This spring, my neighbors brought home 5 terribly adorable australorp chicks. Our county had recently passed an ordinance saying anyone not in an HOA could start their own mini chicken farm - WOOT! I had been researching keeping chickens since the neighbor mentioned it in passing the prior summer, but I was still on the fence about whether I could commit to any more creatures (we have 4 dogs, a bearded dragon and a huge reef tank). Watching those chicks grow the past few months and reading up every (and I mean every) post on BYC, I realized there were a whole lot of things I could do to make upkeep easier on myself, enclosures safer for the chicks and the whole idea more palatable for my sane spouse ('I solemnly swear it won't be stinky and shantyish'). I began seriously obsessing over the Wichita Cabin Coop design and Garden Coop. I pored over every pic and BYC blog that even resembled a Wichita, not to mention PVC feeders and nipple waterers. My husband realized I was not going to let it go and sort of kind of allowed me to head off to the feed store one Sunday for research purposes. Mwoo-ha-ha-ha! HUGE MISTAKE! I came home with 5 chicks (white rock, buff rocks, ameracaunas), and although he was miffed, he didn't argue to immediately take them back. This falls under the 'beg forgiveness later' clause in our marriage.
With the chicks in a Rubbermaid and a heat lamp dangling dangerously, we realized a home-made brooder was in order, so we gallivanted off to the Home Depot (OK, he trudged along semi-willingly). I drove him nuts wandering from aisle to aisle and back again, but we finally settled on some plywood and 2x4's and some chicken wire. It's super sturdy. Tall enough my 3-year-old can't get in and sleep with the chicks, safe with a childproof lock and roomy enough my 5-week-old babies are not cramped at all. It's 2 feet wide by 4 feet long with 2 foot sides. I think the legs are 12 inches and the top has a couple hinges so it swings up when we need in. I did fasten the heat lamp to an upper cabinet so it had no chance to fall. I will add pics later of the brooder.
Having OCD'ed for a month prior to building, I was surprised how hard it was to make up my mind on the day we broke ground for the build site. My husband unloaded a gazillion concrete blocks and then watched me pace the yard for an hour while I had a mini panic attack. Was the coop too small, short, tall, wide, angled? Were those storm clouds rolling in? Suddenly, it was a bit overwhelming. What the heck was I thinking? Up to this point, the largest thing I had constructed was a chick brooder and a push lawnmower. Ok, actually just supervised the assembly of a lawnmower. OK, I just held the instructions and squawked that my spouse was doing it wrong until I cried. OMG, We were going to murder one another, my kids would be parentless and the headline would be really embarrassing. AAAAAGGGGHHH!
My husband stomped back into the house to procure some icy cold patience\serenity (beer) while I mucked around with a few blocks and sometime in the the afternoon actually developed the perimeter and lost 3 pitchers of forehead sweat (I know, ugh)! I dug them all down (coming back later to add pavers to the outside for predator deflection) and leveled them with the help of my awesome 10-year-old.
Seriously, I think that was the single hardest part of the build to date and the longest day. Simply because I had not made up my mind on the floor dimensions and was wishy-washy. We were working with a sheaf of papers I had downloaded from another BYC'er's blog - images only. This sort of frustrated my husband who is used to official looking install\instruction\plan-type things. 'We don't need no stinkin' plans' I mumbled.
We cut a couple treated 2x6's down to 10 feet (beware, when you buy boards at the store, they may not and are not usually the actual measurement you purchased - ours had to have an inch or two removed) and a couple 2x6's to 6 feet for the sides. We laid the boards on edge, the 10 foot boards are sandwiching in the sides, if that makes sense, and we used big old deck screws to lag them together. Currently the coop is resting on the blocks and not anchored in any way, but the weight of the wood, shingles and other materials plus the wide dimensions means this puppy is not going anywhere even in high winds. If this were a four foot wide coop, I probably would have dug down posts in concrete because in our yard, a big gust and a top-heavy coop would be a bad combo. Here, our biggest concern is snow load (though in our area in the foothills\plains we don't get a ton as you might think - the mountains in CO are where the big snows happen), some cold nights and raccoon\fox\hawk protection.
For the inside posts, we chose el cheapo unfinished 2x4 studs (well, relatively cheap at $2.75 an 8 foot board).
A note here: since I was not working from a plan but rather images others had posted, there were some annoying mistakes I made at this juncture that maybe someone reading this for building ideas could learn from.
1) I should have set my inside posts so that I always had the width of the hardware cloth in mind. It is sooooo much easier to just buy the wire at the correct width, cut the length you need and attach it. My inside posts are a varying distance, and the ONLY ones that are 24 on center are the sides. Seriously, this added a metric ton of work and was incredible tedious even with my new angle grinder.
2) Think about the rafters as it relates to your end goal with attaching the actual chicken coop end siding. We had to add several rafters in the end because I hadn't planned for this - I had one rafter on the wrong side of the coop end. This is all fixable, but it results in more time, work and material cost.
3) check your local Craigslist daily for cheap wood - I had lined up some $1 a board 2x4's but it fell through. That would have saved me. I did, however, manage to acquire all the shingles and tarpaper for free, and we traveled one town over to buy some old 40's wood windows for $20 bucks a pop which my husband tells me is a steal - and bonus, they are freakin' adorable.
4) Buy in bulk. Yes, you will end up using more than 5 pounds of screws - don't kid yourself. The Wichita and similar coops use an incredible amount of lumber and hardware due to the doubling up of the posts.
5)Paint the boards first - before the wire goes up.
6) Go easy on your build partner. My perfectionist nature is in overdrive with this project, and tension doesn't make for a fun weekend.
7) Get the roof on as soon as possible so you can work in shade and out of the rain.
8) Level, plumb, square EVERYTHING and constantly, even if your spouse is giving you the evil eye for adjusting the same piece of wood eleventy-two times while he hovers with the drill. It will really make a difference in the end. Yes, it's just a chicken coop, but you will hit some annoying roadblocks later if you skimp on this, and the structure you build could be unsafe if it's heavy like this one.
9) Pay attention to which side of the board is the ugly side - especially if you plan only to stain it in the end. That wasn't an option for us as the store had stamped it all over and we just plain didn't think of it. Oh well, I have kids for a reason, and they know how to paint.
Once the front (6 foot) and the back walls (5 foot) were framed (posts up, top boards on and braces up), we worked our way across placing rafters up. To get the miter angle right on the ends of the rafters, we cheated by placing a board at an angle inside the front and back walls and I marked with a pencil where the rafter met the wall. I used this as a template for the front and back edges of each rafter. Painted the boards - except the treated bottom 2x6's since I read you have to wait at least a month for them to dry out:
Blocked in between the rafters to keep them from "rolling" on their side with moisture and age. We tried not to use hangers to keep this as inexpensive and old style as possible (this is where some of that huge box of screws starts to disappear):
Used 3 sheets of thick plywood for the roof, secured to each and every rafter, and framed out the bottom of my coop side (right). I believe those bottom braces are 12 or 16 on center, can't remember, but I wanted it to be super sturdy in case I had to crawl in later - after all, the thing is 6 feet long:
You might not be able to see it there, but when I framed out the interior coop end, I put some 2 foot pieces on the bottom of the interior walls, so that I could easily lay my horizontal 'deck' pieces at the right height (I leveled and plumbed them, but if you want an angled floor like some folks, make one side an inch or two lower). I also set a couple of these 24" 2x4's on the back and side to later support my wire mesh. At this stage, just keep in the back of your mind how you would like the exterior trim to lay. I wanted my siding not to be sticking out at the end, so everything I added I looked at suspiciously with that final hope in mind.
I think this was about 2 weekends in when we got a response from my craigslist ad begging for free or cheap materials - someone had something like 12 bundles of newer shingles leftover from a roof remodel - and tarpaper! This wonderful person wanted no cash, just a promise that when we used what we needed, we haul the rest to the local Habitat for Humanity - DEAL! That saved us a ton of money and her a whole lotta back pain. The next few days, I spent way too much of my life viewing shingling videos, then passing this info on to my grumbly husband. He was pretty sure since this was just a coop that we could slap the dang shingles on any way we wanted - nail one on, lay the other one on top of half of it and work your way left. This would have made for some interesting waves and we would have used a whole lot more shingles. I showed him the videos, and at one point angrily pulled out the ladder to inspect my own roof, replaced 5 years ago. FYI - the shingles are laid with a one inch overhang all around.
Once the tar paper and shingles were on (add in a box of roofing nails to the cost), I insisted on drip edge. Luckily, drip edge is awesomely cheap. You just need strong snips or an angle grinder to notch it so you can wrap the edges around. I found from my research that the drip edge should be above the tar paper on the high side and below it on the bottom of the slope - yet another thing for hubby to shake his head at, but he did not say a word. He was learning, lol.
Yes, some of the shingles are grimy looking but they were free!
Sorry, skipped a few photo ops I guess, but that's what I took next after we framed out the coop interior wall for my antique craigslist window. Here is where I had to sort of wing it from Google and YouTube and other BYC members' images, but I laid the window out on my grass, then built a sort of flat frame from 1x3's laid around it, then laid some 1x3's on edge under that and nailed them together.
I laid the window inside it to make sure my clearances around the edges were ok because I want the windows to be functional later as I hinge them to the trim. I then took my diy frame to the inner coop wall and decided how far up I wanted it (at least high enough to be above my eventual sand depth inside). Handy miter saw at the ready, I cut some horizontal boards (accounting for the future pop door as well), placed one at the top, held my window frame up under it, and placed the second. Have a bunch of different sized clamps on hand - it hugely helps here when you are working alone, and even if you have a helper, because without pre-drilling or clamps, boards like to pop out and make jerks of themselves. The added time of clamping is worth it if you don't strip out a dozen screws or have to back one out 10 times.
Next, we cut some siding for the inner wall - hubby drilled out the siding in the window opening corners with a spade bit and then used his jigsaw to cut it completely out. I am saving that material for my pop door.You'll notice a few metal braces here and there but a lot of the screws are hidden pocket-hole-style. We got pretty good at doing it on the fly as apparently we are Kreg-jig-challenged.
On to the horrors of mesh application or better knows as 'How I cut the crap out of my leg when my son let go of his end of the hardware cloth roll I was standing on'. Number one, it is under a good bit of tension, so you almost have to get Madonna out to choreograph a routine for how you cut it. "Here son, you stand on this end. I'll roll this skateboard over to weigh down the other side. Now I'll just take this handy angle grinder and start cutting - AAAAAAGGGGHHH". Number two, wear jeans to cover your skin. Ouch. It looked like we were either welding a cargo ship or setting off fireworks in the backyard. I can only imagine what the neighbors having a fancy dinner party next door thought. At some point, I got so paranoid that my dang hair might catch fire, I put down the grinder and just used tiny wire snips to cut until my knuckles were frozen. Anyway, we got a couple pieces of the 1\2" hardware cloth on (bought it at Lowes only because I had a big coupon if I ordered online and picked up in store).
Did I mention I HATE installing hardware cloth, and this is a lot of hardware cloth. Not only were almost all of my sections less than 24" in width, if you're going to do it right, you have to notch each piece in all 4 corners so you can squeeze in the top and bottom and secure them on the inside. We used 3000 long staple gun staples and our trim boards at the end all have very long screws driven in in a zig-zag fashion so as to catch that cloth in between. It's on there all right.
Here's the long board going in on the right side of the coop temporarily while I ponder the finished height of my egg box. I have since dropped it way down, don't worry. I didn't want to have to invest in a crane to get my eggs.
Interior siding on and my window frame inside! It fits!
The chicks are almost 5 weeks old out for their first visit to the coop (the hardware cloth was all up along with the 2x4 screen door I built). Yes, ME, the woman with no prior construction knowledge! Not only did I make it, but it actually freakin' fit and it swings up without rubbing anything. Isn't it glorious? The backside has long metal braces and a bunch of pocketholes to firm it up, not to mention 1x3's to hold in the mesh and cover sharp edges. I will take some more pics of the inside of the door later so you get a feel for how it actually goes together.
Dog checking out the defenses:
Coop clean-out door is ON! Once I had that screen door on, I could not bring myself to look at the coop one moment longer before the other door was on. I just wanted to see it done and my beautiful second window added.
I measured the height of my door opening, then took away about 1\8 of an inch to a 1\4 inch each end to allow for swelling and hinge tolerances. In hindsight, I must have not allowed enough because at the end, you will NOT see a pic of my husband and I sending the whole door through our table saw to shear off 1\4 inch on the left side, lol. Do not try this at home, kids. Too lazy to disassemble the whole thing, didn't have sandpaper or a planer, blah blah. I felt like Tim the Toolman Taylor was smiling down at me (except that he's fictional and not dead). I laid this simple empty door frame inside it's opening and attached the hinges to the coop. Then my husband held the old sash window to the opening while I decided where it's lower support should go and we clamped it into place and pocket-holed it. There was a whole lot of sighing from my helpers at this point because I had to make sure that there was enough room all the way around the old window so it could swing open freely - especially when it snows and the wood swells. But eventually, after a couple therapy sessions, I was able to move on and let hubby screw in the old white window's hinges. Yes, they are heavy duty door hinges, but I like big, bulky, black hardware right up in your mug. I think it looks awesome.
I still haven't quite decided what to do with the little hole under the window. I might just cut a couple 2x's and slot them in there rather than cut a tiny piece of siding for it. I like the rough wood look.
So here we are - the chicks are still coming in at night and during the day when we aren't home, because I am nervous about my dog getting under the boards until I get all my intended flagstone or pavers around the sides (done 3 sides already but want to double them up). Plus, I have very sneaky neighbor kids and no door locks yet. I could come home to my baby chicks scattered in chick confetti (sorry, graphic and wrong) all over the yard if they are let out "accidentally". I have no doubt my dogs would hurt them unintentionally - I think they see them as an enticing mixture of food and squeaky toy. Not a good combo.
Well, that's it so far - still need to finish the door, get all the outside 2'x4 trim boards up, acquire a whole lotta sand, paint, find out if there is a Chickens Anonymous support group my husband can join, and build an eggbox. Thanks to the Baldessaris for a great plan and many other BYC members for ideas! Join us next weekend when we count my slivers and mesh-related scabs!
UPDATE 8/27/14 98% done! One of my fave customizations is the operational screen door inside the coop - this was necessary because the henhouse side of the coop is six feet long, and trying to catch a chicken or clean would be impossible from the front clean-out door. So now the inside window hinges open and then the screen door behind it hinges open the other way. This takes some of the roost space as the screen door needs to swing in - roosts are being overhauled before winter anyway so no biggie. I'm thinking chicken ladder roost or diagonal in the back corners. Investing in a big hole saw attachment this week to pop some more vent holes all around in prep for the cold season as well when those windows can't be wide open anymore (cracked but not all the way). If anyone has ideas or comments, feel free to share! Here's some pics: