What came first, the chicken or the coop?
The co-evolution of my chicken obsession and my coop!
Dreaming of summer during these cold and icy days...
New chicks are playing in the brooder and the veggies are hardening off in front of the green house!
Once upon a time the opportunity presented itself to have “summer chickens”. This involved raising baby chicks from Easter all the way through fall and then giving them back to the farmer who they belonged to. What a wonderful experience for our children to have the opportunity to see the chickens develop and grow, without having to commit to anything beyond that.
I could not have been any more wrong!
We received three adorable little yellow fuzzy balls on Good Friday and fell in love with them right away. We raised those three little chicks first inside in their brooder and then moved them to a quickly constructed coop outside where we enjoyed them all summer – right up to the time when one of them started crowing! I had secretly harbored visions of keeping those funny birds beyond the summer and enjoying fresh eggs, but all those hopes were destroyed and they all went back to our farmer friend, where presumably they lived happily ever after.
The children were sad and we missed our chickens. But life went on and our days were busy and chicken free for a couple of years until one March day I stood in front of those tubs full of irresistible cuteness at the Tractor Store. Distant idealized memories of my grandmother’s chicken coop with all those wonderful tasty eggs and our own fun experience with chickens that summer resulted in an impulsive and swift decision - I was going to have chickens again. I started to picture my freshly discovered rural self with cute little rubber booties and a basket with fresh eggs surrounded by my adorable chickens.
We still had that first little coop and talked about 2-3 chickens for at least a full day! And then I looked around, did some homework and chicken math kicked in. Time for a new and bigger coop!
I loved the contemporary feel of the Garden Coop plans and I started to research all there is to know about chickens – research my husband refers to as “chicken porn”. I splurged on my first 5 chicks from mypetchicken and was eagerly awaiting their arrival.
Meanwhile we found the perfect spot in the yard and built the Garden Coop during spring break and yes, I helped! We raised our five chicks first inside moving them proudly into their new opulent dwellings as soon as the weather turned warm enough. It was a glorious day, though I did not have my cute little booties quite ready yet.
Thanks to my handy hubby our coop has a few custom options that I greatly appreciate.
We recycled an old kitchen window to allow not only more light to enter, but also to give us an unobstructed view of the goings on in the hen-house. The floor of the hen-house is covered in left-over linoleum tiles to help with easy clean up, and the roosts are natural branches to provide a less slippery surface for our chickens.
To make for easy access the entire interior wall of the hen-house opens up and is held in place by braces on top of the run. Exterior nesting boxes complete the picture of a very user friendly and pretty coop. All these adjustments were my husband’s idea. Perhaps he had a premonition that once the weather turned nasty, cute booties or not the dirty work in the coop quickly became his chore while I preferred to spoil the girls with treats and collect their eggs in my beautiful little basket from my grandmother.
For the framework of the coop we used regular lumber that we painted with a nontoxic stain and for the hen-house we splurged on cedar.
By the time it was all said and done this project had cost us a whopping 700 dollars and it quickly got the nick name of the Poultry Palace. Of course it was all worth it once we got our first 700-dollar-egg!
When we were home our chickens got to free range for a few hours during the day and they explored the backyard extensively. At times they did push the boundaries quite a bit and yes indeed, they did cross the road for no apparent reason at all!
I was happy and all my chicken dreams were fulfilled – right up until we welcomed our new St. Bernard puppy into the family. Flurina loves the chickens in her own way and thinks they are tremendous fun to chase around whenever the opportunity presented itself. My happiness was no longer intact as I watched my birds scramble and getting very anxious whenever the dog was around.
Clearly, adjustments were necessary in order to keep the peace we built a fence around the chicken coop during Christmas break. So now we had a chicken coop AND a chicken yard. Wow, that started to resemble more and more what grandma had in the good old days. It was freezing cold while we completed this project and we spent what felt like endless hours digging in the cold mud – my cute booties were useless and replaced with real muck boots. I was definitely getting in touch with my inner farm girl! Once finished both chickens and dog could now happily co-exist in the backyard and all was well again.
No more crossing the road for these guys!
Unfortunately, one evening we were late to close the coop door and a fox had tunneled under the fence. We lost Gucci and Sunny and had to quickly adjust to this new threat. We added a 2’ hard-cloth apron around the perimeter of the fence and became much better at closing up the coop by dusk.
At this point we were down to 2 hens, Fuzzle and Dr. Seuss. One of the original 5 had turned out to be a rooster to my great disappointment and was re-homed much earlier. It was time to order new baby chicks and chicken math took over. After hours of agonizing decision making I ordered six new chicks and asked my husband to restore the old little coop to function as a nursery for the new additions – of course it needed some serious prettying up as well as re-reinforcement against predators.
Once old enough to be outside the newbies spent a month in the baby coop and everybody got to know each other quite well before they all integrated into a single flock. Not the easiest of all processes but doable.
We added a sandbox (sand in a large flower pot with the bottom cut out) for the girls to dust bathe and a roost made from cedar branches to enjoy the morning sun.
Once again, I loved my set up and was happy with the coop, the chickens and the eggs. Back in cute booties I enjoyed watching the girls cluck around and scratching for bugs and other goodies. While they could no longer free range, they had a lot of space since the chicken yard extends pretty far back (there is actually more space behind the coop than in front) and the ladies have an area of approximately 30’ x 20’ to roam – plenty of room for my crowd of eight! Behind the coop is a huge bush where the girls take long siestas in the shade during hot summer days and where they stay dry when it rains. That bush also provides shelter from all things scary and it quickly became the primary hiding spot for the hens.
To better spoil my beloved chickens, we put a mailbox on a fence post so we could access our chicken treats easier instead of always having to stop by the shed – boy do they love the sound of the mailbox opening!
At times I wondered just how did we get from the idea of 2-3 hens to 8 completely spoiled chickens. They became rather demanding and actually wanted to go out and play right at the crack of dawn regardless of the weekday. Since it is without a doubt obvious that I am mostly pretending to be a farm girl, we needed a solution to the manual early door opening problem. Once again, changes were in order and we installed an automatic chicken door to the run.
The Ador1 automatic door is everything we hoped for and works like a charm – now we once again get to sleep in on week-ends and the girls can do as they please. We still open the coop door when we are around, but the chickens have the freedom to roam their yard during day light hours whether we are up and around or not. We had a glorious summer with our chickens, plenty of eggs and a lot of fun watching them doing their amusing chicken thing.
And then as it got cold one of our silkies got killed during the day while I was at work. I found her eviscerated in the chicken yard and the other seven birds were understandably freaked out. I checked the hard-cloth apron on the fence and nothing had dug under. It must have been a day attack from either the air or something that climbed over the fence. We locked them all up for a while but as soon as we let them out again we lost the second silkie. This time I saw the culprit which turned out to be a huge hawk - it actually had the audacity to sit on the cedar roost next to the coop door, waiting for one of his victims to come out..
Time to go back to the drawing board and create what we lovingly call “the mother of all aviaries”. I now remember how my grandmother had a very TALL fence around her chicken yard and had it covered with some sort of netting. Hmmm, should have remembered that earlier.
We decided to enclose the entire chicken yard to once and for all deal with the predator issues. In the meantime I felt compelled to order 3 new chicks for spring to replace my 2 dead silkies…hmmm chicken math once again…could I even add 5?
So here we go again during yet another series of miserably cold days. Why is it always cold and wet when we do these things?
First we had to frame out our giant bird box and build the basic cage of the aviary. Of course this once again required big beams to be dug into half frozen mud and secured with 50 lbs of concrete (wet, heavy, cold...you get the idea). Between painting everything with two coats of stain, cutting and installing - well, there went the better part of a couple of days during which I managed to cope with the cold with several helpings of hot spiced wine and serious outerwear from head to toe
Once we finished the framing it was time to find the appropriate fencing material. Originally we wanted the same stuff we already have on the fence, but apparently we are the only people working on fencing this time of year since there is no wire fencing to be had anywhere! Really Home Depot and Lowes? I appreciated the black Friday 99 cent poinsettias (and managed to pick up quite a few of them in our search for fencing), but whatever happened to stocking things farm girls like myself need when building? We compromised on what we could find (which was three 4'x100' rolls of 2"x4" mesh) and back to work it was.
Have I mentioned that rolling out a 100' wire mesh roll on top of an 8' high frame is a whole lot more challenging than one would think? This deteriorated into a scene from the three stooges fairly quickly and I had serious doubts about the feasibility of this project. Thank goodness for fearless and nimble teenagers! I supervised and gave lots of good advice instead of climbing and hammering!
THEY got the entire top done and even managed to wire around the large tree - I don't think the boys appreciated that part too much as I directed the operation to maintain aesthetic considerations. We even wrapped the upper half of the upright fence this morning and are only short the door and a few teeny tiny little pieces here and there. The girls were thrilled when they finally got outside to roam in their yard again and I was happy to clean out the coop and straighten things out somewhat.
A long holiday week-end and a lot of work! There are still some details to add (we do not have all the corner brackets on the frame yet and need to stain some more) but the girls are safe and we are back to normal. Doesn't it look wonderful once again?
...and oh by the way, I ordered just one more baby chick, so I will add 4 more to my 6 happy hens...could it take more I wonder...
PS: We stopped adding up the cost, after all we already know that our eggs are priceless!!