Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Our New Chicken Coop!

After months of planning, hammering, painting, roofing, and stapling, it's finally done. And I have to say - our New and Improved Chicken Coop is a beauty! But before I give you the full tour, a little background. 

When we first decided to get chickens, we obviously had to build a coop. After reviewing city ordinances and looking at some photos online, we decided to build a simple A-frame. It would be easy to move around the yard, we could take it with us when we moved to a new place, and it would provide enough square footage for up to four lovely ladies. 

And we were right - on the first two accounts. As it turns out, the minimum square footage per chicken the city requires is not exactly generous. We realized this as soon as our chicks were full grown. Even though we only had three chickens (poor Lou...) I could tell they weren't happy. The coop was crowded, they didn't have enough room to run around and dig for things, and every time I walked by they pecked at the door, as if begging for freedom. Once in a while, I'd put them in our fenced-in backyard for some free range time, which they loved, but the dogs made this difficult. We decided we needed a bigger coop, and some time around Christmas we Nathan started drawing up plans. 

We started building over winter break, in early January, and we had dreams of finishing before school started again. Obviously, that didn't happen. We've both been so busy this semester that we were only able to work on the coop in spurts. Meanwhile, the chickens were getting more and more impatient to settle in to their new digs. So much pressure! A few weeks ago, we had some nice weather, and we spent two straight days working on the coop. While we still want to do some cosmetic stuff (white trim to cover the sharp edges of chicken wire, a window box to plant herbs, a gutter for the rain barrel) it's close enough that the chickens could finally move it. As far as I can tell, they love it. 

So, without further ado, our coop:

We knew we wanted a large run, a bigger indoor area, a window we could open during the hottest summer nights, and a roof to give the ladies shade and keep them relatively dry. The run is huge - about 140 square feet in all - with plenty of space to expand our flock (hopefully by the end of April!).

The best thing about our new design is that it's so tall I can easily walk through the door (pictured above) and walk around the coop without ducking my head or crouching down, as I had to do in the A-frame. This makes it really easy to clean, refill their food and water, and hang out with the ladies.

On the other end of the coop, there are two sets of doors. The first leads to the chickens' upstairs area, where their roost and nesting boxes are located. (Is there an official term for this area? We just say "upstairs" and "downstairs" when discussing the coop amongst ourselves.) The second door leads to a separate storage space.

These are the fancy door knobs I got at World Market. Just $1.99 a piece, and totally worth the splurge. They're useful and beautiful, and I just know the chickens appreciate them.

This is the inside of the chickens' area (AKA, upstairs). To the left we have their roost, to the right (below the window) their nesting box.  If you look closely, you can also see their entrance. It has a door that swings into the coop, and we latch it closed at night, once they've gone to bed. We also installed a linoleum floor, which is covered by hay in this photo, to help with - ahem - clean up, if you know what I'm saying.

One of the best improvements to this design is the roost. In the A-frame, the roost was low to the ground and on the short side. Chickens prefer to roost pretty high up there, and so we took that desire into account. The first level is six inches off the ground, the second is eighteen inches high, and there's about a foot of space between the two roosts. Each roost is about five feet long. The first few nights they were in the new coop, they slept huddled under the nesting box, but by the fourth night, they were happily lined up on the highest roost.

We built three boxes, which is more than we need. They almost always use the box closest to the door, which is convenient for me. These are actually the nesting boxes from our old coop - we plan to build new ones eventually.

Next door to the chickens area is our storage area, where we keep a bale of hay, my egg collecting basket, extra chicken wire, and some cleaning supplies. It's great to have everything in one place and makes coop upkeep a breeze.

The roof was one of the most expensive parts of the coop. (We bought the majority of our supplies with gift cards to the hardware store that we received as wedding gifts.) We initially wanted to buy corrugated metal  for the roof but the store didn't have enough in stock, so we ended up with corrugated PVC. Because we had such a large area we wanted to roof, it ended up costing about $200. So really, the roof was a much bigger splurge than those damned door knobs. Even with a few days of heavy, North Carolina rain, the chickens were protected and they run didn't flood, so the roof was worth the extra cash.

We scored this window at the Habitat Resale Store, and Nathan pretty much designed the shape and size of the coop around it. Chickens are fairly cold-hardy birds, but we live in Wilmington, where summers can be brutally hot and humid. The window helps with ventilation and should help the ladies stay comfortable in August. We lined the inside of the window with wire, to keep predators out and the chickens in.

The ramp did not stay clean and white for very long. C'est la vie.

One of the nicest things about the new design is that we were able to hang their food from the bottom of the coop, and put their water on a few bricks off to the side. This, combined with the fact that they now have so much room, keeps their everything much more tidy, which means I don't have to go in there and clean it out daily.

I put a thin layer of hay on the floor of the run, just to give them something to dig around in and to help keep things clean(ish). Again, since the area is so large, I don't have to clean it as often. I also put a few tree stumps in there so they chickens can perform some aerobics. 

Shortly after this photo was taken, I realized both my shoes had been untied. Silly chickens.

If you'd like a video tour of the coop, you're in luck! Nathan made this short video, and you get to see me very briefly in the beginning. Otherwise, that concludes the tour of our fancy new chicken coop. I hope you enjoyed it!