The Chicken House Rules

Do you keep chickens?  I’ve never heard of anyone who regretted doing it.  In fact, most people say it’s proved to be more fun and more interesting than they thought it would be.  I’ve wanted to add chickens to my urban homestead for several years now but they’ve got to have a place to live; I didn’t have the facilities.   I wanted to be sure this was a good decision for me.  So why should I keep chickens?   Here are the reasons I came up with:

  1. I love animals and enjoy having many of them in my life.
  2. I love good, fresh food – and to this omnivore, eggs are an important and versatile food!
  3. Outbuildings!  I love them!  They create spaces that can be used for both functional and decorative purposes.  They create opportunities for paths lined with garden beds, they’re structures on which you can grow plants vertically, a place to store things, a place to come into out of the rain.   They domesticate and organize a space.
  4. Chickens might help me become an earlier riser – well, that one’s a stretch, because I’ve been fighting my nightowl nature my whole life – but one more farm-ish attraction can’t hurt, right?
  5. I am a composter, always in search of new and better ways to create great soil.  Chickens produce an endless supply of high quality manure!
  6. I love affordable, enthusiastic workers!
  7. It’s a new experience!

This year the opportunity to make that happen, the availability of some great help, and inspiration all presented themselves at the same time, so it was a plan!  Here’s the story-

In December, I visited our Habitat for Humanity reuse center to see what treasures I could find.  I was seeking recycled materials I could use for the coop.  I’d put an item on a community listserv and got a few responses.  I acquired some fence panels, a few 4x4s and a couple of gates, and at Habitat, I was happy to find a kitchen counter and an old window I thought would be perfect – my inspiration piece!   So far $18 for materials – not bad.  The kitchen counter idea came from an article I’d read about easy cleanup of chicken poop – I’ll explain next post.

My plans also included a permanent fence around my edible garden area so that I could keep my three dogs out and allow the chickens access to perform their scratching and weed control activities whenever possible (this is the affordable, enthusiastic workers part).

I chose my site carefully.  Since I wanted it to be adjacent to the garden, it would likely have to be in the sun and would need some mechanism for shade without shading the garden.  I wanted to maximize visibility and ease of access from the house and, if possible, place it uphill from the garden itself, because you-know-what falls downward!

I chose the upper corner of my side yard which, for many years, has served as the “junk drawer” for all things that knew no other home.  It was an eyesore and needed to be renovated anyway, but at the top of a slope in clear view of the house.  Scary what’s behind some fences, isn’t it?

So I drew up a basic plan and invited Larry, my friend and carpenter, over for coffee and brainstorming.  He made a few suggestions but basically, the plan was a go.   Larry and I have worked on several projects here at my house.  I get an idea, we hash it out, acquire materials and get to work; he’s the construction foreman and I’m his helper.  We have a lot of fun, make good time, and solve challenges and errors together as they happen.  I pay him, of course, but my help saves him time and me money.  He likes working with me , he says, because my expectations are reasonable and I understand that adjustments have to be made sometimes.  I like working with him because he welcomes my participation in the actual building of the project and I always learn interesting tricks from him.  Besides, he’s got all the fun tools and lets me use them!  He also knows how to pick out good boards, a skill I’ve yet to master.

So, we cleared the area, inventoried materials on hand, made a list and went shopping.  I’d like to say that we did the whole project for my $18 at Habitat, but that was NOT the case.  However, 4x4s and wire fencing were the bulk of the expense and two thirds of that was for the garden fence rather than the coop, so the coop itself was still fairly reasonable.

We measured and dug holes for the posts, mixed concrete (to hold the posts) right in the holes, put in the posts and leveled them – one at each corner of the hen house and then every four to six feet for the run and fence.  There was nothing more we could do until the concrete set so we took the next couple of days off.

Once we got back to work, things went fairly quickly.  We used recycled fence panels for the back and front walls of the hen house but due to the slope of the land, we weren’t able to use them for the side walls.  As the picture below shows, for each side wall, we attached three 2x4s to the 4x4s at the corners, one near the top, one in the middle and one near the bottom.  To those boards, we attached individual fence boards, gradually stepping them down with the slope.

I wanted to have access to the eggs without having to go all the way into the coop, so Larry cut an opening large enough for 5 nesting boxes, each 12″ wide by 14″ deep.  Here’s what it looked like from the inside as we were putting it together.  We had a large sheet of 3/4″ plywood among the recycled materials, so that gave us a lot of what we needed to frame the nests.

After this photo was taken, we added a lip across the front of the dividers to hold in the bedding as much as possible.  The extra inches across the front allow for chicken walking.  I’ll show you the finished product when I introduce the girls, next post!

With the walls up and the nest box opening cut and braced by mid-December, we agreed we were at a logical stopping point and made a date to resume work after Christmas.  Here’s what happened on the 26th >>>

The snow stayed with us for days since it was very cold.  It wasn’t until New Years Eve day that we got back to work.

Time to put the roof on – we were using corrugated tin panels with a clear panel right down the middle – a sun roof.  We decided to put a sheet of foam  insulation between the framing and the tin to soften the noise – do chickens like rain on a tin roof as much as I do?  We took the cautious route and padded it.  I want serene hens.  We also left an opening all the way around for ventilation and to allow heat to escape in the summer.  The opening will be screened for security.

One side note here:  I DO NOT recommend working on a wet clay slope.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you – that stuff is both sticky and slick at the same time!  There was much clumsiness and terracing done on the fly, just to stay upright.

Once the roof was on, we moved on to the wire for the run and the garden fence.

We measured my inspiration piece window and Larry cut an opening in the front wall……now doesn’t that just say Chicken House???

The nesting boxes were finished.  Larry found a good sized piece of flexible rubber in his garage which was just perfect for preventing leakage into the nests where the lid meets the wall.  We’ll be adding another length of it underneath this one because that lid is actually two pieces of wood butted together.

We attached it with caulk and roofing nails, being careful to break off the tips of any nails that were exposed inside the chicken areas.  It’s latched with a tight-fitting hook and eye.  I’m not convinced that’s enough to keep out a determined predator.

…and there’s Grace.  She’s appointed herself head of the welcoming committee, ready and waiting to meet some new playmates.  That’s an introduction that will be handled very carefully.

Since the building was completed, as you might expect, there have been things I’ve needed to tweak and things I’ve tightened up and improved upon.  Reinforcing the perimeter at ground level is probably the most important thing that still needed doing as well as screening the roof vent.  In my next post, I’ll show you what was done, more specifics about the inside of the coop, and of course, you’ll meet my five new girls!   I’ll show you how they’re adjusting to their new home and one another.   A fascinating study in group dynamics – stay tuned!

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6 Responses to The Chicken House Rules

  1. Tracy says:

    Great Job, Laura! I’m so jealous. I want chickens, but Kim is not convinced. If you ever need to pawn off some eggs, add us to the list! 🙂 Or better yet, bring up some fresh eggs and i’ll work on poaching them for us all. I can’t wait to meet the girls. Your coop looks GREAT!

  2. Hey Laura–I think this is perfect for the magazine—-explains everything in detail and is written with so much enthusiasm for the subject. Thank you! I like that some of your inspiration came from Habitat for Humanity.

  3. Barbie says:

    Oh my what a great project you did!! I am also looking at building a coop and this has given me inspiration. Thank you!

  4. gardening says:

    Great info once again. Thank you!

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