This article is going to read like a diary of the renovations and improvements to Chez Poulez (pronounced Shay Poulay).
September 25, 2015
We started our chicken adventure with a used coop that we got through Craig's List. With it came six hens and one rooster, all a little over a year old. That was in March of 2015. Here's a picture:
We lost two of our hens over the course of this year; one simply keeled over outside in April, and the other was egg bound for months and then finally disappeared last week. Sad.
But, on the good side, our Buff Orpington went broody, and successfully hatched four peeps last June! Concurrently, we bought new chicks--9 guineas and 9 straight run chicks from a backyard breeder. They were mixed breeds. Between our own hen raising chicks and our purchases, we knew that we needed to expand our coop, That's the build that I'm going to profile here, in case others have similar situations.
Enter: Chez Poulez
Chez Poulez is a small grain barn renovation. We bought a 30-year abandoned farm and have been bringing it back to life over the last four years.
When we first bought the property, here is how it looked:
The year after we moved here, I bought a horse. So, we first rehabbed it for horses. The first step was to have it resided. The reason I put these up is so I can explain our ventilation decisions; you need to see it end-on.
And here was the south facing side.
Here was the north facing side.
I used the upper part this barn to store tack and tack up my horses, and the lower tractor run (now enclosed on this north side) as a run-in shed. We are finally building a different barn for our three horses, so aside of needing a place for about two weeks yearly to house newly born lambs, we don't use this building. I got a glint in my eye as our chickens multiplied, and convinced my husband that the old barn would make a deluxe chicken coop--so roomy and fine that I dubbed it Chez Poulez (house of the chicken, in French).
Well, the building was hastily converted in about a day by my stellar husband, and we've learned a LOT about keeping chickens this summer (almost full free range daily). Chez Poulez hasn't much lived up to its name, but we have big plans for this fall! So, I'm starting this build page. Here it is now, from a few angles.
Above, you can see the chicken door and small run that we built for the birds on the north-facing side. They free range daily on our 40 acres, so the run is really for winter months (since we can cover it easily), and when they are out, they can also get under the building, as you see. They love to be under there; it amounts to a large run that is safe from hawks. However, we lose eggs when they lay under there, so we're making plans to shut it up.
If you look carefully, you can see the run pictured in the first shot to the right of this face-on shot. This is the east-facing side of Chez Poulez. I plan to put windows in this face, and a new door. The posts were put in as cross ties for tacking up the horses. We'll take them out (and/or we may extend the run along this face of the building, eventually, and they will provide supports. The ladder is on the roof because we started to scrape and repaint it, but it was just too hot. Again, this fall should see that change! I hope we can get it scraped and painted before the snow falls!
Currently, we have ladder-type perches inside, and temporary milk-crate nesting boxes that no bird likes, and an awkward cleaning set up. All this is about to change in the weeks ahead. As cleaner and caretaker of the flock, I've experimented enough to know what I want, and I'm very excited.
September 26: The Start of the Makeover
I literally could not sleep for four hours in the night because I was so excited for today. My husband promised me the whole day, and also my sweet Lord gave me a special mentor on this website who gave me detailed, personalized ideas for the best approaches to my unique building. Today could not have gone better, but boy was it a TON of work for my dear husband! He is my hero!
Our big focus today was to put in openings in walls for ventilation and windows, and to redo the interior perches so that I could clean/turn bedding in the coop more easily, and also to clean the coop down to bare rubber mats and begin the DLM (deep litter method) by putting down copious pine shavings, combined with some compost. (However, it rained all day, so the compost is sitting in that lower area drying out. I'll add it when it does. Today, we put in shavings.)
We had some old storm windows available that came with the farm, and we decided that we could make a channel in the east wall into which we could easily slide them, butting them together in winter and then removing them to either replace them with screens (to break the wind) or leave entirely open (hot months) super easily. Here's the picture of how the east side looks now, with evening lights on (our dumb guineas need a light at dusk to find their way home for the evening.).
You can see this and all pictures closer if you click on them, by the way.
(I really need to hose down the front of this barn: we had torrential rains all through June and into July and it splashed MUD all over this side. Yuck. Please excuse our dirty face!)
Inside, great improvements were made! We put in a long roosting bar all along this new wall of glass. It's about 50" off the ground, and the girls (and guy) look out the windows!
We made two chicken ladders. They are each butted down against a crack in rubber floor mats, and backed up at the top to a 2 X 4 cleat (screwed under the perch as you can see in the shot below). When this perch is loaded with birds, it bows down some, and these ladders support it in the middle. However, they are unattached at both ends, so when I come to clean, I can just lift them out of my way. SO SO SO happy with this, having struggled all summer with a ladder-like set of roosts.
This barn was originally a grain barn, built with bins that could be configured differently at will by sliding boards down those vertical posts. The building is about 14 feet wide, so these posts divide the coop in thirds. The above side is the right third as you walk in the divider doors (made from old screen doors that we found on the farm) that separate the birds from the storage. The doors are pictured below:
Below is a picture of the center aisle, and showing the height of the building. (It looks bigger than it is in this pic.) You can see that we decided to keep the birds out of the rafters by putting wire across the whole coop. We still need to put air vents in at the very top of this pitch:
So, in the opposite side of the coop from the new window wall (the west wall that backs up to that lower tractor run), we built another roost, this one a full six feet off the floor, with its own ladder. It's also free standing and fixed in place by having its foot to the wall. This one doesn't support the roost, it just rests in the corner of the L-shaped roost.
Today's changes make the coop feel so airy and big! I love it that I can take those windows and roost ladders up or down at will, depending on weather and/or need to toss the litter. I rained off and on all day, and nothing touched the windows because of the eaves' overhang above, so except for blizzards or rain with lots of wind, we can expect these windows (or screens, as we change them out) to be pretty durable.
Next to tackle: the south-facing wall. When we did our "quick and dirty" conversion of this building to a coop in June, we took a skill saw to the wall where a doorway HAD been, opened a "window" to the prevailing summer breezes, and stuck some wire up to prevent predators from entering there. THIS is the next frontier. It's the storage area for the coop, and also for the horses while our new barn is being constructed nearby.
We'd like to use some old house windows to make this a 91"-tall, 3 window, ventilation system/light source. I'll be back next week to record our progress!
Meanwhile, here are some cute pictures of the birds enjoying their new roosts as they settled down for the night...
September 27: Nesting Boxes
We don't normally do any kind of work on Sundays, but our schedule made it imperative that we build nesting boxes today, so after attending church and care group, we did. They took us about 3.5 hours, and I love them.
The slanted board is there to keep them from sitting/roosting atop them. We got them built without backs today; later this week, we plan to put hinged doors on the backs and remove the wall behind these so that I (and my grandchildren) can fetch eggs without going into the coop itself. But for now, they're up and usable.
Hubby and I reversed one of the screen doors that separates the coop proper from the storage area. Now they both open towards me when I use them. HUGE blessing. Then, we adjusted some of the roosts. We've combined two flocks that have lived on Storybook Farm, but separately, until now, and they are needing some different roost arrangements. Everyone is shut in for a week so that the hens can learn where they're supposed to lay, and we can fill in under Chez Poulez with old firewood billets.
We decided to leave the old wooden door in place, because it's in character and gives great ventilation. If it's too much, I can always put a burlap sack over it or something. Today ONE of the hens laid an egg in the new boxes. YAY! We'll see what tomorrow brings.
October 10-12 (Columbus Day long weekend)
This was the appointed time for finishing major structural renovations for 2015 for Chez Poulez!
When last you left our heroes, I had told you that we had cut a crude opening in the south side of the coop siding in early summer. Now we wanted to take three old windows that came out of our farmhouse when we renovated it and put them into this barn as working ventilation. Here's that "window" opening from the inside, for reference:
Focus on the window. It's just a cut out of the exterior clapboards, because when the shed was originally framed (you might have noticed in the very first picture, this south end had the door. We moved the door to the east side. So, in June when we decided to make Chez Poulez a chicken house instead of a grain storage building, we took a skill saw to the siding, stuck some wire over it, and ignored it until this weekend. Now, there are good thick beams on either side that used to frame the door, and (though you can't see it) that's lapped interior boards over top of that "window"... but nothing structural until you get up 91".
So, we worked on Saturday and today: we had to figure out a way to make that slashed "window" narrower, because our windows were at least 5" to 7" less wide. We figured it out, working for a full day overall, and I love how it came out. Below is from the outside, obviously. It was late in the day when I snapped this; I'll try to get interior shots soon!
These windows face south, so I can look out into my riding ring and, perhaps more importantly, the sun can look in on the chickens all winter long for most of the day as it moves from those east windows to these south ones. You can see how the tree shades this wall in summer; in winter, it's full, southern sunshine. In summer, the prevailing, cooling breezes are from the south. Perfect placement!
Each of the windows pictured above opens inward on hinges, so I can fully open one, two, or three of them, at any height. Woot! Can I hear "ventilation" and "control"? Hard to see, but there's also pretty stiff wiring placed between the trim boards of this window, with poultry netting (doubled) at the bottom, so that if I have peeps running around in there and the windows are open in summer, they won't jump out so easily. I'm so focused on predators that my husband joked that I'm having him create Fort Clucks.
We also worked some toward the end of the day on filling in under Chez with rocks from our rock pile (rather than billets, which would invite termites and other bugs to rot Chez). One way or another, we need to block up access to the underside of Chez, since the girls had started to lay there instead of in their nest boxes. It's too bad, 'cause that was a great spot for them to be cool, free of hawk danger and enjoy dust baths, but, oh well! We're about halfway through that part of the project; we'll finish that up evenings this week.
Also hard to see (but there) is that we took off the top two courses of clapboard right under the eaves so that air can escape on this, the south side, and same on the north side. We put hardware cloth over those openings to make Fort Clucks secure.
I also started the cosmetic end of the Chez Poulez makeover by painting. Obviously, I painted the window wall trim above, and I also painted the front door. Remaining are to finish the red under those front windows and do corner trim and under the eaves in white. And then there is the roof. I've had the metal primer and paint for this project for two years. I really hope I can get it done before the snow falls this year!