How Chickens Conquered This BackyardThe method of the chicken infiltration was simple, patient, and very effective. They had a powerful ally in my wife who argued convincingly, "I want chickens." And thus began the year long attrition of this backyard to the commandeering force of backyard chickens.
Plan of Attack
Coming from no experience with chickens we needed to learn about the chicken invaders and fast.
For All Things Chicken:
BOOK: Found in your library or local/online bookstore
ONLINE: http://www.backyardchickens.com of course.
Coop Care Method:
Coop Design Ideas:
http://www.simplesuburbanliving.com/ - Free plans for his design.
https://www.carolinacoops.com/ - Desired adaptation for deep litter.
After many hours of study and research we decided to design our coop in this way to prepare for the chicken usurpation.
1. A coop for up to 6 chickens.
2. The stationary coop/run will need to be movable just in case.
3. Minimal effort required for care while maintaining healthy happy chickens.
--Easy daily care
--Easy to clean
--Easy for chicken sitters to manage while we are away.
(Success! Went away for over a week without any issues for the chicken sitters!)
4. To be economical wherever possible.
5. DIY build.
Our Design Approach:
1. Deep Litter Method in coop and run. (Lots of benefits with minimal effort)
2. Automatic feeder and waterer.
3. Safe storage space.
I must give a big shout out to http://www.simplesuburbanliving.com/ for providing their free plans, website, and videos. They were instrumental to the design of my own coop.
I also wanted to find a coop that I'd love to have, but due to our desire to keep things as economical as possible, would not end up purchasing. Carolina Coops were very impressive to me, and they were built for the deep litter method we wanted to adopt in our own coop.
So, based on these preliminary ideas, I modified the SSL free coop/run plans with what I liked about the Carolina Coops to create our own plan of attack.
The Structural Design
I've attached a PDF that provides the structural design and JPGs here for easy viewing as well as a cut list. There were some mistakes as I remember, doors on the coop will need a second look, and some pieces of the run.
Understanding the Plans:
I didn't have a 3D drafting program that I could use, so I made my plans in 2D. I attempted to show the various steps for assembly, but that might be hard to follow.
1. On the left most side of the plans are the cuts with the measured lengths of a section of the coop/run.
2. To the right of the measured lengths I show how the pieces should fit together.
3. Next to that I show how they'd look assembled, but keep in mind this is a 2D view only seeing a single side.
4. I then show how it will fit on the coop/run as a whole. With each stage I show the four sides of the coop and run.
My hope is that with this understanding you'll be able to read these plans and cut list. Let me know if you need some more direction in the comments. Thanks!
Cut List: https://jonathan.overholt.org/projects/cutlist
I'm not a proficient builder in any respect, nor do I have an arsenal of tools at my disposal. This is the first major build I've done on my own, and I had at best only adequate tools on hand that I primarily borrowed from my Dad. I only had a handheld circular saw and a hand held jigsaw for cutting wood. Having a battery powered drill was a huge help. If you can get a hold of the tools you need a project like this can go much quicker, but if not, you can certainly make due with only a few tools and some creativity. However, always be careful when using power tools.
The Build Process
I did like using the cut list so I could have all the structure cut and marked in sections for assembly, however, by doing it that way you must trust your measurements, and inevitably there were some mistakes that I later had to deal with. What it did allow me to do is purchase the least amount of wood it would take based on the best priced length of wood in the store.
What was purchased: Approx $800-900 for Coop and Run
1. Wood for Framing
2. Screws, hinges, latches
3. Discounted paint
4. Hardware cloth
5. Metal Roof
6. Plastic FRP Sheet for coop flooring
7. PVC pipe
8. Potable Drinking Hose (garden hoses are bad to drink from: Lead/chemical leaching)
9. 5 Gal Drink Dispenser
10. Horizontal Chicken Nipples
11. Adapters for hose
12. Astroturf for nesting box
13. Metal can for food and scoop
What was scavenged:
1. Large wood shipping container (more work to disassemble than it was worth).
2. OSB sheets/molding/2x4s/ scrap wood tossed from Construction sites
3. Bricks and rocks from a neighbor giving it away
4. Cloth someone gave away.
I wanted to be sure the frame was solid, but we were willing to scavenge to save money on the wood siding and anything else we could. The easiest thing to do is buy whatever you need, but there are cheaper ways to get the materials you want, if time isn't an issue. As it stands, we paid more than we expected even with scavenging, but certainly less than if we bought a comparable coop and run outright. I wouldn't enter my coop in a beauty pageant, but I'm very happy with how functional it is by design.
I also didn't have a lot of free time to build this coop, and after a few months of getting little to nothing done we had to rethink how we were going to get this built. I did get a few days where I could work on the coop without interruption, and that was the turning point. If you want a project like this done quickly, you must make time for it, and yes it always takes more time than you think... way more... or is that just me?
Coop Build: Staging for BattleThis is a well organized mess!
The Cutlist Calculator was crucial for knowing how much wood to buy, and how to cut it with the least waste. I marked each cut piece with an ID and its measurement once finished all pieces would be placed according to what section it belonged. That way I could grab all the pieces for whatever part of the coop or run I was working on at the time and put them together as if it were a kit.
Setup the groundwork! How do you make this level?
With a long piece of wood and level it turns out. I did okay with placing most of the bricks, but I had to make some adjustments later. I used a minimum amount of bricks, which ended up providing more ground space for the chickens in the run.
It's all about that base, about that base, no trouble!
It was quite a story with driving a huge wooden shipping container across town in a truck that could barely hold it. I then had to take it a part, and I really only ended up using three cuts from it, one is the floor for the coop here.
One wall, two walls, three walls, four! Ah! Ah! Ah! (I have a toddler running around)
It is really gratifying to put the pieces together and see that they actually do fit (some after multiple cuts ). I used screws to put the coop together, I just think it is a more solid hold.
Raise the roof!
Getting the metal roof from the store and on the coop was a challenge, but I thought it would be easier than using shingles and hopefully last longer too. We liked the look of the metal roof too, for that good old barn feel.
Three! Four! Shut the door! (Sorry!)
Hanging doors is way easier with two people! I tried on multiple occasions to do it alone to varying degrees of success. *Warning* My measurements were off with the doors, so I had to alter how they fit together, but I was able to still use the pieces I had cut. I added extra supports that were not in the original plans, which keeps them from sagging.
A bit drafty. I can fix that!
The OSB sheets were not big rectangles. They were various sizes that were cut in different ways, because I got them free from a trash can. That made finishing the outside a practice in creativity. I didn't have any plans as to how I'd get the siding on, but figured I'd have to measure the finished framed structure so didn't really require laid out plans. Not having my own truck made transporting OSB sheets difficult from the construction site. If you don't have a truck $20 can get you one from Home Depot, Lowes, or U-Haul (always more than $20).
Picasso, blue period.
We found this gallon of low VOC paint at Lowes for half the normal price as it was a rejected color from a previous customer. Nice way to save on paint, and we hope the level of gloss and such will last outside.
Run along now!
Putting the run together without a second person was also challenging. My wife would help when she could, but she was usually watching our toddler. I'm also stubborn thinking I needed to build it by myself for some reason, but that really is dumb, if you have similar thoughts... ignore them!
Secure the perimeter!
Hardware cloth can be expensive, but I was able to get a 'good deal' on hardware cloth here: Essential Hardware. There are different approaches for attaching hardware cloth. I must admit, I thought hammer and horseshoe nails would be easier and cheaper, but I was wrong there too. Cheaper yes, easier no, no, no. Screws with washers would have been the easier and more secure choice. Also, cutting hardware cloth sucks! I did get a better pair of scissors to help me, but it took forever, and I was fighting between wearing gloves, which hampered my cutting, and just letting my hands get cut up by the sharp metal. Make sure you get hardware cloth over all major holes or access points to the outside of the coop, and perimeter around the coop. Also, I had a decision between 1/2" or 1/4" squares in the hardware cloth and went with 1/4" thinking it would be more secure. It may be, but I think the 1/2" would have been easier to cut, and easier to see through when watching the chickens from the outside.
Fox in the hole!
So, walking my dog, look what I see across the street! It is a lovely fox, not that you can tell from this blurry image. I took it at a long distance with my phone. Just goes to show you that city suburbs have plenty of predators, so we must protect them chickens!
Whose idea was it to use bricks? Motion denied!
A neighbor was wanting to be rid of a bunch of bricks, and I thought that would work around my coop. However, if you have no plans to bury the wire, level the ground and patiently set each brick, then they are not going to work, FYI. Luckily, that same neighbor was also getting rid of a bunch of river rock. Perfect! The safest method is to bury hardware cloth underground, but I opted for extending it out and burying it under the river rock.
Only one, two, three, four ... loads in a wheelbarrow ... two full blocks away in the middle of August in the Texan afternoon heat. Free! Ha! I paid dearly for those rocks in sweat and tears! How can I live in Texas and not have a truck?
Ramp it up!
Removable ramps and a hinged platform to be raised up out of the way. The ramps and platform came about in a fit of creative action. It was one of the quickest things I built on the coop without any plans, at least until I got to installing the hinge for the pole under the platform. I needed a screwdriver with a 90 degree angle, because I could not get a straight screw to work with the limited angle I had to install the pole. It still isn't quite screwed in all the way, but secure enough. I used eye hooks to attach one end of the ramp to the coop and the other to the platform. Works great, but I got that idea from a video of a Carolina Coop.
Chickens want food and water? So demanding!
The automatic feeder is based on these plans here. I just modified it by going with two openings on the bottom adapter, and a curved piece on top to have the opening be inside the storage cabinet. I have a metal can that sits underneath the opening so when I am refilling, if I spill it goes back into the can, and minimizes waste, while giving extra protection against critters. All my doors are working somehow, but I'm sure I got away with something there.
Green hose bad, white hose good!
Changed hoses after being told about the lead content of regular garden hoses.
Find a study about it here. Not cool!
Getting the adapter to work with the cooler was a challenge too. This website was crucial for figuring it out, but I still had to cut away some of the plastic and find a rubber grommet that would work. It ended up that a hose grommet did the trick to keep the water from leaking out of the cooler. I modified the plans on the website to have a hose attach between the cooler and the PVC. I also added a hose attachment on the opposite side with a screw cap, and that makes it easy to clean out the PVC tube when needed. Oh, and cheap horizontal chicken water nipples off amazon are not worth it, as they leak and make a mess. The second attempt from Mypetchicken.com proved to be much better. Also, I've read that using a 3/4" PVC pipe alone isn't enough for the nipples to prevent leaking, which is why I added the coupling adapters for each nipple, and no leaking of any kind so far! 5 Gallon cooler can keep the 6 chickens watered for a week, but they aren't laying at the moment so I expect that time to drop once they are laying. One concern about having the feeder and water as close as they are under the coop, is that a bully can prevent other chickens from the food or water. Luckily, after our hens worked out their pecking order they've been great with each other.
Let's have a look inside shall we?
Lovely Curtains! Oh and carpet?
We didn't partition the nesting box, which we can change if we need. I ended up getting a great price on some AstroTurf and liked the idea of using it in the nesting box. It can all be adapted, but we hope the hens won't be afraid to use the box with the curtains in place. I've pinned back a curtain and placed some fake eggs inside, so when they are ready to lay we hope instincts will lead them to lay in the nesting box. They do not go inside the box otherwise.
Raise the roost! (Wait, I did that one already)
I wanted the roosting bar to raise out of the way so I could clean the coop. Some rebar helps support the roosting bar, and I cut down the 2x4 to be more like 2x2 so the chickens would have more head room underneath. We wanted enough room to use the deep litter method inside the coop as well as the run. In practice, the chickens rarely go beneath the roost bar. They use the coop for roosting and go out into the run otherwise, which means it is our job to mix up the droppings left in the coop into the deep litter, but it is very quick and easy. The FRP plastic sheet is a simple way to provide some protection for the wood, and make future cleaning a snap. We used a bag of soil that had no harmful ingredients for chickens, and leaves we've saved from the previous fall (we planned this a year in advance and had them on hand) to start the deep litter in the coop. So far so good! I like that I can almost reach across to the other side of the coop, which is one advantage in making it skinnier than the 4' x 4' coop design. Being narrower at 3.5' x 5' also gains an extra 1.5 sq.ft. inside. Typical OSB sheets or other siding options will more likely require more awkward cuts with these measurement then the typical 4' x 4' coop.
Batten down the hatches!
This coop is ventilated for hot Texas days/nights and the deep litter. However, moisture is also bad for deep litter in the coop, so we can batten down the hatches during rain storms to prevent too much moisture getting inside, but we find they aren't needed unless there is a strong gale. I added a weather strips between the coop and the top of the run, as well as, over a window I made for extra light inside the coop to prevent water from leaking in. I threw together a dust bath box with a lid out of scrap fence wood thinking they'd need that for bathing, but they have yet to use it for that purpose. They are happy dusting in the run, but at least it is something for them to walk on, and provides a place for a small grit tray. I probably need to improve the quality of the dirt in the dust bath, as there are too many rocks, and I need to add more to the mixture. I also have plans to add a branch in the run for them to hang out on.
All done! Wait a minute, am I missing something?
Chickens of course!
Lessons from the Battlefield
1. It is good to be informed.
We didn't make a decision about backyard chickens quickly or without first becoming informed about what all would be involved. It certainly helped us prepare for what we wanted in a coop and how to proceed with getting chickens. Does that make us pros? Hardly, we are amateurs here, but it certainly helped.
2. Doing things on the cheap can mean hard work that may or may not pay off.
In trying to save some cash, I ended up spending a lot of time and effort on some things that paid off and others that didn't. I still have a shed full of weathered wood that isn't worth much, but it took so much effort getting it, I don't want to get rid of it. On second thought, yes I do! If you can, be smart about what you want to save money on and how to go about doing it.
3. Tools and helping hands actually make it easier?
I'm not sure if this is true, since I didn't really follow this advice. I didn't have all the best tools, but I got by. Having a chalk line would have been great among other tools. Two heads are better than one, and four hands are certainly better than two. Don't be afraid to get assistance with builds like these.
4. Have fun!
It was really fun designing and building the coop, despite all the times I was frustrated with how things happened or how slow they were progressing. The whole experience has been super rewarding, and now we can't wait to get our first eggs from these lovely lady hens.
5. Future Life Lessons.
We are really excited to grow as a family with backyard chickens. We want to provide a little experience of where we get our food and how we should have respect for those animals that literally give their lives to help us sustain ours.
Alterations or Changes
1. The Final Look.
I'm a perfectionist, and so when I look at the coop I can point out many faults and issues I'd rather not have, but overall what's the point in doing that to myself? In the end, our preference was to focus on money saving over the aesthetic look. War ain't cheap, but we decided to keep costs to a minimum. Yes, I'd like to have cleaner looking siding and sharper edges and contours with multiple colors for the paint. A sharp brick border and so on and so forth. What I'm most amazed by is that the designs for an easy to maintain coop is actually working, and that is very exciting for us. Goal accomplished!
The only thing is after all this planning, I don't have a door on the chicken coop, and that certainly could use a change!