Coop Building 101: Planning for a Foundation

For the last year I’ve been responsible for exactly two lives on this planet: me and the cat. In the last month I thought it would be fun to quadruple that number and see what came of it. Wait, no no I went one step beyond quadrupling… what’s that called? Quintuple? Quintify? That doesn’t even sound like a real thing. Whatever. I now have five times the amount of creatures I’m responsible for keeping alive on a daily basis, and for a girl who sometimes spends 30 minutes of her day unsuccessfully trying to find pants to put on, uh, this kind of a big deal.

I also had four chickens simultaneously climb up on my fingers and eat out of my hand today, so it’s also kind of awesome.


And what it means for the next few weeks is that I’ve become hyper-focused on putting in a proper fence for my boys, and building a fantastical chicken coop for my girls. When I say “hyperfocused” I mean that I woke up at 5:00 this morning, couldn’t fall back asleep, and spent the next hour and a half researching the best type of foundation for a chicken coop before I actually got up to do farm chores. Plus I am just at my effing wits end with painting and sanding and switching out electrical outlets… for the sake of what is left of my sanity, I need to get outside and actually build something.

Now, the last time I built something from the ground up, it was a 900 square foot addition to a house, and it took me about two years. This time I’m planning to build a 150 square foot chicken coop in six weeks. Yep. Totally reasonable. So I’ve started with a rough plan and now I’m moving on to the first step of actual construction: Foundations.

Let’s have an honest moment. I’m a carpenter at heart… I like framing, and trim work, and cabinet making, and otherwise hitting shit with a hammer. Foundations require planning, precision, and concrete. And, in my case, alcohol. But just because it’s not my favorite part of the building process, that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Chicken Coop Foundations

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Coops come in all shapes and sizes. Many coops are either raised off the ground on stilts or wheels, like this…

Source: via Kit on Pinterest

Or built on the platform of a “floating” structure like one of those garden sheds you can buy in a kit.

Those things are great, especially if you have limited space, but 1.) I don’t have limited space, and 2.) In my opinion, building something you can actually walk into with a shovel makes cleaning a much easier chore. Given the fact that I’ve been shoveling shit out of a donkey barn twice a day for a month now, I feel like I have some level of expertise in this area.  Also, I once owned a floating shed that sat on some concrete blocks and that fun little space between the floor and the ground attracted about 500 mice and one very large, very angry woodchuck. So. Probably not going that direction.

It’s less common to find plans or pictures of a walk-in style chicken coop with a dirt or concrete floor, but after doing a little research I feel like this is the right way to go.

Now, back when the dirt-floor donkey barn was built at Memorial, we used a typical framing structure, and poured six concrete piers to anchor it to for the foundation:

Here’s how it worked in cross-section:


The trick is, those concrete piers have to be dead level on the top, which means you probably need a grade laser and at least two people while pouring them.

The other type of structure I personally have experience with is a typical house or garage foundation, where you excavate the entire area of the foundation, put a concrete footer below the frost line, then put a poured or masonry wall up to grade, and your frame sits on that. (Basically exactly what I describe here but in smaller scale and instead of a basement floor both sides of the wall would be backfilled.)

Now that would be a permanent and correctly built foundation, but it would also require a lot of time, equipment, people, and money, and I’m building a chicken coop here… not a bomb shelter.

So the third option I’ve been pondering is building the chicken coop the same way that pole barns are built. In effect, sinking posts into the ground to bear the load of the structure. Similar, in fact, to how I built this pergola

Pergola Finished

You can see I’m drawing on what experience I can to help me figure out the best way to do this. I’m factoring in time, money, and, most importantly, the ability for me to build this thing without anyone around to hold the other end of the tape measure, so to speak.

Here are my non-negotables:

  1. The coop has to be on a solid foundation (ie set on something below the frost line). I’m not interested in moveable or floating for this particular structure.
  2. There can’t be any gap between the walls and the floor, to protect my nuggets from predators.
  3. The floor will be concrete pavers that I’m going to form and pour myself

Here are my nice-to-haves:

  1. I would like to be able to do this with minimal help
  2. I would like to have it done in 6-7 weeks
  3. I would like to spend less money building this coop than I did, say, buying the house

So, here’s the verdict…

A Pole Barn “Foundation”

It’s really less of a foundation and more of a building structure, but here’s how the bottom half of a pole barn works…

(This image comes from this great website which gives a ton of step-by-step info on building a pole barn.)

The good news is, with a structure like this, I can single-handedly dig holes, pour the concrete footer, set and level the posts, and trim the tops as needed for level. The bad news is, framing for a pole barn works on entirely different principles than framing for a house, which means this is something that will require more thought and research as opposed to just building it in my sleep… but you know I like a challenge.

Next up in the Great Coop Adventure… Planning for Pole Barn Framing. Why yes, it is as exciting as it sounds.

Here’s the tentative plan to get this baby from a half-assed plan in my brain to an actual structure my flock can live in:

  • Week 1 (this weekend) – Stake building site, buy materials, start pouring concrete pavers for floor
  • Week 2 – Drill or dig foundation holes, set posts (also drill fence post holes)
  • Week 3 – Build roof trusses and install without killing myself
  • Week 4 – Install girders + window and door frames
  • Week 5 – Install metal roof
  • Week 6 – Install board and batten siding, windows, door, and interior features
  • Week 7 – Install floor

It’s also currently 33 degrees outside. Ha. I so got this.

25 Responses

  1. You got a very ambitious plan there since weather is always a factor, but I have a feeling you will get there! Especially for your little nuggets!

  2. I know you do not want help, but I need to come help you because my momma’s current insanity is making me nuts, and the kids will be at their dad’s for the summer.

    Wait for it…

    You said 6-7 weeks. You will be done by the time I can come be your apprentice! I have not had nearly enough coffee.

    Seriously, your idea is the best of both cost effectiveness and time management. I wish I had an idea of how my dad’s barn was built, but it was on the property looooong before they bought it. I bet it was similar to what the barn-pole foundation shows though because that is what it was…a barn built with huge pole supports and wood beams covered in galvanized sheet metal.

  3. I love your plans! We converted an existing garden shed for our coop, but we will probably build a new one within the next few years. Keeping chickens is one of my favorite things, and I think you’re going to love having them around your yard.

  4. My brother and I built a chicken coop very similar to this one when we were teenagers in 2 weekends – so you can totally do it in 7 (here’s a link:

    Vinyl flooring or something similar will make cleaning a heck of a lot easier in the long run and for sure make sure you have a drainage system in place. That way you can spray the entire thing out with a hose when necessary.

    We also sank our foundation walls all the way around to prevent digging critters from making their way into the coon, racoons and even coyotes were a problem where we lived.

  5. You may want to check but as soon as you put in a footing or a foundation of any sort you may need a building permit.

    1. Nice thing about taking 60 hours of classes to get my contractors license is that I know all of the rules about this. In Michigan you only need a permit if the structure is greater than 200 square feet or has a second story.

    1. Yeah, I pinned that one a while ago… it’s very cool! She’s working with a small space though and the coop isn’t a “walk in with a shovel” kind. I’m planning for mine to be much bigger and heavier structurally!

  6. We love our hens. We have been really happy with two of the coop security measures we took – based on comments from a chicken bulletin board.

    1. We ran hardware cloth on top of the floor joists but under the plywood floor. There are several spots where chewing has occurred, but no rodents have gotten into the coop or storage area.

    2. We covered the floor with sheet vinyl flooring before installing the interior wall. It is so much easier to clean!

    I can’t wait to see how yours comes along. Good luck!

  7. I only mention this because in your zeal to get building something, you might have glossed over some other possiblities.

    From looking at your photos of clearing the rubble pile, it seems that you have the remnants of a foundation and a poured floor. Perhaps siting there would save you some steps.

    You also seem to have like 5 million bricks stored in your barn maybe you could use those for a floor.

    In our old barn the chicken coop was just stuck on the back. It saved building one wall and would probably make getting things framed a bit easier.

    Maybe hanging off one side of the donkey barn?

    1. Yes, but if I have a zeal for building something, why do other possibilities matter? lol.

      Actually, you’ll have to trust me that I’ve got a grand plan(ish) for this property and it would would make everybody’s eyes bleed if I detailed all of it every time I said “I’m planning to build this here.” So while those are good suggestions they actually won’t work for the property and what I want to use my existing materials for.

  8. Kit this looks so awesome! I’m a student at Clemson University (studying animal science) and I just got back from spending some time with my chicken at our aviary, fun stuff.

  9. My dad originally built a sauna and it somehow never became a sauna, instead its a very handsome, well-insulated chicken coop that has housed many chickens, ducks and geese over the last few decades. ;-D

  10. I’d agree with the comments about using hardware cloth or something to block off the entire base so that the varmints don’t get at “the girls.” Deep enough to keep them from digging underneath it will help a lot.

  11. My husband and I bought a fixer upper and then he decided, he doesn’t like fixing up! So….I am learning to DIY and have discovered it is fun! Recently discovered your blog and have decided that even though I am twice your age, I want to be you when I grow up!! 😉
    Can’t wait to see the coop when it’s done! I love that you are designing it to be built with minimal help!

    1. I know, Leila!! I adore Kit’s pergola, too. Sooo beautiful. I’d love to have one just like it, along with the flagstone on the patio.

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  13. Just wanted to stop by and say thank you. We used some of your advice when researching our article on where to build a chicken coop. Specifically the tip about floating floors attracting mice (citing you as the source of course).

    We love to see how other folks do it. Great foundation plans! Thanks.

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