Cheap Chicken Coop Cheats: 6 Ways to Save Money On Your Coop Build
It’s undeniable: chicken coops are expensive. While the recurring costs of owning chickens – such as food, bedding, etc. – are affordable for most, the initial coop investment can be a persistent obstacle. There are no good cheap chicken coops that you can buy pre-made, either; kit chicken coops often constitute an even larger upfront expense, especially if you want one that’ll last.
With the recent price increases on lumber, building your own chicken coop from scratch can be cost-prohibitive, as well. So where does that leave us?
The most fool-proof method is to build a cheap chicken coop yourself – that is, as long as you do it correctly.
As long as you’re willing to get a bit creative, there are hundreds of tricks you can use to build a cheap, yet effective, chicken coop. At Little Onion Farm, we lower our coop costs mostly by upcycling free materials.
This do-it-yourself approach isn’t for everyone. After all, you’re exchanging monetary costs for more effort and less convenience. Essentially, you pay less in cash, but more in labor and time. For us, the results are worth it, both for environmental reasons and financial reasons, but the same may not be true for everyone.
If you’re like us and you want to build something with your hands, recycle unwanted materials, and save money all at the same time, this guide was written with you in mind.
When you boil it down, there are two key parts to building a cheap chicken coop: one, building it yourself, and two, getting as many supplies for free (or cheap) as possible. If you have the time and the drive to do both of those things, you can bring your costs down to nearly zero.
1: Use Upcycled Lumber
This coop was made from Ikea furniture parts! At Little Onion Farm, we usually turn to pallets for free lumber, but unwanted furniture can be a great resource, too.
When we built the frame for our truck cap chicken coop, we spent money on fresh lumber from the local lumber yard. We did this because truck cap we’d use as the roof was very heavy. We needed a strong, sturdy frame to support that weight, so it made sense to use virgin lumber.
However, if we were building something with a lighter structure, we would have upcycled all of our lumber. We come across free lumber ads online and free furniture by the roadside all the time, and free pallets are easy to come by locally. There’s never any shortage of building materials in our area, as long as we’re willing to get creative.
Even if you can’t find lumber, there will always be something out there you can get for cheap or free. That may mean disassembling an old dresser and building a coop with the pieces, but your chickens won’t mind – we promise.
2: Source Chicken Wire and Fencing Alternatives
An A-frame chicken coop is great for minimizing materials, especially chicken wire. Since an A-frame has less surface area than a cube-shaped structure, it’s easier and cheaper to build with nearly the same ground area.
As far as fencing goes, unless you get lucky and find someone selling or giving away a fresh roll, you’ll probably want to buy it new. Unfortunately, this is a bit of an unavoidable expense. Chickens need fresh air to be healthy, making ventilation and a fenced run (or plenty of time to free-range) essential.
Old chicken wire can weaken and even rust in storage – hence the need to buy new – but we don’t recommend using chicken wire anyway (and most other backyard chicken keepers don’t, either). Hardware cloth tends to be much sturdier and lasts much longer. If you can source some secondhand, that’s even better. The variety we use has very small openings in the mesh, and we haven’t had any predator issues with it so far (unlike with chicken wire).
Remember: fewer wooden walls mean less effort spent building, but make sure to offset your coop design with the predator load in your area. After all, a wooden wall tends to be more difficult to break into than a wire fence.
3: Use What You Already Have
This person used five-gallon buckets as nesting boxes in their chicken coop – a great example of using what you have.
When we built our last coop, we already had a roll of hardware cloth sitting in the barn, ready to use. While that was something we paid for at some point, it was long enough ago that we didn’t feel it financially. Using things you already have on hand is a great way to save money. We also had a ton of nails and screws left over from renovations, as well as some leftover 2×2 lumber from our previous coop build (the perfect size for chicken roosts).
We also used plastic cat litter buckets as nesting boxes in the coop in question above. This is a well-known nesting box hack that we were very excited to try. We’d tried using five-gallon buckets in the past, but the chickens didn’t like them much. The rectangular shape of the cat litter pails was a much bigger hit.
Don’t forget to ask your friends and family for any construction leftovers they might have, too. You likely have at least one friend or family member who has boxes upon boxes of screws laying around in their garage, and they’d probably be willing to get rid of a box or two. You may even be able to borrow a few power tools if you ask nicely!
Finally, if you have an existing shed, barn, or other building on your property, consider whether you can retrofit that into a cheap chicken coop, even if only a portion of it. Using an existing structure is the ultimate way to save money on your coop build, as you may only need to add a run or some fencing to convert it.
If, through reading this article, you’ve come to the conclusion that a DIY cheap chicken coop just isn’t for you, I have a suggestion! I recently discovered the chicken coop company Nestera. To my knowledge, Nestera is currently one of the biggest market competitors to Omlet – my favorite chicken coop builder – and I’m excited about what they have to offer.
If you’re in the market for a kit chicken coop, I think Nestera is an excellent company to consider. Nestera’s coops are made in the UK with 100% recycled plastic, and since they “slot” together, they’re easy to assemble, disassemble, and clean. Plus, each Nestera coop comes with a 25-year warranty.
Nestera is a young company (founded in 2020), so they don’t yet have what I’d consider a proven track record – plus, I haven’t tested their products, so I can’t give a definitive answer on how much I like them. However, I like what they stand for, and their Large Raised Coop is definitely on my list of things to buy.
4: Use What You Can Find
It doesn’t get more “use what you can find” than this handmade coop. It looks like it’s made with flexible reeds or bamboo. While we’d recommend something a bit sturdier to protect against night predators, a hovel like this would give your chickens excellent shelter and shade during the day.
This one ties in with using what you have: don’t be afraid to use what you can find for free (or cheap). In our last post, we wrote about DIY-friendly chicken coops, and in it, we showed some of the most creative coops you can build on a tight budget. Some of them looked downright weird, but here at Little Onion Farm, we love a funky chicken coop!
Chickens aren’t picky about what you build with or how the end result looks. As long as it protects them from the elements and their natural predators, you can use almost anything as a building material. Some of the more creative chicken coops we’ve seen were made out of children’s plastic playhouses, swing sets, dressers, cars, campers, and, of course, truck caps.
Your coop needs to be weather-appropriate for your region, and that may limit your usable materials somewhat. For example, if you live somewhere with a severe rainy season, make sure your coop is waterproof. If you live in an area with brutal winters, make sure it’s well-insulated. You get the picture.
5: Borrow Tools and Supplies
A cattle panel chicken “tunnel” like this one can be erected with minimal tools. Most of your work can be done using zip ties and staples, though you’ll need to do some woodworking for the front and rear walls.
Not all cheap chicken coops require power tools to build, but most of the traditional coops we think of today do. If you don’t have (or can’t obtain) access to a saw, a drill, or even a hammer, building your own chicken coop may not be for you.
If you can borrow some tools from a friend or family member, you’re in business! Even if you don’t have someone you can borrow from, you might consider visiting a local swap meet, flea market, pawn shop, or secondhand store to see what’s available there. You may be able to source some perfectly usable tools for an affordable price.
If you can’t find any tools at all, though, don’t give up just yet! You can still build a cheap chicken coop without power tools if you’re willing to get a little creative. At Little Onion Farm, we once turned an old chain-link run and dog house into a bachelor pad for a pair of roosters. We zip-tied some leftover chicken wire to the roof to create a predator-proof run. It worked fantastically – no tools required!
6: Look for Secondhand Coops
Not all chicken coops can be resold. A smaller coop with an attached run, like this one, would be easy enough to transport, and you might get it for a bargain if it’s a few years old.
You may be able to save a significant amount of money by purchasing a chicken coop secondhand. Plus, if you can get a hand-me-down from a friend or family member who’s upgrading to a new coop, you may be able to score an even better deal.
The main things to remember when taking over a used chicken coop are repairs, pests, and biosecurity. If someone’s getting rid of a used coop, it may need some work to be totally predator-proof. If the last owners took care of it well, it might just need a fresh cost of paint. While that’ll require a bit of your time, it’ll be much less than building a brand-new coop from scratch.
Make sure you carefully inspect a secondhand coop for any pests before you move your chickens in. Mites like to hide in the dark corners of your coop during the day, only to creep out and feast on your chickens at night. Plus, they can hide this way in an empty coop for a long time. As much as we don’t like pesticides here at the Farm, we highly recommend disinfecting any secondhand coops with Permethrin, Spinosad, or a similar chemical before you move your birds in. It’ll save you a lot of potential pain to do your due diligence beforehand instead of dealing with an infestation later.
Finally, be extremely careful about biosecurity when using a secondhand chicken coop. Marek’s and some other chicken diseases can live in a chicken coop for months (or even years) after the previous chickens have moved out. This can spell disaster for a young flock. If you do decide to purchase a cheap chicken coop secondhand, thoroughly disinfect it with bleach or another virus-killing cleaner before you move in your flock.
Don’t let the possibility of pests deter you from getting a secondhand coop, though! We recommend “quarantining” and airing out your secondhand coop in addition to the above steps, just as you’d quarantine a new flock member. Letting your new coop sit open for a month or two in addition to cleaning and disinfecting it is the best way to prepare it for your birds.
While it’s not necessarily an easy style to build, you could easily reproduce this A-frame with inexpensive pallet wood for the planks. We love the look of this design!
Do you have any useful tips for people wanting to save money on their cheap chicken coop? If you do, feel free to tell us your stories! If you have any pictures of your inexpensive coop build that you’d like to share with others, send us a message so we can feature them in this post!
Looking for cheap chicken coop ideas? The pictures in this post should offer some inspiration, but if you need more, head over to our DIY Chicken Coops post!
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