Living on less than 1/4 acre in a housing development I was unsure of my immediate neighbors' reactions to chickens in the back yard. Most neighbors have what we call "party yards" complete with in-ground pools, barbeque pits, cabanas, bars, umbrellas and potted palms. Our yard is the only "farm yard" in the entire development.
Our first coop was a small (VERY small) coop that I found on Craigslist. DH added a nice run for our 2 then 4 pullets. The entire coop/run was so small that we would go outdoors as often as possible to garden while the chickens free ranged. The neighbors were amused by the hens and were enthusiastic about our back yard "farm yard."
As the coop was not particularly solid (though it proved itself to be predator proof with our additions of hasps and locks), it was too small to house 6 hens. Suddenly we had 6 hens! How did THAT happen?
After looking at and touring many commercial coops and not finding exactly what would make the perfect coop, I made a list of everything required to make a new coop perfect for hens and for humans. I gave the list to DH who was in the process of converting the garage to a wood shop. Good timing!!
He took the project under consideration. His first job was to convert my drawings and my wish list into modern lumber dimensions. As he worked and re-worked the design we came up with additions to the plan.
DH built a 1:12 model. The model showed us the many flaws in our design. After several iterations we had what we thought was a good working plan.
The first step was to move the old coop. We wanted to build the new coop in place on the site of the old coop. The temporary shelter proved adequate but the outer part of the run was definitely not predator resistant.
We put the outdoor roost in a makeshift run fenced with plastic and covered in bird netting.
We made a start. Using current lumber dimensions the foundation came together in three sections. These are held together with heavy duty exterior screws using the Kreg system.
We dug in the pressure treated foundation and leveled it then back-filled. The hens watched with interest. The coop is 4x4 feet and the run is 16 feet long and 7 feet 4 inches wide.
The coop floor is at my waist level. Having worked with the low coop for more than a year, I was ready to have easier, more convenient hen care. The floor is covered with sheet vinyl donated by a local retailer.
Because we have no room to store lumber we went to the home center for enough materials for each step as needed. We also had quite a few trips for items we'd forgotten or for new items as the working plan was revised.
My DH set up an outdoor work area to accommodate the large pieces we had to work with. This was October/November in south New Jersey and the weather was variable. We worked every moment the weather permitted. We spent our wedding anniversary in Lancaster County, PA searching out the perfect coop hardware.
The back wall and roosts were the first parts of the coop to be attached to the floor.
We matched the paint exactly to the shed.
Painting kept pace with re-design and building.
The entire structure is designed by DH (who always thinks ahead) to screw together in panels of a size that can be handled easily. If at any time we must give up our hens or move, the coop and run will readily break down.
Roof braces are reinforced.
Roof is ready for shingles.
The roof is designed to mimic the storage shed but also to give the hens enough head room when they roost on the top roost. After reading books on coop design we chose the length of the roosts to allow 4 hens on each level. The hens, however, have other ideas, roosting 5 hens on the top roost and leaving 1 chicken alone on the lower roost. Does this mean that I "need" another hen or two??
Work on the coop continued and we started installing some finishing touches.
Shingles were left over from the house re-roofing project after a tornado came through our neighborhood.
Front door opens near the shed where feed and supplies are kept. There is a door under the coop to allow the chickens out to free range.
The window is glass (donated by a local merchant) with a piano hinge and two latches. Inside there is a screen of hardware cloth.
The hook on the nest box has a piece that slides up around the eye to keep predators at bay.
The ramp is quite steep but the hens don't mind at all.
The latch swivels up to hold the door open for the hens during the day. On the other doors the latches swivel to hold the doors securely closed when the hasps are latched and locked.
Notice the fine hardwood flooring in the nest boxes. The wood is scrap left from our new floors in the house.
The back door opens under the roosts. This side is close to the compost bins. The floor under the roosts is bedded with plain clay kitty litter which absorbs and is easy to clean each morning. Because of the proximity of our neighbors I clean daily. This isn't a hardship. Cleaning with a litter scoop takes less than 4 minutes. During the warm months when odor could be a problem for the neighbors we add "stall dry" granules to the litter underneath the roosts.
Under the coop are two feeders, one for oyster shell and one for grit.
The ceiling is insulated with a sheet of green foam insulation that is covered with reflective insulation. In our climate this will help keep the coop cool in the heat of the Summer. Ventilation holes are covered with hardware cloth and screen.
The weather turned against us. To keep the project on schedule we brought pieces of the coop indoors to stain or paint. Every surface was a place to put another piece of the coop.
Then came the run construction. We were seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and were hopeful it wasn't an on-coming train.
Each panel was constructed separately, stained and covered in 1/4 inch hardware cloth then screwed to the foundation and adjacent panels using more of the heavy duty exterior Kreg screws. The pockets were then plugged and stained to match the frame.
The screening is 1/4 inch hardware cloth held in place by pneumatically installed staples. This picture shows the opening for one of two people doors.
There is a people door at each end of the run. One is close to the coop for ease of closing up for the night or giving treats, changing water, etc. The other is at the farthest end of the run. This door will facilitate cleaning and will allow me to fence off half of the run, install the broody coop (which also breaks down into panels for storage) and raise new chicks.
FINALLY! Moving in Day!
A bracket for two feeders has been installed on the front door closest to the shed.
Nest boxes are bedded with pine shavings and hay. Notice that the center divider lifts out for ease of cleaning.
The water for the coop is high enough off the floor that it doesn't get fouled with bedding or droppings.
Under the roosts held in by 2x3 inch framing the bedding is plain clay kitty litter. Cleaning in the morning takes about 3 minutes.
Old coop in the foreground. New coop nearly ready for the hens.
For winter we installed a tarp (later we added tent poles down the center) across the run and on 2 sides of the run.
Old coop is gone. We saved all the pieces "just in case" something happens that requires isolation.
Ready for our hens!
Water on the raised slate and flower pot feet. Bamboo cuttings for the hens to play. Outdoor roosts for comfort.
This picture shows the upright internal supports that will allow splitting of the run into two parts.
Emma Jean, Spice (on the roost), Pumpkin (tail toward the camera), Elsbeth, Priscilla and Maya at home in Cluckingham Palace.
In September 2015 we added a screen to the window to protect the hens from wasps. Perhaps the screen was unnecessary but seeing an occasional wasp fly into the coop through the 1/4 inch hardware cloth was disconcerting to the humans.
My DH quickly designed and constructed a frame and screen to fit the window exactly. The fit leaves no room for parasites to nest or hide between the window frame and the screen frame. The new screen was installed with exterior grade screws for durability. Installation required access to the interior of the coop.
.Attaching the screen to the inside of the coop window.
New screen viewed from inside the coop.
From the roost the hens can keep an eye on the shed where feed and supplies are stored away from contamination by insects and marauding wildlife.
The finished screened window viewed from outside the coop.
We do annual maintenance before cold weather, ice, sleet and snow arrive. We check all of the roof areas for wear and tear, leaks or signs of insect activity. We check latches and hardware for signs of weathering or rust. A spray lubricant is applied to hinges and latches to prevent freezing in the Winter.
Any repairs are scheduled to be done early in the Autumn (but so far there has been no need.).
Routine maintenance includes lubricating all of the hinges and latches.
Spraying lubricant is done while the hens are out free-ranging. All excess lubricant is wiped away.
Ready for the wintry weather to come. The hens will be snug and warm in their coop.
In January 2016 snowfall accumulations dictated a new roof design for the run area. We needed to keep the hens dry and protected from the strong winter storms and any heavy snows. They did not want to be cooped up.
DH designed and installed a roof frame with an angle steep enough to allow snow to slide off the roof but not so tall as to be intrusive on the neighborhood. He calculated carefully to be sure the spaces between the roof supports were small enough to handle any roofing materials. We then added a large, heavy tarp that not only covers the roof but provides a windbreak on two sides of the run. Seldom do the gales blow sleet, rain or snow into the run. The hens now enjoy their dust baths, time on the outdoor roosts and scratching for treats all the year around.
Outside view of the newly roofed run showing the tie-downs for the tarp along the front wall.
Inside view of the run showing the back wall and end wall covered for the winter.
Inside, protected and snug from savage winters, are the happy hens. Let it snow and blow!!