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Knowing Happiness's Chicken Coop
Solar-Powered, Light-Activated Chicken Coop 3.4
We (the hens and I) really love this coop, but I cannot recommend the process I used. Hopefully though someone can learn from the mistakes I made along the way, and remember, "The person who makes no mistakes is the person who makes nothing." There is more at KnowingHappiness.net.
Coop 1.0 was a pallet-based tractor design that was supposed to be moved from one garden bed to another. Even with bicycle wheels it was too hard to move and lasted only a few months.
Coop 2.0 used many of the parts from Coop 1.0 for a stationary little coop. That lasted until the first flock was laying and I decided that I did not want to get down on my hands and knees every day. I needed something taller, but still small enough to fit in my little back yard.
Thus, coop 3.0....
Having had a couple of lessons I had figured out the basics of how much room to allow for food and water, how to set up an easy to clean roost, and how many nest boxes I needed (1! Even with 5 hens they all fight over the "good" one, whatever that is, and will refuse to use anything else. I have not yet found why one is good and another is not. Even when they look the same to me, they can tell.) Really, you can use just about anything you have to build a coop. Whatever your skills and available materials. Do you have an unused shed, playhouse, doghouse, or dumpster? Nail a stick near the top (roost), stick a milk crate on the bottom (nest), cut some holes to let in the light and air and chickens and you are in business. You will no doubt love your chickens and continue to revise and refine their accommodations because it is fun.
Aside from the basic needs of the hens the only other design consideration was, "It can't be square. We have too many square corners in the yard (what with all the raised beds) and we need more curves, more feminine energy." I couldn't argue with that, so, ready to make ALL my ladies happy I went to The Rebuilding Center to get some doors and windows. I scored a couple of used aluminum double hung windows and a strangely small exterior door that was already hung. (I was stymied once trying to hang a door so that it was square and plumb so I paid the extra $5 for the one with the frame.) Total was about $40. I could have gotten them all for free but I really like giving these folks my money. They do good work. Now I had 2 windows and a door so that would be three sides of the coop. Realizing that a triangle would not be curvy enough it seemed like I would be building a hexagon. I then bought the only new materials for the coop, about a dozen 2x4s. ($20?) I already had the used cedar fence boards, tar paper and other stuff on hand.
There were no plans for the coop at this point, but the idea was to make the sides just wide enough to accept either the door or a window. The height of the coop was determined by the height of the door. I laid out a sill plate on the ground (it doesn't freeze here so no footings are required) made out of some scrap treated 2x4s, and then put a vertical stud on each corner. That could have been 12 studs if I was going to get fancy, but six seemed OK. I went with a shed roof (one that just slopes in 1 direction) since it would give me the height I needed for the door and keep the whole thing shorter than the fences to either side of it, so I sloped the back down about 6 inches.
Too much math! Hexagons with shed roofs create some really crazy angles. If I had it to do over I would have either gone with an octagon, or found a helper with better geometry skills than I have. It all came out eventually, and the girls don't seem to mind the weird framing angles. Actually since the green roof come out so good I probably would size the whole thing as an octagon with a flat top that would hold a kiddie pool full of dirt. That would be totally simple!
When I had all the studs and joists pretty much where I wanted them I fastened the doors and windows in place. The windows are at the ground level because I assumed that they could double as chicken doors. While as you will see, version 3.3 made this technically a mistake, the metal screens over them work fine and the placement is still OK.
The siding is just two layers of reclaimed fence boards with a layer of tar paper in between. A few more cedar boards and some pallet scraps for the trim and version 3.0 was weather tight. The gap above the door is a ventilation window open except in the winter when it is blocked with a piece of 2x4.
Everything you have heard about the rain here is true, and the girls hate it so I gave them a covered porch where they can hang out and wait (until June) for the rain to stop. In this picture you can see that the lanai is just a scrap of the remesh from the run fastened to some scrap 2x12s from a raised bed modification, covered with more of the free reclaimed cedar fence boards.
The roof of the coop is 2 more layers of cedar fence boards. The top ones are kind of shiplapped like shingles. I thought it looked terrible so I threw some dirt and weeds on top and voila', instant eco-roof. It is actually kind of nice. It keeps the coop warmer in the winter, and the wild birds come and eat the seeds and stuff. The kiddie pool full of dirt would work better, but it is OK the way it is.
Technically these were already there. I just cut out one board to allow the girls to jump in and play in the compost. They really like it. It also means I do not have to turn the compost, a chore I hate. The compost bin is topped and fronted with the gates from the old cyclone fence that was replaced with the "new" fence that was constructed from all those used cedar fence boards. For aesthetic reasons I replace the cyclone fence bits with the remesh.
The run is constantly evolving. The current one is made of 4x4 lightweight remesh. I like that the girls can peek their heads through it, and it seems sturdier than most other things I've used. I am not going for a complete security perimeter here, just enough to keep them away from the veggies during the day. It is open on top to allow rat catchers (cats) in, except on the side with the compost bins where they would have enough of a boost to make it over the fence.
The first solar panel is for a solar powered shed light. It doesn't provide much light, but I can count heads and gather eggs in the dark. I wired it too an old switch labeled "WATER" and "OVEN" on the outside of the coop. I tease the girls that if they are naughty I will switch on the oven, but they just look at me with that confused chicken look.
I've had this coop for a few years now, and the furniture changes periodically. The first flock (leghorns) had a stacked nest box nailed to one wall. Those boxes were too skinny for the large breeds of flock #3, so they have a bigger nest box that actually accommodates 2 hens if they are in a hurry.
I also store their feed and grit and shell in the coop in cat food containers to keep out the rats, and to provide climbing places for the girls to get on and off the...
Roost and Poop Chute
I haven't seen this on other coops, but I like this feature. There is a shelf under the roost that is covered with a scrap of Marmoleum. That shelf is slanted slightly and extends through a slot in the back side of the coop. Instead of having to clean the whole coop I just scrape the previous night's droppings out the slot into a waiting bin where I can easily compost it. I think it keeps the inside of the coop cleaner and fresher, and is easier for me. There is more about this feature at http://knowinghappiness.net/free-organic-fertilizer/. You can see the outside bits in the picture of the lanai. The "dining room" is under the bedroom on top of the nest box. It used to be on the floor but I hadn't planned on...
RATS! We have big time rats here in Portland, Oregon. Soon after the girls moved in, so did the rats. Long story short, there are four things you can do to help keep the rats out of your coop.
- Hang the feeder out of rat reach. This helped for me, but they still went after the spilled feed.
- Cats. I have two cats. One is too old to chase rats, and the other is apparently too stupid. I still like having the run accessible to cats though so that the neighbors cats can help themselves. If I had a smaller run I could try hardware cloth above, below, and around the run, but I am not convinced that these rats would not chew through it.
- Build your coop a couple feet off the ground, with smooth posts. I built one of these for a friend in town (from a reclaimed dog house) and she has had no rats. Of course it was too late to put this coop up on stilts.
- Cement floor. Sigh... Thus was borne the next version, Coop 3.1
I had to lift the whole coop off the ground, dig below the frost line (2 inches ) and pour a concrete slab. while I was at it I set some marble scraps (free) in the concrete, so yes, the coop has a marble floor. I figured (rightly) that it would be easier to clean, and hey, how many coops have a marble floor? One significant problem was that Coop 3.1 had a decided list to one side that remains to this day. Trust me, it was plumb before that! I just keep a little straw on top of the marble so once a month or so I can just sweep it out add new straw.
So with the rats under control, if not entirely abated, we moved on through flock 1. When flock 2 was just moving into the coop we encountered...
Racoons! Flock # 3 was a couple months old and were all apparently the size of chicken nuggets to the raccoon because there was nothing left of them the next morning. I didn't know what had happened until the day after that
when the raccoon came back for the last remaining Leghorn. Since it was now too late in the season to get new chicks, and I was so sad about what happened to my sweet little chicks, I turned my grief into
Coops 3.2 - 3.4: Solar-Powered, Light-Activated Coop Doors
Take that you pesky raccoons!
I've attached some pictures of the current door. The first one was just a proof of concept that I cobbled together using parts from Radio Shack. The second one retained the gear motor from the first one but that was not very reliable. All of them are part of...
Buy an automatic coop door. It will be cheaper. I have spent so much time and money trying to re-invent this wheel it has begun to try even my wife's patience, and she is ALWAYS a good sport. I can't recommend one in particular, but I can say that if you have an open run (not COMPLETELY wrapped in hardware cloth), and have ever forgotten anything, or ever want to be away from home at dusk, do yourself a favor and get one of these babies now! Here are some pictures of the current door under construction and installed. It is really quite simple. A solar panel, car battery, 12v solar switch, dpdt relay, a couple of limit switches, and a window winder motor mounted on a piece of a pallet. A piece of plywood goes up in the morning and down at dusk. THe battery is inside the coop and the electronics are mounted on the south wall. This one works well except the solar charger is undersized for winter operations in Portland so I use a car battery charger to augment it. The one on the drawing board is an entirely new design that I will share when (if?) it gets off the drawing board. Even though it was a mistake to try to do this myself I have not given up. I prefer to think that I am tenacious, not stubborn!
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