Grit Blogs >

One Acre Lott

How To Build A Good Chicken Coop: Part 8

Nathan LottHello and welcome to the final installment of our "How To Build A Good Chicken Coop" series! If you haven't already read the previous articles, feel free to check 'em out.

Part 1: Size
Part 2: Location
Part 3: Orientation
Part 4: Ventilation
Part 5: Fortification
Part 6: Maintenance
Part 7: Aesthetics

The final topic we'll be covering today is:

Price.

IMG_0538

My wife and I were walking through the local Walmart Supercenter a few months ago, and right in the middle of the center aisle, over by the dog food, was a chicken coop on display. Y'know, one of those cutesy little prefabricated ones?

Any guesses on the price?

They wanted 350 dollars for it!

I repeat: THREE-HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!

Now, I didn't exactly keep track of how much we spent when we were building our coop. We used a lot of brand-new lumber and hardware on it, so, in all honesty, it was probably a little bit more than 350 dollars. But I built that thing to stand through a hurricane! (And it'll house four times as many chickens to boot!)

A year later, when we ended up building a more mobile "mini-coop" to house our rapidly-expanding flock, we used recycled lumber and (mostly) scrap hardware and it only cost us about 35 dollars.

What I'm really trying to say is — you can spend as much (or as little) as you want on a chicken coop. If you're looking to build a no-cost chicken coop, all ya gotta do is keep an eye out for used lumber and/or wooden pallets sticking out of dumpsters. Our calf shed was built entirely out of a dilapidated wooden fence. It can be done! You just need a little patience and ingenuity.


About the Author: Nathan and his family work and play and live on a 1.17 acre microfarm (a.k.a. "The One Acre Lott"), in a frigid Rocky Mountain valley, at the end of a long dirt road. He has been raising chickens for years, grows nearly all of his family's meat and produce, and loves every minute of it! For more of his exciting adventures, check out his personal website, www.oneacrelott.com.

How To Build A Good Chicken Coop: Part 7

Nathan LottWelcome! Thanks for joining us in our DIY Chicken Coop discussion! If you haven't seen any of the previous articles, you might want to check 'em out.

Part 1: Size
Part 2: Location
Part 3: Orientation
Part 4: Ventilation
Part 5: Fortification
Part 6: Maintenance

Today, we'll be talking about:

Aesthetics.

IMG_20160511_065335552_HDR

So ... I'm a bit of a dreamer. Plain and simple. I spend a lot of time (too much time, probably) dreaming up my next big project, whether it's a chicken coop, a barn, a playhouse, whatever. I spend a lot of time just daydreaming about the details, and because of that, I've got a pretty vivid mental picture of how things should look on our little homestead.

Now, the purpose of a chicken coop is to keep the chickens safe and comfortable, and if it doesn't fulfill that purpose, it doesn't belong on my homestead. But at the same time, I also want the chicken coop to look nice. I mean, if I'm gonna be heading out there, day in and day out, I want to like what I see!

Some people might be fine putting a drab wooden box in their yard as long as it keeps their chooks safe. But if you're like me, you might want to spend a bit of time thinking about the aesthetics.

When we were building our coop several years ago, we already had a bucket of white paint just sitting around in our garage. But instead of doing the sensible thing and painting everything boring old white, I went out and bought a gallon of red paint, too. Then I used a bit of recycled fence wood to make some decorative white trim.

Does it serve a purpose?

No.

Did it take up a bit more of my already precious time?

Yes.

But it really didn't take that long, and it really didn't cost that much... Little froofies and frillies like that might not be for everyone, but I think it adds a nice touch — so why not? Like I said before, if you're gonna be looking at that old chicken coop day after day, you might as well like what you see, right?


About the Author: Nathan and his family work and play and live on a 1.17 acre microfarm (a.k.a. "The One Acre Lott"), in a frigid Rocky Mountain valley, at the end of a long dirt road. He has been raising chickens for years, grows nearly all of his family's meat and produce, and loves every minute of it! For more of his exciting adventures, check out his personal website, www.oneacrelott.com.

How To Build A Good Chicken Coop: Part 6

Nathan LottHowdy! Thanks for joining us for today's discussion about chicken coops! Feel free to check out the previous articles.

Part 1: Size
Part 2: Location
Part 3: Orientation
Part 4: Ventilation
Part 5: Fortification

Today's topic is:

Maintenance & Cleaning.

IMG_20161111_164202999

Life is busy. Everybody seems to have a million different things pulling them in a million different directions. Even when you're living "The Simple Life," you'll find that there just aren't enough hours in the day to take care of everything.

That being said, it was important to me to design our chicken coop to be as easy as possible to maintain.

You can blame it on my background as a software engineer, but I tried to make things as modular and reusable and polymorphic as I possibly could, just to simplify future maintenance. If something wears our or breaks, I want to be able to fix it quick, without having to rebuild the entire coop!

To give you an example of what I mean, take a look at the chicken run:

IMG_0824

It's made from 5 identical panels, kind of like "chicken coop Legos®," if you will. Sure, I could have built the entire fence as one contiguous piece (it would've been a lot cheaper and easier to do it that way), but what happens if (heaven forbid) our steer gets loose, rubs up against it, and breaks something? If it was all one piece, I'd probably be spending the better part of a day repairing the ENTIRE run. But, with my fancy-pants panels, I can easily take out just the broken section, mend or replace it, put it back, and then be done with the job. Easy peasy. No need to fix the entire run.

Having a bunch of identical, interchangeable panels also gives me the ability to mix-n-match. If I decide to expand or reconfigure the run in the future, all I have to do is grab a ratchet, loosen a few bolts, and I'm ready to go!

Let's switch gears for a second though, and talk about cleaning. Now, I absolutely love keeping chickens. I love the eggs. I love the meat. I love their personalities. But dang! They sure know how to make a mess!

When designing your coop, keep in mind that every single roost bar, shelf, ledge, etc. will (in almost no time at all) get covered with chicken poo. It's just a fact of life, man! So why not make things easier on yourself and try and make it all as simple to clean as possible? You're gonna have to muck out the entire coop at least 2 or 3 times a year (possibly a lot more) no matter how well it's designed — so a little bit of forethought can really go a long way.

I don't mean to toot my own horn or anything, but this is one category where I think our chicken coop really shines.

To clean it out, all I need to do is loosen a handful of bolts and the back wall of the nest boxes comes right off, making it a piece of cake to sweep 'em out.

Once I'm done with the nest boxes, I undo four more bolts, remove the rear fence panel, park a wheelbarrow underneath the coop, and BAM! The floor boards slide out, dumping all of the piled up bedding (and excrement) right into the wheelbarrow.

After that, it's a simple matter of scraping dried poop off the floor panels, putting everything back together, and I'm done! I don't need to go into the chicken coop at all. But don't go running away with the idea that doors aren't important, because nothing could be further from the truth.

I'm generally a big proponent of reducing the number of moveable parts (because the more moveable parts you have, the more time you're gonna spend fixing 'em). But if you ask me, there is no such thing as "too many doors" in a chicken coop. They might require a bit of maintenance every now and then, but I tell ya, they just make life easier!

We have one main door into our coop, two (soon to be three) side doors into the "run," and a nice little hatch right on top of the run for dumping kitchen scraps down to the feathery old moochers. We even have a hinged roof over the nest boxes so we don't have to go in there, disturbing the ladies every time we collect eggs. I tell ya, interchangeable parts and lots of doors — they help make chicken coop maintenance a breeze!


About the Author: Nathan and his family work and play and live on a 1.17 acre microfarm (a.k.a. "The One Acre Lott"), in a frigid Rocky Mountain valley, at the end of a long dirt road. He has been raising chickens for years, grows nearly all of his family's meat and produce, and loves every minute of it! For more of his exciting adventures, check out his personal website, www.oneacrelott.com.

How To Build A Good Chicken Coop: Part 5

Nathan LottAre you looking to build a chicken coop? Well, you've come to the right place! If you haven't read any of our previous chicken coop articles, feel free to check 'em out.

Part 1: Size
Part 2: Location
Part 3: Orientation
Part 4: Ventilation

Today, we'll be talking about:

Fortification.

IMG_0829

When it comes to chicken coops it's important to ask yourself: Are there a lot of predators where I live?

If you're living on an urban homestead, you probably won't have to worry too much about predators. Sure, there are some exceptions. I've lived in cities where skunks, raccoons, and possums were fairly commonplace. I've even heard of municipalities that boast a fairly large population of foxes and/or coyotes. But for the most part urban areas tend to be a little safer for chickens, with only the neighbor's dog or maybe a hawk or an owl to worry about.

Out here in the country, however, it's a whole different story!

At the One Acre Lott, we routinely have coyotes serenading us up on the hillside; hawks, owls and even the occasional eagle can be seen patrolling the skies; skunks are ambling all over the place; and it isn't unheard of to see foxes and weasels scurrying off the road when we drive home late at night. Heck, I even got into a bare-knuckle brawl with our neighbor's pet raccoon one time! (Twice, actually.)

Whatever your circumstances, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when you're talking about predators. It's important to fortify your chicken coop as much as possible. Use good, sturdy materials and make sure to cover all your bases — top and bottom.

True, I might have gone a little overboard with ours ... The chicken run is completely enclosed with 1-inch chicken wire on the top and sides, and then I dug an 8-inch trench around the perimeter and poured a rough concrete footer as kind of a dig-proof barrier. (I even buried a 24-inch swath of chicken wire all around the perimeter, just for good measure). What can I say? If I'm gonna keep chickens, I want to make sure I keep my chickens!

Now, I have heard some people complain about regular, old, 1-inch chicken wire, saying it's not strong enough to keep predators out. And that might be true. But that's all we use around here, and we haven't had any problems whatsoever (and it's been tested and tried by a number of different predators, a number of different times). You can take that with a grain of salt if you want to, but one way or another, it's worked out well for us; in all our years of keeping chickens, we've never lost a single bird to predation.


About the Author: Nathan and his family work and play and live on a 1.17 acre microfarm (a.k.a. "The One Acre Lott"), in a frigid Rocky Mountain valley, at the end of a long dirt road. He has been raising chickens for years, grows nearly all of his family's meat and produce, and loves every minute of it! For more of his exciting adventures, check out his personal website, www.oneacrelott.com.

How To Build A Good Chicken Coop: Part 4

Nathan LottHowdy, y'all! Welcome to Part 4 of my "How to Build a Good Chicken Coop" series. If you haven't already read the previous articles, feel free to check 'em out.

Part 1: Size
Part 2: Location
Part 3: Orientation

Today's topic is:

Ventilation.

IMG_0822

Good ventilation in the chicken coop is SUPER important. And yes, I did just spell the word "super" using all capital letters! (I even bolded it to add proper emphasis).

We all know it's a good idea to have a little airflow moving through the coop during those sweltering summer days, right? Well, it's easy to overlook just how vital ventilation is during the wintertime as well.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you keep the windows and doors open all year round (assuming your chicken coop is even gonna have windows and doors). You certainly don't want to expose your birds to those bitter winter winds, because, depending on your climate, that could be downright dangerous.

What I am suggesting is that you provide ample opportunity for clean, fresh air to enter the coop and the moist, muggy air to exit.

It always surprises me how much moisture our chickens put off just by breathing. About a year ago, I wrote an article entitled "Do Chickens Need a Heat Lamp In The Winter?" and in it I explained that moisture in the coop is actually one of the main causes of frostbite in chickens.

Regardless of your climate, if all that warm, moist air doesn't have somewhere to go, it's gonna end up causing problems.

I know of some folks who go to extreme lengths to ventilate their chicken coops. I've seen chimneys. I've seen ceiling fans. I've seen all sorts of stuff. But ventilation doesn't have to be elaborate. Our 32-square-foot chicken coop simply has a single window (40" x 20"), a single door (6" x 8"), and a handful of very small vents near the ceiling.

The window stays open most of the year, but I do have a sheet of plexiglass to cover it in the winter. The door is always open (which, admittedly, does leave things exposed to wind gusts from time to time), but it's small enough (and the coop is roomy enough) that our beloved old chooks can easily take shelter from the wind whenever they feel like it. The top vents are nothing more than 1/4" gaps between the rafters. They're so tiny, in fact, that you might mistake them for shoddy craftsmanship. Y'know, almost like some doofus accidentally cut the lumber a little too short ... [Ahem] I can neither confirm nor deny such accusations.

Whatever the case may be, it's worked out extremely well for us. And it's a good thing, too. Because, like I said before, proper ventilation is SUPER important.


About the Author: Nathan and his family work and play and live on a 1.17 acre microfarm (a.k.a. "The One Acre Lott"), in a frigid Rocky Mountain valley, at the end of a long dirt road. He has been raising chickens for years, grows nearly all of his family's meat and produce, and loves every minute of it! For more of his exciting adventures, check out his personal website, www.oneacrelott.com.

How To Build A Good Chicken Coop: Part 3

Nathan LottWelcome to Part 3 of our discussion on building chicken coops! If you're joining us for the first time, feel free to check out the previous articles:

Part 1: Size
Part 2: Location

Today, we're gonna be talking about:

Orientation.

IMG_0518

Hopefully you already know how big to build your coop. And you should also have a nice location picked out. But what about the orientation? Where are you gonna put the door(s)? The nest boxes? The windows? (If any). Which direction will it all be facing? You might not have given it much thought, but orientation makes a big difference!

Before we begin though, let's take a step back for a moment.

Try and visualize yourself doing the daily chores. Walk through each step, one by one. (Are you visualizing?) Now that you have a clear picture in your mind and you know exactly how chore time is gonna go down each day, visualize it again. And again. And AGAIN!

Because, guess what? You'll be going through that routine every single day. And the reason I ask you to visualize it now is so that you can (hopefully) streamline the process, making it easier on yourself before the coop is even built.

You should ask yourself questions like:

Where am I gonna keep the chicken feed?
Where will I go to fill up the water?
When I clean out the coop, where am I gonna dispose of the refuse?

And while you're at it, give some thought to your local environment. If you have strong prevailing winds in your area, you probably don't want it blowing directly into your chicken coop. Those bitter winter gales can wreak havoc on your chickens. Plus I know from personal experience just how miserable it can be (any time of year) to reach into a nest box right when a big old gust of wind comes up — blowing loose straw and chicken dust (i.e. pulverized excrement) out at you. It gets in your eyes. It gets in your mouth. It gets everywhere!

And you know, while we're talking about environmental factors, let's not forget to consider the sun! Once I wrote about how egg production tends to drop pretty drastically during the cold winter months due, in part, to the shorter days. According to an article published by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a hen needs approximately fourteen hours of daylight to lay an egg. It seems logical, therefore, that the more sunlight you have entering the coop during the winter, the better.

Our chicken coop has a big south-facing window, which is perfect for our location in the northern hemisphere. The ladies have sunlight streaming into the coop almost all day long in the winter, and yet it actually stays pretty shaded during the hot, dry summer.

There's a lot to consider when it comes to positioning the chicken coop, but believe you me, a little planning goes a long way!


About the Author: Nathan and his family work and play and live on a 1.17 acre microfarm (a.k.a. "The One Acre Lott"), in a frigid Rocky Mountain valley, at the end of a long dirt road. He has been raising chickens for years, grows nearly all of his family's meat and produce, and loves every minute of it! For more of his exciting adventures, check out his personal website, www.oneacrelott.com.

How To Build A Good Chicken Coop: Part 2

Nathan LottLooking to build a new chicken coop? Well, you've come to the right place!

In my last article, I talked about some of the factors that go into determining the SIZE of your chicken coop. Today, we'll be talking about:

Location.

IMG_20150714_060627941_HDR
My first chicken coop, located near the house (but not TOO close).

To use an old cliche, LOCATION is everything!

I mean, you can't just go plopping your chicken coop down all willy-nilly. (Unless, of course, you've got a small, portable chicken coop or "chicken tractor," in which case, feel free to plop it down as willy-nilly-ly as you please.)

If you're planning on a bigger, bulkier, less-mobile coop, however, there are actually quite a few things you ought to consider before selecting a permanent location.

For starters, let's talk about your environment.

Are there strong, prevailing winds where you live? If so, you might consider building your chicken coop behind a wind break of some kind. It could be a fence, a hedge, a bush, whatever. What about sunshine? Your chickens will love it in the winter, but they'll do anything in their power to avoid it in the summer. Some kind of seasonal shade is the optimal solution. Does your property offer anything like that? Is your property prone to flooding? (We know all about flooding...) If so, you'll probably want to build the coop on the highest ground available, or build a raised coop.

It's also important to consider the distance from your house to the coop.

You'll be walking out to the coop at least once or twice a day (feeding and watering the chickens, checking for eggs, etc.), so you might be tempted to build your coop right next to the back door just to make chore time a little easier on yourself.

That might work well for some folks, but at the same time you probably don't want it too close to the house, because, well ... How do I put this delicately?

Chickens poop. Not an inordinate amount, mind you. And, assuming you keep things cleaned out properly, it really doesn't raise too much of a stink. But still, I'm not too keen on the idea of eau-de-chicken wafting into my open windows on a peaceful summer's evening.

You might also find that your chickens can get a bit noisy. Even if you don't own a rooster, you should be aware that your hens will make noise (at least a little). So if you're not the type of person who likes waking up at the crack of dawn to the peaceful, relaxing "AHHH-I-JUST-LAID-A-REALLY-BIG-EGG-AND-I-WANT-TO-TELL-THE-WHOLE-WORLD-ABOUT-IT!" squawk, you'll probably want to keep some distance between the coop and your bedrooms.

And let's not forget about rodents. Mice (and other opportunistic pests) are often attracted to the chicken coop for a variety of reasons. Fortunately for us, we have a bunch of half-wild farm cats running around the place, so we've never really had an issue with it. (And even if it weren't for all those cats, our chickens have been known to catch and eat mice from time to time, too, so I think we're covered either way!)

At the end of the day, there are a lot of different things to consider when placing your chicken coop. I wish I had a magic bullet for you, some kind of golden rule that would be perfect for everyone. But unfortunately, as with most decisions in life, you just have to weigh the pros and cons, make a choice, and live with it.

At the very least, I hope that this article has given you some food for thought.

I know one thing for certain though — I've never regretted the decision to raise chickens!


About the Author: Nathan and his family work and play and live on a 1.17 acre microfarm (a.k.a. "The One Acre Lott"), in a frigid Rocky Mountain valley, at the end of a long dirt road. He has been raising chickens for years, grows nearly all of his family's meat and produce, and loves every minute of it! For more of his exciting adventures, check out his personal website, www.oneacrelott.com.