Preparations – the Fun Stuff!

All of this reading and research has finally allowed me to get to the more exciting preparations of building the coop (ok, having it built) and ordering the chicks!

We are indeed using the existing shed to convert into a coop. It is about 10′ x 16′ and seems sort of hastily slapped together. For months we had planned on doing the construction ourselves, then we came to our senses and realized that not only do we have next to no construction experience, know-how, or ability, we also simply didn’t have the time. Even though we both work from home, at this time of year at this latitude, the sun comes up around 8am and goes back down well before 5pm. We would be working during all daylight hours during the week, which would only leave us non-rainy/snowy weekends. It would take us forever. Maybe longer. Anyway, we looked around and found several local places that will build you a custom chicken coop. We finally settled on an out-of-work construction worker who was selling homemade chicken tractors on Craigslist and also can build custom coops.

For the past few weeks (yes, weeks) he has been here, building our “chicken mansion” (as he and his wife have dubbed it). It is definitely quite the project. But, all my research has made me aware of the myriad potential pitfalls and dangers of chicken raising. This thing needs to be a FORTRESS or we’re going to be feeding the local wildlife lovely free-range chicken dinners on a regular basis. It needs to be completely enclosed – hungry creatures will come at it from all angles – racoons will dig under fences, climb over them, reach through them (“Living with Chickens” has a lovely story about a racoon that ate a chicken THROUGH the chicken wire bite by bite…), and break in through flimsy siding. Hawks and eagles and owls will swoop down from the sky and take off with your chickens before you can blink. Rats and mice will nest under the coop and gnaw up through the floorboards to get to chicken feed and eggs. Even song birds will fly into the coop to eat the feed and leave behind nasty diseases. Chickens are nothing if not helpless without human intervention (after all, they wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for us) and chicken is everyone’s favorite meal.

So, we’re really going for it when it comes to security. Inside, Kurt (the builder) floated a new, solid plywood floor on top of the existing old, rotting boards. He also built new plywood walls inside the old ones (this does double duty in that it also provides an insulating dead-air space that will help keep the coop warm in the winter and cool in the summer). Outside, we have surrounded the entire building and run area with a one-foot-deep, six-inch-wide trench of concrete. This is to deter digging under the fence or building. Into the concrete we sunk vinyl-dipped galvanized half-inch square hardware cloth (mice fit through one-inch chicken wire and so do racoon hands), which will be stapled to the bottom of the shed all around (the shed is several inches off the gound supported by concrete pylons). This is to stop those pesky rats’ nests under the coop that I keep reading about.

(here you can see the concrete in the trench and the wire that is in it, along with the south-facing window and chicken and rooster doors)

(here is a close-up of the wire – you can see how we will attach it to the bottom of the building)

As for the other features, the run will be the same width as the coop (10 feet) and about 15 feet long with a hardware cloth roof high enough so that we can comfortably stand inside it (I think about 7 feet high). The run should be done this week. It will be framed in 100% cedar. No pressure-treated wood will be used inside or outside the coop. Organic standards say that chickens may not ever come into contact with pressure-treated lumber during their lifetimes. This is because the wood is treated with chemicals that leach dioxins into the soil, which in turn gets into the chickens through contact, and through eating bugs and plants that have gotten it from the soil. Dioxins are a broad category of lipo-phyllic (fat-loving) compounds that build up in our (and all animals’) fat over time and cause a whole range of health issues including infertility and birth defects, as well as being listed in the category of “highest risk” for carcinogens (cancer-causers) by the FDA. Other sources of dioxins in our diets are plastic food and drink containers, non-organic foods, and the anti-bacterial agent, “triclosan,” which is used in everything from toothpaste and handsoap to baby toys.

Inside at the center of the run will stand an old post that was left in the shed when we bought the property, off of which we will attach branches which we’ve trimmed from our trees to use as natrual perches and a source of amusement for the birds when they are closed in the run. We will also have a “human door” in the run which we can use to get inside the run as well as to let the chickens out to free range when we are around to watch them.

As for the coop itself, we have two chicken doors that open into the run, drawbridge-style, along with a rooster door at the top near the roof so that he can whatch his ladies from above. These doors are all controlled by a fancy but iffy mechanism that is the brainchild of our builder. I explained to him that I’d seen a lot of coops online that had a way to open and close the chicken doors from outside the run and building… that way you can just walk out in the morning and let the girls out without climbing into the run or coop. Mostly these mechanisms have been a simple string to pull or stick to push, which I tried to explain, but our builder wanted to get fancy. It’s a pretty cool way to do it (turn a crank to open or close all three doors at once), but I feel like it’s going to break at any moment. If that day comes, I think Brian and I will just fashion something simpler ourselves. The builder had fun with it and he didn’t charge us for all the time he spent working it out because he knew it was excessive. He is SO excited about it and really hopes we love it and I won’t tell him otherwise. Besides, we DO love it as long as it works!

(here you can see the crank and the open drawbridge doors below the south-facing window. the rooster door is above)

As I have already mentioned, we had him install a south-facing window. From what I can gather from all my reading, this is a key element to a coop. This allows for a maximum amount of daylight into the coop which keeps it warm in the winter and keeps the ladies laying (the egg-laying mechanism is triggered by hours of daylight). It also opens to allow for cross-drafts in the summer to help keep it cool. We got a used window from the rebuild center. I think any window that opens will do. Also, please note that since our window is like a bay window, there is an inside ledge on which chickens might perch and poop. Apparently they will make a point of perching on anything and everything they can and pooping all over it. Therefore, we will be blocking off that window ledge with chicken wire – because we don’t want a poopy window!

Inside, we have split the room in two – one half for the chickens and the other half for storing chicken and garden stuff. The wall is simply made of more hardware cloth with a door for human access.

(here is a view from outside looking in – as you can see, it is still a construction site)

(left side of dividing wall, with human door – as you can see, the door is one foot off the ground so that when you open it, no chickens can easily come dashing out)

(right side of dividing wall through which you can see the ramps and nesting boxes)

In the area for the chickens, it is a bit like a chicken funhouse. We have numerous perches all over the place – high, low, and in between. Most are 2x4s with rounded corners that are sanded down… most of my research tells me that that is the most desirable perch set up for chickens when given a choice, though anything will do. We also have a few 2x2s since apparently some chickens prefer narrower perches. We also have ramps up the dividing wall that will provide amusement and also easier access to the higher nesting boxes, along with a ramp up from the highest perch to the rooster door so that his highness can have an easy route up and down from his high throne.

(perches)

(perches to rooster ramp and door)

(ramps on dividing wall to nesting boxes with narrow perches above)

The last two features that I will mention here are practical features. We have tweleve nesting boxes along one wall. Yes, I know tweleve is a lot, but Kurt was determined to give me tweleve and I guess too many is better than not enough. I have read that you should have one nesting box to every 2-5 hens. No one seems to agree on this one. Since I plan to have 8-12 hens that’s somewhere between 2 and 6 boxes. I definitely don’t need 12, but who knows… maybe I’ll get more down the line? Anyway, the boxes are 14″ wide and high and 12″ deep with a 4″ board across the bottom of the opening so that the eggs don’t roll out. This is the recommended size for the large, heavy breeds, which is what I’m getting. 12″x12″x10″ is recommended to lighter and banty breeds. Hopefully those breeds will be OK with the larger nests as well because I might get some in the future and I’d hate to have to build MORE nests! The nests are mounted on the same wall where the crank is located (see above) and will eventually have doors that open to the outside so that we can easily collect eggs without having to go inside the coop. They also have a perch bar that runs along the front of them so that the girls can shake off and eliminate before entering the boxes. This is apparently an important feature.

(nesting boxes)

Lastly we have the “poop door.” This is my favorite feature (at least in concept). It is a floor-level hatch the opens outward so that I can simply sweep the soiled bedding and poop directly out the door and into a waiting bucket. It will then be dumped in the compost pile, of course.

(poop door)

OK, that’s all the info on the “Coop De Ville” – next entry I will talk about my chick order.

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