After nine months of having three chickens in a tractor, we've recently finished building a permanent structure. As we're in Virginia, we are trying to take both our hot, humid summers and our sometimes bitter winter spells into consideration as we build. The last nine months has taught us a lot - mostly about what we'd do differently when we built a permanent coop! I posed a question to BYC members via the thread "Coop Builders - What would you have changed or done differently?" that yielded a lot of wonderful ideas and information that we're incorporating into the new coop.
Our three chickens will move into this coop which will free up their current tractor for the six chicks we now have in our bathroom. The chicks will go into the tractor until they attain such size as they can be incorporated into the existing flock. The new coop will eventually house our existing flock of 9 and who knows how many more in the future!
LOCATION: We've learned that the chickens suffer far more with the heat than with the cold and are placing the coop in the edge of our woods for shade. As you can tell, we've got a bit of clearing out and clean-up to do yet. This picture was taken mid-March and most of the trees have no leaves. It will all be fairly dense shade by the end of May. The site is sloped, lower in the back than in the front. This should allow any water to drain away from the coop and run.
BELOW: Coop site.
SIZE: We can only have 20 chickens so we allotted 4 square feet per bird [just in case we ever get to the 20-chicken limit] and are building a 8 x 10 ft. coop. The nesting boxes will be on the exterior so as to maximize interior space.
CONSTRUCTION AND DESIGN: We don't have a lot of construction experience but my husband has been known to build a mean shed and I've no doubt he'll do a fine job with the coop. We are recycling some lumber and roofing from previous projects, and have been collecting windows. Windows are an important part of our overall plan as I want as much natural light and air-flow as possible. The rear of the coop has a southern exposure and will have windows to catch the winter sun.
BELOW: It begins! Foundation is in place and the flooring on the way.
TALKING IT THROUGH: We're at the point where we need to talk through each step because there may be no turning back if we make a bad decision. We keep going back to those initial plans but things look different as they actually begin to appear in the flesh.
BELOW: Coop Stoop. The stoop is a not-planned-for addition. We were planning on steps only into the coop but began talking about opening the door with stuff in our hands, hauling things, etc. I'm known to be clumsy and this will hopefully prevent me from taking a dive off a step. We have to add a few stairs to it yet.
BELOW: Framing it up. He wanted to get one wall done and then the roof so that I could be white washing each inside wall as it was put up. He got the tin roof finished today. Yes, that's my husband on the roof. Not a hawk.
BELOW: North Side. Starting on the front. He's working so fast I can't keep up with him. Heck, I've not even purchased the lime for the whitewash yet! You can see how we're using the recycled windows. The tin roofing is recycled, too. The tin was dinged in places and couldn't be used on a new roof.
BELOW: Batten on Board construction. Husband is building the coop using the "Batten on Board" technique. We found a local sawmill getting rid of 1 x 8 in. seasoned oak lumber, they let us have it for a song. The oak boards make up the walls. The battens are placed where the oak boards meet, covering any cracks. Pretty sure this thing is bullet proof.
BELOW: Coop Interior - Under Construction. The picture below shows two interior walls with one window hinged in. The two front windows will open inward and be secured to the roof of the coop. Hardware cloth will be added to prevent predators.
BELOW: North side - Front complete except for battens to be added where boards meet. You can see the front pop door has been framed in. There is about 6 inches between the coop floor and the bottom of the pop door to prevent their bedding from falling out. There will be a second pop door on the back of the coop to allow them to go to the back run. We are keeping the two runs separate so that we can move the birds back and forth. That will make it easier if we wish to do work in one of the runs. It will also give them two different environments so one area can rest and regrow while they destroy the other!
BELOW: West Side - The two windows at the top will pop out for ventilation. The skylight next to the door is my "peek window", it will enable me to look inside and count heads on the roost without having to go into the coop. Framed in below the two pop-out windows is where the nesting box will be.
BELOW: Nesting box framed in - The nesting box has been framed in. It is 4 ft. wide, 18 inches tall and 18 inches deep. It will be a communal box as my girls insist in sharing the same spot now. It will have a sloped roof so that water will run off of it and will open from the front when complete.
BELOW: Nesting box, interior view - The nesting box bumps inside a few inches, mostly to keep it from jutting out so far outside and changing the path to the coop door. A sloped roof will be placed on it inside, too, to prevent the girls from trying to roost on it. A ramp and bar will be added so that the girls can easily enter.
BELOW: West side. Before battens are added to boards. Windows have yet to be permanently attached and - of course - the nesting box needs finishing and the door needs to be added but you get a pretty good idea of what it will look like when completed.
BELOW: South side. Under construction.
BELOW: West Side. With the exception of the tin roofing for the nesting box, battens on boards and either painting or staining, the west side is complete. Note the "baseball in window" sticker on the skylight by the door. My son thought I'd be amused. He thought wrong.
BELOW: Door Lock. A close up of the locking mechanism. A raccoon will need to bring both a step-ladder and a friend to gain entrance here.
BELOW: Interior. Roosting table and Feed/Water Station. A raised roost will be built across the entire "L" shape of the raised table using 2 x 4's with the wide side up. The sides of the table are raised so that we can put sand or litter in to catch droppings. The windows behind the roost will be covered in 1/2 inch hardware cloth and will be closed at night. FEED/WATER STATION: Hanging feeders will be attached to the underside of the roosting table. This will prevent the chickens from standing on top of the feeders and maximizes the interior space as much as possible. Waterers will be placed under the roosting table, as well.
BELOW: End of roosting table in down position. Both ends of the roosting table can be flipped down so that any litter can be scraped off the table directly into a bucket.
BELOW: Poop Chute interior, closed. A door was built on the east side of the building at floor level below the "skylight turned window" to allow for easy removal of litter. As the coop is raised, our wheelbarrow can be placed immediately outside the chute so that litter can be swept directly into it. No shoveling! Yippee!
BELOW: Poop Chute interior, Open
BELOW: East side of coop, exterior view of Poop Chute. Our wheelbarrow will go under the door to catch the litter as we sweep it out.
BELOW: Completed Nesting Box and Ramp. I will be adding nesting curtains to the box after painting.
BELOW: Roost, complete and painted. A paint sprayer makes easy work of covering all the nooks, crannies, and angles. Compared prices at different stores and Tractor Supply won with 5 gallons of barn and fence paint for $49. As luck would have it, I had a Tractor Supply gift card that took care of the paint! My husband constructed the roost so that they're extending from the wall, making it easy to clean under them.
BELOW: Close-up view of roost construction.
BELOW: "THE CHICKEN HIGHWAY" I am trying to avoid a maze of ramps in the middle of the coop floor to have to clean around and possibly trip over [see note above about me being clumsy]. I'm not sure if this "Chicken Highway" will work but we're going to give it a try. If we have to modify it later, we will. My concern is that the girls may default to roosting at the nesting boxes. They "shouldn't", as the regular roost is a bit higher, but it's not higher by much. We can make the roost higher if necessary but I didn't want the girls totally in front of the windows at night if possible. Guess we'll see what happens as it's all an adventure at this point!
UPDATE: It worked! The girls are now roosting on the roost and not sleeping in the nesting box. The first three nights they slept in the nesting box. I decided to let them sleep there as they were coming from a chicken tractor and the nesting box was more in line with what they were used to. I then began to put a few sunflower seeds on the roost before bedtime. That drew them from the nesting box to the roost and they're now all sleeping on the roost. It takes a few days for chickens to become comfortable in new surroundings and I'm real proud of the girls for making such a quick transition.
BELOW: Another view of "The Chicken Highway" There will be one main ramp up to a small "landing". To the left of the landing will take them to the nesting box. Continuing up the next ramp will take them to the roost. We're thinking we should install a "Yield" sign and possibly one of those concave mirrors so there are no accidents when rounding the corner!
BELOW: A view of the back of the coop - the south side - from the interior. You can see the human door on the right.
BELOW: Hardware Cloth Installed! All windows are now covered in hardware cloth. We're almost home!
MOVING DAY!!! Well, like most moving days, it's raining. I don't care, they're going in that new coop even if they have to swim to get to it! Doing last minute things this morning . . . caulking, adding some hardware, putting straw in the nest, adding nest box curtains.
BELOW: I was given several chicken themed mini-flags and decided that they'd make perfect nest box curtains. I'm only putting up two of them initially so that the girls can easily see in the nesting boxes to know what they are. After they get used to them, I'll add a flag on each end so that the entire nesting box has curtains.
BELOW: After 5 days, I added the final two curtains. The girls stick their heads in under the curtain - flip it up - and then walk inside. It's also nice to have a pop of color in the coop!
FEEDING STATION, READY TO GO! All their feeding equipment was moved and installed while the girls played in the paddock. Figured I'd better get a picture of it as it will never be this clean or neat again!
THEY'RE MOVED IN!! The girls were very excited as my husband constructed a sort of "chute" to funnel them into the new house from the paddock they were digging in. They knew something was up . . .
HOWEVER, CHICKENS ARE EASILY DISTRACTED . . . and became very involved in a small pile of leaves in front of their new house. Sigh . . . I'm inside the new coop, taking pictures of them outside the new coop. Something is seriously wrong with this picture!
CANNED CORN WORKS WONDERS! After dropping a few kernels outside the coop to get their attention, I put some right on the door and dropped some in the bedding inside the new coop. They fell for it!
"WHAT'S ALL OUR STUFF DOING IN THIS PLACE?"
"WHAT FOWL TRICK HAVE YOU PLAYED ON US?" Lucy shot me one of her signature "stank-eyes" when she figured out that she'd been tricked!
BENEFITS OF RAISING CHICKENS: Of course, the most obvious benefits are the eggs, the bug control, fantastic chicken dinners, and the wonderful compost. But maybe the best and most important benefit is . . .
. . . the delight in our 5-year old granddaughters eyes and the wonderful life lessons that raising chickens teaches her.
Yet to do: Battens need to be finished on the exterior. Tin needs to be put on the nesting box exterior top. Guttering needs to be installed on the lower end of the roof along with a rain barrel to collect water. The exterior needs staining/painting and the run needs to be installed. Anything that is "cosmetic" in nature on the exterior will be done last, probably after the girls are living in the coop.
A permanent roofed run is planned for the front of the coop. We want to make it substantial enough to prevent predators so that the girls can be in the front run when we're not at home. At present - and until the permanent run is completed - the girls are in a movable fenced paddock system. A similar fenced paddock will be placed in the back, wooded area of the coop to allow them access to the woods when we're at home. They can also have "chaperoned free-range" when we are outside in the evenings.
What we would do differently or add to the coop: As the ladies have just moved in, it's hard to know what we would do differently. I'm sure we'll find things we need to change once the flock takes residence. As far as what I'd like to add, I'm hopeful that a nippled automatic watering system is in our future. Electricity to the coop is in our plans, to be completed before winter. For now, I'll be happy with just getting everyone in the coop!
EDIT: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES - The girls have been in the coop less than 24 hours and I already have changes that need to be made. There are some things you just don't realize until you're actually living with and using the coop.
- Front Door: Additional latch at the BOTTOM of the door for night. There's just enough of a crack there that a creature with good pawing skills - aka a raccoon - could probably pull-pull-pull on it to create a space big enough to get inside. We placed a heavy 5-gal. paint bucket against it last night. UPDATE: Done!
- Main Ramp up "Chicken Highway": - Two changes need to be made to the ramp. #1: The ramp needs to be moved to the right to allow more room for my Big Bottomed Girls - the Black Sex Links. As it is now, the girls are brushing against the roost for the nesting box as they go up the ramp. The coop was made with the girls in visual sight but they look much bigger now that they're inside! #2: More raised bars need to be added to the ramp for secure footing. Again, it's the black sex links that are having the problem. These girls are BIG and they have big feet. They aren't very graceful and are sliding on the ramp as they can't get secure footing. Hopefully, adding more raised bars will help with that problem. UPDATE: The problem resolved itself. It wasn't that the ramp needed bars or needed to be moved. It was that the Big Bottomed Girls weren't used to navigating the area. They soon gained some grace and aren't having any further problems.
- Nesting Box Door: The nesting box is a 4 foot wide communal box. I went to collect eggs using the exterior nesting box door this morning and realized that - due to my height - I have to open the door so far to reach in that anyone else in the box can easily hop out! One way to resolve this would be to have two doors, side by side. I hate to do that as it would create an additional crack for possible drafts so maybe a small "step-up" box on the exterior to put me at a different height would fix it. Not sure how we'll fix it at this time but we need to do something. UPDATE: This problem resolved itself, too. The straw in the nesting box was too much and too "fluffy" in the beginning. The girls have kicked out the extra straw and have made three lovely nests in the box that are at the right height and place for me to be able to reach in without having them hop out.
LESSON LEARNED: With the exception of obvious security issues, live with a new coop for about a week before making any changes. Sometimes what appears to be a problem is just the chickens getting used to living in and navigating a new space.
UPDATE OF JULY 16, 2013: This is a pretty important update, hence the bold red header text. We've been living with the coop for several months and we love it. However, it was given a test today. The coop passed with flying colors. I almost didn't.
We built the coop with predator protection in mind and wanted to make it impossible to break into. Well, it is. It's also impossible to break OUT OF!
We're in the midst of a heat wave with afternoon temps in the high 90's. We've been doing all our chicken chores in the morning before the worst of the heat and were in the coop around 9:00 AM. My husband made the comment that he was going in the house and left the coop. I still had a few things to do so told him I'd be a while yet.
About five minutes later I went to leave and couldn't. My husband had locked me in the coop. Purely accidental as we make sure we always lock the door as we leave so he did it automatically. However, I was stuck with no cell phone and my husband in the house closed up with air condition and fans running due to the heat. No one could hear me. I was stuck. I'm also claustrophobic. It wasn't pretty. I was in a panic state.
We have a large box fan in one window of the coop that pulls air into the coop from the shaded side. Well, that was a blessing! It was in the high 80's at that time but I was getting a bit of breeze. I tested every window with no luck due to the hardware cloth and how it was secured. No way I could unscrew it. I thought maybe if I threw my entire body against the door I could weaken the bolt. Did you see the picture of the bolt above?? That big, heavy gate latch? Oh, it didn't budge. Not one bit. My shoulder aches pretty bad, though.
I didn't have anything I could slam into the big skylight windows to break them. The only thing I had was the aluminum handle of a net and it just bounced off the window. I then looked at the chicken's pop door and made myself understand that I couldn't have wriggled through that when I was age 12, much less now. It was tempting to try as I was really upset but I made myself realize that being caught in that little door with my face down in chicken poo would be even worse. The poop chute door locks from the exterior. That door would have been of such size that I could have gotten out but I had no way to unlock it.
I made myself not scream for help as we're in the woods and I knew he couldn't hear me. Figured I would just weaken myself in the heat. I tried to call my dog thinking he would hear me even in the house when DH wouldn't. NOT.
My biggest worry was that DH would take a nap or get occupied and I'd be stuck in the heat for hours. We have a large waterer and it was filled this morning so I could have survived by drinking their water if necessary. I could also put that water over me to help reduce my body temp if I was in there too long. I was trying to think ahead and make a plan.
I was stuck in there for about an hour before DH began to wonder where I was. I've NEVER been so glad to see him! That was - without a doubt - the longest hour of my entire life!
THE LOCK TO THE POOP CHUTE DOOR WILL BE MOVED FROM THE EXTERIOR TO THE INTERIOR so as to avoid this from occurring again. That door is big enough that every member of my family could escape through it if necessary. DH told me that our son accidentally locked him in the other day but DH heard the door bolt and caught him before he left. Plus, it's more secure bolted from the inside as that way no predators - human or otherwise - can unlock it without getting in first.
LESSON: #1: DH did a really good job building the coop as no predator with any size to them can get in. Or out. #2: If you have a coop that's large enough to walk inside of, make sure you have an escape hatch. Just in case. Accidents do happen.