Tuesday, May 11, 2010

improving the chicken coop

My husband built our chicken coop 5 years ago. We knew nothing about chickens or "chicken farming," as hubby likes to call it. We knew nothing about coops or what we should or shouldn't do. So we jumped in and built what we thought would be good. If we had consulted a book or some other people it may have turned out differently. It has been a great coop but we've decided, from experience, that it's time to make a few changes. I'm hoping that this post will be an encouragement and offer some helpful advise if you're just starting yours.
Here's what we have to work with and what we're doing to improve.

First, here is our coop in it's current state. It's about 8' x 14' in size.

This picture below was the first of our problems. Not having any way of separating chickens in the coop. If you are building your first coop may I suggest that you build a section IN your coop to be used for new chicks (that aren't raised by a mama hen) or a hurt/sick chicken. Right now we are just using a dog kennel fence to keep our smaller chicks and turkeys separate. My plan is to never do chicks again (that I have to take care of.) We'll be getting a rooster in the next 2 years and I'll let things happen naturally to gain more chicks so, we are not planning on adding any other kind of room in our coop. If you like raising chicks or don't want a rooster then I'd recommend the separate area.

Laying boxes. Make sure you have plenty. I think we have 9- which for us works. What doesn't work is that the sides of the boxes are so low that they don't create enough privacy for the hens...and hens like to do their business in private. So, they argue over the 2 end ones that are next to the wall and refuse to use the others. We'll be removing the dividers this summer and replacing them with much taller dividers so that all the boxes can be utilized.

Our roof. It's a mess. We did do one thing right in building our coop, we made it very open air. Unfortunately it's a little too open air. We only put a roof on about 1/3 of it thinking that the chickens would have plenty of sunshine streaming into the coop and that there was enough cover, if they needed, to get out of the elements. Wrong. Our chickens like to roost on the furthest beam (the one shown below, with no roof above) and along with their food and water being constantly ruined by the elements (i.e. rain,) they were apparently not smart enough to come in from the rain. So we put up a temporary tarp. A 5 year temporary tarp. It's now ripped and ugly and it needs to go. We'll be fully roofing this coop this summer.

We have 2 ramps leading from the ground up to the boxes for the chickens. While they could just jump up to the ledge and then get into the boxes, we felt like spoiling them and giving them walkways. We noticed though on one of them that the chickens were having trouble gripping (since the boards are fairly steep) so my husband nailed wire to it so that their feet could easily grip the path.

One great thing that my husband did do while first building the coop was to dig the perimeter deep. That way we were able to actually bury the chicken wire to keep critters from digging under to get in. We also layed a bunch of smaller river rock and even a little concrete in the ditches to make it ultra raccoon proof.
Lastly, the chicken run. It's a sad thing. Our chickens have always been full free range. They have had complete run of the acre but with the arrival of quite a few new neighbors, we seem to have a dog issue. And it's not a good thing, so we're fencing them in. There will, however, be a couple benefits to it.

Benefit #1: No more egg hunting in the summer. Hunting eggs can be left for Easter only. There's nothing worse than one, or more, of your hens deciding that she likes the back 40 better than the chicken boxes and she's going to lay all her eggs there. Remember, I said that hens like things private.
Benefit #2: The poop. While having 3 hens on one acre isn't bad, having 9 hens and 2 turkeys is gross. Poop. Everywhere. This way, the kids can go barefoot, babies can crawl around and sitting in the grass can happen without having to carefully examine the grass first to make sure that you won't be sitting in poop.
Benefit#3: Not having to sit out with a loaded gun all day waiting for dogs to come by.

We are building it large enough to offer plenty of sunshine along with grass to our chickens. Once in while I will let the chickens out to roam the entire property again but will try and keep their visits fairly short. When the run is complete, I'll post a picture.
Wings will need to be clipped on a regular basis (every 2-3 months) to keep them in the run since our fence is only 4 feet tall. Clipping a chickens wings is a quick, simple and non-painful task. After the run is built and I have to do mine, I'll do a tutorial here on how to do it.


Leslie said...

i would love to live in a permanent home with lots of property so that we could have our own chickens, and other farm animals. it is a shame that you have problems with dogs. that is not cool.

Anonymous said...

That's amazing! WE have chickens here at the Bible School...the first ones were all slaughtered by something...it was bad. The new and improved coop has been a blessing...we love the eggs!

Unknown said...

Can I say how much I like the red metal roofing material you used? If I had my way, our entire house would be covered in it. I wanted to use it on the hen house, but we were running out of cash. However, I do have some on my porch, which I love!!

We found out some of the same things and have now built the Hen Hilton. We're fencing in an area just for the chickens in the immediate future. Just need the weather and our calender to cooperate!

Holly said...

SO, did you post this for me???? Because I am seriously feeling the love right now. Looking forward to the new coop (and our wing clipping adventures soon hopefully) Love the great ideas!

Jo said...

Hello...I enjoy your blog...I have chickens and we have a seven foot fence and my light breed hens can get out even though we clipped wings...I have made a commitment to only get heavy breeds. Can't wait to see your new coup. I wish we would have made a separate area for chicks but our coup is SO small. I bought a set of roll away nests on a an auction and LOVE them. The eggs roll away from the hens so my kids can't use the excuse of "the hen pecking them" for not picking eggs :)

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