Alaskan's Chicken Coop Complex
(I made a separate page for my Muscovy Coop and Overflow Poultry Coop: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/alaskans-smaller-coops
and my free Bantam Coop: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/alaskans-no-cost-bantam-coop )
(Cold Weather Tips are at the bottom of this page
And here is a full article on cold weather coops: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/cold-weather-poultry-housing )
(The picture above is how it looked before the door was repainted)
(The picture above is a stage two picture)
(Here is a picture from summer 2015, notice how different it looks with the door painted all green.)
I wanted chickens for a very long time.
When I was little, I would visit my grandparents, by myself. One of my jobs was to take care of the chickens.
I did the feeding, watering, and the cleaning of the coop.
I loved it, even the coop cleaning.
My grandmother used hay, in a deep litter kind of method, in that she would toss fresh hay on top of the old soiled bedding. By the time I would show up, it looked fine, until I started to shovel it into the wheel barrow. Then the stench would make my eyes smart.
All of that soiled hay was taken to the vegetable garden and put in the paths between the plants.
Anyway, I finally had a place as well as the time and money to have chickens.
The nests along the South wall were five gallon plastic buckets on their sides. I had those for years, but they were just screwed into the wall, and were not very secure, they would come off of the wall. I ended up with a row of them along the ground.
Here they are at the beginning, when they were on the North wall, which was stupid since then all of the light shone straight into the nest boxes. Shortly after this picture I moved the nest boxes to the South wall where they were darker.
We had trusses for an 8x8 porch and used those to make an 8x8 coop. We insulated the roof, and insulated the floor but not the walls, because I was scared of rodents getting in there. We have little rodents everywhere up here.
We did put hardware cloth along the bottom of the coop, and partway up the walls, between the framing and the outside walls. This was because I knew someone who had lost all of her poultry, twice, to tiny little stoats. The hardware cloth HAS worked very well. No rodents, or stoats, have gotten into my coop. There is some chewing around the door frame where rodents have tried to get in.
Here is a picture of the hardware cloth on the walls. There is also hardware cloth under the floor.
The problems with the coop were:
- no snow free place to place the water and feed
- way too small for chickens that refused to go outside in nasty weather ( so picking at each other)
- windows AT perch level so the open windows meant wind blasting the chickens and closed windows meant bad frostbite.
I put a door and pop hole into the back of the coop, and had an addition put on, 8x8. The addition had walls on the South (where the strong cold wind comes from) and East sides. The coop was the West side and the North was open. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but the North side is sheltered from the wind.
From far away, the addition mostly finished, as well as a mostly painted coop. I had wanted the part between the plywood and the roof to stay open, but the wind blew through there and brought in snow with it. I ended up stapling up grow cloth over the openings to close it up. I did leave the entire North side open.
You can just see the edge of the roof of the addition. It is the bit sticking out on the left side of the picture.
You can see how the snow has broken down the fishnet that was over the run. Before we got the net cut down, the snow stuck to the net was heavy enough to break the corner gate post and mess up the fence. See how the left corner post is crooked? Also, that drape in front of the open side of the addition is the netting, now pulled down and covered by snow.
And here is looking into the addition from the coop. Notice that the entire floor is covered in very dirty snow, with a wall of snow slowly rolling in from that open North side.
A pretty sunrise picture.
I was hoping that this would fix my problems by
- giving me a place to put the feed and water out of the weather
- give the chickens more weather free play space
- give me lots of wind free ventilation since I could vent the coop to the shelter.
But, I had problems with this too.
- the snow just rolled in from that completely open North side. I easily get 2 feet of packed snow (and often oodles more) and that much snow doesn't stay back without a wall to hold it back.
- the snow slowly ate up the floor space, and the chickens had no interest in wandering out into the run, so they soon had way too little space.
No point to this picture, except, it is cool. We had left some spoiled hay in front of the coop to use to plant potatoes. The moose found the hay. (The one at the top of the page is from the same day)
Well, I had wanted a greenhouse anyway......
I had a greenhouse built, 8x16, with an 8x16 'shed' to connect the greenhouse to the original coop. All in a 'U' shape. The shed has the bottom of the walls two feet solid plywood, then wire. The bottom of the wire has two feet of plastic panel, leaving about one foot of open wire above the plastic panel for lots of ventilation.
The plan was to have the shed hold the feed and water, with lots of venting so no frostbite, but also enough shelter to keep out the snow and the wind. Also, once the growing season was over, the chickens could have access to the greenhouse.
Inside the new greenhouse.
This year I tried nylon fishnet, to see if it would be easier to keep free of snow. In this picture it is still nicely up (but yes, we did of course get a heavy enough overnight snow dump to break it all down).
The greenhouse and shed addition worked perfectly! The greenhouse and shed together made for more than enough room for all of my chickens. For two years I had this setup with about 45 chickens with no picking at each other, and no serious frostbite.
In the winter my overhead fish net would get broken down by the heavy wet snows. Without overhead protection, and fencing that was now much shorter, I was happy to let the chickens stay locked up all winter.
Here is a picture of the East side of the coop, those little dark ball things are the top of the five foot tall fence posts.
Then, last winter (winter of 2012-2013) a dog climbed into my run and pushed his way into the Shed through a pop door. The pop door hadn't been securely latched because of a giant ice cube. I had wedged it closed. That dog killed every single chicken. I still am sad that none of my chickens flew up to the high perches that were available to them.
The loss of all of my chickens in the winter..which meant I had to wait several months before I could have new chicks...gave me time to rethink everything.
I thought through what I would like to do differently, and what I wanted to change.
The entire complex.
And here is a sketch of the buildings. The buildings, doors, windows, and pop doors didn't change. But part of the run complex that the buildings are in the middle of, were converted to "Fort Knox" style runs, and I also added the poop trays.
1. I decided that my coop was much too drafty. The hardware cloth had succeeded in preventing all rodents, time to insulate the coop! I put up insulation and then plywood and painted as much as I could until my paint ran out (I used leftovers from my house).
I had not painted the interior before. WOW! So much nicer when you paint the inside of the coop! The dust doesn't stick as badly on painted plywood, and it looks so much nicer! Also, I hope the paint on the floor will help the plywood floor last longer.
2. I decided to try out poop trays...all those people on BYC who love them have to have a reason, right? I put in two poop trays in the 8x8 coop.
I put 2x8 poop trays on both sides of the coop.
But then the coop was taken over by my brooding Muscovy and her new brood of 11 ducklings.
So, the chickens were kicked into the uninsulated shed, and I had to put two poop trays in the shed, as well as add some nest boxes. The poop trays are fantastic! Everything is so much cleaner, it is truly a gigantic difference.
The inside of the shed. I thought about insulating the shed roof, but did not have enough leftover insulation.
On my higher poop tray in the shed, I had planned to bevel the front edge of the 2x4, but didn't get around to it. The chickens liked perching on the the perch, as well as the front edge of the poop tray.
I added the second lower perch and poop tray, but no one wants to sleep there. They do like playing there, probably because it is in the sun but out of the wind. But they don't like sleeping there.
So....since if I beveled the poop tray edge, that would force the chickens to start fighting over who gets the prime/highest perch....I decided to NOT bevel it, and I just took a 1x4 and screwed it on top of the 2x4 edge, so that the edge was now a proper 4inch perch.
The chickens all perch with their heads out, so even though they are perching on the edge of the poop tray, all of the poop falls into the tray. And, none of the chickens poop on each other.
This way I have gotten two full 8 foot perches on one 2x8 poop tray.
The trashcan holds feed and treats. The clear plastic tote screwed to the wall is a nest box.
The other end of the Shed, showing the people door and pop door into the greenhouse. The open pop door on the right of the picture goes into the smaller secure/Fort Knox run. The closed pop door on the left of the picture goes to a standard run.
The tiny, bantam only nest boxes. They are actually suspended from the underside of the higher poop tray.
3. I tried out Sweet PDZ in the poop trays, WOW! Very nice! Even in high summer (had two weeks of that this year) there was very close to no smell! Lovely stuff! (A bit trickier after the weather gets below freezing)
4. I Did NOT want to lose any more chickens, ever. I added on two close to Fort Knox runs. I did put a little bit of solid roofing over one of the runs. The runs are both roofed with the stiff wire that is used in concrete. The holes are large enough for a small dog to jump through, but it is very stiff, so will NOT bend when covered in snow. Someone in my area has used goat wire fencing and that stuff has to have the snow knocked off of it so that it doesn't bend or break. I have had more then enough of 'running out every hour to knock the snow off' so I like the stiff wire. I am worried that with deep snow that the wire top will no longer keep dogs out, and am thinking of adding chicken wire on top of the concrete wire. I know that dogs can tear apart chicken wire, but I wonder if I wire a double layer of the chicken wire to the concrete wire if that will be enough.
The larger secure run.
And, the roof area of the larger secure run.
All of that new secure run covered with a bunch of snow.
A close up of just the wire roof, with the snow on it. Notice where the chickens have walked. They have come out to drink, look towards the house to see if I am coming out with treats, and then run back inside. They are NOT utilizing the entire run, because it is covered in that nasty white stuff. This is why I like having the food and water outside...it forces the silly chickens to go outside.
Here I am standing in the unsecured run and looking at the secure run on the North side.
This is behind the shed. The far left is the edge of the greenhouse.
And NO, the concrete reinforcing wire is NOT good enough by itself. A Great Horned Owl smushed itself through a hole (I watched it smash itself back out) and killed two bantams. Just bit the heads off. The kids are putting chicken wire over the concrete wire right now.
5. A lady with gorgeously colored Muscovy put them up for sale, I bought them, and so had to build them a coop too! And quick! The new, slapped together duck coop is about 10x5 with an extra 2.5 box on the side. It also has a second story of about 2x8.
All of the duck coop information, and my overflow poultry coop I moved to a separate page:
I have my Free Bantam Coop on this page: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/alaskans-no-cost-bantam-coop
Thank you for looking at my page. I hope you liked it, and that it maybe gave you some ideas that you can use with your own set-up. If you have any questions, I would love to answer them (I love talking about poultry ).
Cold Weather Tips
- Venting is MUCH more important than warmth. My chickens do look cold at -10F, but they do not look miserable. I don't usually get much colder than that. My chicken area stays at or only slightly warmer than the outside. The big thing that the housing does, is block the wind and the snow, and keeps them dry. So, housing = dry and no wind, NOT necessarily warmer.
- Reduce the humidity by keeping LOTS of ventilation in the coop, and the water outside! The water can be kept in a sheltered location. Having the water outside also helps to force the chickens to go outside, which reduces the risk of unwanted behaviors.
- WIDE perches! The chicken does not only have to cover their toes with the feathers, I find it is best if the toes do not bend. I think if the toes bend it reduces the circulation to the toes and so increases frostbite risk. Keep the toes flat.
- Closely monitor the food, they will die QUICKLY in the cold if they run out of food, and they will be eating food much more quickly when they are cold.
- Do not feed wet food that can then freeze onto their faces and cause very bad frostbite.
- Feed stays fine in freezing weather, water either needs to be brought out several times a day (if it freezes solid in an hour, I try to bring out fresh water three times a day), or you need to use something to keep it liquid. There are many ways to keep the water thawed. I have a terrible time with my electric to my coop, so I use a stock tank deicer in a black rubber pan. The rubber pan is almost indestructible and can be jumped on and tossed around to pop out ice cubes. I picked out a deicer that will not melt plastic and that will not break if the water runs out. It is strong enough to melt itself out of a solid block of ice in a short amount of time (which happens fairly often, because the power keeps going out). Some people give their birds snow to drink, but I think that would increase their feed consumption even more. Mine have learned to break thin ice to get at the water beneath.
- I do still get some frostbite in the thin comb points of a single comb, or the thin front edge of a large rooster wattle (which is why I am moving over to only tiny combed breeds, I am hoping to eliminate all frostbite). The frostbite that occurs on the comb points or wattle edges has never been a problem. The bird is obviously uncomfortable when it first happens, and again when the rotten parts fall off and the good parts then heal over. However, they have never needed doctoring, antibiotics, cleaning, etc. I keep an eye on the frostbit area to make sure none of the other birds pick on it, but other than that it heals on its own. Frostbite on feet is an entirely different and much more serious thing, and often, but not always, does need doctoring (or processing of the bird). Point, slight frostbite on the comb is sad, but ignorable, frostbite on the feet is serious and potentially highly problematic.
- Unwanted behaviors are likely to crop up in the winter. I try very hard to give my chickens as close to 10 square feet of SHELTERED, INSIDE space as possible. In addition, I keep the water outside, to force them to use the outside space even when they do not want to. If my sheltered, inside space starts to get closer to 5 square feet per chicken, I find I need to work harder to keep unwanted behaviors at bay. They need to have treats brought to them several times a day, things to play with (Some hay, whatever), or whatever you can dream up to reduce boredom. I have at some times, when it is especially windy and horrid, put the water inside, but only in the Shed area where there is a very large amount of ventilation. (Remember, the Shed has an almost foot tall vent on most of the Shed walls.)
- I use NO heat in the winter! (Unless I have baby chicks). With my leghorns, they needed NO light and still laid very close to 7 eggs a week! My Rhode Island Reds, Golden Comets, Marans, Sussex, and all other breeds I have had, have all needed light in the winter to keep them laying.