Here A Little, There A Little,
Sometimes One Shoestring, Sometimes Two
- the short story of Biddiquack's long Poultry Adventure on Wild Orchid Hill
A Little Shed with a lean-to behind stood just a stone's throw awayWhen I first saw the small shed that was already on the property, I knew it could be turned into a cozy home for chickens! (Why else would one move to the country, if not to have animal companions???) But since we'd just bought our home here, my budget was – well – nil. I started scavenging building materials from construction sites, the recycle center, and from our local swap-and-sell radio program to turn the shed into a comfy home for the birds I longed to have.
from the back door of a country house on Wild Orchid Hill.
“What a perfect place for lawnmowers!” exclaimed the man of the house. But little Biddiquack had other ideas......
Gathering scrap lumber, insulation, and old shower stall parts, she set to work with a few power tools.
Oh, sorry I got carried away – you probably just want the plans and pictures!
The main regret - wish I'd taken more pictures of the work in progress; you'll notice that a lot of my pictures are after-the-fact. Most of the work was done by myself, but I'll give credit where credit is due - mostly to Hubby for his patience with My project He had NO interest in. Despite his opposition, Hubby still put new shingles on the shed roof. Later on he built one of the gates, and even cut and set fence posts.
Insulation and Wallboard
First I stapled insulation (left over from a garage we had built) and some some used foam carpet padding (free from a flooring store) between the uprights inside the shed.
Scavenged vinyl remnants and the wallboard used in shower stalls, along with scrap plywood, were screwed on over the insulation. I'm always on the lookout now for more vinyl or wallboard, as they're very easy to clean! This is what the inside walls look like; not pretty, but works well:
Hubby cut a 3” diameter sapling and mounted it across the back of the coop for a roost.
Next I screwed pieces of lumber to the floor just inside the people entrance and pop door locations to keep litter material inside the coop, then covered the floor and about six inches up the walls with vinyl remnants. The vinyl was overlapped, glued, and stapled wherever it had to be seamed. It's still holding up fine after 4 years. It took a lot of staples to help prevent litter material from getting behind the vinyl around the bottom of the walls! Trim-board would be a better option instead of staples. The arrow in the picture below shows the vinyl flooring stapled to the wall:
I use sand (RIVER sand, NOT silica sand!!!) as a base litter in the coop. It is easy to scoop out the poo (I use a 3 foot mini rake purchased at the dollar store), and I have a mini tiller to turn the sand to keep it de-clumped and refreshed. Occasionally during hot weather I lightly sprinkle the sand with the garden hose just enough so it doesn't get dusty. I also have an old snow shovel: cut out the center and cover with hardware cloth for a giant chicken litter sifter. Every so often I'll take out a wheelbarrow of sand, rinse it, spread it to dry on a tarp, and put it back in the coop.
Cardboard also works well underneath the roost as a droppings board; then it goes out to the compost also. During the cold months I spread chopped straw on top of the sand for warmth. Ten minutes about once a week is all it takes to rake up the messiest areas of straw/poo and carry it to one of the garden beds in winter, or to the compost pile in summer. This provides instant fertilized mulch for very little effort. You should see what it's done for my garden; but that's also another story!
Next came cutting out a pop door and fitting it with hinges at the top so it opened upward. A hasp and lock at the bottom of the pop door provide nighttime security when closed, and does double duty as a way to hold the door open during the day. Pieces of inner tube for anti-draft rain flaps were screwed over the pop door and upper fastener:
There were already vents on each end of the shed up near the top of the wall:
For additional ventilation during hot weather, I cut rectangles out of the upper half of the two large wooden people doors. The cut-outs were hinged back on, and fitted with latches. On the inside of the doors, I covered these “windows” with hardware cloth held on by screws and large washers to make it harder for predators to gain entry:
In the summer these cutout windows provide good ventilation, and in the colder months they're covered with plastic to keep out drafts that might come in through the cracks:
The chickens that evaded the predators to adulthood, now used to roaming free, weren't happy in the chicken tractor I built. So.....
A friend who's family owned a large farm got them to let me have some of their unused fencing. She and I drove to their place and came back with about 300 feet of 4 foot 2” X 4” wire fencing. By now Hubby knows I'm REALLY serious about my poultry. He cut locust and cedar posts, then set them in the ground every 6-8 feet for a 20 by 20 foot run on the shady side of the chicken coop. (Ain't love grand!)
A teen family member helped me string the fence by hand; he pulled and stretched the fence while I hammered in the staples. I have since used a T-handle or piece of metal pipe threaded through the fence and tied to a mower as a way to stretch fence, although a disclaimer probably should be inserted here!
I build my gates for the runs from treated 1 X 4s and pieces of fencing. Using two 1 X 4s that are 6' long for the uprights, and after measuring the width of the gate opening, I cut boards for the top, bottom, and middle. (Sometimes the top board had to be made with three pieces of scrap). After assembling the frame with wood screws, I nail poultry mesh or other fencing onto the frame with small fence staples. Hubby screwed 2 X 4 headers across the top of the gate openings. He also mounted the gates for me; in the picture below he had to screw a length of board to the fencepost to accommodate the hinges I had. It is cobbled I know, but this project is on a pretty strict budget. Here's a picture of one of the gates:
Protection from Birds of Prey
Poultry mesh was used to make a covering for the run, with the intent of keeping out hawks and owls, as well as other wild birds for bio-security. I measured the size of the run (which would be the size of the run's “ceiling”), and because the run fence was only 4 foot high I added 2 & 1/2 feet to each of the four sides of my measurements to allow for people headroom. I cut the mesh in the needed lengths and laid them side by side on the ground until I had the correct dimensions for my “ceiling”:
Using wire cage clips and the special wire clip pliers needed to bend them with, I fastened the mesh pieces together. (These are also called J clips/pliers and are usually sold in the rabbit cage dept. of farm stores)
So now the 1st Run was completed on the right side of the coop
The pictures below show the gate and the first completed run.
The boy in the picture is an ace chicken tamer!! He watched over the incubator hatches, helped me pick out chicks at the farm store, and gave the chicks their first “up and down rides”. The plastic bin in the second picture is handy to keep a hammer, brushes for cleaning waterers, and etc. supplies from the weather (as well as from curious chickens and their poo!)
Because of the leaves and the snow, the picture below better shows the run's mesh covering held up with the saplings Hubby cut for me.
I plan to build a small extension on each side of the gabbled coop roof so the chickens can go out on rainy days; the roof extensions will also eliminate the need to blow the leaves off the mesh!
Next I built “screen” doors for the coop. The 2” X 1/2” wooden frames were covered with two layers of wire fencing. I held the fencing on with fence staples and screws poked through large washers, which would make it harder for a night predator to tear off. One door is stationary, the other opens. There are three hasps with locks, as I also had trouble with two-legged predators before we got our dogs.
Here is a close-up of the screening:
A latch was needed on the inside of the “screen” door, to keep the door closed while changing water or filling the feeder. Also the inside gates needed some kind of latch. So I clipped a carabiner onto a jump ring, then used a large screw eye or wire to fasten the jump ring to the gate. On the gate post I hammered a large fence staple only half way in, so the carabiner could be clipped to it. This makes for easy one-handed operation, especially on a cold winter day. Be aware that these are NOT by any means raccoon deterrents!!! I only use them for keeping chickens in, like on the inside of a door or a gate inside an electric fence:
The girls would soon be laying! I built “roll-away” nest boxes from 5 gal plastic buckets. (Instructions coming in a future article.) A ladder was added for the girls' convenience in reaching the nests and the roost:
After-the-fact: These roll-away nests worked great, and the hens used them without straw until I started using straw litter in the coop; then they started to lay their eggs on the straw floor. When I put straw in the nest boxes they went back to laying in the nests.
On rainy days or other free time, I also made a brooder out of two plastic storage bins, copying ideas found on the internet. I bought eight assorted chicks from the farm store, and put them in the homemade brooder. While the chicks were growing I experimented with various homemade feeders and waterers. I now use a homemade feeder that holds 50 lbs of crumbles, virtually eliminates wasted feed, and cost me about $3, as I already had most of the materials.
The chicks grew and went out to the coop, free-ranging during the day. This brought lots of heartaches with fox, raccoons, and skunks. A red-tailed hawk started hanging around. All I could do was make loud noises at him. While trying to fly off with one of my large Black Australorps, he tore the skin on her neck. I sewed it up and she lived another year, laying many eggs in a nest box made from an old wooden cabinet.
I bought an inexpensive egg incubator from the farm store and set 12 eggs. Nine chicks hatched. Then I built an incubator from a styrofoam bulk flower box. A friend gave me 6 duck eggs; 4 of them hatched. By this time Hubby was rolling his eyes and making noises about too many animals around here already. I told him “These are not animals. They are pets. Members of the family.” So he sighs deeply and starts building a divided shed for the ducks and 3 white Chinese geese. But that story's for another time.
I made a chicken tractor with a detachable 4' X 8' run using castoff wood from a factory and 6 inch wheels from the recycle center.
I am working on articles with pictures to describe all of the above mentioned accessories.
So Far So Good
This is how the front of the coop looked so far (that's butternut squash growing on the right):
Chicks and Predator Deterrents
In preparation for broody hens with chicks, and to deter digging predators, I began putting hardware cloth under and up the fence around the first run. I folded 30” tall hardware cloth lengthwise so that it formed an “L” and slid the foot of the “L” under the fence:
Wire cage clips were used to attach the hardware cloth to the fence, and 8” lengths of coat hangers bent into a U served as “staples” to anchor it to the ground. Later rocks and dirt will cover the hardware cloth on the ground.
The Second Run
Hubby had now had a couple months' reprieve from my chicken project, so he was again deployed to acquire and set more fence posts; this time for a gate and run on the other side of the coop. I built a gate, bought some T-posts to add to the wood posts he cut, and he dutifully helped me put up the 2”X4” welded wire fence on the front and side of the run. I used poultry mesh for the back of the run because it was going to be a divider fence instead of an outside fence. (See sketch of poultry yard further down). Again using poultry mesh and cage clips, I made a covering for this run also. Here's the 2nd run with it's mesh top; the seams where the lengths of mesh were clipped together show up as silver lines:
The next project was adding a perimeter fence that would encompass everything. Hubby set the T-posts and we put up the 2”X4” welded wire fencing. This is what one side of it looks like (that's the duck shed in the back):
Hubby set posts about 15 feet out in front of the coop and built a main entrance gate. This allows us to easily access the coop and both chicken runs while only having to disconnect one electrified gate. So now everything is all enclosed by the perimeter fence.
Here's a sketch of the poultry yard:
Electric Wire Fence
Now for the electric wire. We have seen skunk, raccoon, otter, fox, coyote, and the neighbors' dogs and cats stalking or killing our poultry. (Makes you wonder how many we haven't seen.) The electric fence keeps our poultry safer while also preventing these other animals from having to go to heaven ahead of their time.
There is a lot of good instruction on the web explaining how to set up an electric fence, especially on company sites that make fence chargers. Also a person at my local farm store was very helpful in explaining how to go about stringing an electric fence for my specific needs. I did not take shortcuts with the electric fence; I used the correct wire, fence charger, insulators, gate handles, lightening arrestors, ground rods etc. Since I am not an electrician, the only advise I'll give here is: Do Your Homework! It's not rocket science; anyone who can read and follow directions can do it. Don't be intimidated, but do respect the fact that IT'S ELECTRICITY!!!
Since my 2”X4” welded wire perimeter fence is fastened to wood posts as well as to metal T-posts, I had to buy two styles of plastic insulators for those applications. The insulators for wood posts are nailed on, and the insulators for T-posts sort of snap on. The gates required shorter insulators that didn't protrude out as far.
Insulators on Wood Posts:
Short Insulators on Gate:
Because of the variety of predator sizes and behaviors, I chose to string 5 strands of wire, which should deter a wide range of varmints. The bottom wire is about 4” from the ground. The second wire is 6” above the first. The third wire is 8” above the second, the fourth wire is 12” above the third, and the fifth wire is 18” above that - at the top of my 4 foot fence:
Here's what a spring gate handle looks like. It only disconnects the electricity on the gate, not on the fence.
The fence charger that sends electrical pulses to the fence is mounted out of the weather:
The white wire is live and connects to the fence. The green wire is an insulated ground wire that runs from the charger to the first of the ground rods. Both wires are run through pvc pipe underground to their destinations.
What I'd Do Differently
Mill the posts that were used for gate posts. While it didn't matter if the locust fence posts were round or crooked, it took a lot of trial, errors, and shims to get the gates hung on crooked round posts.
Some of the things I'd like to do this spring:
1. Continue with the chick-and-predator-deterrent hardware cloth around all of the fences.
2. Build extensions off the roof hips on either side of the coop so the chickens can go outside on rainy days.
3. Add a gate in the back of one of the chicken runs as a short cut to the storage lean-to.
4. Make a broody hen apartment in part of the storage lean-to.
5. Build a porch on the front of the coop, and cover the front coop yard with a poultry mesh "ceiling".
6. Cover the rear poultry yard with a mesh "ceiling".
7. Run a permanent water line to the poultry yard.
8. Re-install the nipple waterers in the chicken runs.
A Pictorial Overview
Run on left side of coop:
Front of Coop and Yard:
Run on right side of coop:
Back of the coop as seen from the Duck Shed:
Not Afraid For the Snow, and....
NOT THE END !!!