Before I ever even considered getting started with chickens, I got very invested in Permaculture education. A few years ago it would have been difficult to find a lot of information about Permaculture on the web, but now there are people a resources in almost every city in the country actively participating in the practice in one way or another. I won't get into the details of the philosophy here, but one of the bigger themes in Permaculture is "stacking functions". This is where chickens came into the picture for me.
I'm not 100% finished with the building yet. The greenhouse windows still need to be sealed, the insulation needs to be increased and the trim needs to be put on to make it look "finished". I will add more pictures when the Spring comes and we get it done. At the moment, the windows are increasing the temperature inside the building as much as 100% above the outdoor temp when the sun is out. That heat leaks out quickly through the unsealed cracks at night though.
The coop measures 4x4, giving our 3 hens 16 sq ft of indoor space.
The run is 5x7, which is plenty of room for them to move around and get away from each other, if need be. I added a small perch, but I'd like to give them more high places to get exercise.
The greenhouse space is roughly 4x7 floor space, but the angled window causes the ceiling to be more like 4x4. I laid in some reused planks for a temporary floor inside the greenhouse, but I need to add more insulation and build in a more permanent flooring solution eventually.
(Coop completion point as of 01/16)
It all started with the idea of having animals that required more than a bowl of food and water and a litter tray. I grew up working around animals and farms and living in the city doesn't really give you the same feelings about animals that being on a farm can. It's one of those "healthy fear" kind of things when you are dealing with livestock. Granted, chickens aren't the kind of powerful animal that a cow or a horse are, but there is still more responsibility and risk with chickens than there is with a cat or a dog. There is also a lot more routine maintenance. That's what I am hoping my children gain from this experience.
So in 2012 (I think) my local government decided to vote on an amendment to the previous ordinance concerning the keeping of fowl. It hasn't ever been "illegal" to keep chickens here, but the old ordinance required a minimum of 150 feet from any residence. Considering our lots are almost all 135 feet deep, the wording in the old ordinance made it nearly impossible to obey if you wanted to keep chickens. I followed the issue very closely and when the vote to change the wording was unanimous, I made the decision to start working on a coop design. I found an image, just a drawing really, of a pretty revolutionary coop/greenhouse design in one of my Permaculture books and I decided to model mine after it. And then life got in the way...as it often does.
Fast forward to a year later where I've accomplished practically nothing in the coop building project! I had the foundation holes dug and cinder blocks dropped and then everything else took precedence. The summer of 2013 I finally built a framework. And then did not get it assembled until the summer of 2014!! The frame and pallet-wood floor sat unused and unfinished through the whole winter again...and finally the Spring of 2015 arrived.
(Point of completion circa 2013)
(Point of completion circa 2014. Because of the ordinance in our city, I have to have the coop raised up. I chose to go about 30 inches high and keep the chickens out of the underside of the coop space. I am currently using that space for tool and straw bedding storage within the greenhouse. This allows the straw bales to serve a second function as insulation beneath the coop as well as providing a dry storage space for the bedding.)
I decided then and there that we were absolutely getting the chickens that year. So instead of trying to finish the coop and then get the birds, I chose to go about it in a more "motivational" manner. On April 6, the day after Easter, we drove about an hour away to a small breeder and picked 3 pullets. One Black Australorp, one Auracauna, and one Gold-Laced Wyandotte. We brought the little sweeties home and built them a temporary cage in the basement.
This was exactly the motivation I needed to finish the coop. So I finally got to work. I finished framing the walls and got them planked with plywood. I wrapped the whole structure in tar paper to keep the draft out and then covered it in a coated and formed plywood that looks like siding.
(Point of completion early 2015)
Once I had the coop section built and the roof pitched and decked, I used a combination of tar paper and cedar shake shingles to roof the building all the way over where the greenhouse would go.
(The nesting box assembly from inside the coop.)
(Here is a split of the drawing from my book and how the coop looked for most of the summer. The greenhouse was less important than the chicken living space, so I took a break once they had shelter.)
In the late summer I started working again. Framing the greenhouse was relatively straight forward once I had the angled beams in the right position. The angle of the South facing window wall is such that on the day the sun is lowest in the sky (the winter solstice) it will shine into the greenhouse at 90 degrees. The overhang in front is long enough that it will shade the entire window wall on the highest sun day (the summer solstice).
Once the framework was there, it took very little effort tot get the walls decked with plywood. Again, I covered the cracks and gaps with tar paper, but on the greenhouse section I chose to side the walls with more cedar and only accent with the plywood siding scraps I had leftover. I should mention that every window in this building is reclaimed. A few I purchased at antique markets. The large windows that comprise the majority of the greenhouse window wall came from a warehouse in Detroit.
(East and West views of the cedar siding in progress)
As I mentioned above, there is still plenty of work to be done here. While the girls have plenty of space and no draft inside the sheltered area, the greenhouse still needs more insulation and to be sealed up so it holds more heat for longer periods. We've had a very mild winter so far, so they are plenty happy. I also hope to add some sort of solar power to the structure in the near future to allow me to get seeds started outdoors in early March. I imagine there will be other tweaks and upgrades I make over the next few years. So far raising chickens in the city has been a real joy and a treat. The eggs are delicious and the children really love working with the birds.
Brandt Creek Farm Permaculture Coop
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