After much discussion and deliberation, my wife and I decided we were going to get some chicks this spring. Not knowing much about raising and caring for chicks, we did the reasonable thing and got 10 of them. When shopping for chicks, there are a lot of important considerations to keep in mind. When picking breeds, I was thinking about things like adult size, disease resistance, laying frequency, and longevity. My wife was considering things like beauty, color of eggs, and whether or not they pecked her while she was petting them at the feed store. We ended up keeping things simple and got five Ruff Orpingtons and five Americaunas. I will let you decide who picked which breed.
With our chicks living under a heat lamp in a kiddie pool in our garage, I soon realized how quickly these new feathered friends would grow! I had done some very brief research and decided that I wanted to build a chicken tractor. I sketched up some quick plans and off to the hardware store I went. I purchased a couple sheets of treated plywood, treated dimensional lumber, and steel for the roof. I also purchased the screws I would need to assemble this chicken abode and some wheels to place on one end so I could wheel it around the yard. Construction ensued and for the next week or so, my free time was spent cutting, screwing, and cursing (no one said I am a good carpenter.) After hours of design, construction, destruction, redesign, and reconstruction, my 4′ by 8′ chicken tractor was complete. You may be thinking, “That’s way too small for 10 chickens!” You are correct. We had the intention of selling 3 of our chickens to my brother and sister-in-law once they were big enough to be moved out of the garage. You may be thinking, “That is still too small, even for 3 less than 10 chickens!” You are correct again. We knew that our chances of buying 10 chicks and getting 10 hens were slim to none and our final goal was to have 5 hens of our own. It was soon apparent that we planned correctly as two of our fuzzy little chicks slowly developed into loud, bullying roosters. We now have 5 hens in our 4′ by 8′ enclosure. “Still too small!” you scream in angst at my slight naivety. It was time for an upgrade before winter.
I took my mistakes realized too late and used them to design what I think is a better coop. Realizing that I never moved my chicken tractor as it was, I decided this enclosure would be semi-permanent. I had spent a lot of time designing the nesting boxes in the chicken tractor thinking that the birds would roost on the front lip of them and soon realized that they needed something elevated to perch upon. I also realized that the interior of the tractor was not accessible enough to clean it out, or feed and water my stock. Finally, I knew that the 4′ by 5′ run was far too small for the number of birds I was keeping. I kept all of this in mind as I designed the new aviary habitat. Soon, I had developed what I think, is the perfect coop for my flock. I quickly put pen to paper and started calculating the cost of construction and made the sudden realization, that I needed a big raise at work if my chickens were going to live such a lavish lifestyle. I began rethinking my design but could not find a way to cut costs enough to make the project feasible.
One weekend, I was working in the shop at my parent’s dairy farm and decided I would take a look around the farm to see if there were any materials that I could use for my pending construction project. There is always a lot of lumber around the farm, but I knew that I didn’t want to use anything of value as the good, high quality lumber comes in handy when fences break, calf pens need repairing, or slats break out of feed bunks. I decided the best place to look for old, “unusable” lumber would be in the hay mow. I can remember a rack full of old slat boards that had been stored years before we moved onto the farm up on an elevated platform at one end of the mow. I decided that was where I would start. I swept the pigeon droppings off of the lumber rack and soon found that it was full of old boards. Some of them were solid hardwood 1″ by 4″s and 2″ by 4″s. Others were 8″ tongue and groove siding. All were once painted a bright, barn red. I began sliding the boards out of the rack and lowering them to the mow floor. Upon seeing that the boards had incremental spaces where no paint had been applied, I made the realization that the lumber that was my future chicken coop was actually salvaged from an old wooden forage box. A forage box is a farm implement that sits on a wheeled running gear. Alfalfa or corn forage is harvested with a chopper and blown into these wagons to transport it to the farmyard where it would be blown up a silo. Modern forage boxes are constructed from steel, but vintage equipment was built from wood. Some of the boards had rotten spots or areas where nails had been pulled out of them, but this would work perfectly in my budget. Beyond the old, dismantled forage box, I also found some rough-cut pine 4″ by 4″s that were far too light to be used on the farm. These would be my legs and rafters. I wanted to build my coop on skids so I could drag it around the yard if needed. I dismantled an old dog runner in my yard and used the treated 4″ by 4″ by 8’s that held the cable on each end for the base of the dwelling.
Upon finalizing my design based on the materials I had available, I set aside a couple weekends to complete the build. I completed the main framing on the first Saturday I worked on the project. Building the skid, adding the legs, and framing the roof took about 6 hours. The next Saturday, I cut and installed siding on the back and sides of the coop. I also added additional framing for the front doors. This took about 4 hours. The following Sunday, I installed siding on the front, built the doors, cut and installed the rear door for chicken entry/exit, and installed the steel roof. This took an additional 6 hours.
Although I salvage all of the lumber used in this project, I did need to purchase some of the materials I used for this project. The steel on the roof was at the farm and had been used for wall covering in the tool room of our shop. Three sheets were left over so I purchased them for a cool $10 a sheet. I also had to purchase door latches, door handles, and hinges for both of the front doors as well as the chicken door on the back. I also needed to replace the hardware that I used that was property of the farm. Screws and lags came from the tool room at the farm shop and are frequently needed for on-farm projects. The siding was fastened with my brad-nailer and I already had all of the brads needed for the job. Overall, I spent about $60 on what I believe to be a much more adequate home for my birds. It will be easier to access the nesting and roosting area for cleaning and collection of eggs. I can build a much larger run for them outside of the coop than what was available on my tractor. The thick wood boards used for the project will also offer some much-needed insulation over the thin steel covering used to construct the tractor. Overall, I put much more design into this new enclosure and spent about 1/4 as much money as I did on the previous habitat. I would say that this was money well spent.
Please follow along for a future post outlining the process of setting the coop level, building the paddock, and rehoming my hens!