This past spring, we decided to add two more chickens to our existing flock of 4. We purchased six Black Australorp chicks figuring that when they got older we would keep two and give four away. We already had two Golden Comets and two Buff Orpingtons that were a year old. Here are our babies the day we brought them home from Agway:
We already knew that the coop we currently had (a cheap kit that we purchased online) was not long for this world and would never accommodate more than 4 chickens, so we decided it was time to expand and begin construction of Chicken Palace! We searched on this site and decided that we loved the look/style of these three coops, so we used them as our inspiration:
The one thing that a couple of the coops had that we did not want on our coop was a nest box that was mounted to the side of the coop and hung outside of the main "house". We live in New Hampshire and we're prone to VERY cold days in the winter. We've had problems with eggs freezing and even exploding in our existing nest box (which was mounted to the side of the "house") because of the cold weather, so we wanted to try to keep the nesting area as warm as we could with our new coop design. We knew we would need a good solution for that. We also needed a coop that was big enough to keep 6 chickens happy, secure enough to keep the many predators we have around here out, would be tall/large enough for two people who are over 6 feet tall to stand up inside it and clean it out, wouldn't look like a giant eyesore, would hold up through strong winter storms and withstand the test of time. So we busted out our pencil and paper (and our wallets) and came up with a design that we liked. I'll go ahead and show the just-about-finished product so there's no further suspense...
We still had some final staining work to do and some project clean-up at this point (hence the trash bag and the tarp in the background), but this is the coop in its final stages.
We started by building the frame and, because the coop was on a hill, digging out the ground and leveling it off using cinder blocks. The entire coop/run is 12 feet wide, 4 feet deep, 7 feet high in the front, and 6 feet high in the back (the sloping roof allows rain and snow to run off easily). We figured this was big enough for 6 chickens, especially since we frequently let them free-range around our yard. We also laid down chicken wire in the hole that we dug before we set the frame on top and filled it in so that we could prevent weasels, foxes, etc. from trying to dig under the coop to get in through the bottom. In this picture you can actually see the crappy old built-from-a-kit coop behind the new Chicken Palace framework. Mind you that we are FAR from being contractors. This is literally the first structure that my fiance had ever built.
At this point, we started framing in what would be the coop/house part on the far right in this picture. We wanted to leave space underneath so that they could still use the full length of the structure as a run and they could hid under it for even more shelter if they wanted to.
As my fiance measured and cut the lumber, I started madly staining away. We had a VERY wet spring this year, so finding dry days to stain and seal the wood was a feat in itself. I used a deck stain with a built in sealant. I ended up using two coats on everything, so it came out a little darker than the photo below, but I really liked the result. You can see the walls of the coop beginning to go up in this photo. We used ship-lap boards for the walls to keep the wind out.
At this point, the chicks we purchased to add to our flock were no longer chicks anymore and they really needed to be moved into a permanent home! We were shocked at how fast they grew. So we worked double-time to get Chicken Palace ready for move-in!
Working double-time meant very little time for taking pictures of our progress, so clearly, a lot has happened since the last progress photo! We used 3/4" thick plywood for the roofing and for the floor of the coop. We actually shingled the roof pretty much the same way you would shingle the roof of your house. We had a couple boxes of shingles left over from when they last redid the roof on our house, so as an added bonus, they match! In this photo you can see that we added the 1/2 inch steel hardware cloth to the frame. (for some reason it looks wavy in this picture, but it actually lays flat). We attached the hardware cloth pretty much the same way that they did in the Wichita Cabin Coop (see the link above) if you want details. In this picture, you can actually see how we decided to mount the nest boxes as well. There is room for 6 nest boxes. Three on the top (pictured) and three on the bottom (not yet installed in the photo below). The stain on the door was drying, which is why it's standing up inside the coop in this photo. And if you look closely, you can see one of the Buff's surveying our work.
The construction foreman approved, but was very antsy to have the job done...
Jump ahead a couple of weeks and HERE WE ARE! Finally it was ready for move-in. We filled the bottom of the run with a good amount of sand first, and then we filled it in the rest of the way with pea gravel. It allows for drainage and easy cleaning which is great. We can rake it clean and hose it down when we need to. It's fantastic. Because the door is as wide as the coop, cleaning the house out is very easy too. We just swing the front door wide open, rake out the shavings in the bottom into a wheel barrow and dump that in the compost pile, and then spread new shavings. It takes about 5 minutes total. We basically added hinges to two of the ship-lap boards on the siding so that they would easily open for access to the eggs in the nest boxes. I wanted to fancy the whole thing up a bit, so I put bark mulch down around the entire edge of the coop... yeah... that lasted about 5 minutes. The chickens have since scratched the heck out of that and spread it all over the yard. All in all, I'd say that this project probably cost us upwards of $700. I'm sure we could have done this a lot cheaper, but this coop will last us FOREVER. Seriously. A huge branch of one of those bull pine trees you see behind the coop fell on it during a thunderstorm and barely left a mark. We've completed a few more little details as well that I'll update this post with later.
The whole process of introducing the two new ladies into the existing flock of 4 is a story for another post, but after a couple of trying months, everyone gets along great. Our pointer, Wyatt, is sure to let us know if anyone gets out of line, but so far, so good
I'll post some updated photos soon once we've got the coop all winterized!
We've run the outdoor extension cords and gotten the coop all set up with a red, 150 watt flood light bulb. I had read and heard from several different sources that if you're going to use a light out in your coop for heat/extra "daylight" hours, you should use a red light bulb because the color is soothing to chickens and allows them to sleep better than a regular white light bulb does. Since it's gotten awfully cold up here in NH already (20 degrees... feels like zero with the wind chill), we've had to put the bulb on 24/7 to keep the eggs from freezing (and give the ladies a warm place to hang out). Here's what the inside of the coop looks like with the bulb on. In this shot, you can see the nest boxes. We only ended up mounting 4 instead of 6. Though we probably could have gotten away with less because all 6 chickens use the same nest box for some reason. They switch up which box they use, but all of the eggs are always in the same box regardless. Ah well. We just purchased the plastic lattice and we're going to be installing that on the walls of the coop with some thick plastic sheeting to keep the wind out. I'll update this post again once we're done with that!
I realized that I never posted our "winterization" of the chicken coop. In addition to putting the heat lamp inside the house part of the coop, we wanted to keep the snow from blowing into the run on stormy days, and to keep the cold New England winter wind from blowing through! So, we made a trip to Lowes and picked up some plastic lattice, some thick contractor's plastic sheeting, and some heavy duty zip-ties. We cut the lattice to fit inside the frame pieces of the chicken coop so that it would sit tight up against the 1/2 inch steel mesh hardware cloth and then we cut pieces of the plastic sheeting so that they were the same size as the lattice pieces and we could sandwich the plastic sheet between the hardware cloth and the lattice. We used the zip ties to poke through the plastic sheeting and wrap around the holes in the hardware cloth and the holes in the lattice so that it would all tie together nicely. What we ended up with was this...
... a bunch of happy, warm chickens and one slightly upset pointer who is wondering why he can no longer see his friends.
As you can see in the photo, we put the plastic and lattice alllllllll the way around the coop, with the exception of the top of the front door to the run so that they could get at least a little air flow and we could still look in on them and check on things. We left the lattice off the bottom pieces on the right because they were so small that we figured the plastic would manage to stay up there by itself and probably wouldn't catch enough wind to be blown to bits in a storm like the larger pieces would have.
Clearly, our chickens remained happy all winter long because even shortly after Christmas time, when my little sister bought me this fantastic antique egg scale as a gift, our chickens were still laying monster eggs!!! They would barely fit in the "extra large" egg cartons people would save for us, but I'm not complaining!