Yesterday marks the one year anniversary of the day we brought our four sweet little chicks home. Two Easter Eggers, Princess Laya and Hen Solo, a Gold-Laced Wyandotte, Pox, and a Barred Rock, Peep.
It's been a fun adventure for my sixteen year old daughter and I. I'm a single mom with limited handyman skills and a tight budget. When I first started to consider getting chickens, the adorable little prefabricated chicken coops at TSC and local feed stores really appealed to me of course. But once I started doing some research, I was discouraged to discover that they might not actually be the best way to spend my money.
However, a friend of a friend had one sitting in her garage leftover from her brief fascination with chickens and she was willing to sell it to me for $40. So I went and picked it up. Once I brought it home, I was disappointed to find that it was pretty broken down, but lucky for me, my dad thought he could fix it up. So I spent a couple hours scrubbing the whole thing down and my dad stopped by and loaded it up in his truck and took it to his house.
The nesting box and the door/ramp were broken off and the tray that pulls out for cleaning was in disrepair as well. But, thankfully my dad was able to put it all back together.
In the meantime, the chicks were residing in a Guinea pig cage in my bedroom. But after a few weeks, this arrangement wasn't really working out too well. My intention was never to use the enclosed "run" that the coop came with. Supposedly, this coop is for up to eight chickens! I cannot imagine expecting eight chickens to live in that small of an environment comfortably or sanitarily.
So I used the run panels to construct a makeshift brooder in the shed.
An important lesson was learned here when I went out to check on my babies in the morning and discovered that the clamp on the heat lamp had failed and the lamp fell into the pine shavings and started a small fire which actually burned a hole through the wooden floor of my shed! Somehow, the fire had put itself out. It was a cold,damp night. My boyfriend, who is a firefighter, said there was enough humidity in the air that the fire wasn't able to spread. My poor little chicks were huddled in the furthest corner from where the fire had occurred. They were alive, but barely. Their feathers were covered in ash and soot and their little peeps sounded more like croaks from all the smoke they had breathed in.
Of course we gathered them up quickly and returned them to their Guinea pig cage in my bedroom. My daughter stayed home from school that day and watched them closely. Thankfully they survived!
I cleaned up the mess in the shed and bought a new heat lamp and suspended it from the ceiling of the shed and that worked fine and the chicks spent about six weeks in there until they were big enough to move out to the henhouse in the big run. During that time, we took them out fairly often and let them play in an enclosed raised bed that my boyfriend built for me a couple years ago. It's original purpose was to keep my dog, Max from digging up and eating my radishes! But it worked great as a chick playpen
So when they were about 8 weeks old, I bought about $200 worth of fencing supplies and built a 25'x15' run, complete with a gate, all by myself. I think I managed to do a pretty good job and a year later, my chickens are still alive and thriving!
Here is Peep, enjoying a nice glass of Chardonnay with me that evening in celebration
So that's my PreFab success story. But I have to admit, I am not using this coop the way it was originally intended and part of the reason that this is working out well is because we live in a very mild climate in Northern California. We get some nights were temps are below freezing, but usually not lower than the high 20's. We do get a lot of rain and some windstorms during the winter, but my little henhouse has held up well. I did add one handy feature, I nailed a rubber car mat over the vent on the side after a particularly rainy night. When I went to let them out in the morning, poor little Peepers was all wet because she was the unlucky girl who got the roosting spot closest to the vent. The mat works great and in good weather, I just roll it up like a blind so the vent can function as it should.
I think other reasons why this has worked for us are because we are diligent about closing their door every night at dusk so that predators don't get to them. We live close to a river and there is lots of wildlife around. Also, they have a big run and get to free range beyond their run in our rather large yard, when we let them, as well. We always let them out on stormy days so they can hide in the bushes or under the shed if they need to.
So for anyone considering one of those "adorable, little prefabricated" chicken coops, I hope this article is helpful. The bottom line is, it may work with some modification, but there are a lot of factors to consider.