Friday, April 27, 2012
Posted by Kate at 3:32 PM
So here's a project that's taken up far more of our spring time than I would have imagined. It's our spankin' new chicken coop. As you can see, it's an A-frame and a rather large one. The seed ideas for the design were mostly mine, but in the course of constructing it with the help of our WWOOF volunteer, design became very much a collaborative effort.
Our previous coop-and-pen system was our first attempt at providing mobile housing for our laying hens. It served reasonably well for four years, but we built in plenty of flaws because we didn't really know what we were doing. We had to build chicken housing before we'd ever kept chickens. Some of these flaws were remediable, and we fixed what we could; others not so much. My two biggest complaints were that the coop wasn't easy to clean out and that both the coop and the pen were quite heavy, making it hard for me to move them by myself sometimes. A lesser issue was that we had no way of providing a dust bath for our hens in a mobile system. So they tore into our grass to cool themselves down in summer, thus leaving significant divots in the lawn. I didn't care so much about the aesthetics, but rolling a heavy coop and pen around was hard enough to begin with. When the wheels fell into some of these divots, it became really difficult.
So the new design had to eliminate the difficulty of cleaning, shed excessive weight, and offer dustbathing possibilities for the birds. I also wanted easier access to the interior, and room for at least two nest boxes. We started with one nesting box for four hens, which was reasonable, especially since the box could hold two hens at a time if need be. But over the years the number of hens we've had at one time has varied considerably, with nine being the upper limit. This resulted in the occasional queue for the nesting box, and the occasional egg laid outside the nest.
Here you can see the elevated dust box in the back. Since it's raised up this way it doesn't take away any area of the lawn. This also shows the articulated door, which folds down so I can access the feeder and waterer, or throw treats to the girls without giving them too much temptation to escape. When I need access to the inside of the pen, I can open the entire door and get inside without much crouching or discomfort.
The nesting boxes are situated towards the peak of the new coop. The girls don't seem to have any aversion to laying their eggs so far off the ground. Since they have to make three jumps from the ground to the nests, their feet seem to be cleaner. The eggs I've been getting have been mostly pristine.
Here are a couple of pictures of the wheels and the slight advantage we gained by not placing them at the very back edge of the bottom frame. You'll notice that they're on a lever bar that can be propped into place when it's time to move the coop. The rest of the time the frame rests almost in contact with the ground. By moving the wheel slightly towards the front of the coop, the weight of small portion of the coop behind the wheel acts as a counter balance to the rest of the weight. This makes it easier for me to move. I don't quite have the technical vocabulary to describe this, but the idea was described in an excellent article about the Chinese wheelbarrow in the Energy Bulletin a short while ago. The article will fill you in on the principle, if you're interested.
Here you can see the lever bar positioned to raise the coop off the ground to make it easier to move. We're still tinkering with this a bit since our smallest hen scooted right under the coop while I was moving it one morning. We have a few ideas on how we might fine tune the system.
Here's a shot taken after the main construction was done that shows most elements of the interior. We have diagonal bracing in a few areas to strengthen the wooden framing. After painting was finished, the whole thing was sheathed in chicken wire. Then an old billboard was used to cover the sides/roof and most areas of the gable ends.
I've already been asked, "Why purple?" My standard response is, "Why not?" My tendency to splash bright colors around my garden is already on record. It helps curb the impulse to paint something loud on the walls of our home. Deep purple was one color not yet represented in the garden. It all looked so pretty until it was time to put that used billboard on as roofing material. I'm hoping that I can find an artistic soul who might paint something attractive on it. After all, it looks like nothing so much as a blank canvas to me, just waiting to be filled up with something whimsical or chicken-related.
I will say this for the ugly billboard. It is very sturdy stuff, designed to be out in all weathers. The white backing of the advertisement should help keep the coop from heating up too much in full summer sun. Oh, and it was free, by the way. The billboard companies give them away for nothing once they're taken down. I know a man who used this material in lieu of roof liner when he built his own home. I expect the billboard to hold up extremely well, and thus protect this coop from the elements for several years at least.
The only thing missing from our new coop is a clever name. My husband calls it the "land yacht." I sometimes refer to it as the "purple menace." Neither moniker seems to really capture the mixture of charm and clunkiness of our new coop. So what say you, readers? Got a clever name for this behemoth? I have no prizes to give away and make this a contest, but I'd love a snazzy label for our newest piece of homestead infrastructure. All suggestions will be gratefully received and considered.