This spring we decided to add ducks to our lives. We bought four Swedish Blues from McMurray and raised them in a brooder for 4 weeks before moving them permanently to their new home this past weekend. Our coop needs to provide protection from coyote, raccoon, fox, possum, skunk, fishers, and hawks. We want the ability to keep the ducks in the coop for long periods during the winter months when hawk pressure is highest, so we made our enclosure pretty big: 6 ft by 16 ft = 96 ft², or 24 ft² per duck (assuming 4). We wanted to keep the structure visibly unobtrusive, so we kept the height low, painted it with opaque stain/sealer, color: avocado, and used black PVC coated fencing. The rear of the structure is 3 ft high and the front is 5 ft high; we can get around inside relatively easily but we cannot stand up. The photo above is facing due north-northeast.
We chose this particular location since nothing we tried growing there seemed to thrive (poor, dense, rocky soil) and it is right against our property line. The 3-year old apple tree located in the center of the south side will be espaliered across the fencing to create warm weather shade. There is a Hungarian cherry tree to the west (left side in picture) that will greatly benefit from regular watering when swimming water is dumped.
The structure is divided into three areas: the play area, the eating area, and the shelter. The play area is used for open circulation and swimming. This area is covered by 1" chicken wire overlying 2"x4" welded wire fencing to keep out the hawks but let in rain. The floor is 6" to 8" of pea gravel with no bedding. For swimming, we use a 10-gallon mixing trough from Lowe's that can be filled without using too much water, dumped in place, and hosed out as needed. The back wall is 1/2" treated plywood that extends the entire width of the house to minimize stress induced by curious marauders and to block cold northerly winter winds. The play area has its own door that we leave open during the day when the ducks can come and go as they please. We keep their in-coop water in the play area to minimize wetness in the eating area.
The eating area and shelter occupy the right half of the structure and are covered by a full roof (1x8 rough cut pine deck, #15 felt, asphalt shingles). The sides are enclosed by 3 ft wide walls (1/2" treated plywood). Within the eating area, the objective was to keep wind and rain out of the food and straw. The 3 ft rear height allows for a 4' wide, 18" deep shelf that is roughly 18" off the ground where a full bale of straw can be stored and kept tidy after opened. The ducks can make use of the area below this shelf and we also keep a steel kettle there for short term duck food storage. We provide food twice a day in an unglazed flower pot, set out to be in the sun on fair days and set back to be sheltered during bad weather.
The shelter is 4 ft wide and 3 ft deep, has a 12"x20" open entryway to the eating area, and has a service door that creates a barrier to the rest of the coop when open. We plan to use the deep bedding method, so the bottom of the shelter service door is set up above the floor by 8". It is easy to reach into the shelter when the outer door and shelter service doors are open. This will be helpful when collecting eggs and changing bedding. We used much less pea gravel in the shelter to allow earth worms to find their way into the lower, more mature layers of bedding and worm chow. Above the shelter service door, there is a 1" gap to allow airflow.
The structure is supported on seven 8 ft long 4x4 pressure treated posts set at 2 ft below grade. The rear wall has 3 posts while the front wall has a post on either side of each door (4 posts). Horizontal girders are treated 16 ft 2x6's supported by notches in the post and held by 3/8" carriage bolts (2 per junction). Rafters are treated 2x4s set 24" on center, held with 3" deck screws. Lower girts (treated 2x4s) are added near grade for the attachment and improved support of fencing. Additional vertical members apparent in the picture above support seams in the fencing.
Critter control is provided by black PVC-coated 1/2" hardware cloth, 24" wide that is run into the ground 1 ft. While coated hardware cloth is expensive, it should last a long time and is invisible from about 20 ft away. We feel that we found a really good deal on what we bought online. Edges of the cloth were tied together every 3" with D-ring staples. Prior to shoveling in 6" to 8" of pea gravel, we laid in chain link fence and nailed it to the lower girts. While this will not keep out a weasel that may tunnel down 12" below the hardware cloth, it would stop a larger digging animal such as a raccoon, fox, or coyote. We also piled field rock along the outside of the north wall, which is built against the 7 ft high deer fence that surrounds our yard (including the duck house).
We used pea gravel for the floor since it is easier on duck feet than crushed rock. Sand would probably have been less expensive but seemed less likely to drain as well over a long period of use.
For electricity, we bought a 100 ft 14 ga extension cord and ran power from our winter chicken coop. We have an aquarium power strip with integral timer that we have used for the past 7 years for winter chicken lighting, and we can plug into this same power strip for duck lights as well. In the mean time, I have put a 1-Watt LED night light in the shelter to give the ducks a very low amount of constant comfort light.
We scrambled to get the project substantially completed last weekend after I vowed to be done hosing out the brooder every morning. Our ducks are only 5 weeks old and I herd them into the shelter after sundown on cold nights. They stay put despite there being no door keeping them in, so they must be comfortable. I still need to finish painting the east and west walls and I also want to add a vent with hinged cover on the east side of the shelter.
We spent some money to build this (~$800) and used a lot of new materials that were mainly purchased from Lowe's. Yes, you can build this for less money but we wanted it to last and look good.
- Lumber & Plywood: $350
- Hardware: $90 (hinges, bolts, screws, nails, drip edge, etc)
- Paint: $50
- Hardware Cloth (24"x100'): $85 + $35 shipping (Academy Fence Company Online, we probably used 70 feet of the roll)
- Chicken Wire (4' x 16') - leftover from other projects
- 2"x4" Green PVC Coated Welded Wire Fencing (25 ft roll): $15
- Chainlink Fence: Reused
- 2 yards Pea Gravel (3/8" river gravel): $60/yd plus $55 delivery
- Shingles: left over from other projects
- #15 felt: left over from other projects
Should the kids start lobbying hard for a dog (they have their work cut out for them), this whole shebang would be a perfect dog house/enclosure. This could also be used for chickens, though I would modify the shelter a bit to be the full 6' depth with elevated roosts and laying boxes.