It only seemed right that we would do the same. We had some materials left over from a construction project on the house a few years earlier. We added a few new items after visiting the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
Moments later, I was out in the rain with my family and the longest tape measure I could find. We began measuring and discovered quickly that there was only one viable option for a building site. The spot in our garden where the Heirloom Black Beauty Eggplant were growing was going to be transformed into the chicken yard.
The chicks were on their way and we were moving as fast as everyday life would allow. We spent every spare moment measuring, cutting and hammering. We got creative and fit the repurposed building materials into the overall design.
A spare cabinet door was paired with a piano hinge and a clean out door was born. An old window that had been gathering dust in our barn for many years was custom fit into the facade of the coop. While the screen had seen better days, once we had wrapped it securely in a piece of hardware cloth, it provided safe ventilation for the birds that would call our coop home.
Our hens have been living in our coop for the past 18 months. During that time, we found that our coop was, dare I say it, not perfect. If we were building it again, there would certainly be a few small changes that we would make. These are the five features that I would duplicate in earnest if we ever found ourselves building another coop at 1840 Farm:
Adequate Space – Most resources will suggest providing at least 4 square feet of space per bird. Our coop measures 6 by 8 feet, for a total of 48 square feet. This allows us adequate room for a flock of 12 hens. Watching our hens move around in their surroundings, I simply can’t imagine them having any less room to live in. I’m sure that hens who spend their days free ranging could flourish in closer quarters, but as my hens do not free range, I cannot personally attest to that.
Good Ventilation – When we were initially planning the coop, I kept reading that ventilation was essential, even in the winter months. I found it hard to accept that I would want to purposely invite the bitterly cold winter chill inside the coop after we had worked so hard to make it a warm and inviting residence for our hens. I was wrong.
Ventilation is critically important to the health of the birds living in your coop. The amount of moisture expelled by your flock as they exhale is substantial. Without enough ventilation to dissipate the moisture, the coop becomes the ideal environment for pests like lice and mites to thrive. The bedding in the coop and nest boxes will remain moist and become the ideal breeding ground for these pests, as well as mold.
Our hens much prefer a bit of fresh air to a few degrees of warmth. We provide them with as much fresh air as possible by utilizing an interior screen door, front facing window, and a rear vent to allow hot air to escape.
Exterior access to the nest boxes – The construction of our nest boxes took a great deal of time. My father labored for hours to engineer them from the materials on hand. We used cabinet doors and hinges to provide easy access from the outside of the coop. Doing so allows us to retrieve fresh eggs without having to enter the coop.
Being able to retrieve eggs when not wearing coop attire and Wellingtons has been a nice feature. Opening those doors is like unwrapping a package on Christmas morning. It’s a daily ritual that the whole family happily participates in.
Last fall, we constructed a more permanent solution, using rigid galvanized cattle panels. We have been thrilled with its durability. It withstood the heavy snow load last winter better than we could have ever hoped for. With the addition of a tarp, it was completely enclosed from the winter wonderland right outside. The enclosed run allowed our hens to spend every day of the winter outdoors in spite of cold or snowy weather.
mentioned, we used a large cabinet door and a piano hinge. It allows us to simply open the latch, lower the door, and use a rake to pull all of the bedding out of the coop and into a wheelbarrow or wagon. Cleaning the coop is so quick and easy, even in the winter. If you have ever cleaned a chicken coop before, you know that making it as painless as possible is a definite bonus.
What’s your best piece of coop-planning advice? I’d love to hear all about it and look forward to reading your comments.