Have chicks coming next month, and no coop!

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by catchthewind, Jan 28, 2011.

  1. catchthewind

    catchthewind Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I feel like I'm crazy. I found a breeder who is super helpful and friendly, who also has some of the breeds I was interested in, and put an order on 12 chicks for early in March. We have a kiddie pool as well as a rabbit hutch, plus we just moved so tons of cardboard boxes. One of those will become a brooder, so I'm not too worried about that. But I don't have a coop yet. I thought I had some ideas, but the more I read the more I'm not sure. My husband and I plan to build it. I would love some advice, ideas, plans, anything really.

    I live on Vancouver Island in BC. It's fairly temperate. I just went and looked at the historical data for my area, and the coldest over the last few years has been -10C (14F) and the hottest was 35C (95F). Those are the extremes though, generally it will get below freezing at nights for a while, but stays above freezing during the day. This is our first winter on this part of the island, and I've been told it's a bit snowier, but where we lived before we had some winters with no snow at all, and the most we had was about three weeks in a row. It does rain a lot in the winter though. The summer can stay hot (maybe 20-30C); however, our land is mostly forested, so there will be lots of shade, so I'm more worried about keeping them warm enough in the winter.

    Here's my issue, I really want to do a rotational pasture type of system. We have 1.4 acres, but the way the house/driveway/garden etc is all laid out, the pastures won't all be in the same area. So my coop has to be portable. Is it even possible to do a rotational pasture with a large number of chickens? I love the looks of the open-air coops and was looking at the pictures in a thread here, and I'd feel better about leaving them for a couple of days if we had one, but not sure if it would work in the winter here. I only have 12 chicks coming, and by winter I'll have less as we will only be keeping the laying hens, but I'm planning ahead in case we enjoy this and want more. We were thinking of making our coop 8x4 to start. I did look through the tractor plans on this site, but there are so many and most of the tractor plans are a lot smaller. We're also limited a bit because of the trees. I've been told free-range hens don't need as much space inside the coop, but there will be a few weeks in the winter (possibly more) when there will be snow or it will be cold, and I would rather go too big than too small. Also wondering how big our pastures should be? I was thinking maybe 3-4 pastures and moving them every 2 weeks or so.

    Also, currently for the fencing we're thinking portable electric poultry mesh. Again, I've been reading lots on here about it. It seems like weeds and things touching the bottoms might be an issue if I'm reading it right. Our land is forested and fairly wild, so there will almost definitely be weeds touching the bottom wires. Also, we do have some snow in the winter. Lastly, I was reading about the batteries and one thing I read said to expect to buy a new battery every 4-6 weeks. The batteries I looked at were $44 each. Is that right? Is there some other form of fencing that's easily portable and can keep out predators?

    Thanks so much for any ideas or information! Sorry for the long post. It's hard to find information specific to my own situation.
     
  2. dsqard

    dsqard Crazy "L" Farms

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    [​IMG]
    I think it would be hard to make a tractor for that many chickens. I could be wrong and hopefully someone who has a great plan for a tractor that big chimes in. I know we built a tractor for 4 chickens last year and it is pretty heavy. An open air coop probably would not be possible with your winters being that cold unless you can make some kind of wall that can be removed during the warm months and hung back up during the cold months. Again, since you have prettty cold winters, you have to plan on enough space for them to be cooped up for days at a time. I have my coop inside my run and except for one or two days, I have always given them the option to go outside. On pretty cold days they opt to stay in the coop. Looks like you have been doing some research on here. It is such a great place to learn about chickens!
     
  3. Heckel's Hens

    Heckel's Hens Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Chicks have a while before they need to go in the coop, at least from what I've read on here. My chicks are 6 weeks old, and they won't have a coop to go to until they are 10-11 weeks old. As long as they have room where they are at now, it should be just fine. Good luck!
     
  4. MamaChic21

    MamaChic21 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Good luck [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2011
  5. Cargo

    Cargo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    If you are going to build a portable coop as opposed to a tractor. 4x8 is ok for up to 8 hens

    In my mind at least:
    Portable coop has no run.
    Tractor is coop and run combined

    In my experience they will go outside during very cold weather as long as there is no snow. It would be a good idea to rig up a portable awning next to the coop in winter so they can get out of the coop.
    My girls are not too happy about snow.
     
  6. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    So my coop has to be portable. Is it even possible to do a rotational pasture with a large number of chickens?

    Yes, as long as you are ok with it being a lot less predatorproof. You will not have any real protection from hawks (although to the extent you can provide bushes or tent-type structures or whatever as places for chickens to duck into when threatened from above, it can help somewhat) and even with good electronet fencing well-maintained you will still be more at risk from four-legged predators than you would be if you had a real run.

    If you want to do it under those conditions, and move every 2 wks or so, what you want is a coop built on a wagon chassis. You will almost certainly need a vehicle to pull it unless you stick with only 12 chickens and give them only *minimal* indoor area (and have never-muddy ground!). But it can most certainly be done.

    I love the looks of the open-air coops and was looking at the pictures in a thread here, and I'd feel better about leaving them for a couple of days if we had one, but not sure if it would work in the winter here.

    It would work in your climate, but be difficult to build as a mobile unit. You would want something maybe 6' x 12-14' (up on a wagon frame), with part of one of the 6' ends open and the whole thing shaped correctly to provide draft-free conditions in the back end. It would definitely require a vehicle to pull it to a new location.

    I only have 12 chicks coming, and by winter I'll have less as we will only be keeping the laying hens, but I'm planning ahead in case we enjoy this and want more. We were thinking of making our coop 8x4 to start.

    That is not very large for 12 chickens (you said you'll get rid of some but also want more, so if you want to stabilize at 12ish chickens, 4x8 is kind of minimal). You could probably make it work but a larger coop would be better/safer. Perhaps you could at least do a hoop-style portable run that you could brace real good and cover with a tarp, for wintertime so that they have some more-appealing area to go outside?

    Also, currently for the fencing we're thinking portable electric poultry mesh. Again, I've been reading lots on here about it. It seems like weeds and things touching the bottoms might be an issue if I'm reading it right. Our land is forested and fairly wild, so there will almost definitely be weeds touching the bottom wires. Also, we do have some snow in the winter. Lastly, I was reading about the batteries and one thing I read said to expect to buy a new battery every 4-6 weeks. The batteries I looked at were $44 each. Is that right? Is there some other form of fencing that's easily portable and can keep out predators?

    No, there is no other form of fencing that is easily portable and reasonably predatorproof. You want to do this, you need electronet. You will have to spend a certain amount of time every week (or more often, if things grow fast in your summers) either spraying along the fencelines or moving and weedwhacking and resetting the fenceline. If you scalp it down to bare earth with a weedwhacker it takes longer for the weeds to encroach again. Unless you do this, the fence will be basically useless... it is not optional.

    Electronet does not do real well in snow. If it is only an occasional snowfall you might be able to confine them to a run-type pen (as described above) that has been reasonably well predatorproofed. If you often have significant snow on the ground though then I would suggest having a *permanent*-fenced paddock that you move the coop into for that part of the year. It would need to have really good predator-resistant fences and preferably electric along it as well.

    There is no reason to use such disposable batteries with electric fencing. First, if you are looking at something where the battery is only expected to last 4-6 wks then I am concerned you are looking at too small a charger as the really weenie ones tend to be more like that. Make sure you get a suitably powerful charger for th elength of electronet you're going to run.... seriously, it has a LOT of resistance and has many many opportunities to ground out even under ideal conditions, and if you underpower it then it is basically useless.

    Either get a unit with a decent battery that will last you a year or so, or use a plug-in charger. Note that the plug-in charger must be installed in a sheltered location outdoors but within cord's length of a suitable electric outlet; they can be a little bit of a fire hazard so many people prefer to run them off remote outbuildings or give them their own buried service. You can then run an insulated run-out wire from the charger to a central point that you can rotate your fences around so it can always conveniently be hooked up to; or you can put some type of permanent fence around the entire area (never a bad idea if you can afford it!) that you can run electric wire on and use THAT to tap your electronet off of, wherever you move it.

    A solar-powered unit is also an option but not necessarily a good one.

    If you are relying on electric fence, of ANY type and with ANY type charger, to protect your flock from predators, you must commit to checking it very frequently with a good (preferably digital, not the five-neon-lights jobbies) fence tester. It takes like 4-5,000 v to reliably deter predators, and if you are only running at, say, 2-3000 v (which will still keep most livestock in, and will give you a good stiff unpleasant zap if YOU touch it), you may THINK you've got predator protection but you don't.

    Note that all electric fences WILL fail sometimes, for various reasons. To the extent that you can combine them with permanent physical fences that is much better (even if it is just perimeter fencing), although obviously an all-electric fence is more mobile. It's a tradeoff.

    In summary I think that yes you can do what you are proposing, as long as you are comfortable with it requiring regular checking/maintenance WITHOUT FAIL and as long as you are comfortable with it not being as predatorproofable as a stationary run.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat​
     
  7. catchthewind

    catchthewind Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you all, and especially Pat for such a long, detailed reply. You have given me a lot to think about. I wonder if it would be possible to set up a permanent coop somewhere and just move the chickens to other locations during the day, and then back to the coop at night? I'm not terribly worried about predators during the day, and I don't even know if they'd be a big problem at night. I'm sure we must have raccoons around here since we're in a forest. But I think we're sheltered enough not to have to worry about hawks and other predator birds. There is one spot where I think we could rotate two pastures next to each other, depending on how big they should be, so I may just have to settle for that. We might even be able to do three in the back except the septic field is in the way and the septic guy told us not to put chickens on it, as he's had calls where the chickens have dug around where the pipes drain and caused some damage to them. Anyway, I'll have to consider all the suggestions and everything you've all said. Glad to know I have a little more time than I thought. I wasn't sure how old chicks generally were before going out to the permanent coop.
     
  8. Dogfish

    Dogfish Rube Goldberg incarnate

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    Vancouver Island has a large population of large black bears. The further north and west, the more you find. Victoria not so much, but Sooke, Uclulet and Nanaimo, get ready. I'd suggest building a very strong central coop and managing the chickens through moving the fence around. They will roam your entire acreage if you let them, as mine range all over our 5 acres. I think you are making it harder than you need to, and that your ending idea makes more sense.

    As others have said, You have about 2 months until the coop needs to be completed. Yes, raccoons are a worry, but where you are at, I'd more concerned with bears. They'll start coming out in the next month or so. The feed will draw them in if there are any around.
     
  9. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    If bears are an issue (as per the poster above), my suggestion would be to invest in correctly installed high-tensile electric fencing as a perimeter fence. Then you can use your electronet to rotate within that area, tapping it off the perimeter hotwires.

    THe main daytime predators are hawks -- which will typically only take one chicken at a time, although a hawk can hang around and do that every day or two for a while in some cases -- and peoples' loose dogs, which can kill an entire flock in ten minutes. However much you think you do not have daytime predators, I would suggest caution. Browse the "Predators and Pests" section of this forum if you want to see how many people lose chickens in the daytime when they are sure they don't have any real predator threats around.

    If you have a permanent coop, it can be larger than a portable one. However unless you physically contain the chickens *in a portable tractor-type pen* during the day, they will inevitably spend a large fraction of their time near the coop, so right around the coop will get rather thrashed and threadbare even if you are rotating pastures. THis is not necessarily a huge problem, but something to prepare for.

    If you *have* a vehicle to pull a mobile coop around, there is really nothing wrong with your original idea, it does have a lot to recommend it.

    Personally I would not worry about rotating chickens over the septic field... having them free ranging in a large area that happens to include the leachfield is not the same as *confining them on* the leachfield. Obviously if they started digging over that area you would want to notice right away and kick them out, but I think your chances of problems are small unless there is something wrong with your leachfield to begin with or your fenced area is so small that they essentially *are* confined ON the leachfield.

    JMHO, good luck, have fun,

    Pat
     
  10. Sinfonian

    Sinfonian Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Welcome from a Seattle newbie. Same climate and I'm in a similar boat, though with far less land. I came to similar conclusions though. My brother and I have designed a coop for 4 or 5 heavy breed hens that should be portable and work for housing. We are both looking at an ark system for moving them around our yards. I'm considering a hoop structure out of light PVC and bird netting just to keep them in. My brother's going the A-frame route with a nesting box in case they feel inclined. Both ours are designed for the 3-4 bird range, and I'm afraid our coop design wouldn't lend itself well to a dozen birds and still be portable. The only thing I can think of is to house them centrally in a sturdy predator proof building and move them around your property in a paddok or ark setup. Of course, we don't have day-time predators here and they'll be cooped up at night. Good luck!
     

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