by Meredith ChilsonCourtney collects chickens. Well, maybe it’s more accurate to say that Courtney attracts chickens. It all started at a yard sale almost six years ago.
At this particular sale, a mother hen and five baby chicks were in a pen in the yard with a “free to a good home” sign. Now, really. Which one of us could pass up a deal like that? And FIVE babies—various colors of sweet, peeping fluff. The babies and the mother hen came home with Courtney, and a shelter from an old doghouse was hastily put into use. That was the beginning.
Today, over two dozen chickens live at Courtney’s. Some are direct descendants of the original six, others have been rescued from abusive homes, taken in when a coop had too many roosters, or hatched in one of the hidden nests on the property. The chickens free-range throughout the neighborhood; there are fields behind the house that are just full of all the tasty treats chickens love. Evenings they all come home to roost—and over the years a variety of small roosting shelters (including the front porch!) have cropped up as required. Winter shelters are insulated with hay bales or a heat lamp when necessary, and this arrangement has worked fairly well until a few months ago, when a plethora of roosters began ganging up on the nesting hens and chicks. Courtney needed a coop!
Like many of us, Courtney and her mom shop sales, thrift stores, and always have an eye out for a good deal or cast-offs that can be recycled or repurposed into something else. I have a pile of used screens from a remodeling project, a shed half full of empty five-gallon pails someone had set out for the trash, some short pieces of orange construction fencing, for example. Courtney had gathered a pile of wooden picket fencing, various ends and rejected materials from an interesting shop she worked at one time, nails, screws– if you’re a “re-purposer” you’ll know just what I mean! You can never tell when something will come in handy.
Courtney also collects coop plans. One particular plan for a hoop-style coop, found in an issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, looked like a good idea—there was a rough plan with a list of materials necessary, and it seemed to Courtney that, with some “tweaking”, the materials she had been collecting and gathering over the years would work just fine.
Courtney used metal cattle panels for the frame. She told me they were “springy” enough to be bent into an arch. The article she’d read had re-bar as anchors for the panels—Courtney used T-posts. It seemed to make more sense to her. At first connections were made with zip ties, but as the project progressed, Courtney (and her mom, who also helped) went back and used fencing wire to secure the panels. When they ran out of wire, they used metal coat hangers for fasteners.
They filled in the ends with wood scraps (remember those picket fence pieces?), and used recycled limbo poles for the door frame (I told you she worked in an interesting shop!).
The top of the coop is covered with 6-ply plastic, so there’s no need for windows. Plenty of light comes in through the plastic, yet it’s thick enough for insulation and strong enough to hold any winter snows that don’t slide off the rounded top.
|Protective tarps lowered on a snowy morning|
Courtney and her mom covered the bottom of the cattle panels with tarps, folded in half, which can be raised or lowered for ventilation or protection. The bottom edges of the tarps are anchored by more of the recycled picket fencing, and the bottom of the cattle panels are lines with smaller gauge fencing wire to discourage predators and marauding roosters.
Inside the coop, Courtney has used her stash of recycled materials in some fascinating ways. She’s added four nest boxes on the back wall—these boxes are repurposed wooden crates or dresser drawers.
An old rabbit hutch, no longer sturdy enough for rabbits, was scrubbed up and now makes a “sleeping area” for the chickens. Courtney told me this is almost like a separate room, and you’ll notice in the photo this has a ramp going up into it. Tree branches from around the property were used for roosts.
The coop was built right on the ground, and so has a dirt floor. It’s covered with straw, and Courtney doesn’t expect any problems with the chickens keeping warm this winter. She uses the “deep-litter” method, adding additional straw as needed, and she also feels that snow on the roof will help with insulation, too. She does have a heat lamp in the little building for “emergencies” –which I think she meant hatching chicks and sub-zero temperatures.
For now, the coop holds Courtney’s laying hens, mothers and chicks. (No boys allowed!!) She’s kept them confined for a short while, hoping they will become accustomed to this spot as their new home. The roosters have taken over the coop near the porch and have apparently turned it into a bachelor pad man-cave.
There appears to be plenty of room in this coop for Courtney’s girls. It’s 12 feet long (3 cattle panels), 8 and a half feet wide, and 6 feet high in the center. There are about 20 chickens living in this space, and it appears to be quite cozy. She’s had no predator problems either—possibly because the family goose often sleeps in the coop at night with the chickens!
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Courtney a little better as I’ve talked to her about her coop. Courtney does collect chickens, an assortment of breeds, sizes and ages, but it’s because she is kind-hearted and loves animals. She’s been able to use odds and ends of recycled materials to build a home for her girls to keep them safe and warm, and I’m happy to have been able to share her coop story. Maybe you will be able to use some of her ideas—I’m thinking my girls might like their own sleeping area. Now, if I use those old screens, and……