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!