by Jennifer Sartell
Chickens by themselves, they are a relatively inexpensive addition to any backyard. You can pick up a handful of chicks at your feed store for under $10. Feed and bedding for a small flock can be as little as $20 a month. Chickens are also pretty easy to care for. Daily maintenance, food, water, collecting eggs. It’s not too hard; in fact I enjoy my daily routine with the girls.
So, why doesn’t every poultry-loving, egg-eating, property-owning person bring home a box of fluffy chicks in the spring? I think one of the main reasons lies in the question, “What will we put them in?”
When I was a kid, this was the biggest obstacle in winning over my father. Bringing him over to the “chicken side,” so to speak. I had saved my allowance money, my babysitting money, stashed birthday cash, heck, I could buy a TON of chicks … one of each color! But it was the lumber price tag I was having a hard time with … and the rolls of chicken wire, the shingles, hinges, screws and washers … Not to mention the weekends it would take my dad and me to build the thing! Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have realized that you can build a chicken coop out of many different items. For a great example, read fellow blogger Rebecca Nickols’ post Cool Coops! … But when you’re first starting out, and you’re 13, images of Fog Horn Leghorn and the slanted coop with slits in the walls is what I had imagined.
Even when using recycled, free materials, time is an investment. They say (whoever “they” is) that in the simple country life, time moves a little slower … hmmm? I would argue that chickens or not, we’re busy here at Iron Oak Farm! What with haying, planting and pickling … I need a coop that is functional and easy to clean. I want to enjoy my flock, not struggle with a coop that isn’t functional, and especially for a newbie chicken owner, it’s hard to determine what “coop functionality” is if you’ve never had your own flock. I’ve had many a chicken coop over the years, and each one has been an improvement from the last, but it would have been a great advantage to have the knowledge of experience under my belt in the beginning … I’m still learning new tricks.
It’s my hope that through collecting and sharing these Coop Stories from readers we can help some chicken newbies, or those that are considering raising chickens, to build a coop that will work great for their situation. For those of us who already have a coop, there are still things we can learn from each other. Simple modifications like adding linoleum to the floor, changing the roost placement or adding a window can all help to make chicken keeping simple, easy and fun for both the farmer and the flock. Heck, some of the coops I’ve seen are inspiring enough for some of us to tear down our existing coops and start over!
I am amazed at some of the entries I’ve seen so far, and it was truly difficult picking ONE! I am having SO much fun reading about all of your coop stories. I never expected the response to be so rewarding. Every entry is like a mini visit to a fellow chicken keeper’s home. The talent, ingenuity, style and ambiance that go into each coop design is truly inspiring. Each coop is unique and has something new to offer. Something I hadn’t thought of, something adorable or functional, or something that makes a task I struggle with so much more convenient.
In case you’re new to Coop Story, each month I will be featuring a new chicken coop selected from reader entries. If your story is selected, your coop will be featured on the Community Chickens website, and you will receive a prize! (Sign up information is below.) It’s my hope that through the community, we can gather a collection of great coop designs, helpful hints, dos and don’ts, and unique ideas … and have a lot of fun along the way!
This month we’re going to tour The Winter Lodge!
Steve Furtado from Rochester, Mass., is the winning coop story for June! His coop encompasses the imagination and collaboration of a truly creative family. The coop is not only functional and well built, but beautifully decorated by his wife and children. I love the photos that he provided as the coop was taking shape. You can really get a feel for the process from the ground up. The Winter Lodge, as he calls it, is home to three lucky hens, a Rhode Island Red, a Golden Sex-Link and a Black Sex-Link. Steve writes, “I originally bought 6 hens, but since this was my first flock I worked it out in advance with a friend to split them three each, and it has been a great experience for both families!” Steve’s hens are also lucky enough to have a summer getaway home via a chicken tractor. He writes,
“When I first got my flock I built them a chicken tractor so I can move them around the lawn to eat all of the ticks and bugs. When the summer started coming to an end I decided to build them a permanent coop for their winter home so I named the tractor their summer cottage and, of course, the coop has become known as their winter lodge.”
Steve raises chickens primarily for the benefit of compost. He explains, “I had been buying chicken manure to spread in my veggie garden for years and finally decided it was time to start my own flock.” He cites the chickens’ egg production, their usefulness for lawn maintenance and controlling pests, and their companionship as pets as a few other reasons he keeps his flock.
Steve built his coop last August and is just finishing up on some final landscaping touches. It looks amazing!
The coop’s dimensions are 10 feet, 6 inches by 4 feet, and it’s 7 feet tall in the front and 6 feet in the back.
The outside run is roughly 17 feet by 17feet.
When asked to name five things he loves about his coop, these were his top choices:
2 – Electricity – I wired a reverse plug in the front of the coop, so I can plug an extension cord into the GFCI on the side of my house and the female end of the cord plugs into the coop. Inside, I ran two outlets, one to a heated base for their water and the other to a heat lamp on a timer that kicks on overnight. I can also use it to hang X-mas lights on the coop, but that’s another story.
3 – The artwork on the henhouse door – My wife’s beautiful work!
4 – Linoleum Flooring/interior – Makes cleaning so much easier!
5 – Landscaping – if it’s good enough for my house, its good enough for my girls.
When asked to name a couple of things he might change had he the ability to do it over again, Steve replied,
1 – I would make it a couple of feet wider. When I’m cleaning out the inside it gets a little tough moving and digging around.
2 – I would make the inside of the henhouse a little larger. It gets a little tight in the winter, when the heating base and watering can are in there.
And, the No. 1 thing that makes Steve’s coop unique is the “Winter Artwork.” He explains,
“I made some panels to sit along the bottom and block the bottom from the winter wind and instead of decorating the outside where we would see it, my kids wanted to decorate the inside of the panel, so the girls would have something to look at in winter … So, now they have some winter scenery to look at!”
It’s special touches like these that make each coop personal and beautiful. I want to send out a special “thank you” to Steve and his family for sharing their story with the Community Chickens readers. As a token of our appreciation, Steve will receive one of Iron Oak Farm’s hand-forged key chains! I hope you enjoyed touring Steve’s coop as much as I did. Visit his gardening blog at My Attempt at Gardening.