The Scoop on My Coop

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
article image

One of the reasons it took us so long to get our own
chickens was how intimidated I was about building a coop. There are sooooo many
choices and so many nice coops. I’d be happy if my house looked half as nice as
some of the chicken coops I’ve seen. I blame Mother Earth News for my
intimidation. I have seen some of the most beautiful, ornate, functional, and
just darn pretty chicken coops in their pages and frankly I was overwhelmed.

Finally I just decided to order the chickens that forced me
to just build a coop. We were having trouble getting local organic eggs, so I
pulled the trigger and ordered the chickens.  

I really liked a design that Darcy from The Stumbling
Homestead posted. http://stumblinghomestead.com/blog/2011/04/the-hoop-chicken-tractor/

I like it because it is portable. Or at least movable. I
decided I wanted to be able to move my chicken coop around. Partially for the chickens
and partially for my soil. My other parameter was that I didn’t want to spend
any money on it. This is my instinct with most jobs, but one of the reasons we
took so long to get chickens was because we kept saying “well, by the time we
house them and feed them, it’s probably cheaper to just buy eggs from someone
else.” That probably is true if you buy factory farmed grocery store eggs, but
not necessarily if you’re buying locally raised organic eggs like we do.

Our neighbor Don Garrett keeps a scrap pile of his off cuts
from his millwork business and I find some amazing wood there. It’s not
consistent, but it’s in great shape. There are usually all different sizes and
wood varieties, but I’m not into looks – I was just looking for good, free
wood. This spring Don had a load of western pine that he wanted to get rid of
that he offered to me. Turns out it had been on the original train station in
Belleville. The boards are insanely wide, presumably from a time when the trees
used were older and bigger and wider boards were available.

I had mentally worked out a few designs and then one day I
was behind my horse barn and I noticed my pile of pallets. Most pallets have
spaces between the boards, but we had a few pallets that came with shipments of
our books that were solid – no spaces between the boards. It seemed to me that
one of these pallets would make a good floor for a coop. I wanted the floor
raised off the ground so that it didn’t rot. I also wanted it off the ground so
that it would serve as shade for the chickens on hot days if they wanted to be
outside. Then I started to figure out how to add a roof. Then one of those
compact fluorescent light bulbs went off over my head and I realized I could
use another pallet. Voila! Instant coop!

Now I’m not a builder, but I know flat roofs are to be
avoided if you can. I know this, but like water flowing downhill in your
plumbing pipes I followed the path of least resistance and knew I could whack
these together in minutes and I’d feel great about how much progress I made.
Sort of like answering the easy questions first on an exam. Of course later the
questions start getting harder to answer, as was the case with the coop.

Next I added a window. It was one I had rescued from the
dump. I believe a rural dump is less a dumping place for trash and more one big
free garage sale. I wanted to put a window in the coop so that we could see
what the ladies were up to since we’ve never had chickens before. Then I needed
a door, so I build a little ramp that we pull up like a drawbridge so that the
chickens can walk up and down and we can lock them in at night. I also put a
hinge on the back door so we can easily access the eggs with minimal disruption
to the chickens.

We had a few rains during the construction of the coop,
since it rained constantly this spring, and of course the roof leaked. So I
grabbed a leftover piece of rigid insulation from when we had the siding redone
on the house. To screw it on I used plastic washers I made out of some old
blinds I found at the dump. Then I put on another layer of that western pine
for aesthetic value.

 I know I will get lots of feedback about my coop because my
blog readers are fantastic. And yes, I expect to be told that this is a dumb
design. But, so far so good. The massive windstorm that came through last week
didn’t budge the coop. So the weight of it is an advantage in that sense.

One thing I was hoping for was to be able to drag it around
the yard when I want to move it. Well, as I kept adding stuff the dragging was
getting harder and harder. And using a piece of rough, unplaned scrap wood on
the bottom just made for even more resistance. Finally I screwed on an old pair
of cross country skis from the… you guessed it… the dump. Then I used a good
“glider” wax on the bottom of the skis and I can drag it quite nicely. With
skis on the bottom I’ll be able to drag it in the summer and drag it even more
easily on snow in the winter!

The design has lots of “ventilation” right now that I will
have to correct before winter weather arrives. With the amount of work we have
around here at this time of year my attitude is that I’ll cross that bridge
when we come to it. I’ve put eyehooks on the door and on the egg trap door, but
I’m not sure they’re raccoon-proof. Right now the coop is in the front yard
close to where Morgan the Wonder Dog likes to sleep, but he, like me, is
getting older, so I’m not sure he’d even notice a raccoon sneaking into the
pen.

I’ve noticed that the “girls” like to perch on the boards
that I have dividing their “nests” inside, so I’ve added a wooden bar for them
to roost on. The coop is very much a work in progress and I’m sure there will
be quite a few refinements to be made. For now the ladies seem happy. Now all
we need are some eggs.