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Five days ago, I could say that we had never kept chickens before. However, we now have four beautiful hybrid hens from a local, independent farm shop. They are gorgeous and we love spending time with them.
Our son (like virtually all children) had been making noises about wanting a pet. We do not have the space inside our home for a cage/tank to go, plus our two cats (which don't seem to count as pets for some reason) are very proficient hunters so having something small and furry was never going to happen. We do have garden space so an outside pet was more plausible. And a useful pet, even more so. Our school have chickens and our boy loves them, so we thought, why not?
For weeks and weeks I read and researched; hours and hours were sucked into youtube and BYC! It seems that on BYC, the majority of chicken keepers build their own coops and enclosures from scratch. Whilst we can get by with basic repairs and DIY, we do not have the equipment, skills or know-how to build a completely bespoke set up. So we went for the pre-fab option.
N.B. In the UK, the term 'coop' is the henhouse bit only, the building where the birds go to lay and to roost.
Essential Coop Requirements:
Lots of variable access points to ensure easy cleaning and ability to pick up the birds when needed with minimal fuss.
An externally accessible nesting box.
Raised off of the ground to save my back and to maximise ground space in the run.
Having done so much research, we knew that the main issues with pre-fabs were that they often leak, fall apart after a few seasons' use, and that they are overly optimistic about the number of hens they can hold. Knowing this, we had a plan to tackle the problems.
Essential Run Requirements:
Tall enough for us to be able to stand up in and move about comfortably.
Extremely secure and predator-proof.
We finally decided on the 'Dorset' coop, purchased online from chickencoopsdirect.com. When it arrived our first impressions were that it was well made and the pieces seemed sturdy.
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All pieces present and correct.
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It also came with a great set of instructions!
Despite it being made of pre-treated wood, I wanted to be extra cautious and so opted to paint it all with a weather stain, prior to construction, to ensure I got into every nook and cranny with the paint brush. This will help prevent wood rot and damp. We kept the cardboard packaging to use as a work surface which was extremely helpful and reduced mess considerably.
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The following weekend, once all the pieces were painted and dry, we assembled the coop. We were particularly impressed that the manufacturer had thought to pre-drill the screw holes and supplied more screws, nuts and bolts than were required. The roof piece came with the hinges already fitted. The ramp attaches magnetically to the pop door edge and all the fittings were already in situ. We only needed a basic screwdriver and spanner set, but we were thankful to have an electric screwdriver!
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Taking shape nicely.
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Fitting the nest boxes.
Once the bottom of the nesting box was in place we noticed that there were lots of gaps between the slats. We were concerned that this could be draughty and uncomfortable for the girls when they are busy laying. Plus the pine shavings would fall through, and potentially droppings could get stuck in the gaps and be generally unpleasant. This needed fixing ...
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Something we knew we wanted was an accessible, slide out droppings board for the floor of the coop. The base of the tray is a metal sheet which is wipe clean.
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However, from reading around BYC threads, I saw someone else had a coop that must have been made by the same manufacturer, and they said they were experiencing problems with rust. I also noticed on our coop that there wasn't a particularly good seal where the metal sheeting met the edges of the board frame.
I had a solution:
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I bought some self adhesive vinyl floor tiles from B&Q (hardware and DIY shop) and cut them to size to fit the bottom of the nesting boxes and the droppings board. All the edges were sealed with waterproof, transparent sealant. Job done!
We were very happy with all the access points. The roof opens up fully, the front panel folds down completely, there is a side pop door as well as a bigger front door within the folding down front panel. The nest boxes open from above.
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After showing my set up to some others on BYC, one of the suggestions was to raise it up off the ground so that the girls would be able to stand up to their full height when taking shelter underneath. It also offers easier escape should a hen be being bullied or chased.
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As a final touch, we added a house number to the coop; we live at number 50 on our street, so making the coop 50a seemed appropriate!
Moving onto the enclosure
Before we even bought the coop or the enclosure, we had to clear the jungle at the bottom of our garden. It took a whole weekend and several evening after work to do.
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Many hours later:
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We discovered we had a water barrel too!
As with the coop itself, we did not have the necessary equipment, skills or time to build our own bespoke enclosure. So we chose to order online a sturdy 4x4m enclosure from Garden Life Ltd. Everything arrived and we couldn't wait to get started.
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The overall shape came together quickly and easily. The poles all slotted into socket joints and fastened with wing-nuts.
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We chose to upgrade the entry-level chicken wire to 1/2 inch galvanised wire (which I think is what Americans call hardware cloth) as we wanted the run to be a secure as possible.
We rolled out and measured the wire in two very large strips that spanned from the ground level on one side, up and over the top and down to the ground on the other side. It was secured to the frame using heavy duty zip ties and regular intervals. The two pieces overlapped for security down the centre join.
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The door was made up of a simple three piece frame and a five piece internal door. The wire mesh was attached to the frame and completely over the door sealing it all behind the wire. We went around the door frame nailing the wire to the frame with U shaped nails at regular intervals. We then cut the wire down the gap between the door and the frame to make it into an opening door. As before, we went around shaping the mesh to the frame, attaching it with zip ties and trimming away the excess.
We know without a doubt we have foxes in our area. We have seen them walking through the garden, and even having a snooze in the middle of our lawn in the middle of the day! Admittedly, that was several years ago, but even so, we were not taking any chances. So we cut some long, wide strips of the mesh and secured it to the bottom of the frame, double layering with the side panels, and zipped tied it into place. We then drove over 50 tent pegs into the outer edge of the mesh skirt down into the ground. We also weighed down the slightly weaker spots with hardcore and wood.
Given that the weather can be somewhat ... varied ... in the UK, we also purchased a tarpaulin to cover 50% of the roof. The coop is positioned under the tarp to keep the rain/snow/hail/sun off it, which will hopefully prolong the coop life. It also provides the hens with a decent size area to enjoy during inclement weather.
Once the construction of the coop and the enclosure was completed, we added some things for enrichment. We repurposed the bowl of an old fire pit to make a dustbath which we filled with 1/3 each of topsoil, soft sand and wood ash. I acquired some rotting wood which I made a perch from, and a large log that would double up as a seat for us when we go in the run. I have a pile of seasoned branches saved for a future project which I intend to make some kind of climbing frame with for the girls.
Things we would like to add, or do differently.
We built the door and frame and attached it to the enclosure frame before we painted it, which made it difficult to get into all the nooks and crannies, and quite messy too. I would definitely recommend painting all the timber before starting construction.
I am already thinking it would be nice to have an automatic pop door for the mornings as our girls are definitely awake before we are and get impatient to be let out first thing.
The ramp up to the pop door is a bit slippery for the girls who can't get a good grip on it, so I think we may need to add a rougher textured surface in places to help with their footing.
I have noticed that despite raising the feeder and drinker up off the ground, they are getting dirt and debris mixed in with the feed and water. We might think about making a PVC pipe feeder which would hopefully help with this.
The cinder blocks and predator skirt look a bit industrial and ugly. We may cover them with planters to soften the look of the run, but safety is more important so the pretty bits will come later.
What do the hens think?
At first they freaked out at the sound the tarp made when the wind rattled it, but within two days they have stopped reacting to it.
I am so pleased we raised the coop up on the cinder blocks as the girls do like to go right underneath it. It has helped our lower ranking hen to be able to get away from the others when they pick on her.
They have enough room to move about in the coop without being squashed in. It comfortably fits the four of them.
Happy hens in their new home.
We really enjoyed spending time together as a family on the build, time together away from screens and technology in the outdoors. We are looking forward to continuing these times with our girls for years to come.
UK newbie's small pre-fab coop and enclosure.
This is a run through of how we created our set up for our four hybrid garden hens. We chose a pre-fab coop and run as we do not have the...