My free ranging chickens do a good job of keeping themselves cool in summer. On the hottest days, they find shaded sanctuaries under the foliage where they dust themselves with cold dirt. They have numerous sources of fresh water that they visit throughout the day. Even still, their maniacal appreciation for bugs and fruit makes it fun to offer them healthy, hydrating treats they have to work for. My chickens loved this frozen block of mealworms and fruit. It kept them busy for several hours and they devoured every bit.
I simply packed strawberries, peas, and mealworms into a silicone bread mold then topped it off with water and froze it overnight. The only reason I chose these fruits was because I had some in the freezer I wanted to use up. I know my chickens also love corn, watermelon, and tomatoes when they’re in season. But every chicken agrees that mealworms are essential no matter the time of year.
We picked up nine adorable 3-day-old Buff Orpington pullets on March 8th, 2017. We were prepared with everything we needed to raise chicks, but their future coop was just ideas on paper. The rapid growth of the chicks was a strong motivational force to finish the coop quickly. We considered pre-fab coops or coops converted from garden sheds in an effort to speed up the process. In the end, we decided to put our amateur carpentry skills to the test and build our own.
Some of the materials we were lucky enough to acquire second-hand (i.e. the paint, windows, door, and the cedar planks used to shade the run). Some of the lumber and hardware was leftover from other projects but much of is was purchased new due to the time constraint. The chooks have been living in the coop since May and all nine of them continue to thrive.
Here are some basic stats about the coop and run:
Coop footprint = 8×8 feet (approximately 7 sq. ft. per bird)
Run footprint = 8×20 feet (approximately 17 sq. ft. per bird)
Nesting boxes = 3x “Little Giant Plastic Nesting Boxes” mounted on the wall
Feed dispensers = 2x “RentACoop” bucket feeders that hold 20lbs
Water dispensers = 3-gallon in the run and a 1-gallon in the coop
Roost = One 2×4” plank mounted 20” off the ground and 18” from the wall (8ft long)
Chicken door = “Pullet-Shut” Automatic, solar powered door
Here are some photos of the finished coop:
Here are a few progress pics from build:
My biggest priorities when designing the coop were: (1) safety of the chickens from predators and weather; (2) safety of the chickens from poor hygiene; and (3) convenience for the humans that maintain everything.
My goal is to protect my chickens without having to harm any wildlife. In order to (hopefully) achieve safety from predators, we used three types of fencing: (1) chain-link; (2) welded wire with 2×4” gaps and; (3) hardware cloth with half inch gaps. The run is a fully enclosed cage that was created by deconstructing a 10×10′ chain-link dog kennel and topping it with the 2×4” welded wire. We temporarily laid cedar boards across the top of the run for shade but we will upgrade that to something winter-proof eventually. To deter predators from digging into the run, we installed half-inch hardware cloth around the perimeter of the run in an L-shaped skirt. We topped the “skirt” with mulch, rocks, and logs found on our property for additional protection and to improve the look. We also used the half-inch hardware cloth as screens for the ventilation gaps in the coop and around the base of the coop to prevent animals from making a home underneath the decking. We also installed solar-powered motion-sensing LED lights around the perimeter of the coop and run to alert us of any commotion. There haven’t been any infiltrators as of yet.
In order to keep the chickens and the coop clean and hygienic, my primary concerns were adequate ventilation and washability of surfaces. A poorly ventilated summer coop is hot, stinky, humid, and a perfect environment for disease to thrive. I used the rule of thumb “one square foot of ventilation per bird,” and doubled it with the knowledge that I can always add material to decrease ventilation in the cooler months. The interior plywood walls were sealed with one coat of decking sealant to give a water-repellant surface. For the floors, we use a plastic composite deck that can easily be hosed off. We used silicone to seal all the corners and around windows and doors. I keep the coop filled with pine shavings to absorb moisture and change as needed.
There are three important features that contribute to the convenience of my set-up: (1) the automatic door; (2) the bulk food and water dispensers and, (3) the easy accessibility for cleaning.
Having an automatic door means I never have to be there when the chickens get locked up at night. The door has a light sensor that triggers it to open at dawn and close at dusk. It is powered by a battery that is charged by a solar panel mounted on the roof of the coop. I love the freedom this door gives me because, let’s be honest, I’m usually in bed before the sun even goes down (and the chickens are still up partying).
The food dispensers each hold 20 pounds of crumbles and their unique design is very good at preventing food spillage and preventing rodents or insects from accessing the food. In the summer when the chickens are able to free range, I refill them once a month. We tried waterers with nipples to prevent the water from becoming dirty but I found that the nipples dripped too much when being pecked at and the bedding in the coop would get soaked. We switched back to the trusty 3 gallon standard type waterer, which means I re-fill and clean the water out at least once a week.
Both the coop and run are large enough for us to stand comfortably inside and to use full-sized shovels and brooms. This means cleaning isn’t more unpleasant than it has to be.
Future projects related to the coop:
Add trim and paint the door
Add access holes to nesting boxes so eggs can be retrieved without having to enter the coop.