When we acquired this property, one of the first tasks we undertook was building our chicken coop. We’re increasing the size of our flock at the end of March, but before we do, I thought I’d give you a tour of our existing coop that we built for our first Buff Orpington hens.
Our coop was a rather involved project as we’d never built a chicken coop before. We began by looking at commercially available coops, and it seemed most fell into the category of beautiful but absurdly overpriced, or cheap and it really showed. Not averse to a little do-it-yourself construction, we decided to design and build our own. At least with a coop, there’s no sheet-rock to install or tile to set!
Our construction plan for the coop came from poring over numerous other designs that we found in books or online, and adapting features from various coops into what we hoped would prove to be a unified functional design for our purposes here.
I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff
…and I’ll blow your house down…although I’d dare you to try! First and foremost, our coop had to be sturdy. As such, we built the coop with 2×4’s, exterior grade siding including Hardie Plank siding down at ground level to resist moisture/termite damage, and a 30-year asphalt shingle roof. We’ve joked a few times that if we plumbed in a bathroom and a kitchen sink, we could probably rent it out!
Second, the coop had to be easy to clean. Good husbandry practices dictate that all surfaces of the coop are easy to reach. Really, why make that job any more difficult than necessary? The interior of the coop is fitted with a center gangway that slides out, and on that rests the two removable roosting racks.
This permits us to completely disassemble the interior of the coop as necessary to scrub the gangway, floors and racks. Of course, to do that, the rear door of the coop had to be made large enough to facilitate removing those structures.
The reality is that chickens are messy. Even a few hens can generate a significant amount of waste while roosting at night. To make routine cleaning easy, without having to completely tear apart the coop, we also installed slide-out poop-boards under the roost poles, with access door panels on the outside of the coop to facilitate removing the ‘night-soil’ which is then composted for the gardens.
A Place for Eggs
As the whole point of the project was so we could enjoy our own farm-fresh eggs, we needed accessible nest boxes. Not just accessible to the hens. We didn’t want to have to enter the interior of the coop to retrieve the eggs. We constructed the nest boxes to be accessed from outside the coop, and the eggs are collected by lifting the nest box roof.
Each nest box is also fitted with a night shutter between the coop interior and the entrance to the nest box. These shutters are closed before dusk to prevent the hens from roosting in, and soiling the boxes, which in turn reduces maintenance, and keeps the eggs clean.
A Secure Roof
We felt it was important to put a roof not only on the coop itself, but also across the attached run. The hens spend time in the run during the day when we can’t observe them directly while free-ranging.
We simply have too many predators here to turn the hens loose unattended during the day. The run roof helps to keep feeders and waterers clear of debris, but also helps to provide shelter from the pounding rains in spring, or the scorching summer sun.
The main part of the coop is raised up off the ground, both to protect the structure from wet soils, but also to provide the hens with a secure hiding place out of sight of our wandering wily coyotes (Canis latrans) that often pass through during the day.
…or even the occasional Bobcat (Lynx rufus)…
To make the space under the coop more useful, we added some deep fine sand underneath and most days, if you can’t find the hens in the run, they’re usually having a jolly good dust bath in the sand pit.
A Secure Run
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly NO POULTRY WIRE! Happy hens are happiest when not being bothered by rodents. Hens are messy, it’s a fact of life, they will spill food. Spilled food attracts mice and their ilk. Poultry wire is too large to prevent rodents or small birds from entering the run, it’s not very strong, and degrades/rusts quickly. Instead of poultry wire, the entire run is wrapped in 1/2 inch hardware cloth. It’s sturdy, and the holes are just small enough to keep rodents and small birds out. We did goof and use poultry wire under the coop to keep moles and gophers from tunneling in, but it has since degraded, and is now being replaced with hardware cloth.
Coming Soon…More Chicks!!!
We’ve had our small flock now for almost three years, and it’s been so much more fun than we anticipated, so we’ve decided to expand! That’s right, our flock is growing this spring!
At the end of March we’re adding some more Buff Orpingtons to the farm, but also branching out and adding some beautiful Partridge Plymouth Rocks, Black Australorps, and the more rare Delawares, and Golden Laced Wyandottes to the mix. We’ll post pictures, and maybe even a little video, just as soon as our adorable chicks arrive!