Upcycling an Urban Chicken Coop

Reader Contribution by Tammy Kimbler
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This will be the first in an on-going series of posts chronicling my family’s efforts to raise chickens in our Minneapolis, Minnesota backyard. As you may have heard, urban chickens are all the rage. Cities all over the US are changing their urban agriculture policies to allow homeowners to raise chickens as more than just pets. Minneapolis has actually allowed poultry since before 2001, but it’s only since the big economic downturn of 2009 that the urban farming trend really took off.

The decision to raise chickens was not one we came to lightly. I grew up with chickens on our farm, and I know that they take a lot of work. Minneapolis winters can be hard, as evidenced by our recent 4 day, -19 deep freeze caused by the Polar Votex. Chickens must be cared for regardless of the weather, our busy schedules or other happenings. As a family (and as a neighborhood) we wanted to be sure we understood what we were getting into.

City Ordinances for Urban Chickens

In Minneapolis, the quest for our chickens begins with building a chicken coop. Regulations have changed over the years and the city has refined it’s approach to chickens. The application package that came in the mail was 1/2 inch thick, filled with coop guidelines, care and feeding information, neighborhood permissions affidavits, city planning and animal control permit forms.

Coops have specific requirements, which include minimum square footage per chicken, both indoor coop (4 square feet each) and outdoor run (6 square feet each), roost clearance specifications (1 foot from roof), R4 coop insulation, heating (maintain 52 degrees minimum in coop), waste handling (enclosed composters only) and proper placement of the coop on your property. Overwhelming, to say the least.

DIY Recycled-Wood Chicken Coop

My partner Christopher has a real punk, DIY aesthetic, preferring to recycle whenever possible. We really wanted to build our coop with recycled materials, so we had our eyes peeled for home renovations, curb-side castoffs and garage sales. Neither Christopher nor I are carpenters, so whatever we decided to do would require help.

Last winter while commutting on his bicycle, he rode past an old hutch sitting on the curb. The hutch was too big to haul intact, so he sawed it in half, loaded it on his bike trailer and rode it across Minneapolis to our house. Our idea was to use the bottom half with the doors as the front of the coop. The double doors would give us access to the coop when we needed to clean it out. The drawers at the top would be removed and the slots turned into windows. The top shelving of the hutch would become the back side of the coop, modified to allow for a roost on the inside.

It seemed like a good plan at the time, but we really had no idea how to make it all come together. Little did we realize that we would need almost 6 months and two expert carpenters to upcyle and retrofit our materials to build the coop. In the next installment, I’ll show you how it takes a village, to build a chicken coop.

Tammy Kimbler grows, forages, cans, dries, pickles, ferments, brews, ages, cooks and eats from her Minneapolis, Minn., backyard. At One Tomato, Two Tomato, she aims to show how easy, accessible, healthful and delicious gaining control of your personal food system can be. Connect with Tammy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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