We’re finally launching the build of a new chicken coop for our hens. They have thrived as a major player in our agricultural restoration plan at EEC Forest Stewardship. Chickens are a great way to start any livestock plan, bringing eggs, meat, fertility (poop), and bug control (gleaning). Because of the sloped terrain on our hill farm, we cannot easily move a large coop around the property. This is an important challenge to recognize if your are planning a rotational system for your animals. A stationary coop system can still utilize rotational planning, but the ground directly around the coop will be high impact on the land, and required extra movement and resting to prevent erosion and degradation.
Utilizing existing structures on site has been a crucial part of jump-starting the livestock operations at our stewardship forest farm. These buildings received minor reinforcement for safety a few years ago, but have remained otherwise untouched. Now, after years of lively goats, sheep, and chickens, these ragged sheds are starting to lean precariously, and rather than propping up the ancient foundations once more, we’re tearing down the old construction to make way for a rebuild. In the photo above, the current coop space is right center where the white door stands open. The new coop is going up far left on the corner of the lean-to, where you can make out an “X” shape of two supporting beams.
Our original plan was to tear down the coop area and rebuild it in 4 days. That was a lot of pressure, and would involve creating another temporary chick house out of another part of the structure for the birds. Since we would have to retrofit something for a temporary coop, we decided to utilize the lean-to building as our next coop space, allowing the transfer of chickens into a new home through the summer (at least). The lean-to structure is large enough to accommodate all our animals while the old stall/coop structure can be completely torn down all at once, instead of in parts while animals still lived there too. It’s a huge upgrade for this shabby lean-to, and worth the effort using scrap material already on site.
This coop is basic, but for chickens, basic is just fine. As building begins, I have to keep reminding myself that this is a small shed to house birds- not a long term living space for me. Cobbled together construction works well, and with all the scrap lumber, metal roofing, and spare hardware on hand, we’ve built this coop without any additional expense beyond labor and time. This ability to create functional space without added cost is crucial to the survival of a small operation like EEC. We’ve looked at larger barn building plans, even a combination barn/home building, which ended up budgeting out of the ball park, so to speak. Though self-builds often turn into nightmares, and I’m personally not well versed in construction, I do know how to create space, and can operate a hammer with gusto- especially when it’s in the form of a nail gun.
An important point about our build was reinforcing the main structure. This lean-to is at quite a lean, and even though reinforcement happened a few years ago, the structure is still in need of additional support, and we had to move carefully in taking down some of the structural beams to build new, solid walls. The result is fantastic! The new walls are solid, and building this closed square structure on the corner of the greater building has anchored it firmly on the hillside. However, if you take a leveler to it, you’ll not find a square edge. This works for a chicken coop, and we’re thankful for that, because we cannot afford to hire a carpenter at this time. Luckily, we’re not building a house for ourselves (yet).
Small construction like this does offer a lot of building lessons. I learned how to put in a floor. Again, it’s not level, and sure to fall apart in about 10 years, but that’s more than enough time to get the other structure rebuilt. The birds move in at the end of the week (May 2020). Then we’ll start the real rebuild on the other structure. It’s an ambitious summer project, but with this coop almost completed, the challenge of construction becomes almost graspable. Try try again is our motto, and with each small success- construction of four solid walls, meshing in the ventilation, and hanging the door, we can see the slow evolution of this shed, into a well loved coop for our hens.
Some new items for the betterment of our layers includes a fine new roll out nesting box. This handy design allows the eggs to roll down into a safe catchment box for easy collecting. The protective shelf houses the eggs out of reach of any pecking beaks or careless feet hopping in and out of the nest box. There are also red privacy curtains, offering a dark and quiet space to lay without interruption. It might take the ladies a few days to grasp this new design, but it will now be possible to prevent egg cracking, and allow for easy sanitizing of the nests. The box is lined with removable mats, which fit nicely in the dishwasher. After the ladies settle in, I’ll give a more detailed report about the pros and cons of this nesting box type. Fingers crossed!
Off the back of the coop, there will be an attached, covered outdoor run, which will allow the birds access to outside, even when they must remain in the coop. The old coop used to have an enclosed outside space, but the old structure began to sag, and predators began pulling apart the mesh to get into the coop. After three repairs, we closed up the hatch to the outside run to protect our hens. The new coop will offer a better, reinforced run, as well as metal walls to prevent chewing into the coop. Rats are the worst offenders, though our barn cats have done well on the job, and we’ve not seen rats in a few years. Still, the new coop will surly be put to the test.
Finding the courage to step into the unknown is a huge part of living well. Construction is not one of my talents, but in taking on this coop rebuild, I find myself more than capable of completing the basics, which is more than enough understanding to produce animal housing. The new coop is stable, clean, well ventilated, and sure to keep our hens safe and comfortable. This structure is a vast improvement over the current old coop, but only the first attempts at coop building. The experience has given me the chance to rough out my own skills, and encouraged my confidence in understanding basic structural design. I’ve approached the build as a land steward- looking at overall function, need, and utilizing the resources already available on the land. What a wonderful reward to see this coop built, and structures improved upon.