Newbie building first coop - lots of questions

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by RachelJoy, Apr 15, 2009.

  1. RachelJoy

    RachelJoy Out Of The Brooder

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    Hi there. We have 5 5-week old chicks we're hoping to move out of the guest bedroom in the next couple of weeks. We're planning to cobble together our own coop for now and see how that goes, but I have lots of questions.

    Our situation:
    We live in a suburban area with a large yard surrounded by an ordinary picket fence. Our most likely predator would be raccoon, maybe neighborhood cats? We have quite cold winters with a fair amount of snow.

    Our thought is to build a portable henhouse, and let them range out in the yard during the day. We would like to have the house floorless.

    I've been doing a lot of reading, so I have concerns about predators digging under the walls to get inside. How much of a problem might this be inside a fenced in yard? While predators could clearly come over the fence, do they do this regularly? My husband feels very strongly about the no floor thing - he wants to move the house each day so that the yard gets evenly fertilized and we don't have to clean out a stinky coop. What about predators in the daytime when the girls are hanging out in the yard?

    And how much of a concern is the cold temperature in the winter? We chose breeds that are supposed to be quite cold hardy (2 Ameraucanas, 1 Silver Laced Wyandotte, 1 Speckled Sussex, 1 White Leghorn). Some things I've read said they'll be fine as long as they're somewhat protected from the elements and we keep their water from freezing. Others talk about needing insulated coops, keeping out all drafts, and using heat lamps. I'm all for low-tech, but not if it means the hens freezing to death.

    Do the hens go out and roam when there is snow cover? Should we plan to shovel out an area for them in the yard so they can stretch their legs everyday? Hopefully we'll have a good 6 months before we have to start dealing with snow again, but still, it's good to plan ahead.

    And what else do we need to be thinking about?

    Thanks for any and all advice!

    Rachel
     
  2. mediazeal

    mediazeal Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Fences are no obstacles to animals that climb like possum and raccoons or animals that burrow like skunk and fox. They will most certainly visit if they are in the area and will try to dig into the coop if there is no buried hardware cloth or a solid floor to prevent them.
     
  3. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Quote:Also peoples' loose dogs, especially during the day, and hawks.

    While predators could clearly come over the fence, do they do this regularly?

    Yes.

    If you don't believe me, leave an open can of tunafish out where your chickens would be. I'd be surprised if it lasts the night, can pretty much guarantee it won't last more than a few nights.

    My husband feels very strongly about the no floor thing - he wants to move the house each day so that the yard gets evenly fertilized and we don't have to clean out a stinky coop.

    You do realize that "the whole yard gets evenly fertilized" means "you will have large expanses of yard with chicken poo strewn all over them" -- here, it takes about 10 days for the poo to seemingly vanish and a little longer for the grass to grow back to where it's not recognizeably 'chickened', so that will be 10+ days' worth of conspicuously chickened lawn. Also they dig dusting holes here and there (my lawnmower-weilding DH *hates* that [​IMG])

    A normal coop with a floor will not be stinky if built and managed properly, and they're not hard to clean out.

    You'll have to do something like that in wintertime *anyhow*, as you won't be moving the chickens *then*.

    What about predators in the daytime when the girls are hanging out in the yard?

    They will be exposed to hawks (having lots of trees/bushes in the yard is a bit of help there, tho not total security) and loose dogs that go over your fence.

    Our thought is to build a portable henhouse, and let them range out in the yard during the day. We would like to have the house floorless. <snip> how much of a concern is the cold temperature in the winter?

    You can't have a floorless coop in wintertime. Truly. (no matter whether you mean "mesh-floored", which you could put cardboard or plywood on with bedding for the cold months but would require you to scrape/hose poo thru the mesh in summer; or whether you mean the grass would be their floor, which is not doable in cold weather because of gaps between walls and floors but with that construction your chickens will be eaten by predators LONG before winter anyhow.)

    A tractor is really not a great way to house chickens over the winter if you get Real Winter. (You say 'very cold', but what temperatures are we talking? Seems like everyone from Pennsylvania on north thinks they get "very cold" winters... <g>). Because of the tiny air volume, it is very difficult to balance ventilation and draft-free-ness and temperature in a tractor type coop. Also remember you won't be able to move the tractor in winter, i.e. it will do something awful to the site it's sitting on.

    You CAN keep chickens that way if you HAVE to, but it's a lot better to avoid it if possible. Any chance you could give them winter quarters in the corner of a garage or shed, with a small run added?

    If you choose breeds intelligently and have a draft-free BUT WELL VENTILATED (i.e. not humid) coop, chickens are generally totally fine down into the teens (Farenheit) and quite frequently well below that. If you have insufficient ventilation, you can get frostbite at 32 F.

    If your winters are seriously cold, e.g. well into minus #s F, it is a good idea to have electricity available, certainly for a heated waterer base (valuable even at milder temperatures) but also in case you decide you do want to run a lamp on the coldest nights.

    Hope this helps some, good luck, have fun, welcome to BYC,

    Pat​
     
  4. RachelJoy

    RachelJoy Out Of The Brooder

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    Thanks for advice so far.

    Updated thinking:

    Chicken wire floor for summer (husband does the mowing, so if he finds it to be problematic, he can build a more solid floor). Then we can either put the whole house on a base, or put some kind of flooring inside for winter.

    Unfortunately, we don't have a garage or shed (wish we did for many more reasons than just chickens!). For the winter we'll park the coop near the house where there is an outdoor outlet so we can get a heated waterer, and plug in something for heat if necessary.

    We're located in the NW corner of Massachusetts, so "cold" means many winter nights below 0 degrees F.

    Please, keep coming with the suggestions!

    Thanks,

    Rachel
     
  5. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Quote:Maybe once you've had a couple chickens for a year, it will give incentive to build a big combination storage/chicken shed... [​IMG]

    . For the winter we'll park the coop near the house where there is an outdoor outlet so we can get a heated waterer, and plug in something for heat if necessary. We're located in the NW corner of Massachusetts, so "cold" means many winter nights below 0 degrees F.

    OK, that will work (not optimally, but you should be able to winter chickens that way with care); just try to design the tractor with winter in mind. One thing you can do for winter is wrap translucent plastic (or some such) around most of the 'run' part of the tractor, and bed it heavily with straw or whatever, so the chickens have some not-too-nasty outdoors that they may want to spend their time in, as opposed to fierce wind and chicken-height snowdrifts.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat​
     

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