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If you’re lucky enough to raise backyard chickens, you already know how beneficial they are at home. “In addition to providing fresh eggs, with thicker whites and more flavorful yolks, chickens offer wonderful, all-natural bug control for your lawn and garden,” explains Lisa Steele, author of DIY Chicken Keeping, and the founder of Fresh Eggs Daily. “Their manure also makes a great garden fertilizer.”

However, a dependable coop is crucial when raising chickens at home. “The most important detail with any chicken coop is that it must be predator proof,” says Andy Schneider, author of First Time Chicken Keeping and founder of The Chicken Whisperer. “Chicken owners must be willing to spend the time and money necessary to implement a coop that’s safe from predators.” Additionally, Steele says it’s also imperative that a coop provides your chickens with a dry but ventilated place to rest and, of course, lay their eggs. “Chicken poop creates ammonia fumes that can be harmful, so vents up high under the eaves are essential for letting not only heat but ammonia out,” she says.

Looking for more tips about how to build your own chicken coop? We asked both experts to share their advice and here’s what they had to say.

Related: Backyard Livestock 101—A Guide to the Most Common Animals for Urban Farming

Pick a cool location.

Before you can begin building a reliable chicken coop, Steele says you need to find the right place to put it. “If you live in a place where it’s hot most of the year, then situating the coop in the shade is a good idea, because keeping the coop cool will be a major concern,” she explains. “However, if you live further north, then a sunny location will help to warm up the coop in the middle of the winter. And either way, be sure the coop is on high ground so it won’t flood when it rains.”

Start on solid ground.

According to Steele, a solid coop floor made of cement or plywood will help protect your chickens from digging predators. “The floor should be covered with some soft bedding such as straw, pine shavings, or even dried leaves or pine needles,” she says. “The coop also needs to be the right size for your flock. A good rule of thumb is generally three to four square feet of floor space per bird, but since chickens roost and don’t sleep on the floor, for me, a better guideline is eight to 12 inches of roosting bar per chicken. That way, everyone has plenty of room to perch at night.”

Have the right materials ready.

Schneider says most coop frames are made out of wood and metal chicken wire. “Hardware cloth is the material of choice for keeping openings like vents and windows secure from predators,” he explains. Along with sheets of plywood and chicken wire, Steele says you’ll need a circular saw to cut the wood, a jigsaw to make smaller curved cuts, and a cordless drill for the screws. “You can use a hammer and nails to nail anything that can’t be fastened with screws, as well as a staple gun to attach the wire,” she says.

Build from the bottom up.

For design inspiration, both experts recommend researching coop plans online for guidance. “Once you’ve settled on a design, draw a paper diagram with measurements of the floor, walls and roof, and cut the boards accordingly,” Steele says. Once your materials are cut, she suggests starting with the floor of the coop and building from the ground up, securing the walls at the corners before attaching the roof. “If you don’t have enough plywood leftover to build nesting boxes, you can secure wooden crates, baskets, or even plastic kitty litter pails secured to the walls instead,” she says.

Don’t forget the final details.

If the floor of your coop is composed of wood, not cement, Steele recommends raising the coop off the ground with short legs to prevent it from rotting. “You can make a ramp out of a plywood scrap to help the chickens get in and out of the coop more easily,” she says. Once the frame of your coop is finished, she says to staple welded chicken wire (or hardware cloth) over all the vents and windows, using washers at the corners for even more stability. “Lastly, install a front door with hinges, and attach a spring-loaded eye hook so you can latch it closed securely.”

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