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A New Coop
When we started keeping chickens, I bought an overpriced and under-engineered chicken coop. So I decided I to build a new one.
The odor of chickens isn't especially pleasant. I don't mean chicken, as in coq au vin or fried chicken. Those are wonderful, hunger-inducing, mouth-watering smells. I'm talking about the odor of chickens; the egg-laying, ground-scratching, irreverently pooping birds we decided to house in our back yard.
This reality is one of the reasons I decided to replace our first chicken coop with a new one and to place it farther away from the house.
But it wasn't the only reason. The first coop was also too small for me to enter to clean and lacked the strength to hang heavy items (like food and water) from the ceiling.
As for what the design of the new coop would be, I turned to the greatest chicken coop resource ever created: the Internet.
Admittedly, the first chicken coop we bought was perfectly fine, if excessively priced. (Then again, the nearby co-op and the nearby Amish outlet both had coops that were three times more expensive than what we bough!)
However, the coop was not without its drawbacks. The biggest failing, in my mind, was that it was simply too short. Not for the chickens, of course. But for me, it was too difficult to go into the coop or the run to clean it out or even to change food and water. It also was made with fairly light lumber — sensible for something that had to be shipped and assembled on site, but still not great for long-term durability.
My goal, then, was to build a new coop that I could easily walk into and could easily clean out. I also wanted it to be plenty sturdy enough to hang food and water from the rafters. I also, for a time, anyway, thought about a coop that could handle not just chickens, but ducks as well.
One coop that seemed to fit the duck bill was this impressive monster:
Ultimately, though, I decided that was a bit more than I really needed or wanted to deal with. Plus, I didn't have any ducks yet and wasn't really ready to add them.
Then I found these plans for an 8x10 coop and run. They seemed just right.
Everything Starts with Home Depot
Ok, maybe not everything, but most of my projects begin with a trip to the local home center (as This Old House always calls it) to pick up supplies. And this project was no different. I opted for non-pressure-treated lumber to save money; I planned to stain and seal everything anyway. Once I loaded up with lumber and screws and other assorted supplies, I returned home to get started.
For the first part of this project, I was joined by my dad and his Senagalese friend Abdoulye. We started by building the walls, which were to be made with several vertical pieces, each with three notches to hold the horizontal cross pieces.
After cutting the pieces to length, I focused on the notches. Cutting them notches proved tricky. At first, I used a circular saw to cut multiple slices across the area of the notch and then chiseling out the "flakes" left behind. This was cumbersome and lacked a certain "finished" quality.
Then I tried using a jigsaw to cut in and across the notch, but that resulted in a grossly uneven notch.
My next approach was to pass the boards over a dado stack on the table saw. That had the benefit of accurate, repeatable cuts, but it also was terribly dangerous. Holding an 8-foot board to cross-cut on the table has practical limitations that butt up against plain old stupidity.
In the end, I used a combination of approaches to make all of the notches, mostly making an initial cut on the table saw and then finishing with the jig saw. Then I laid the cross pieces in the notches and nailed and screwed them into place. Soon we had all four walls built.
Siting the Coop
As we worked on the walls, I was also thinking about where I wanted the coop to stand. The existing coop sits not far from the house, close to electric and water. It's convenient, but also maybe a little too close, for olfactory reasons? I started thinking the new coop might be better located up the hill from the house on a flat patch of land next to the woods. It would be more shaded, which would be good for the chickens. But, it wasn't close to power (to keep water from freezing in winter) or a water supply. It also gave Elvis the rooster — and his cock-a-doodle-doos — direct line of sight (and sound) to our bedroom window. Hmm.
Despite these drawbacks, the hill location seemed the best option — it would put them among the wildflowers and upper gardens, keep them in the shade, and was a nice flat ground, easy for construction. Plus, whenever we do get ducks, it would be a good spot for them as well.
With the location set, I laid four 8-foot 4x4s on the ground (pressure-treated since it would be in constant ground contact), notching them together in a square. This formed the "foundation" for the coop to sit on.
We then raised each of the four walls into position and screwed and nailed them into the 4x4s and into each other.
Next, we built six roof rafters and used tie plates to hold them together. We trudged them up to the coop and screwed and nailed them to the walls. Then I used hurricane ties to further secure everything together.
The next step was to build out the roof. We laid several sheets of OSB — a type of treated polywood — over the rafters and screwed them down. And then we stopped. My dad and his friend had to leave, but after two days (each with fairly late starts), we had the structure erected, which was the main part I needed help with anyway. It was far from ready for the chickens, but it was significant progress. Now the rest was up to me.
The OSB roof wasn't weather-proof, so I needed something to cover it. I considered plastic sheeting, asphalt shingles, or a rubberized coating, but I didn't think any of those would look very good, so I picked up a few 12-foot sections of corrugated stainless steel. I cut it to size and using special rubber-lined roofing screws, I attached it to the OSB and then covered with a galvanized cap. The roof was done. Not perfect, but done.
For the walls of the coop, I used T-111 board, which is made for exterior siding, and screwed it into the studs. On each side of the coop, I added a door made from 1x4s and the T-111. Stainless steel handles, hinges, and barrel bolts held the doors in place.
For the nesting boxes, I used 2x4s and T-111 siding to make a single unit with two dividers to create three nesting spaces. Then I screwed the unit onto the back of the coop. I made the nesting box lid from T-111, attached with stainless steel hinges and covered with corrugated metal. Over the hinges, I added a "flap" of clear vinyl to act as flashing.
With some leftover OSB, I made a ramp from the ground to the coop. On the underside of the ramp, running lengthwise, I glued and screwed wood strips for strength. On the top, I glued wood strips cross-wise to give the chickens something to grab on to as they walked the plank.
I added several perches to the inside and outside with 2x2 lumber and coated the floor of the coop — also made from OSB — with a liquid white roofing vinyl that, once dry, would create an easy-to-clean waterproof rubberized coating.
With the coop fully constructed, I coated the entire thing with a water-sealant stain. Once that was finally done, it was time to wrap the run in hardware cloth.
I bought several 4-foot rolls of hardware cloth, which I hand-stapled around the entire structure. I'm not entirely sure how many staples I had to use, but based on how sore my hand was at the end, I think it was about 20,000,000.
One of my last tasks before bringing the chickens to their new home was to build and install the main door. I measured twice, cut once and assembled the whole unit out of 2x4s with two cross-pieces to give it extra support. I stapled on the hardware cloth and test fitted the door, made some adjustments and then hung it using stainless steel hardware — hinges, barrel bolts, handles and latches.
The coop was just about ready. I spread sand and straw on the bottom of the run, screwed some hooks into the rafters, hung a large feeder on a chain and set a new five-gallon waterer on some cement blocks.
Finally, the coop was ready for chickens.
Getting the chickens to move into their new home proved almost as challenging as building the coop itself. At first, we tried to lead them to the new home, but they had no interest in following us, no matter how many treats we threw their way.
Eventually, we decided we were going to have to carry them to the new coop. If you think catching chickens is easy, then you've never seen Rocky II:
Ironically, Elvis the rooster, who always seems to fancy a confrontation, proved the easiest to catch because he's too macho to run away. When I approached him, he stood his ground, ready to rumble. Before he knew what was happening, I dropped a box over him, flipped it over, closed the flaps and carried him to the coop. (Well, Cyn actually carried him to the coop because she wanted to prove her dominance over Elvis, a ploy that I'm not sure the rooster really understood.)
The hens were less willing to be caught and transported, but eventually we got them there, mostly by corralling them into their old coop and then cornering them in a small enclosed space where we could grab them and stuff them into a box.
Before long, the chickens were in their new home. And it definitely is an improvement. The smell of the coop is far enough from the house that we can't detect it. The coop is large enough for us to easily enter and clean. The chickens are out of direct sunlight, so they stay cooler. It is a bit of a hassle to trudge up the hill, but that's ok. We need the exercise anyway.
When winter comes, I'll need to figure out how to keep the water from freezing. Maybe I'll run an extension cord. Or maybe I can rig up a solar panel. But that's for another day — a day that will start with Elvis cock-a-doodling-doo across the yard into our bedroom.