PHOTO: Lisa Steele
Getting started with chickens can be an expensive proposition when you figure in the cost of the chicks, feed and coop accessories, including feeders and waterers, heat lamps, and the coop and run area.
Even though building a coop is an important first step before a chicken ever steps foot on your land, you can save money by converting an existing structure into a perfectly functional and safe home for your flock. Look around your yard. Do you have a playhouse no longer being used, a garden shed, or an old doghouse and chain-link kennel? In this article, we’ll discuss turning a horse stall or lean-to into a coop, but you can use the principles presented here to transform any structure already on your farm.
In addition to saving money, there are several advantages to converting a horse stall into a chicken coop. First and foremost, you want to make your coop predator-proof, and a stall is already part of a secure structure with solid wooden walls. Presumably other animals live in or near the barn, such as donkeys, goats, cows and horses, and they’ll all help deter predators. A stall is also naturally well-ventilated but out of direct wind and the elements.
With a few minor modifications, your vacant horse stall can be flock-ready in no time. The specific modifications your structure will need will depend on your barn’s style, but here are some things to think about. A lean-to could be converted the same way, except it will need a solid front built in addition to the modifications outlined below.
1. Clean and Install Floors
Rake and shovel out all the dirty shavings from the stall, and scrub the floor with a white vinegar/water solution. Ammonia fumes will irritate your chickens’ mucous membranes, so be sure the stall is completely cleaned out before you move any chickens in. Household bleach mixed with the ammonia in horse urine creates toxic fumes, so never use bleach to clean. White vinegar has nearly the same disinfecting properties as bleach and is far safer.
If the stall has a dirt floor that’s easily breached from underneath by digging predators, lie some pallets on top of the dirt and then cover them with sheets of plywood. This will prevent your floor from rotting and also prevent predators from gaining access. A sheet of inexpensive vinyl flooring on top of the plywood makes for easy cleanup and prevents mites and other parasites from burrowing into the wooden floor.
Add a nice layer of pine shavings or chopped straw, and your coop now has a nice safe floor covering.
2. Close the Ceiling
Next, you’ll need to extend the walls of the stall to the ceiling if they don’t already reach that high, and cover any vents with welded wire or hardware cloth. Raccoons, foxes and feral cats all can and will climb as high as necessary to get your chickens and might even be able to gain access through the barn vents. You can frame the stall walls with boards, or even better, use 2-inch, heavy-duty welded wire to allow ventilation along the top front and sides of the stall. If weasels or rats are a concern, wrap the welded wire with chicken wire or smaller welded wire.
3. Replace the Door Latch
Raccoons can easily undo most types of latches, so install an eyehook with a spring-loaded latch, a deadbolt with a carabiner, a padlock or other type of predator-proof latch. If you’ll be cutting a small pop door for your chickens to enter directly into an attached run, such as along the back wall of the stall, you’ll need to install similar latches on that door, as well.
4. Add Roosts
Now, it’s time for some interior decorating! You’ll need to build a roost or two. The easiest way to do this is using 2x4s: With the 4-inch side facing up, construct a slanted ladder with the steps far enough apart that your chickens can roost one row above the other without pooping on each other when the roost is leaned up against the wall. Allow a minimum of 8 inches roosting bar per hen, and be sure the highest roosts are above your nesting boxes. (When you are deciding how many chickens your new coop can accommodate, figure on needing approximately 2 to 4 square feet of floor space per hen.)
5. Build Nest Boxes
You will need roughly one nesting box per three or four hens. The boxes should be approximately 12 square inches. You have two options here: Build them out of wood and secure to the wall in a row, or use containers, such as plastic pails, storage totes or wooden boxes, set on their sides.
The nesting boxes can be set at floor level or a bit higher for easier collecting of the eggs, but as mentioned above, they need to be lower than the top roosts so your chickens won’t be tempted to sleep in them. Add a nice thick layer of chopped straw or pine shavings in the boxes and place some fake eggs, golf balls or even stones to entice your chickens to lay their eggs in the boxes.
6. Add Waterers and Feeders (Optional)
If you’ll be providing feed and water inside the coop, either mount the feeder to the wall or hang it from the ceiling. Set up a waterer, and your horse-stall-turned-chicken-coop should be open for business!