The Great Chicken Coop Reno

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

There is a great TV show in which Canadian contractor Mike Holmes goes into homes that have been poorly built or had bad renovations, and he rants. Awesome rants! “Look at this wall, there’s no foundation!” “Look at this outlet, it’s beside a sink and it’s not grounded, someone could get electrocuted!” “Look, they put the vapor barrier on the wrong side of the insulation!” And on and on and on.

It’s awesome, because I’m the kind of guy who does the type of stuff that Mike Holmes has nightmares about. And with that, I have created the ultimate project for Mike to have a conniption fit about. Mike would seriously blow a gasket for this one!

I have made an addition to our chicken coop. And it is not up to any residential building codes. Or chicken coop codes if they exist. But I think it’s pretty awesome regardless.

We had ordered four more chickens, to add to the flock of four that we got last summer. Our flock also includes “The Colonel.” our rooster who arrived a few months ago. I think nine birds may have been able to sleep in the existing coop, but we didn’t want to crowd them. I think the added space will make for more comfortable sleeping and morning roaming. We don’t let the ladies out before dawn; I like to wait a little bit since some of them are still sleeping on the roost. This way the early risers can have a bit of room to strut around and eat while those that like to sleep in can stay on the roost.

Michelle and I considered a million different ways to get a bigger chicken coop. The cheapest “shed” you can buy from the local lumberyard is about $1,000 and it’s just made of chipboard. We hunted around for an old ice-fishing hut, but just couldn’t seem to find a cheap shed anywhere. I looked at designs to build one from scratch, but unfortunately I’m at the peak of planting season and just didn’t feel I could do a reasonable job on it at this time of year.

Michelle taunts me by sending me links to beautiful chicken coop plans, and photos of what other people have done. I had a couple of rules though. It had to be environmentally sustainable (i.e. – take advantage of as much reused material as possible) and the logical extension of that, it would be inexpensive.

I built the original coop out of two pallets that we acquired with a shipment of books. Raising it off the ground was kind of a fluke of an idea, but it has turned out to be an absolute brainstorm. The chickens LOVE the area under the coop. On a rainy day they hang out and stay dry, and on sunny hot days they use it for shade. On a hot afternoon you’ll find all 5 of them hunkered down in holes they’ve scratched out under the coop, snoozing. I am often envious of them on those days because I love to nap.

I also liked the design of the first coop because it was “transportable.” Back in the early ’80s, WANG and Compaq and IBM came out with computers they called “transportable.” They were just as heavy as a regular computer but they had a handle. Attempting to carry one gave you a permanent tilt to that side. So while I hoped I’d be able to pull the coop around by hand, as I continued to add “features,” it got less and less portable. Now to move it I drag it behind the truck.

But being able to move it is essential for me. The area where it was located last summer now has vegetables growing there. The area right behind the house where it was located during the winter months is our newly expanded herb garden. Now it’s located where I plan to build my real hoop greenhouse next fall.

The first coop was built with foot wide boards that were salvaged from the original train station in Belleville. This time I had some chipboard that I had salvaged from Don Garrett at his millwork shop when he ordered in a new peace of equipment. It was scrap to Don but a great find for me. Did I mention how much I love free stuff?

So I used the same design as the first coop and removed the window from the original to make a walkway through to the “addition”. In the addition we built two roosts where they can sleep. In the first coop I had a great trap door behind the nesting boxes to remove eggs, but hadn’t factored in cleaning. So now we have to use a hoe and pull the used straw and manure out the front door. In the addition, which is really their bedroom where the bulk of the manure will end up, I have a whole side on a hinge that opens to allow easy cleaning.

The biggest challenge will be keeping the two coops attached. The ladies love to scratch and dig looking for bugs, so they basically undermine all the soil around the base. It’s kind of like when you stand in sand while big waves wash around your feet. So I’ll have to keep my eye on the base to make sure one doesn’t get too far out of whack with the other.

Chickens are funny. They don’t always react well to change. Whenever we move the coop they seem very disoriented for a day or two. When I built the addition I removed their roost from the main coop so they’d start using the addition. So now the main coop has their nesting boxes with a shelf on top of them which shelters where they lay their eggs, and an area we put their food and water at night for those that get up early. The first night most of the chickens slept on the shelf over the nesting box. One of the ladies had the whole addition to herself.

In the winter they sleep all cuddled up on the roost to help stay warm. It’s a heat wave right now so they don’t seem to mind having their own space.

The four new chickens arrived last week and it’s been lots of fun getting them all to co-exist peacefully. Michelle will write a post about that on Thursday. Let’s just say we have a whole new appreciation for the term “pecking order.”

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