Chicken Coop Learning Curve

My first experience with chicken coops was on my mother’s farm many years ago when I was a teenager. Her coop was in a corner of the barn. It had 2 doors – one to the outside where the fenced in-and-over run was located and one to the inside of the barn. The inside door was kept closed pretty much all of the time unless someone was walking through it. There were no windows. The resulting lack of flow-through air created a heaviness in the coop that quickly made it evident to my mom that I could not help with coop chores AT ALL since it would trigger a bad asthma attack within seconds. Furthermore, it STUNK to high heaven! It was so bad, in fact, that I had decided l-o-n-g ago that I would NEVER have chickens, or any other bird, of my own.

Life has a way of changing our perspectives.

Before I got my first chick, I think I read every book and blog I could find on the various coop designs and their pros and cons. (Yes, I’m a voracious reader!)

Additionally, I spent a few hours (!!!) checking every aspect of the various manufactured coops in all of the farm stores around – multiple times over a couple of years as I was considering the merits of possibly having a small flock of my own for the benefit of the fresh eggs.

The manufactured coops were CUTE as the dickens!

But TERRIBLE quality.

I questioned whether they would last more than a year out in the weather. Online reviews confirmed my suspicions regarding their durability.

While many of the published designs – both in books and on the internet – were cute and had many very attractive features, none of them had all of the features I was looking for.

I wanted a coop that would house my rabbits during the winter (that’s a whole ‘nother learning curve!), would be large enough for the chickens to use it as a run during bad weather, and would have good ventilation and excellent natural light. I figured some solar heating would be a nice plus as well since we live in the land of 10-month winter. Last year, our last hard frost was the end of June and our first frost of fall was mid-August with our first below 0 F. freeze in early September. Also, I am fortunate to not have to be terribly concerned with what the neighbors might think of the appearance of my coop(s) so, while cute would be nice (‘cuz I’m kind of an artsy sort of girl), functionality was really my prime consideration.

I finally decided on a roughly 12×12 (exterior) coop. The first coop, shown here solved most of my concerns, but had several challenges, the worst of which were insufficient ventilation for the few hot days and L-E-A-K-Y roof! I also discovered that my nest boxes, mounted high enough for my comfort in checking them for eggs, were too high for mamma birds to safely rear their broods, and cleaning the floor under the corner mounted roost bars was a nightmare. On the other hand, the natural light and solar heating factors were superb! When it’s 40 F outside, the temperature inside the coop quickly rises to 80 F when the door is shut and easily maintains 60 F with the door open – as long as the wind is not from the east.

The next coop was the same size but had modifications to correct the challenges. (See pictures of all features at the bottom of the post.)

  1. Ventilation in the first coop was provided by a 2″ gap at the top of the front (south) covered with heavy wire mesh (rabbit wire), a similar gap on the top of the north side with a flap that could be closed for winter, and a small triangular opening on the east side at the top, also covered with rabbit wire. This worked very well most days, but when the temperature hits about 80 F. outside, it quickly becomes an oven inside, even with the door propped wide open! This was fixed on the second coop by adding 2 windows to each side, covered on the inside with rabbit wire, that could be opened or closed as needed.
  2. The leaky roof problem was solved by switching to the clear corrugated plastic roofing panels for decks/patios rather than using the greenhouse plastic sheets. That had an added benefit of also being considerably less expensive. Win-win. Ya gotta love it when that happens! The only challenge this has created is that even with all of the windows and the door propped open, in the full summer sun, it still gets too hot inside during the middle of the day. I solved that problem by nailing heavy cardboard to the underside of the rafters in the southwest corner, covering about 1/4 of the roof and creating a permanent shady corner.
  3. The nest box problem was another easy and less expensive fix, although it does have me bending over to check them on the floor. All I did was take an empty 5-gallon bucket (old empty kitty litter buckets work well, as do round ones, but I like the square kitty litter buckets better, just don’t have enough) and made a frame from scraps of 2 x 4 pieces that the bucket would fit down inside. The frame keeps the bucket from rolling around if it’s one of the round ones, and keeps the eggs from being accidentally pushed out onto the floor. I should know within 7-10 days how well it works to keep baby chicks inside (see picture below of first baby working it’s way out of the shell inside an orange bucket), but I expect it to work well for that also. For smaller breeds, especially bantams, a 3-gallon would probably be fine, but for my large breeds, the 5-gallon is perfect for the setting hens to be able to fit all of the way inside.
  4. In the first coop, I made roost bars across the corners forming the hypotenuse of right triangles with the two walls. These actually had two challenges, but one was totally my fault. I made them from 1 x 2’s and when my birds reached adult size, they broke wherever there was a knot. The second challenge, mentioned above, was that it was just darned hard to clean the floor under them so I made a movable freestanding roost with 2 x 2 bars for the birds to actually roost on and 2 x 4 legs.

The second coop has been fully operational now for about 10 months and I am very pleased with it. The only additional changes I plan to make to it are purely cosmetic, exterior dress-ups to make it look prettier.

Two additional features that both coops have are:

  1. gutter across the bottom of the roof edge leading to a watering trough for the chickens and part of my garden. The troughs get emptied onto the garden frequently during the summer to prevent mosquitoes. If this is a feature you would like to implement on your coop(s), check to see if your area, like mine, requires a special permit for collecting rainwater.
  2. Sliding bar locks to secure the doors against all nighttime predators.

Additionally, I use a deep liter for the floor of the coops. The hay does an excellent job of drying the droppings to keep the smell down (except when it rains on the L-E-A-K-Y roof, or the snow melts on it) and the chickens LOVE digging in the hay and searching for little snacks of seeds and whatever else. In fact, they love it so much that I quickly figured out that I don’t even need to spread the fresh hay for them (and trigger an asthma attack). All I need do is put the bale of fresh hay inside the coop, cut the strings, and walk away. The chickens will cluck with glee as they begin happily scratching through the bale and within a couple of days, they will distribute the hay all around the coop. And they happily and busily “rearrange the furniture” (hay) every day, digging new little divets and filling up old ones. Spring and fall, I choose a windy day so the ventilation will be as good as possible, don an N-95 mask, and scoop out all of the used hay to put on my compost pile for later use on the garden.

greenhouse roof plus venting plus gutter coop 1triangle vent coop 1corragated roof windows and gutterrabbit wire window protectionmovable roost3 occupied bucket nest boxesFirst hatchling working way out 2020-3-29



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