|Coop between the road and the hill|
by Meredith ChilsonWe have 5 acres of land here: a long, narrow strip that includes our house, garden and chicken coop sandwiched between a county-maintained side road and a wooded hillside. Because of the proximity of the road and the fox den and hawk’s nest on the side hill, I can’t comfortably let my chickens out to free range. The girls have a good-sized yard, bordered with wire and covered with netting, but they don’t have constant access to greens and bugs and all the neat things that can be found out in the Big World on the other side of their fence.
My husband is a handyman. In preparation for our first baby chicks, he spent the winter building an 8-by-12-foot Chicken Palace (to my specifications, using “found materials”) in his workshop. He figured out a way to move it to its permanent location, and then added a covered porch and the secure, fenced and covered run. When I told him I needed a summerhouse for the girls, smaller and portable, I knew he’d be able to build it.
I suggested an A-frame style covered in chicken wire, with an open bottom. It needed a covered area for privacy and shelter, as well as an entry door. It had to be light enough that I could move it around the yard, big enough to hold three or four chickens, and sturdy enough to keep daytime predators out … and inexpensive enough to fit into our small budget.
By October of that first year, he had worked his magic, again using materials he’d saved and gleaned from other projects: boards from a tree that had tipped over and which we had sawed into planks, chicken wire left from enclosing the hen yard, front wheels from a discarded riding lawn mower, a handle salvaged from an old push lawn mower, pipe from some swap he’d made with a neighbor. He’d nailed and stapled and welded and presented me with just what I’d asked for … and more.
The door locked. There was a “brake,” made from a pipe, that lifted and locked with a nifty wire/nail hole-in-a-board mechanism when the shelter was to be moved … and stabilized when in use with another block of wood nailed next to the door frame.
He’d even made a handle for the brake and wrapped it with electrical tape. As I had requested, it was an A-frame, fashioned from 2-by-4s and covered with the wire. On one end, he had used leftover tin roofing and fashioned a solid roof, about 3 feet wide and extending to the ground. Both ends of the shelter were built with surplus plywood from yet another project.
On the end without the roofing, he fastened the old lawn mower handle to make it easier to push and pull the summerhouse around the yard.
|Ready to roll!|
He had tied the handle of the brake into the axle holding the wheels so that when the brake lifts, the front of the little building also lifts. Perfect! Just perfect!
Well … almost perfect. Every time I tried to move the shelter, the tires on the wheels were flat. After a couple of weeks of hauling the air tank out to wherever the building happened to be, my husband replaced the tires with taller, hard rubber wheels. Now, it really was perfect.
I’ve used this shelter in the spring, summer and fall for the past four years. In the spring, I roll it over my garden beds and let the hens do much of the tilling before I plant. In the summer, I put my “teenaged” chickens in it, shove it next to the covered run and safely introduce my young chicks to the older chicks. In the fall, I set it in various places in the yard and let the hens mulch leaves for my compost pile. I put it back on newly emptied garden spots, too, for more chick-tilling and fertilizing.
Every sunny morning, I add a water jug and two or three hens, and let them scratch away to their heart’s content. In the evening, I open the door to the shelter and the girls wander out and I pick them up and put them back in the coop for the night. There are a couple of the hens that always volunteer to spend the day in the shelter; there are several that prefer to stay in the yard. One hen always waits until she is back in the coop to lay an egg—as soon as she returns, she hops into a nest box.
After all these years, I can only think of one, maybe two improvements that could be made. Perhaps somehow it could be equipped with a shelflike nest box, and maybe it could be just a bit taller. (It’s not quite tall enough for me to stand up in, and when I have a bunch of crazy teenaged chicks in it, it’s hard to catch them, hold them and then turn around without bumping my head or dropping a chicken.) Hmmm … Where’s my handyman?