04 October 2009

A new chicken coop, made entirely of scraps and leftovers!

Chickens are wonderful animals. They don’t need much in the way of infrastructure or daily care, they give you eggs every day and chicks every so often, and chicken meat when you get around to butchering the roosters. They eat your kitchen scraps, devour grasshoppers and other bugs all summer, and are terrifically entertaining to watch. They’re so much fun, I think everyone should have a few. :)

Now, while chickens don’t need a whole lot in the way of infrastructure (especially when they are able to free-range safely, as they are here, protected by the guardian dogs), they do need a place to be warm and out of the wind, and a spot to lay eggs. We have the chicken tractors, which work quite nicely in the summer, but last winter we had some frozen toes and we wanted to come up with something a bit warmer for the hens in the cold of winter.

Some of the materials for our house construction project were delivered in a big 8x8x4 packing crate / pallet. We had covered it with wood ‘siding’ and a metal roof, and it has served as a wood shed/cat shelter/storage spot for the past four years. However, it’s not particularly attractive, and it wasn’t in a really good spot for a permanent structure so … it got repurposed as a chicken coop.

While the structure was still upright, we added some 2x4 boards for perches (I’ve read that in cold climates, chickens do better with flat perches so that they can tuck their toes under their bodies for warmth), a nesting shelf, and some access hatches. It was very peculiar working ‘sideways’: knowing the finished structure would be tipped over made perspectives a bit weird!

When the interior work was mostly done, the entire structure was  lifted (very carefully) on the bobcat forks and moved next to the garden, where it was tipped over onto a pile of old hay (we are big believers in the deep bedding method). Last but not least, the finishing touches were added: an access door (made of plexiglass, so that it serves as a window as well), sheathing on what used to be the bottom of the structure, and metal roofing on what used to be the back and is now the top.


The whole thing is actually big enough for an adult person to squeeze into (without standing up!) – it’s about 4 feet tall. I crawled around inside and spread out the hay bedding, then stuffed gaps with straw. It was nice and warm, out of the wind!

The north wall is insulated with straw, which is stuffed into the gaps in the pallet floor. The south wall is made of brown metal roofing, so hopefully it will warm up a little in the sunshine – we may upgrade it to a proper thermosiphon in a year or two. The bucket feeder hangs just inside the plexiglass door, so it will be easy to check and refill, and the chicken access door is on the west side, away from the prevailing winds.


It’s no Taj Mahal, but it is an excellent use of marginal scrap materials that might otherwise have been unusable. Chickens, fortunately, aren’t particularly hard on their housing (unlike sheep and cows, who rub and bang and crash into things fairly regularly), so that meant we could get away with somewhat less sturdy materials: we had some seriously warped and wonky wood that was suitable for the perches and various internal supports, and the egg and chicken doors are made from leftover bits of laminate flooring. The nest box floor is made from a leftover piece of engineered floor trusses. Those wooden I-beams, when laid sideways, have a nice raised edge, front and back, built right in. The roofing is left over from house construction, and we were able to use up some very odd shaped pieces and still cover the whole coop. Even most of the nails and screws are salvaged from other projects.

Once the siding on the house is finished (and it’s almost all done!), we will sheathe this structure with the leftover bits, so that it looks better and is more durable. 

One more addition will be a light: a light encourages egg production, and also provides a bit of extra warmth. We will install a canning jar ‘light fixture’ in the side of the coop and put it on a timer so that the hens get longer days and a bit of extra heat on chilly mornings. We had them in the chicken tractors, so this is something we already know how to do quickly (in fact, we may just move one of the lights from one of the tractors over).

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll have eggs in the nest box … and not in the hay at the bottom of the coop!


  1. Hm. And here I was all excited that I made *supper* entirely out of scraps and leftovers!

  2. Anonymous1:35 pm

    Nice coop!

    Can you find something round (poles, rounded 2x2's) for the perches?
    Look at chicken's feet and how they rest. They wold be happier if they could relax their feet around a round pole rather than on a flat board.


  3. We had round poles in our coops last winter, and most of the chickens ended up with frozen toes!

    I know that their feet are normally best served with rounded perches, but they can't get their toes under their bodies for warmth that way. Somewhere I read that flat perches work well in cold climates, so I figured we'd give it a shot this winter and see if anyone loses toes or gets other foot damage with this strategy.

    All summer they perch on the edge of the fences, on the thin edge of 2x 4s ... even when they have nice round perches in their coops!

    Who knows what goes through the mind of a chicken...

  4. I don't think chickens are all that fussy and I agree, so long as they can hunker down and keep those toes warm. What is a canning jar light?

  5. The chickens are awfully bald due to the moulting so I'm really glad we got them inside. Of course now they're all on a laying strike, so we hardly get any eggs, but what can you do? :)

    A canning jar light is made like this:

    Take a regular light fixture and affix it to the wall through a hole (the fixture is the kind that when you screw the light bulb in, it squeezes to the base and grips the wall between the bulb and the base). However, before you do this, take a canning jar ring and screw it to the wall around the hole where the bulb will be. After the bulb is in place, twist the canning jar onto it's ring, over the bulb. Voila, enclosed light fixture!

  6. I came across a comment you made over at Sharon's blog where you mentioned that the big city close to you was looking at whether or not to allow chickens in backyards.
    I believe live in that city, (Edmonton) and have been trying to find information on this for months.
    Would you be able to point me in the right direction?

  7. Hi Rosa! Yes, we're right outside of Edmonton (well, an hour outside, but that's close in Alberta terms). :) I have heard there's a group called River City Chickens but I cannot find them online anywhere! I believe the Urban Farmer was involved, so you might start there (http://www.theurbanfarmer.ca); the other group I'd think would be behind city chickens is the Greater Edmonton Alliance, promoters of that Great Potato Giveaway day a few weeks back in a highly successful bid to get people to think about food security in the greater Edmonton area(http://www.greateredmontonalliance.com).
    The official city bylaws say that you can keep poultry (among other critters such as large animals, bees, and poisonous snakes (!)) if you have permission from the city manager. Permission isn't needed if you live on land zoned AG, AGU or AGI. I suppose you might also try just sending your request directly to the city manager and being the first!
    Please let me know how it goes - I am a big supporter of backyard chickens and would be happy to help in any way I can! Let me know if you need a demo chicken! :)

  8. Thnaks for the info.
    I'll be dreaming and thinking about this all winter!
    By the way,we were in that enormous line on the highway for the great potato givaway. We finally thought maybe something else was going on at City farm, got out of the line , kept driving looking for the turn off and ended up in Fort Saskatchewan! lol
    No potatoes for us that day!

  9. Chickens are so awesome, Rosa, if you have nice neighbours and can build a nice run and coop, you should have no trouble at all. :) They're quiet, entertaining, and they lay *eggs*!

    I just can't imagine why anyone would object, not after they've seen them 'in real life'. There's gotta be someone in Edmonton trying this ... hmm ... maybe a Kijiji post would bring them outta the woodwork?

    Now you've got me thinking ... :)


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