Saturday, August 1, 2009

We Finally Finished Our Chicken Coop!

Well, except for the nest box. And enlarging the roost box. Truthfully, it’s a work in progress, because as we go along, we see things we think need altering. But after a month of using the coop with a temporary roof, we finally got the permanent roof installed and the trim boards painted and attached.

The design is a variation of
Dennis Harrison-Noonan’s Playhouse Coop. I found Dennis’ coop design while surfing the net, and it turns out that he also lives in Madison, Wisconsin. So we contacted him and asked whether we could come over and see his coop. He generously agreed, and graciously refrained from pointing out that he has two videos on YouTube (here and here) we could have viewed that show the coop in some detail.

The first change we made was an addition to the run – the square pen on the left of the picture. Rick resisted this at first, partly because it was extra work, and partly because changing one element always necessitates changing other elements. I can’t blame him. The whole point of buying plans was to have some tried and true specific directions and to avoid our usual laborious process of having to figure things out as we go along.

The run in Dennis’ design is 4x8 feet which he says is plenty for 3-4 large birds. The Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension agrees, recommending 8 square feet per bird in the outside run. But it just looked so small to me, especially once you account for space taken up by the feeder, waterer, and ladder up to the coop, and the fact that we can’t allow them to free range in the yard (although we do get them out in a tractor every day).

I thought since we had the space, we ought to give these captive birds more room. Rick grumbled; I said “never mind, then,” and retreated to pout. Eventually, he caved. The other day, watching the chicks scamper about in the run, he admitted (without my prompting!) that it was better to have given them more space. Our nine-year-old granddaughter calls the addition to the run the chickens’ “playroom” and they do seem to love to hang out there, when they aren’t eating. They especially love the roost.

Once we added the pen on the side, we had to change the style of roof. Dennis’ design has a standing seam metal gabled roof. Rick had always planned to build a plywood and shingle roof, mainly to cut down on expenses. Now he changed the roof from gabled to shed-style, angled to drain away from the uncovered side pen.

Next, we decided to change the roost box. Dennis has a clever design for the front of this that you can see in the YouTube video. It folds down on hinges to create another roosting place for the birds in warmer weather. However, once I saw all the bird poop on it, I knew immediately we would omit this feature. Many of my coop design and maintenance preferences involve reducing the amount of time I will spend cleaning poop. (It’s for this reason also that I decided we would not have the coop roost bar extend over the roof of the nest box, as seen in Dennis’ video. There is no way I want to be scraping crap off additional surfaces.)

In Dennis’ design, the front of the roost box can be detached to allow easier access for cleaning by removing the four screws holding it in place. I didn’t want to have to bring out power tools to clean the coop, (which I do more often than most people) so Rick designed a different front. Our front raises up on hinges, and has a hook that I place in a chain loop on the ceiling of the run to hold it open while I work. I generally scoop the poop in the roost box and spot clean every day or every other day to keep it from becoming too nasty-smelling and too big a job later on. So far, it’s taken me only about 10 or 15 minutes, tops.

However, we plan to change the roost box yet again. As with the run, although the design is adequate, allowing the 1.5 – 2 square feet recommended per bird, it just looks too small. It works fine for now, when all they do is sleep there, but what about winter, when they might spend more time inside, and they’ll have their feeder in there as well?

On the other hand, we don’t want to make it too big, because we’ve heard that it’s easier for them to keep warm in a smaller coop. At this point, we plan to create more space by expanding the coop forward about a foot into the pen and building a nest box that hangs on the outside wall. (Dennis’ design has an egg door accessible from the outside, but the nest box on the inside.)

Overall, I’m really pleased with the coop. I was attracted to Dennis’ design because it is both aesthetically pleasing and efficient; perfect for raising small numbers of birds in urban settings. Dennis has called raising chickens both “an art form and a food source” and says he sought to design a coop that would be attractive in a city garden. Rick did a fantastic job of adapting Dennis’ basic design to suit our preferences for the birds and to create an appealing addition to our garden.

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