Chinese Prefab coops
- Cute as can be
- Cheap to ship
- Easy to assemble
- Large enough for maybe one or two adult hens
- Poor ventilation
- Super soft balsa wood type materials used
- Difficult or impossible for an adult to enter to tend to the birds
- Not moveable at all, will break apart if moved often
- Cheap to buy, cheaply made
“A sixty to seventy pound prefab coop isn’t going to take a gust of wind without tumbling over or withstand being moved a couple of times a day to fresh ground..”
Are the Chinese Prefab Coops an Option?
Once you get started in thinking about raising chickens you will run across the Chinese made prefab chicken coops marketed by the big box stores and every other Tom, Dick, and Harry online. Most resellers will rebrand the product on their website or Amazon page, some will even have new box labels printed up, but few will let on that the products come from China and are very cheaply made.
But they are as cute as a bug, usually two tone paint or nice stained wood, looking like a little doll house and claiming that they will hold four to five chickens. Sizes range from 5 to 7 feet long, usually three feet wide, and maybe 40” tall inside, and might weigh 60 pounds including the packaging that it ships in. The actual hen house is usually around 24” x 24”, enough room for two hens if it is cool otherwise they would turn it into a sweat box on a warm summer night. There is usually an exterior accessed nest box that adds another three square feet. A slide out floor makes it easier to clean and expect three to four man hours to un-box and assemble the product.
Seems like a good way to house birds for a beginner and it might be if you need a coop quickly and are okay with replacing it quickly. Despite the claims of holding four to five birds they are usually capable of holding one or two regular sized birds. The industry seized upon an old 4H handbook requirement of 4 square feet per bird and then counted the run, nest box, and inner coop as square footage. Four square feet is fine for a hen house where the chickens have an outdoor run or are free ranged, otherwise four square feet is only 24” x 24”, basically like asking a chicken to live on a two foot long section of your kitchen countertop.
Most city ordinances require ten square feet per bird for the coop itself and less than ten square feet of run is going to cause problems from overcrowding. Before purchasing one of these prefab coops you should see it in person because they are much smaller than how they appear in the pictures. One would think that a product that held chickens would show chickens in the marketing pictures but to do that would emphasis just how tiny the coops are. I’ve yet to see a marketing picture with a human being in the picture either; in fact the pictures are usually bare of anything that could be used to scale the photo.
Still…between $150.00 and $300.00, and as cute as can be. People fall for them and convince themselves that they will get some use out of them.
Chinese Prefab coops
As you read the online customer reviews from the customers with buyers’ remorse (ignore the positive one that are shills or company employees) you find that the wood is soft and flimsy, splits easily when assembling, but they usually go together in a few hours.
The comments will cover how difficult they are to clean as an adult can’t go inside and few of us would want our kids crawling in chicken poop, they leak, some use chicken wire instead of hardware cloth and when hardware cloth is used it is lighter than the 19 gauge wire we use here in the U.S.. Chicken wire can be ripped to shreds in seconds by an adult dog as the joints are simply wrapped or twisted together.
Besides being marketed with grossly overestimated capacity, the material has to be thin and light to keep the product shipping weight down to where UPS and FedEx will accept the package. Container loads of these coops can be bought from $50.00 to $60.00 each so the competition on price is immense with each Chinese manufacturer competing for the lowest price and lowest cost of materials to still make a small profit. The Chinese government subsidizes exports, paying a percentage of the export to the manufacturer. I have had manufacturers tell me that they sell for their costs of making the product, labor, materials, overhead, and the Chinese government rebate is their profit on the sale.
Generally the coops are like particle board furniture and entertainment centers, you don’t move them once assembled without breaking them into pieces. The wood is so soft that the screws strip out if you try to move one much less drag it around the yard. The ventilation will be poor, any pull out poop tray will be shallow enough that you have to clean frequently to get the tray out without it jamming. If they have roost poles they are too narrow or set too close to the walls, after all 24” wide box minus the floor hatch where the angled ladder comes in doesn’t leave much space for anything else. The roost poles, if they have them, will be 1” x 1” or 1.5” x 1.5” if you are lucky.
The Chinese would happily make a heavier duty coop but it wouldn’t sell in the U.S. because it would cost twice as much to ship. Remember that manufacturers these days are forced to sell for one half to one third of the retail price or stores simply won’t buy their products. Even at that the retailers aren’t willing to subsidize the shipping, they think they need 2/3rds to ½ of the sales price as gross profit to stay in business. You won’t find any manufacturer, even at Chinese wages, able to make a lightweight, sturdy, inexpensive coop at one third to one half the retail price. In all a person is better off taking the $200.00 and buying material to build their own. A sixty to seventy pound prefab coop isn’t going to take a gust of wind without tumbling over or withstand being moved a couple of times a day to fresh ground.
Chinese Prefab coops
These pretty but useless prefab coops rarely have decent handles that can be used to pick up the coop without breaking some part of the coop, they are light enough to move but nowhere to grab hold of the coop.
Given that the coops are only five to six feet long and the upper house takes up a chunk of that length, the ladder either has to be very steep and it almost always ends up six inches away from the wire wall. Coming down or going up, the birds aren’t going to like bumping into the wire and if there is a dog or predator outside they won’t get close to the wall to escape into the house to hide. There are extensions made for most of these coops but they generally will cost $100.00 to $160.00, nearly as much as the coop itself.
Chickens won’t know to go upstairs to roost and would prefer not to be packed into an enclosed box that is 24” x 24” with three or four other chickens so they will try to sleep the first few nights on the ground. Getting inside the coop to get to the bird to move them is going to take someone the size of a small child and is willing to crawl through chicken poop. Same thing if you have a sick or dead chicken, how are you going to reach it short of having help to pick up the coop and move it so you can retrieve the carcass. Most of the ventilation is from a single window, unusually around 6” x 7” that is placed at floor level instead of being up high where the hottest air will be. Most aren’t screened, some are clear plastic, the upper part will turn into a hot box once late spring and summer arrive.
A few years back one of the importers showed up on backyardchickens.com, saying they were entering the market and wanted ideas to build a better coop. As the months rolled by you can see consumers giving the guy tips on what needs changed and a very appreciative company acting like they were going to act on the suggestions. The thread ended with a recent customer writing a post with a liteney of complaints, it was too small and sold to hold four chickens when two would crowd the coop, arrived with parts chipped and cracked, door hinges broken, paint rubbed off. The parts weren’t fitting well, ¼” gaps, the grooves not lining up with the other parts. The customer lived in Colorado and once he realized how small the upper part was he realized that putting a light bulb inside for winter heat would probably bake the birds to death. The only positive things they said were that the instructions were good.
A coop made out of proper lumber like 2 x 4s and ½” plywood is going to weigh six to eight hundred pounds. Anything short of inflated tires isn’t going to move the coop on grassy ground, in dry weather at that. Add another $200.00 to the shipping cost and use a trucking company instead of UPS and you might ship it a few states away. The average licensing requirement is four square feet of coop, ten square feet of run, and one square foot of nest box per bird. But the prefab coop industry is using the four square foot of space for hens living in egg battery cages, hardly the conditions a backyard chicken flock owner is wanting.
Chinese Prefab coops
There are now much larger prefab coops on the market but they are selling for nearly one thousand dollars each and made out of the same lightweight and soft wood all in an effort to keep the costs low enough that the retailer can make his 50 to 66% markup and still ship it at reasonable rates. Manufacturers are in the business of providing such a product, not worried about the chickens or the customers that buy the coops.
So in the end the best practice is to bypass the inexpensive doll house style prefab coops and build your own or get ready to pay over a thousand dollars for a locally built coop. It isn’t going to be easy to move, it is going to be quite heavy so you aren’t going to be trundling it around the yard. Purchase a lightweight chicken tractor for that. The prefabs are going to hold a dozen feathered out chicks up till they are a month old and it will be difficult to take care of and clean. Save your money and buy a good locally made coop.