The Cutest Chicken Coop You Can Buy…and How To Renovate It

Welcome to my backyard chicken coop. It is a daily joy for me to be able to see this pretty little doll-house of a chicken coop in the backyard. Even when the chickens are away at their ‘summer home’ the coop is a delight.

I’ve waited so long to get chickens, I want to squeeze every bit of joy out of this experience that I can. A handsome coop has made my kids and husband enjoy it more. Each of the kids (even as teenagers) have taken their friends to visit the chicken coop. My husband stares out at them several times a day while sipping his coffee. I’ve seen impressive shed-sized chicken coops and heart-stopping stone chicken coops, but when it was time to actually put down the money and accept that when I sell this house not everyone wants to try to keep a flock of hens inside a subdivision, I knew I had to be realistic. I couldn’t believe my luck when I ran across this coop on-line. It is a miniaturized version of one I saw years ago and fell in love with.

I ordered it immediately because COVID had created so many shipping delays I didn’t want to take any chances. When it arrived I realized the cute paint job wouldn’t hold up to the weather very well. So I painted all the pieces while they were still flat. It was a good opportunity to use up the extra paints I had…half a quart of white glossy exterior here, full can of a different brand flat white there, plus 3 cans of 8 year old spray paint at the very end.

When I assembled it I was so in love! But then I realized that it felt a lot smaller than I imagined and created some problems. At that time I was in sold on the Joel Salatin chicken tractor idea, and convinced I was going to pull this coop to a different spot every day so the chickens could have fresh grass! Yep, I live in a dream world! Even in my state of denial I could tell this coop could not sustain dragging across a lawn.

In addition, there was a “feed storage space” built in which created a wooden floor right on the ground. If you’ve ever lifted even a random board that’s been on the ground over a year you know that mice and snakes consider that prime real estate. If you store any food there you just put in a buffet!

Then there was the ramp that was supposed to go up to a floor area. Double why? Chicken ramps get covered with poo and look nasty and baby chicks can’t use them. And why put a floor in anywhere? Do you enjoy cleaning out chicken poo? One of the best innovations of chicken keeping has been returning to the old-fashioned deep litter method that lets you clean out the chicken coop only once a year. Some do it even less than that.

Lastly, there just wasn’t enough space. We moved the babies into it for a week before taking the coop outside, and it was clear we would need a chicken run/yard. The description was honest, it would only hold 2-3 chickens, but 9 of my baby chicks had survived. I also didn’t have bantams, I had bought Road Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks, some of the bigger chickens on the market. My solution wasn’t simple, but it addressed all four problems.

Adding another “story” of living space would mean I could put skids on the ground contact points to make it easier to drag from location to location (please!) Large eye-bolts were attached to the heavier lumber used as skids to make attaching a rope easier. The “feed storage space” would become more scratching area, making the space under the nesting boxes usable. Baby chicks or injured hens could walk from front to back without needing a ramp. An extra “floor” would create more space by making more roosting areas. On top of that, the deep litter method is easier if you don’t have support boards running along the ground that either rot in the nutrient-dense litter or that provide a safe home for a mouse or snake.

Because I have never done this before, I hoisted the entire finished coop in the air to try to gauge how much height I should add. There are certainly easier ways to do this, but I wanted tosee if it would be too top heavy, be too tall, and if it would provide enough space inside. Turned out that 12′ was the right height to add, which would have been a decent guess and have saved me 4 days of balancing the coop on buckets and blocks.

I used the stack of extra 2″x3″ studs I had in the garage and was able to cover the exterior walls with the useless floor that came with the coop. More 1″x1″ hardware cloth added to the bottom of the ‘attrium’ also made it possible for me to create a little pop door for the chickens that can be left open all the time instead of opening the large door needed for feeding.

I honestly thought this would solve my problems with the design of the bought coop, but my learning curve has been steep even from there. The chicken tractor idea was the first to go. I moved this monster three times and realized that was not sustainable. The idea of a chicken tractor makes a ton of sense, but not for a suburban lawn. It’s not just the weight of my pretty coop and the fact that most chicken tractors are more of a summer time shelter thing. There is also the fact that the idea helps equally distribute fertilizer across the green space. In open fields where you aren’t surprised to step in an animal poo, ok. In your backyard if you don’t want your children’s friends to wear their nice shoes in the backyard that becomes an issue. We quickly found the ideal backyard location for ‘chicken watching’ and planted the coop there. I’ve adopted the deep litter method, which is my preferred option, and still working through a concept I have for composting directly in the chicken run.

The nesting box was another problem area because the original design had used a poo-catching floor which allowed hens to walk right into the nesting boxes without flying up or even a little hop up. Adding roosting bars over deep litter made weekly cleaning a moot point. However, chickens want to lay their eggs at the same level or below where they roost. So, I removed the floor of the nesting box and now the hens lay their eggs one level down where the ‘feed storage area’ used to be. This is still not good enough for some hens and they insist on laying on the ground level…but we are making progress on that.

The little pop door was so cute and clever, but this is the only blurry photo I got of it while it was new and clean. It was designed with hinges on the bottom due to advice that you never want your coop door to be able to shut the hens out accidentally. The pop door helps a little bit in protecting from predators because the door is too small for large predators to fit through, but it also gives the chickens constant freedom instead of waiting on a human to let them out in the morning or closing them up at night.

However, the door created a bit of a ramp that the chickens constantly slipped on, and quickly became covered in mud and poo which is an eyesore. In addition, an industrious mouse had found this shelter and was building it out as a condo near the feed source. Taking the cute door off was necessary.

The most important issue is something I will be tweaking all winter…. ventilation. Adequate ventilation is essential to chickens. It is more important than heating the coop beyond providing wind breaks. That is why the summer coop is so open and airy. This coop did not have adequate ventilation when I first constructed it, and I am still trying to figure out if I should add more going into winter. At the same time, I’m worried about the cold winter winds and I’ve installed a large sheet of plexiglass on the house side of the coop to protect the atrium from rain and snow and harsh winds. The feed no longer gets soaked and I see the hens enjoying the view during downpours. I have flimsy plastic to add inside the other screens of the atrium, but I don’t want to ruin all the ventilation. I’ve read they need the ventilation to be above their roosts, but I don’t know what that means for my ground-level doors.

In the end, it would have been cheaper and easier to have constructed the coop myself. I knew that going in. It would have never looked this good though. I am pretty handy and have built a few things in my time, but I know my limits. Constructing all the little doors and getting the proportions just right would have pushed me too far. If I had some serious coin to spend, I could have ordered this coop being built in Montana. This coop is a delight to look at every day. It elevates my joy as I watch the hens throughout the day. I found the perfect design for my taste. If you are more of a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, then you may find it much easier to build your own. I encourage you to find something that appeals to you so strongly you are willing to do a little more to make it work. Beauty is it’s own reward.

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Can You Be Too Thrifty?

Friday my son said, “Can we please get rid of this rag? I think it’s done.” It was a rhetorical question. He just asked for a laugh because the kids love to poke fun at my really weird sense of economy. I cut up old Henley shirts as “floor rags” but I spent a very “not thrifty” amount setting up our chickens. It looks crazy to the family to spend so much money and time on chickens when you can get a dozen eggs at Dollar General for about a dollar or organically feed ‘free range’ (free range my foot) eggs for about $6. My husband and kids see these things through an economic lens and sense of time scarcity.

I see these decisions through a wastefulness and supply chain lens. A 2003 Fast Company article claimed that the US spends more on buying trash bags than many countries spend in a year. Even though that claim is under scrutiny, I still refuse to buy trash bags. I returned the diaper genie from my first child’s baby shower and stuffed empty tissue boxes with Wal-Mart bags. I felt somehow more virtuous for tying up each full disposable diaper in a plastic shopping bag. Ah, baby-steps. It wasn’t until my last child was having difficulty potty training that I considered escaping disposable diapers. An English friend loaned me her supply of cloth diapers and walked me through the process of how to deal with them. That was when I began considering going past the ‘recycle’ trap, past the ‘reuse’ virtue and into the ‘reduce’ freedom. [By the way, no judgment here if you are using disposable diapers…surviving those years is hard.] Using cloth diapers for my last child in his last months of potty training was too late to make a huge difference in the diaper years, but I can tell you this: It certainly sped-up potty training!

As a side-note, if you are struggling to get your little one to get serious about the potty, having a wet, heavy cloth diaper makes a world of difference. I also can’t recommend enough the top potty chair used in England. It is so hard for a child to kick over, there are no little crevices for stuff to get stuck in and it lacks any interesting elements that would make it fun to play with. In England you can get one for a British Pound, roughly how we think of a dollar. They are harder to find in America, but this one is available and there is also this one.

Full disclosure: I gave birth to my last child in England and suddenly found myself with three children age 3 and under. All this recycling, with real glass glasses for kids, standing in front of the trash area separating out all the elements, while one child is frantic to nurse and another child trying desperately to hold it so you can walk him into the ladies room….oh, that was hard. I thought I would loose my mind trying to survive among all this enlightenment! However, now I can see I was dealing with too many learning curves at once.

Living in England for a few years gave me the opportunity to watch how historic castles and large manors are managed by families who take their legacy seriously. Though you will see recycle bins there, you won’t see them over-flowing. If you dine on the grounds you will be served on stoneware and you will drink from an actual glass. By not creating the trash in the first place, they head the problem off at the pass. You will also see bins that break recycling apart from composting. Many properties will quickly put organics (paper or food scraps for example) into their own compost system so it can be broken down to serve their immense gardens. In other words, instead of paying people to haul all the garbage away and then paying someone else to haul in fresh soils and fertilizers they have their customers separate everything for them and use what they can on-site. I also saw this type of sorting system in a Denver, Colorado chain restaurant in 2016, so it is spreading to the U.S.

So, how does England tie into these pitiful floor rags? I can’t place my hand at the moment on which book it was, but one of the gardening books I read decades ago showed a British man standing atop his 6′ tall compost bin at his Manor home. The caption noted that this Aristocrat made sure to compost everything on his property, even cutting the buttons off his old shirts before throwing them into the pile. I thought, ‘Surely you could find something to do with the Lord of the Manor’s dress shirt before it ends up compost?’ His point was taken though…everything is a resource. You paid for it. Get every bit of good out of it you can.

So, what makes it easier to close the loop? How do the British make it look posh instead of poverty-ridden? After reading several books such as this and this and lots of experimenting I have come to the conclusion that:

#1 – Buy quality clothing that actually fits even after it’s been washed. It’s taken me hitting mid-40 to plunk down the extra money to get ‘Tall’ sizes from a brand I trust instead of only hitting the clearance rack. Not buying cheaply constructed clothing (known as ‘Fast Fashion’) saves time and money in the long run considering how many more times you can/will wear it and that you don’t have to waste time shopping/searching for clothes that fit.

#2 – Try to use each resource for it’s highest and most valuable purpose. It makes more sense to donate clothing that someone would actually want. You can only use so many floor-rags.

There is actually a market for natural fiber cloth scraps that the charity shops sell/donate to. It’s called Textile Recycling. Do the volunteers a favor and bundle that all together and label the bag to save them time.

#3 – Only cotton or blends with very little poly in them actually work as cleaning rags. Every type of old shirt and sweat pants have been experimented with. Even if you have the patience to deal with a non-absorbent rag it’s not worth frustrating your kids and spouse if you want them to do their chores without complaining (I should say…’even more complaining’).

#4 – I will feel smugly virtuous if I can take a shirt from years of wearing through floor rag and into compost bin. It’s a vanity, but these days I will take whatever prideful indulgence I can find.

#5 – It’s not my job to save the world. Thinking that way stresses me out and puts me at the mercy of needing to please other people. I won’t be bullied into someone else’s concept of ‘green’ when my core value is to ‘not be wasteful’. I just want to be like those heirs of the manor who take care of their own backyard. And you have every right to pursue what resonates with your core value; it is likely different than mine.

This last one means I just need a plan for my stuff. The sheer volume of out ‘stuff’ overwhelms me pretty fast, so to give myself some breathing room I have a place to keep things for every stage. Britain has influenced me here by making all those stages behind closed doors or somehow hidden so my thrift doesn’t become an embarrassment. I used to take off all the bands, seams and square up the rags so the kids couldn’t tell it came from a shirt. After 3 washes the rag has no shape anyway. The teens just want the tags removed and no ‘tighty whities’ because that would be too embarrassing. We also struggle with socks because they work great, but it never stops looking like a sock…..too embarrassing for kids!

I’ve got several hiding places and even got the saw out and made a real mess of our old first generation ‘Pull Out’ trash can system that didn’t have a recycle compartment. I’ve just left my recycling under the sink and now I have a composting compartment! I even put hubby’s collected coffee grounds in there so I can put them directly into the garden soil instead of cycling them through the compost bin. This has required a bit of work to set up, but day-to-day it is oddly satisfying to swipe juice off the floor with a soft floor rag from my college pull-over or put a tissue into the composting can. Probably something a little wrong with me.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Protecting Hens From Hawks With (Some) Style

This is the system we now use to keep the hens safe. I hope to find something even more pleasing to the eye, but this is a big upgrade. I bought the most attractive budget greenhouse that I believe could hold up to the Northern snows we get, set up just the FRAME, and spread bird netting over it. As the winter really sets in and the wind gets brutal the plan is to put the green house cover on and provide our hens a nice sunny play area…but best laid plans sometimes collapse. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve been obsessed with greenhouses for decades and own several portable versions in my basement that have never been out of the box (don’t tell my long-suffering hubby). I finally came across some designs that are scalable, portable and can stand up to the harsh winds and heavy snows we get here. I bought the building tools to make my own, but with a broken leg and approaching winter I had to compromise quickly for something that was a full kit complete with plastic cover and light enough I could move by myself. I was lucky to find a smaller and lighter version that kept the basic design that I have fallen in love with.

I made a change to the kit that was an important element of the more robust design I hope to build in the future….putting the “Ridge Board” (the long bar that goes along the roof peak) on TOP of the sidewall/rafters instead of under them. The idea is to give that extra little lift to the plastic so the snow will slide off. Again, I’ll let you know how that pans out this winter. This also gives an instant boost to the look of the frame. Instead of the ‘fast food sunroom’ look, it nudges the appearance a tiny bit closer to ‘Victorian Arch’.

This isn’t the first incarnation of this idea though. I had no idea I would even have to worry about this. When we moved the chickens from the garage to back yard they were fully feathered but still rather small and skittish. They were afraid of their own shadow the first day and wouldn’t come out of the coop to enjoy the yard unless a human stood out there with them. It was quite endearing. After two days of the young chickens being in the backyard we started hearing a hawk nearby. Even without a mother hen to teach them, the chickens instinctively went silent and scampered inside the coop. I quickly ordered some hawk netting and just spread it over the coop and tacked down the edges.

Just throwing the net over everything worked, but it was really hard to navigate. The kids found it to be a huge hassle to wrestle when they wanted to get eggs or hang out with the chickens. Then I built this ugly thing in my backyard. It’s an eyesore, but I’m not ashamed because I was just desperately trying to find something to keep them safe. You can see how much excess netting I have gathered at the edges of the play area. I wanted to figure out what would work for us and then make/get a good looking version later.

We like to be able to move the structure around so the scratching hens don’t kill hubby’s grass…but I really don’t know if that’s avoidable. With the little chunnel (chicken tunnel) made of chicken wire we are able to get the chicken yard away from the coop so netting isn’t catching on everything. That was a pain in the neck before, and didn’t allow me to move the chicken yard very far from the coop so that chickens could get fresh grass.

The chunnel was crazy easy too…just chicken wire stapled to the coop door and the greenhouse stakes that came with my greenhouse kit holding the edges down. I’m going to test all this out this winter. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I think there could be an even more attractive option out there. But if I have to choose between something looking good and something working right, I will always choose what works right and spray paint it black!

Just a note if you want to get some netting….I found choosing very confusing. There is a wide range of quality out there. You can pick up some ultra cheap ‘garden netting’ that might get you through a year depending on what kind of weather and predators you face, by the time you get just two of these small nets, you could have purchased much larger and more robust’ bird netting‘. The ‘hawk netting’ I originally purchased is much heavier than the ‘bird netting’ I’m now using in the subdivision. It was much more expensive than the ‘bird netting’ or ‘garden netting’ and should last many, many years. The bird netting I’m using already has several holes torn in it but mostly disappears from sight to create a more pleasing view. I like both and will continue to use the hawk netting out at the farm and the bird netting here in the suburbs. The Hawk Netting I bought is back in stock at the time of this writing and you can get that version here. Each opening is knotted…it’s kind of impressively heavy because it is 50’x 50′. Way bigger than what I really need here in the Suburbs, but should be perfect at the farm. There is a poultry farm seller selling a more expensive version than I got, but it looks exactly like the quality that I purchased. The much lighter weight Bird Netting I bought for this winter is not available from the same seller, but you can get what appears to be the same thing here . At 10M x 10M (about 30 feet by 30 feet) it is still a little more than I need, but maybe I’ll be glad for the extra bit later on. It calls itself heavyweight which is hilarious compared to the Hawk net which shows huge knots tied at each connection point. Holes have formed where the net caught on the greenhouse frame or where it was kicked by a snow boot at below freezing temperatures. By the way, neither of these will stop a racoon or opossum, this is just for discouraging a hawk.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.