Working at a shelter, it is TOO easy to add another animal. I already have a litter box and cat food so what's another cat... that kind of thinking. I should've known from the start "chicken math" would get me bad! My first chicken was a stray at the shelter.
I picked up a pre-fab tiny coop from the store on my way home from work with Eleanor. We added a 10x30 run to the side of our fenced yard intially and built a small coop from some free materials I was able to snag. The run is now half covered and the open area has hawk netting. Since the bunnies were moving in too, the ground was covered in welded wire fencing before the dirt was brought in. The sides are chainlink and the bottom half has an additional layer of fence to keep the chickens from being able to stick their heads through for any neighborhood dogs. The original coop had no power or heat. Then we moved the pet bunnies and Eleanor in with her 3 new friends... Lady Bird, Abigail, and Mary Todd. This worked for about 2 years, while in the meantime we added Bess, Florence and Jackie-O. Have you figured out the theme? While in this setup, the birds and bunnies had access to the greenhouse in the winter for a dry place to eat and do chicken things.
The Need for Space...
When it came time to build the new coop, I had big plans but limited funds. In Alaska, I spend most of my winters planning summer projects and the plans always change multiple times. I knew I was adding turkeys to my yard this year so initially I planned on a large split coop. Jackie-O also went broody and I gave her 12 eggs to see how she would do. I was expecting some quitters. She did better than expected and time became a motivator since we now had 11 chicks added to the group. At that point, I decided to give the turkeys their own area on the other half of the property.
As I said, plans change. The final plan started on paper with a storage area for food and other supplies. Since we get alot of snow, my thought was to keep the food and water in the coop during the winter months so it would be handy to have the storage area. The main coop is 8'x8' with a storage area of 6'x4'. We had a group of birch trees I didnt want to take out so it is not a beautiful easy square. The back wall is 8' high and the front coop wall is 10' high. The storage area is 7-ish tall. I, in no way, claim to be a great builder. I am a perfectionist though and continued to remind myself of the fact that I am building this to be pooped and slept in.
We started with the foundation outside of the run as I didn't want them to lose any space so we didn't alter the run at all aside from the cut through for the chicken door. I gave up with the leveling by the time I got to the storage area... the rocks around our house are super irritating. So the "arctic entry" floor is about 10" taller than the coop floor. This works out really well as a buffer to keep all the bedding from spilling out of the coop. We built the floor with 2x4's and laid the plywood then started on the walls.
For the walls of the coop we chose to use 2x3's due to cost. We framed out the windows (repurposed) and the doors (obtained for free from a friend remodeling).
We framed and put plywood up on the coop roof using 2x6's with bird mouth cuts before we started on the storage area due to the topography of our land. We built right up to the edge of the flat area we had, though we have since built the ground up so that isn't an issue. At the time, there wasn't much maneuvering room so we wanted to be able to get the plywood up there while the front was still an open area.
We then started on the arctic entry/storage room, which we built using 2x4's since that part of the roof was going to be more flat and needed more support. Not the best idea in an area that gets quite a bit of snow but my husband's idea was a little too awesome to turn down. Standing on the flat roof gives us pretty amazing mountain views plus easy access to do roof maintenance. Using 2x4 scraps, I built a ladder up the wall for reaching the roof. We opted to do a slight variation of a clerestory roof to get the most from the few daylight hours in the winter. We vented between the roof rafters and I blocked those off with hardware cloth. The last coop was severely lacking in ventilation and lead to quite a few frostbite problems last winter. It was -25° for a good 3 week stretch!
I started working on the painting during the week after work. I bought minimal amounts of paint and tried to get most of it through our borough's re-use program. We had to have an electrician come out to hook up a 50amp outlet for another project so we also had him run power to the coop. I wanted to have the option for a small heater during cold snaps and lighting in the winter (<4hrs of sunlight on our shortest day). We ran all the wiring through areas where I wanted an inside layer of plywood then blocked the gap with 2x3 scraps on the side walls since we only went half way up... I was trying to ensure that poop didn't pile up between the plywood. With just chickens, I would've made some design changes but having the bunnies means I had to plan for their chewing habits too. The light fixture came from our house after we replaced it with a ceiling fan. I got alot of joy being able to repurpose and re-use things!
I separated the coop from storage with an old door and chicken wire. I cut a window into the door to make it feel a bit more open then put chicken wire over the "window." A fresh coat of paint and the door was ready to hang. Look, I know its for chickens but I want to feel good when I'm out there as well!
We decided not to insulate based on our past history here with our chickens. They are out in the snow everyday and I feel pretty confident on how much heat they generate. Side story: I came home from work one night last winter to see the remote thermometer from the old coop reading 67° when it was about 10° outside. I went out to check and one of them had knocked the sensor over and it was tucked partially under her wing and fluffy butt.
I digress... The main entry door I turned into a Dutch door since I was unable to fit any of my extra windows on the front wall (also I love them ). This allows me to leave the top half open for light and ventilation but keep any wandering dogs out. I started by hanging the door as intended then marked the additional hinge space. The goal is to cut the door in half right between the original middle hinge and the new hinge above the handle, putting 2 hinges on each door half. I had to shave a bit more off to fit a small ledge on top of the bottom portion which I secured to the inner support of the door.
I then started working on the chicken door. It's about a 15"x15" opening which I then added 2x3 scraps to seal off between the inside and outside plywood, making a solid step through.
The windows were hung and open in an awning style. I also made a "screen" to cover the windows with hardware cloth that opens so that the I can open the windows from in the coop. For these I used metal brackets on the corners to make them a bit more stable.
While we were building, I had 11 babies and a hen separated from the main group and also had another hen that began limping so I had to crate her for about a week. This reinforced the idea that I wanted a "quarantine" area built into the coop. Not only did we use it for the chicks for the first week after moving everyone but it can be used for medical restrictions too. Most recently we used it to allow the 3 duckings and a gosling to adjust to their new house for the first day. They also came into the shelter together as strays. They make the cutest little train and the gosling is like their adopted mother (at least I hope it's a lady). I probably should find a new job, .
For the "built-in" I used scrap wood and created the jail with an open area on the other side. These are 2' tall and the length of the back wall at 8', making each section 4' long and 2' deep. At the time I was thinking a Bunny Bungalow but they always prefer to sleep in the run. It is used by Lady Bird who can't really roost anymore due to severe frostbite injuries suffered last winter and the waterfowl at the moment.
Above that, I made the nest box. It is 14" tall and left open. I wanted to experiment with this since my girls tend to all want to lay in the same box. I always have the option to go in and add dividers if needed but 2 months in and so far no major problems. Above that, I placed the roost using the side walls as the supports. I like having one roost at a singular height because mine tend to fight more when there are varying height roosts. The ramps were intended to be a temporary solution but I haven't quite figured out the best way to arrange them for a permanent solution. So this is how they stay until I have a better idea. Then I added a few decorations... I couldn't help myself. The curtains do have a purpose though. No sunlight in the winter means ALL the sunlight in the summer. We then repurposed the old coop for the enclosed nesting area for the turkeys.
A few things I learned along the way:
1. I cannot build anything perfectly square or level. I think I just don't have the patience.
2. It is totally normal to change course during the design stage.
3. Research and planning are so vital to a successful build. Looking at other coops is a great way to find that one idea you would've never thought of.
4. I love so many other beautiful coops and they are so varied in style. It was important for me to incorporate the things I liked while still keeping my "must-have's" vs someone else's.
5. Cleaning is important and acess should be considered when designing. The built-in area can be spot cleaned fairly easily and quickly disassembled for deep cleaning. The jail is a little bit rougher but I keep the door closed when not in use so they don't go spreading poop on the walls in the back corner.
6. A coop is never done! There will always be more ideas or changes.
Still to do:
1. We wanted to place a drain in the floor of the coop so that I could dump the water bowl to drain out behind the coop. We have the needed materials but haven't installed it yet since as I said... my plans always change. I still have the food and water in the run and go back and forth between keeping them in the coop or the run. In the winter, it would entice them to come out and also keep the mice and voles outside. But then whey did I build a food storage area?! Maybe I'll take the food out and put a bench in...
2. Buy a few small heaters for winter. I am still doing research but leaning toward a panel heater. I am too fire-paraniod to have heat lamps.
3. Decide on a permanent ramp solution.
4. Create a slide door for the chicken entry. We never close the chickens in the coop during the summer. With 22hrs of sunlight, they don't go to bed until well after 11pm and are back up by 5am. We do close them in during the winter so I need to get that in place.
5. Add a small little stock tank or kiddie pool for the waterfowl.
What I would do differently:
1. Roost space. My initial plan was to put a tree trunk with good branches in one of the front corners. I still want to do that but to prevent fighting with the big girls and the 11 monsters, I added in a roost diagonally. Going to bed tonight sounded much more peaceful.
2. Slant my "flat" roof a bit more. We shingled the coop roof but the storage roof is fairly flat. We used a rubber roofing material to seal it. Lately, I have found that I need to do another coat but am waiting for it to be dry a few days in a row to do so.
3. Take more time to square and level things! We get better with every build but it is still a challenge for me.
4. Put a taller lip on the front of the nest box area. If I put enough bedding in there to prevent them laying on the wood, they kick a lot of it out. If there isn't enough bedding, I loose some eggs to breakage. Though that may be more of a bad hen problem vs bedding.
5. Coop placement! I wanted the coop at the front of the run. My thinking was that the chicken door would open into the covered area and all the snow that slides off the roof would not have to be shoveled to get to the coop. I was out-voted due to ease of build and being able to add a rain catchment system. It works now, I just know there will be one more path to shovel in the winter... which I am super excited about!
All in all, I am very happy with the coop we have built and think it will serve well to allow the girls a sheltered space in the winter since they have been evicted from the greenhouse. I think for the needs we have regarding our chickens (and the needs I have as their poop scooper), we met them all but left ourselves the ability to change, if needed. Thank you for checking out First Lady Manor and hopefully, you get a few ideas... or can give me a few!
Updates made during the last deep cleaning day:
We added a taller front to the nest box by adding a 1x3 which sits on the original 2x3. I am hoping this will keep more of the bedding in the box.
I officially decided to keep food and water in the run through the next winter. I feel with the waterfowl it will be difficult to keep the coop dry. So my storage area is now for coop cleaning supplies and additional bedding. I moved the extra food and snacks into the storage area in the run (all in rodent proof containers). This just made sense for my set up since I feed them outside to keep the food outside vs walking around the run to get into the coop for food.
I had two ramps from when they used the greenhouse that I placed in the coop. I took out the original ledge and ramps because everyone went up the same side and there was so much pecking at bed time since they can't calmly and peacefully pass each other. The first night with this setup went pretty well.
I had a few trees I had to take down so I put one in the coop and another in the run. So far, no takers on the play gym but its still brand new so they may not be super sure about it yet. We shall see...
I have a few more ideas I want for the run. Little buried bunny burrows, a few rain catchment systems and more play gyms for the ladies. A coop/run is never done!
November 2020 Clean-Out Updates:
I've done some work over the last few months of little updates. We added a new play gym in the yard from a tree we took down. They use that far more than the upright tree. In the coop, I took down the tree and put a side roost in with a poop board. The ducks and goose no longer get pooped on at night! Though, to be fair, they can sleep in the built-in nook and they wouldn't get pooped on but they haven't figured it out.
I covered my windows and the front vents with plastic to prevent drafts. Poor planning on my part, but we get wicked winds sometimes that blow right into the front vents so the plastic has helped prevent those winds from swirling into the coop. There is still plenty of ventilation on the back wall for winter. I've hung my Sweeter Heaters and had them up for about a week. So far so good. I was going to hang one over the side roost, but with plastic over the window I'm not quite comfortable with that yet. It is a radiant heater, so doesn't heat the air in the coop but the objects under it. Did a bedding change today but since it was a whole 2°F, there was not much for washing walls or scrubbing poop. I think the changes in the coop are done until the spring... unless of course, there is an emergency!
So for this build, thanks for following along and to help you get through a long winter...
Talk about counting your chickens before they hatch, mine candle before they lay!