High Altitude Hillside Hen Hut

By Bocrates · Jan 9, 2014 · Updated Jan 13, 2014 ·
  1. Bocrates
    My wife and I constructed this coop outside our Colorado home in spring 2013. We started with the well known Purina Mills Hen House design and worked from there. Like most folks we wanted to keep things as inexpensive as possible, while still not sacrificing functionality, durability, and aesthetics. Luckily there was an existing coop and a dog pen on the property that we were able to demolish and reclaim materials from. We also had additional scraps from other projects and I happen to know exactly when the local lumber yard culls their wood stocks :).

    The Purina plans are based on a 4'x4' design, which makes economical sense given that plywood is sold in 4'x8' sheets. However we wanted to go a little bigger and since we had access to inexpensive materials, we decided to go roughly 5'x5' for the coop with a 21'x5' run, 5'x5' of which would be under the coop for weather refuge.

    We have a couple of unique challenges, one being the lack of a single 5'x5' flat spot. Another is living in a valley I call the "snow hole. It's located at 9,000ft, less than 10 miles straight down hill from one of our 14,000ft peaks. So the winds, cold, and snow totals can be quite extreme. A few years ago we had 7 feet of snow in 3 days, I am not sure it is possible to build an inexpensive coop that will hold up to that, or remain above the surface. The other unique challenge is a plethora of wildlife. We like having it around but we knew we were going to have to construct a coop that would stand up to bears, mountain lions, foxes, coyotes, elk, etc... So we began.

    The construction photos disappeared last summer, so I will post some photos of the finished product with notes.

    --The finished coop after one of our early snows. One of the girls is poking her head out for the morning.

    This photo demonstrates one of the main problems with the run, it's on a double fall line. We debated making it look more level, as we leveled the coop perfectly, but in the end it seemed like a lot of extra work and materials for cosmetic purpose. This photo also shows how we solved another one of our problems, wind. We debated on several spots on our 5 acres and settled on this one because we could face the coop directly east and protect it on three sides from the prevailing W, N, and S winds (it rarely blows from the east here). Sunrise also warms the coop and run quickly following the coldest part of the night.

    --The actual coop design basically follows the Purina plans with our slight enlargement, using 3/4" exterior plywood all around instead of a combo of 1/2" and 3/4", moving the nesting boxes from the front to the side, moving the maintenance door from the back to the other side, and adding front and rear windows. It seems like a lot of change but really it was just rotating things around the sides of a box.

    We left enough room behind the coop to easily walk around during chore time. We also like the ability to look out of the downstairs window and have a clear view under the coop and down the run. We may add a couch and turn the room into the chicken entertainment room.

    --The 3 nesting boxes are per the plans. We used 4 hinges on the lid for extra strength and 2 spring locked hook and loop latches on the front for security.

    --We pitched the roof slightly steeper than the plans call for due to our heavy snows. We also used a thick tar paper, heavy duty corrugated roofing, and 3/4" plywood instead of the 1/2". You can also see that we added a window in the back for cross ventilation in the summer. There are two identical windows on the front, adding significant natural light. We found them on Amazon for $18 a piece. They slide up half way or fully open. We stapled hardware cloth over them and then trimmed them in painted cedar which helps to secure the wire.

    --This view shows the windows on the front, which we decided to enclose in the run for an extra level of protection. You can also see that the unevenness of the ground resulted in the use of concrete blocks and wood shims to achieve level on the coop. It resulted in a subsequent miscalculation on door measurements, and thus some not so pretty design compensation. Functional though.

    The roof ventilation is visible and I think we appreciate that the roof overhangs and is slightly inset over the coop, protecting from high wind and blowing snow, while still allowing for ample air to pass through.

    --Looking up the run you can see the cross slope severity. All of the posts are the exact same height from the ground believe it or not. You can also see the chicken ladder which runs 84" from a 36" height, giving a slope of ~38 degrees. It is mounted on hinges so we can raise it when we shovel out snow or chicken muck. We have a number of hawks and acrobatic 4 legged predators, so we doubled up on 2"x4" rectangular welded wire on the run roof. We buried and concreted the side hardware cloth into the ground about 8". We then used staples and poultry staples to secure the wire all the way around the run and finally screwed in the white 2"x4" boards over the seams to seal things up. For the posts and boards that contact the ground we used pressure treated wood. Everything was painted with exterior latex paint.

    --One of our other goals was to keep our chicken chores down to a minimum as it is not unusual for us to not make it home on time or at all due to work, play, or weather. So after much research we splurged for the ADOR1 Automatic Coop Door. I have to say we have been very pleased. It is as billed, the owner spent 20 mins on the phone with me explaining how it all works, and the chickens have yet to miss a last call.

    --As for the inside, we installed electricity and mounted a heat lamp just in case, so far there hasn't been a need. We also mounted a 7 day digital program timer outlet and an adjustable thermostat driven outlet, not that we have ever used them or even need them, but I am kind of a nerd for stuff like that.

    You can see our Fleming water heater. We prefer the water to be inside from October to April. If we don't make it home we want the ladies to have water access. Our dry climate affords us the indoor water luxury since we don't have the same in coop condensation and dampness problems faced by high humidity zones.

    --Another photo of the coop internals during a cleaning. The roost ladder is on hinges and fold up for easier cleaning. We also built a removable tray on the coop floor that slides our for quick litter changes. As for the paint on the interior, I saw it at the paint counter with a $2 sticker. I guess it was a mistake or return. I figured it was bright, durable, and kind of girly, so perfect!

    The only changes we have made since the original construction and these photos, is that we exchanged the 2" dowels on the roost ladder for 1"x4" planks. We haven't had any frostbite issues yet, but the argument that a flat roosting surface is better than round for foot warmth makes sense to us, so we switched. We also increased the height of the lip at the bottom of the nesting box from 1.5" to 3" to better keep the straw in the nests. All else has worked well.

    Thanks for reading.


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