2016: I’m a Chicken rookie. I spent several months reading about chickens and asking all of my poultry raising friends questions. I got lost in nesting boxes and roosting and ventilation. I just knew if I did one thing wrong, I was going to wake up to a coop full of dead birds. But finally we decided we just had to take the plunge! I had intended to build my own coop, but we ended up just buying a ready-made one at the co-op to start with. And then the darn thing fell apart long about week 4.
Game time! I’d spent months reading and bugging my friends with questions, and now, here I was with just a month of poultry experience in my back pocket….and I set out to build my own. I wish I had taken more pictures as it progressed, but I really was learning as I went. And it was quick. I literally had no safe place to keep my girls, so I had to Speedy Gonzales this project.
I was so inundated with information that I started out overwhelmed. I had to narrow down the most important factors and go from there. Hopefully this focused list helps other people too. Again, I am absolutely no expert. But I gathered pieces from here and there and this most of what I used and then what I’ve learned so far.
Use hardwire mesh, NOT chicken wire, attached with screw and washers. Chicken wire is flimsy and critters with long fingers like raccoons and hawks can stretch the holes. Staples would probably be fine, but we live way out in the land still prowled by lots of nocturnal critters. That said, 1.5 inch screws with 1 inch washers is the route I chose for attaching it.
I had an antique window screen. I attached hinges and turned it into my main door. It is old, and has a corner where the wire has become weak. So I attached mesh to the inside of it for reinforcement as well.
I also made a smaller door to accommodate my chickens. It’s really barely big enough for them to go in and out of. I did this purposely so that nothing bigger than them can sneak in there. I close both up at night.
CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
And lets face it, chickens are nasty. I decided sand in the coup was the best route for us. Think giant litter box. A kitty shovel or a short tined rake works so easily to scoop poop. I liked cedar chips before, and I still love them when they’re fresh, but they don’t stay fresh long. I left some in my nesting boxes because my girls seem to enjoy bedding down in them sometimes.
Sand also helps regulate temperature in the coop. It doesn’t heat or cool as fast as some other bedding does, so it stays relatively steady. That helps keep it cool in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Although, they are able to bathe in the coop sand, I also wanted one outside. I had an old wheelbarrow on hand, but you could use almost anything…old tires, old crates. I buried it a few inches in the ground for stability and filled it with clean sand and ash. Ash seems somewhat controversial…some people swear that an ash bath keeps lice and mites away. Others fear the chemical make-up will harm their skin. So, I met in the middle and just added about 4 cups to the load of sand. 6 months in, I haven’t had problems with irritation or mites, so maybe there’s something to it.
Fresh air movement is key to a healthy coop. I have the screen door in the front, as well as, windows at both ends, all covered by the hardwire mesh. Fresh air gets in, but because of the positioning of my coop, it rarely gets any gusts of wind or rain blowing through.
As luck would have it, the day I was building my coop, I noticed my son’s school was getting rid of an old classroom cabinet. They let me steal the drawers out of it, so at least for now, those are my boxes. I was going to repaint them, but I actually kind of like that they still have school labels on them. They have a story.
Chickens have a natural inclination to roost, or perch on a stick. The first night my old coop broke, I had to just lock them in a crate of sorts for safety. I worried about them so much that I went to check on them through the night. Long about 3:30am, you could see the misery on their faces as they piled together, all trying to latch onto the edge of the box. It’s an innate survival instinct to sleep up high.
So, I found several strong sticks around our place, big enough to hold several chickens at a time, and placed them through the coop. Needless to say, I was thrilled the next night (and first night in the new coop) when I checked on them and they were all lined up…..roosting.
Free Range vs. Secure Run
I had every intention of creating a full, screened in run. And I still may at some point. But as I was building, I noticed how well they did out and about. They all stay together and never stray far from their home. I have a fenced in area that they can still fly out of if they choose, but it at least adds a line of defense from a rogue neighborly mut or something of the like.
HAPPY HENS LAY MORE EGGS
Because a job around here isn’t finished until it’s cute….I put their names on the wall. I gave them flowers. And both cute and functional, I put a solar lantern on the outside. There are no lights near my coop, so its very handy when I close my chickens up at night. You know, for my maternal head count.