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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