For the Love of Chickens
Spring has arrived, and home projects abound. For me, one of the hardest parts of spring are trips to Rural King or Farm and Fleet. It's impossible to ignore the little "peep, peep, peeps," and continue on with my shopping list. My husband gets a panicked look on his face anytime I mention a quick trip to either store. If you have chickens, you know what I'm talking about. That irresistible and irrational urge to buy more chicks, even though you don't want to mess with an egg license, detest cleaning eggs and hate the feed bill that ultimately results from one innocent trip to Rural King in March.
Sometimes it's just easier to give in. Aren't they adorable? This was my first favorite hen, Cheese Grits, named after my favorite southern breakfast. Or was it her sister, Hush Puppy? I never could tell the difference.
When they're young, the chicks need a brooder box that will keep them warm and safe from predators. Eventually, they can graduate to a larger "run" or a brooder house, before they make the final move into their very own chicken coop. If you have some extra buildings or sheds, you may want to convert one of those buildings into a coop.
Our first chicken coop was a very old garden shed that we converted into a coop, and it worked well for a couple years. Alas, our little coop couldn't last forever. Wooden floors are bad news when it comes to predators, and we eventually lost all but 2 birds in our flock due to mink. Yes, mink.
Deciding to build a new coop
So you've decided to dive in and build your own chicken coop. Jump on Pinterest and you'll find a hundred different design options, from the most basic to the Ritz Palace for chickens. The first choice you will need to make is whether you want your coop to be stationary or moveable. And will you have a fenced area outdoors for your birds, or give them free range of your property? For us, we decided to go with a tractor-style coop that we can move around the yard with a fenced yard. The fenced yard keeps your biddies safe from predators like neighbor dogs and coyotes, and the benefit of tractor coops is that you can move them to different areas of your yard as the chickens graze down the grass. Don't let their small size fool you: in less than a month your chickens will graze and scratch away all things green and you'll be left with a dirt lot.
Using what you Have
The type of materials you're using for your project will somewhat determine the type of plans you'll draw out for your coop. If you don't have any extra materials laying around and plan to buy everything at your local hardware store, you will likely need to draw out definitive plans for your coop before you get started so you can buy the right amount of materials. Steele and I love looking around our farms and finding old materials to reuse in new projects. We are great at making loose plans, which allow us to be flexible and fluid as our project moves forward.
Our project started with us talking about how we wanted to make the new coop. We only had two chickens left, and I knew if we made a small coop it would physically prevent me from buying more chicks at the feed store every spring. Steele decided to make the box frame out of old concrete forms they had leftover at his farm. I jumped on the opportunity to use some tongue and groove boards I'd salved from my neighbor's old garage.
We had to think practically about how the chickens would get into the coop, how we would access the birds, ventilation during the summer, and egg collection. Our final decision was to have a chicken access door, a human access door, a window, and an egg box. I got busy painting while Steele cut doors and windows using the reciprocating saw.
Things got a little tense when we built the nest box. It took a couple tries to get it right, and having drawn out plans for the coop would have come in handy here.
Once we finished work on the box, we attached treated 4x4s to raise the coop off the ground. We framed the yard using ripped 2x4s and galvanized fencing. The door to the yard took some finesse since we were about out of wood, and I attached a ramp that I made with scraps. The roof was our final big project, and we were able to use some pieces of tin from an old building project.
We enlisted the help of my brother-in-law to move the coop outside, since we went a little overboard and made the coop too heavy. Once it was outside, Steele added caulking on the roof and along the sides to keep the inside of the coop dry and warm.
We now have a moveable coop that keeps our chickens safe, healthy, and happy. Overall, the entire project only cost us about $100, and we used up a lot of spare materials from both of our farms. Have you built your own coop? Share your photos in the comments!