When I started this homestead project, I knew at some point we would get chickens. I didn’t know when, but I knew at some point, we would be ready to move beyond store bought eggs to something better. I knew we could improve our compost process by closing the organic waste loop with chickens at some point.
Fortunately, that time is now! As it happens back on the day of the Winter Solstice, 2015, I logged on to Amazon.com and found that one of my daily deals was a very large chicken coop and it was less than half the retail price….I pondered for a little while before buying it. I thought that perhaps I could hold it in the basement or in the loft of the garage for a year or so while we got things ready like I did with the greenhouse a year ago.
The Pawhut 4’X12’ coop and run is one of the largest home coops you can buy; it is both stylish and functional. Including both an “outdoor” and indoor option, we can give our chickens open space to move around in a fenced enclosure, as well as multi-leveled indoor spots that will allow them to hide from the elements. There are removable trays for easy cleaning, and multiple doors and windows so we have easy access to our birds.
As it turned out, our weather and circumstances with our bee’s moved up the timeline. Our overly healthy bee hive swarmed exceptionally early last spring (2015), leaving no queen cells behind for the balance of the workers to raise and elevate to queen. The balance of the bees went feral over the next few weeks and left the hive for good. That left us with an empty hive (save for the opportunistic wax moth colony that decided to set up shop in it).
As sad as we were at that loss, it gave us the opportunity to move the hive to another location in the back yard more suited to bees (morning light, afternoon shading) which left the area once occupied by the beehive empty and ready for a small flock of chickens.
As far as the weather, it was an unseasonably warm winter (don’t get me started on my global climate change rant or we will never get back to the chicken coop). I began digging the foundation area for the chicken coop on the 25th of December and slowly made progress the first couple of warm days in January before the cold snap hit and I had to postpone work until the spring. Beginning at the end of February and the beginning of March, I was able to complete the digging so Will and I began the placement of the concrete block foundation for the chicken coop and run. I really wanted something sturdy to build the coop on. Many buyers of these chicken coops not only don’t seal them properly (see below), but they also simply place them on bare earth which speeds decomposition.
Next up was to attach, via construction adhesive, treated lumber over the concrete blocks to cover the holes in the masonry blocks and to provide a treated wood sill for the chicken coop to sit on. Next, we covered the entire coop and run area in hardware cloth, secured with staples to the treated lumber and buried under the dirt of the coop run. This will prevent any digging creatures access to the coop and run (landscape fabric, the masonry block and gravel will discourage digging as well).
Once the foundation was complete, we could begin assembling and greatly modifying the coop. While building our own coop design is outside both of our carpentry skills at the moment, we felt we could use a standard coop and make modifications to suit us.
The first step was to lay out and inventory all the pieces. This coop does not come assembled and it takes some doing to lay out all the parts to ensure proper assembly.
First modification was to treat and seal the coop. Commercial coops are made of thin pine which, when exposed to damp earth and weather will break down and decay quite quickly. For the outside we decided to paint it the same color as our house, a taupe beige field with chocolate brown trim. Every piece, including the bottom of the coop received two coats of paint before assembly. For the interior, we chose to treat the wood with 100% pure raw linseed oil. This is a natural, slow drying wood penetrator that not only weatherproofs the wood, but doesn’t harm the bird’s respiratory system and also prevents mite infestation as the oils repel mites.
After everything dried we then assembled via package directions with the exception of omitting the second set of nesting boxes and covering the opening with plywood (the boxes would be up against our fence and inaccessible and not needed for the number of birds we are getting)
Further modifications came in the form of hardware. The door latches and stops were flimsy and made of cheap veneer wood. We swapped these out for sturdy, galvanized metal locks and latches. After the coop was assembled, we worked on the run pieces, painting all of the surfaces the color of the trim.
Next up, we secured both the coop and run to the treated lumber via durable, galvanized “L” brackets, this will keep the coop securely fastened to its foundation.
Next, we put in some awesome technology for the door. The coop did not come with a door, merely an opening for the chickens to come and go. I wanted something that would offer more protection from predators as well as the weather. I could have engineered something complicated or manual, but we felt it better to provide an automatic door and opener for the coop. The Pullet-Shut Automatic Chicken Door was a great find. It is a swing door versus a guillotine style door; it runs on either a battery or timer or via solar panel and opens in the morning to let the chickens into their run and closes them up at night without our intervention.
Finally, It is important to provide a shaded enclosure for the chickens. By putting some kind of roof on the chicken run, you protect the birds from the baking sun, this also allows them to be in their run during rainy days instead of inside the coop. For this, we upcycled some vinyl siding that was used on the house. The color matched the paint on the coop (since it is the same as the house). This made a perfect roof that will provide shade and shed water and also uses something we already had rather than making an investment. We used a piece of hardwood trim along the backside of the coop to raise that side to allow for water to roll off the roof and attached the siding, one (1) four foot section at a time (cut with tin snips) with screws.
Now that the coop was complete, we eagerly awaited our chickens!