This is way too many birds to be stuck in such a small space, but works alright if they have daily yard access.)

This pic is from our first hoop coop, but you get the idea.

Nest boxes:  We use homemade wooden nest boxes.  They could be attached to the back panel for a mobile setup.

Predator Skirt:  To prevent protect the coop from predators that can dig under the sides, put 2' hardware cloth around the outside.  Fold it in half with a 90° bend so that it extends 1' up the side and 1' out around the coop.  The predators will tend to try to dig in the corner and get discouraged, not being smart enough to back up a foot and get under it.  We did this on our first (mobile) coop but not the new one that we keep inside fencing.  So far we have not had an issue either way. (knock on wood)

Wheels and Hitch:  For our first hoop coop, I came up with this pop up wheel assembly and a custom hitch for the front.  We use a trailer dolly which allows one person to easily move it through short grass. 

The wheel assemblies go on the front of the hoop coop and can be levered upright and pinned in place for moving or lay down so the frame sits flat on the ground.

I am really proud of this custom hitch.  It is the first functional thing I have made with a welder.

     So that's it.  I hope you find this useful, but please remember that there are a lot of other designs out there and a lot of options and room to get creative on your build.  If you do use this guide, please leave a comment or drop me an email at to let me know how it goes, especially if you find any errors or omissions in this post.

Update 11/27/13:

Click here to see a post about a different take on the hoop coop that a friend of ours built.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Adventures in Broody Sitting

One of the Ameraucanas went broody and started sitting on her eggs back in June.  We were very excited about this, as we are hoping to get a cockerel that was raised by a mama and knows how to treat the ladies instead of the lord of the flies type rapist roosters that we have had so far.  We are told that the hens getting their back feathers pulled out during kamikaze flying tackle copulation is normal and par for the course, but a few of our girls have bare patches on their backs that don't seem to want to grow back, it makes me sad to see.  There has got to be a better way, I can't believe that this is the natural way of things.  According to Harvey Ussery, a good rooster will dance for the ladies before mounting them.

     This being our first brood, we learned a few things the hard way.  We were afraid to relocate the hen as too much disruption can cause her to abandon the eggs and go back to her normal cycle.  So we left her in the nest box where she was laying.  There were a couple of problems with this.  One is that when she left in the morning to eat and drink, the other hens would see the pile of eggs and decide to lay there.  She had trouble covering the growing pile of eggs, and ended up kicking several of them out.  Although we had marked the original 9 eggs with a marker, we still had a difficult time keeping track of what was new as, again, we did not to disturb her if we could help it.  Eventually, three babies emerged.  They immediately fell the few inches from the nest box to the ground and couldn't get back in.  The mama covered the babies at night, instead of the 14 other eggs that she still had, and let them get cold, stopping their development. 

     After a few days, we moved the momma, the three babies, and the remaining eggs into the brooder box.  After a few more days, it became apparent that no more eggs were going to hatch.  We tried opening the little door and allowing them to mix with the rest of the flock once, but that didn't go so well.  The mom was panicked and rushed around nipping at any curious young cockerels that came near.  We locked them back in the brooder box and she calmed right down.  When the weather started getting really hot, we decided to move the entire setup over to the first forest garden paddock, where many seeds from our seed balls had come up and the pear tree offered some shade.  They are thrilled.  The seeds mix along with the weeds and grasses that came back offer some pretty respectable plant cover.  They seem to be finding plenty of insects in the mulch, and I don't think that the four of them will do too much damage for now.  

     It is a joy to watch them in action.  Three little balls of fluff bobbing along behind the momma through the foliage.  Sometimes they get kicked as she scratches for bugs.  They tumble backwards then run straight back eager for more which is somehow hysterically funny.  They weave their way under the sunflower leaves and through a patch of mallow.  Cautiously eying the sky for danger, as they forage among the vetch and the tomato plants.  They hardly even touch the feed we put out for them.  This is how chicken keeping should be.  I can't wait until we have enough developed paddocks to keep our entire flock fed, and sheltered, and comfortable throughout the warm season.

     I apologize to my regular readers for the lack of posts lately.  All of my free time and energy has been going into rehabilitating our 161 year old farm house.  I may post about the big summer project when it is finished, but at this point I don't want to jinx it.