Repurposing an Old Swing Set Into a Home for My Ducks
When my husband and I bought our house it came with a swing set in the backyard. Placed near a steep cliff where a child could fall and hurt themselves we considered tearing it down. Then, four ducks came into our lives, and I had the brilliant idea to re-purpose the strong wood structure of the swing set into a duck coop.
When designing my ducks' future home I kept two things in mind: cleaning and predator proofing. I wanted to ensure I could clean the entire coop easily. I also wanted the design to protect my ducks from predators. Our backyard is surrounded by woods. Every night it's normal to see raccoons and possums under our carport. I knew I needed to be smart in building a safe home for my ducks.
Step #1: Prepare the Swing Set and Area for Construction
The swing set needed to be reinforced in places to ensure it was strong and wouldn't shake or collapse.
What We Used
- Hand saw that cuts through nails
- 2x4 pieces to reinforce the frame
A few pieces of 2x4s were cut at an angle on both sides and screwed to top corners of the "A" frame of the swing area to strengthen it.
I also wanted to put in a door so I could walk into the run area. We used 2x4s to make a frame for the door. This was a challenge since the door would be at an angle due to the "A" frame of the swing set.
The swing set had a climbing tower on one end. We decided we wanted to use the climbing tower section to make the ducks' house because it had the basic structure already in place. It just needed a roof, walls, and doors.
We removed the wood steps of the tower to make the frame flat so that we only had to put a large board over the sides to make a roof. The easiest way to do this was to use a hand saw to saw through the nails holding the steps onto the tower.
We also prepped by digging a trench around the entire swing set area. To predator-proof it, I wanted to put down hardware cloth under the soil so animals couldn't dig a tunnel under the pen.
My husband got pressure treated wood boards that could go over the hardware cloth making a floor frame for the run area that could also be partially buried under the ground as part of the predator proofing.
Step #2: Add the Concrete Floor
When you build a duck or chicken coop you need to think about the right flooring option for your pets. Since ducks love water and make a muddy mess, I knew I needed a concrete floor inside of their house.
Why We Built a Concrete Floor
I figured rats and snakes might be deterred from entering the house if it had a concrete floor that wouldn't rot or could be chewed through.
It also would allow me to clean the floor of the house easily with a water hose and broom.
What We Used
- 2x4s for a frame
- Quick-drying cement
- My husband and I dug up the grass where we wanted the concrete slab to make a flat surface.
- We used our Green Works drill and screws to attach a 2x4 frame around the base of the housing area so that the wet concrete would make a rectangular shape filling every nook and cranny of Earth where the house would be.
- We later removed this frame and rebuilt it inside of where the house would be to sit on the concrete. We attached the outside walls of the house to the frame.
It took us two bags of quick-drying cement to make an inch thick slab. Having never messed with cement before, our floor was far from perfect, but we did our best and it was just what we needed.
Step #3: Predator-Proof the Base
After the concrete slab for the house was in place it was time to build the bottom frame for the base of the structure.
What We Used
We took hardware cloth and placed it in the hole all around the base of the swing set. The hardware cloth was placed so it would be under the ground both inside and outside of the swing set. That way nothing could tunnel into the pen.
Pressure-treated wood was placed over that and screwed to the bottom of the swing set to make the bottom frame. We chose pressure-treated wood only for this part because it's best to use when wood comes into contact with water because it doesn't rot quickly.
The wood and hardware cloth were buried so that only a few inches of the wood frame was above ground.
Step #4: Build the Duck House
For me, the ducks' actual house was the most important part of the project. This would be where they could get shelter from bad weather and predators; where they would lay their eggs; and where they would sleep at night.
This was the largest structure and would include a house for the ducks and a storage cabinet above it at the top of the "A" frame.
What We Used
- Sheets of plywood
- 2-inch Screws
- Concrete Screws
- Rolled Roofing
- Roofing nails
- Locks/hinges for the back door
- A plastic cutting board for the run door
The 2x4s were used to create a frame around the ground, doors, and ceiling. We used two large pieces of plywood for the front and back of the house/cabinet. Two large pieces of plywood were used for the roof.
The back included a large door, big enough for me to be able to fit into the house for egg collecting and cleaning. We started with a sliding lock but after thinking about it we changed it to an actual lock with a key. Raccoons are smart, and we feared the old lock could be opened by a raccoon.
I made a run door for the ducks with a cheap plastic cutting board from Walmart. I used this idea from BackYardChickens to design the door. I rarely ended up using it since the ducks were protected in their pen at night. I let them have access to the house and pen day and night.
Step #5: Fence in the Run
For the pen/run area I used hardware cloth as my fencing choice. Hardware cloth is the most predator-proof fencing option and is extremely strong. Over the years, I've seen raccoons scale the hardware cloth, climbing from the bottom to top of the pen. They've never once found a way in and the hardware cloth is so strong it never breaks or stresses under the weight of a heavy raccoon.
What we Used
- Hardware cloth
- Zip ties
- I started at the top and ran my first bit of hardware cloth in the first section of the pen to the left of the door. I secured it to the edges with screws.
- I overlapped my second layer of fencing with the first and used zip ties to secure them together.
- I did the same with the final, third row of hardware cloth.
- The last step was to place 2x4's over the edges of hardware cloth all around the section to ensure nothing would ever be able to get through the edges. I continued this process for the back of the pen, the "A" shaped side, and the door.
How the Coop Held Up: Issues We Ran Into Four Years Later
Years after building this, I reevaluated our plans to see what held up and what did not. When planning and building our coop I thought had everything perfect, but time changes things and problems did develop with my design. This section will discuss these problems.
Problems With the Door
First, let's talk about the door to the pen. I had an old screen door in my garage I re-purposed for the duck pen. This old door already had hinges and a screen on it and I figured I could just use them.
The biggest mistake I made was the direction of the door. I had the door open so the door would sit on the side of the swing set with no frame. Over time, with no support behind it when it was open, the old hinges could not handle the weight of the door while open and the door pulled the screws out of the wood.
I had to remove the door and flip it so that the door opened to rest on the hardware cloth cage walls. Because of the "A" frame of the swing set the door always falls backward when open.
Remember to provide good support if you have a large, heavy door.
Rats in the Duck Coop
The second problem that developed happened a little over a year after building the coop. I saw my very first rat in my kitchen when I heard my cat growling and banging into cabinets. Running into the kitchen my cat had a huge rat in his mouth. My dear cat killed four rats in our house that summer, and I was very proud of him.
Rats are nasty creatures. Those teeth can chew through wood and can do major damage to your home. One rat my cat killed actually chewed a cartoon-looking mouse hole in the wall of my kitchen. When the rats moved out of my house and into my duck coop I was ready for war.
I feared for my ducks because of the food they eat and the eggs they lay. The first rat hole appeared shortly after my cat killed his first rat. The hole went underneath the concrete slab of the house to a spot they could hide safely. The hole went under the concrete and up in this small space where the pressure treated wood base and house met leaving an open space where hardware cloth wasn't covering the ground.
It was winter, and I was practicing the deep litter method. Because of this, I had a thick layer of hay on the ground to keep the ducks warm. The rat tunneled through the hay, around the base of the pen, and chewed a hole through the wood on the opposite end of the pen as an exit to haul eggs through. That rat loved stealing eggs.
How I got rid of them
- I put poison in its hole under the concrete. . . didn't work.
- I sealed up its hole with rocks. . . didn't work. It made a new hole. I
- finally sealed up its holes with an amazing product called "Great Stuff" which is a foam sealant. The rat didn't touch the stuff so I assume it's something they have no desire to touch. After I sealed things up with the Great Stuff, I stopped having rat problems.
The lesson I learned is you can't let any gap alone. Seal up every nook and cranny. You never know what can get through even the littlest space.
Year Four: Time to Expand
When I began, I only had four ducks. Unfortunately, my neighbor's dog killed my favorite girl, and I decided maybe I needed to replace her. After some serious thinking, I decided to do more than replace her, and I purchased two more females and one male in the hopes of having plenty of eggs and possibly hatching my own ducklings. By the spring of year four, my flock expanded to 14 ducks. They included the six who came from Metzer farms and their children I hatched.
The original swing set duck pen comfortably held six ducks. I added four ducklings in March 2020, and the pen still did fine for 10 ducks, but the mess they made was considerably more and I had to clean way more often. I
hatched two more ducklings, and they moved into the pen in May 2020. I knew instantly it was time to expand the run and house to give everyone space. The duck house was way too small for 14 ducks but did fit 10 ducks. I ended up spending $100 to build a second duck house and $100 to expand the run area. I designed it so I could put up a wall between the new and old pens to separate the males from females in spring.
Overall a Great Design
Other than a few flaws, I'm really proud of how my design has held up. I have security cameras around our property, and I've watched raccoons and possums roaming around the duck coop in the middle of the night trying to get in and failing each time.
It's big enough for my six ducks (five females and one male) to live comfortably with plenty of space to walk around. I free range them during the day but when traveling I've locked them in their pen for a week with no problems.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Casey White