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Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

As previously discussed, I realized I couldn’t build my own coop from scratch, yet my DIY ethic prevented me from buying one outright. So I started with a large cedar dog house.

Step 1: Buy Dog House
The coop, when it was a dog house

Both my dogs can fit inside this doghouse — it’s huge! The measurements are 4ft by 3ft, giving me 12 square feet of indoor space — much more than needed for 3 chickens. (The average recommended indoor coop space is about 2 sq ft per laying hen.) I bought this used for $75, and the very nice guy selling it to me strapped it to the back of his minvan, and drove it 45 minutes on the highway to my house.

Step 2: Build Run

And Curious-er

Building the run is really easy, so I recommend starting here for novice builders like myself.

    A note on materials:

  • We chose lightweight cheap wood (1 x 2s and 2x2s) because I really didn’t want to spend much money and I wanted to be able to move it with one or two people later on.
  • Despite the warnings that hardware cloth is the only thing that is truly predator proof, I did go with twisted small gauge chicken wire instead. I had to drive all around the city looking for hardware cloth, and when I found it, it was just too expensive to use for the whole run. I bought a few feet of hardware cloth for my coop, and just stuck with chicken wire for the run. I do live in the city in a completely fenced in yard, this may not be a smart idea if you live somewhere with less protection.

We built the basic frame. (Don’t procrastinate, or you’ll be building in the rain too!)

Building a chicken coop in the cold, west coast rain

I spray painted mine black.

Adding the chicken wire

Then stapled on some chicken wire.

I can use a stapler!

We made some really basic plans for this, so basic they never even made it outside the hardware store. The run can be any shape you want — we chose to add a slant to ours but many people just make a straight box.

The run should be as wide as your doghouse and not too long, or else you won’t be able to reach the entire floor without crawling in there. When measuring the height, remember wooden doghouses will have to be propped up on cinder blocks (or something like it). You can prop it up to prevent the floor from rotting and to protect the chickens if your yard gets puddles like mine does! See the photo below to see how my run fits right under the roof with the house raised up on cinder blocks.

Finished run with unfinished coop

I read a lot about predator-proofing, which in the city is mostly my dogs, cats, raccoons, and hawks. I knew the run had to have a roof, because of the cats and hawks. With dogs and raccoons, you have to worry about digging. I have found that the “bib” approach works amazingly well and is a lot less working than digging chicken wire 1-2 feet down into the ground. With the bib, you just cut the chicken wire a foot or so longer than your frame. It lays on the ground, deterring digging. I watched my dogs trying to figure out how to dig into the coop, never putting it together that all they had to do was take a step backwards and dig from there. I think in this picture you can really see it:

Free at last

When the run was in place, I pinned it down with rocks and stakes so you can’t even see it through the grass anymore.

Step 3: Transform Doghouse into Coop

I started with ventilation. I did some reading and was convinced I needed about 10 times more ventilation than I thought I did.

I pulled off the front two shingles and covered them with hardware cloth.

Tons-o-ventilation

Then I cut out a slit at the top of the wall that was covered by the overhang of the roof. For paranoia’s sake, I also covered that with hardware cloth.

hardware cloth on the vents

Next came the roost. I found a branch on a hike since dowel rods were $$$. The chickens love it!

Roost from a branch

Cutting out the pop door was hard, since the cedar was so brittle. I had to put down the jigsaw and use a handsaw. I frame it out, since the cedar was starting to split. My door is on the tiny size, about 12in tall and 8in wide. Most people recommend something much larger, but my hens are OK so far with this. They just have to duck!

Framing the door

I liked the idea of using the door as the ramp.

Door folds down

At first I was going to just use latches, but then I read that raccoons can open anything that a toddler can. So I opted for locks. I bought a 4 pack that all open with the same key.

Raccoon safe

Lastly, I needed a “people” door. Putting on my sewing hat, I traced a pattern with some cardboard.

Tracing the door pattern

Cutting out the door

Apparently, this is not the way you do things in construction, but it got the job done. A pretty black door!

What a pretty door

Step 5: Add Chickens

IMG_3400

Snack on the ramp

Video of my chickens in their new coop:

Bonus: What I Learned

– I am really glad I went with a “mini” coop. I was worried about not being able to stand up in it for cleaning purposes, but for 3 chickens, a big shed like thing would have just been too much.

– You don’t necessarily save much money by building your own chicken coop, unless you have tons of time (months) to find discounted parts. My coop and run probably cost around $300CAD, and you can get some nice prefab things for not much more and save tons of time.

– Start early. This is going to take much longer than 2 weekends.

– I wasn’t counting on the high cost of hardware like locks, hinges, etc. I didn’t even think of looking for those on the cheap until it was too late.

– It annoys me to no end that little bits of bedding (straw, wood chips) fall out of my people door. I have no idea how to stop it. I’ve tried. Make it so yours doesn’t. Somehow.

Ok, happy building!

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Curious

Before acquiring chickens, I had only used a power tool only a few times. My major construction experience was building wooden giraffes from my dad’s scrap piles as a ten year old. Should I really be undertaking a chicken coop? I evaluated my options.

Option A) Let’s go shopping!
My online choices were attractive and functional. I wouldn’t have to borrow a drill, I wouldn’t have been stuck with 7 week old chickens, a week of rain, and no coop. Unfortunately, I would also have been poor … as most of them start around $500USD.

Where to Look
My Pet Chicken
Eglus
Local Craftsmen in the Agriculture Section of your Local Used Everywhere

Option B) Let’s get some plans and build from scratch
People who are really good at this sort of stuff hate plans. They just want to get started and “make it up as they go.” If you are minimally skilled like I am, you will agree with me that they sound crazy. Here are some lovely free plans I found. One is quite beautiful, and not that hard. The other is so simple that even I could do it, if I tried.

Free Plans
Mini-Coop Plan from a Dog House
A-Frame

Option C) Just get started
Plans are good, unless of course, the plans freak you out even more than no plans. Despite being minimally skilled, I learned that I was not really an instructions sort of builder. I did spend hours and hours combing over photos, to get a sense of what I liked and didn’t. Then I used one of my life-lines and borrowed a smart friend for two afternoons. He and I spent an hour sitting in the chicken wire aisle of Home Depot, making sketches — mostly to figure out how much stuff I needed to buy. We went home, he showed me how to use his jigsaw, power drill, sander, and staple gun, got me mostly through the construction of the run, and I was on my own to finish!

Inspiration
Coop Design Inspiration at BYC
Chicken Coops on Flickr


Option D) Mix and Match

I knew I did not have the skills to really build the coop and run by myself. So I bought an old cedar doghouse in great shape and decided to retrofit it. It only cost $75CAD, and there is no way I could have purchased that much cedar for just $75, let alone figured out how to assemble it.

The coop, when it was a dog house

Conclusion:
If you have no skills, no tools, no friends with skills or tools — save yourself a lot of hassle and just buy. Try to look local first, for better deals. Make your first DIY project something much simpler, like flower boxes!

If you have access to tools, someone to help you with questions, desire to learn, desire to save money — go for it!

Good luck everyone, let me know how it goes! Send me links!

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The Coop: Weekend One

(I did get to work on my coop this weekend, no flu yet! Here are my belated pictures from last week though, so I can catch you up to speed before I post this week’s progress.)

I knew that my construction abilities were not good enough to allow for building my own coop from scratch (as I don’t even own one power tool). I wasn’t sure if and when I could get my construction-savvy friend to help me out … so I opted for buying a used dog house. It cost $75 and at 10 years old, looks like hasn’t even been used.

The coop, when it was a dog house

That is my medium sized dog next to it for scale. Yep, it’s huge! (Neither dog would DREAM of going in a dog house for more than 5 seconds.)

Construction savvy friend did come back from his epic road trip in time (thank god) and we got to building the coop + run pronto. It was pouring. We are running out of time (as chickens are 7 weeks old now.) We build anyway. It’s big enough for 8 square feet per chicken for three chickens … which means I can’t just keep adding them! Good deterrent for me.

Adding the chicken wire

Under the smart-friend’s watchful eye, I have learned to use a staple gun. And it’s lots of fun.

I can use a stapler!

I opted to go with chicken wire for my run instead of hardware cloth since I live in the city. My main day-time predator are hawks (yes, there are many) and outdoor cats, which this run will definitely protect them from. At night I shall wisk them away into their very tightly sealed (with ventilation, covered with hardware cloth, doors latched with locks!) coop to protect them from predator #1 … big honking raccoons. I hope this works out OK.

Here is where it stands, at the end of weekend one.

Finished run with unfinished coop

(More to come soon for week 2, I use power tools … on by own!!!!)

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Everywhere I read about coop design says, “make sure you have plenty of ventilation, but not drafts.” After reading this about 100 times, I had to think … what does this even mean?!? How much is plenty? When does a hole turn from ventilation into a draft?

The lovely people at Back Yard Chickens have pointed me to an awesome explanation. If you are building your own coop, this should be required reading!

Basically….
1) You need tons of ventilation as the coop gets very moist inside from respiration and chicken poo.
2) Moist and humid conditions create bad respiratory conditions.
3) You need tons of screened in (with hardware cloth) ventilation. Much more than you think. Some of it can be permanent, and high above the chickens heads. Some should be able to be opened and closed according to the seasons, and able to be in direct line of the chickens … in case it’s really hot and they want a breeze.

There is so much more in the article, so please take a look if you’ve been wondering the same thing.

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Chicken Feed Confusion

So at week six, my chicken feed bag said I should stop feeding them this stuff what I had and switch to something else. Switch to what else? What even are my options? After some minimal research, I found out that there are 3 basic categories of chicken feed for future egg layers:

Starter
Grower
Layer

How they really differ is in protein content, and when to transition to the next stage. When you see a percentage next to the name of a chicken feed, like 20%, that generally refers to the amount of protein … the most important ingredient to worry about in chicken feed.

  • Starter is generally from day 1 to 6-10 weeks of age. The protein seems to be anywhere from 24% to 20%.
  • Grower is for the teenage chicken phase. They aren’t little chicks anymore, but they aren’t laying eggs. They are lower in protein, normally around 15-16%.
  • Layer feed has a similar amount of protein as grower feed, but added calcium to keep the chickens healthy and the eggs strong. This begins after they lay their first egg, or around 20 weeks.

Now what you’ll do beyond this general information is completely dependent on what you, your feed manufacturer, or farmer Joe down the road believes. Everyone has a different theory.

I’ve read that it’s fine to keep feeding leftover starter to older non-laying chickens, you may just want to mix in a little extra oats to lower the protein amount. I’ve also read that (from a feed manufacture) the #1 contributor to problems in small chicken flocks is not feeding the right food at the right time.

It’s easy to keep chickens alive, and you can find tons of advice online about how to do that. It’s much harder to raise chickens who are optimally producing, and I think that’s a trade secret that most people hold much closer to themselves.

Another thing to consider that is very confusing for the beginning chicken farmer is grit, and I will write about that soon!

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Diapers for Chickens

Maybe this is not news to chicken lovers, but I read a little blog post somewhere (why or why can I not remember where!) about chickens in diapers, called house-hens. I have to admit, the thought has crossed my mind … “Wouldn’t it be so much easier if they could just run around like the cats and dogs…” Then I remembered I have cats and dogs (who look forward to a future that includes chicken nuggets) — and that was the end of that thought.

diaperonchicken

But here, in case you wanted some for you own little fluff butts, is the link to purchase your own custom-made chicken diaper.

Or of course, you could always make your own.

If I am reincarnated as an agricultural animal, I hope it is as a house-hen.

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Build a Brooder

It took me a few goes to get this brooder made, so I thought I’d share. I basically didn’t want to spend any money, and it had to be cat and dog proof.

So here’s the brooder.

Brooder

And here’s what I did.

My Brooder

Box, leftover from moving — $0
Cat-proof grate, from my oven — $0
Roost, sticks from the backyard — $0
Water & feeder — $7
Thermometer – $8
Wood chips — $10 bag
Linoleum, to protect to cardboard box, left over from kitchen reno — $0

So not bad, I think!

Food and water setup

A note on wood chips … I was freaking out after reading some stories about young chicks eating wood chips and dying 30 minutes later. I was using paper towel, and having to change it several times a day. Then the chicks started eating it … a lot! I tried putting a piece of screen over the paper towel, but cleaning that became a nightmare. When I switched to wood chips, I was nervous because they spent quite a lot of time putting little pieces in their beak and spitting it out and digging around … but they’re still alive … and things stink a lot less.

More in my blog about baby chick care:
Where am I going to get such a small number of baby chicks?
Light and Baby Chicks
Chicken Feed Confusion

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