The coop hasn't even been painted yet but the 4-week-old chicks are making themselves right at home.
Handsome Jack the Guard Cat would like to play with his new little friends.
Big Barred Rock Bird House
Chickens don't need anything fancy or expensive to live in. Many coops are built from recycled materials, and hens are comfortable even in an old dog house. It's probably more important that their home looks nice enough to complement your yard. We had available three 4' x 8' sheets of HardiePanel that matched the house, and made the coop from those. Plywood would have worked just as well. Barred Rocks don't need heat, not even in freezing temperatures, but they do need a dry and secure place to spend the night.
These Barred Rock hens are now full grown and for the next three years each will produce about 250 large eggs per year, more during the summer, less during the winter. The floor area of this coop is 40" x 40" which is enough room for up to six chickens of this large variety, so a full house could provide you with well over a thousand eggs per year!
Coastal northern California is a temperate rain forest (it's where the giant redwoods live) so it was important to raise the coop off the ground and also build it to shed rain water. Four vents (two are visible in the picture above) help keep the interior dry. We also placed the run and the coop on a low mound of gravel and soil to assist with the drainage, and we added a light-weight portable roof (not shown) to place over the run to keep the hens out of the mud during the rainy season.
Building the Coop
Coops need to be portable. This one weighs about 150 pounds and can be moved easily with a dolly slipped under one of the skids, or it can be pulled and pushed into place.
We also wanted the thing to be easy to clean. The interior includes roosts and nesting boxes, and it was designed to come apart without tools. Even the floor lifts out, leaving only an empty and lighter shell, allowing everything to be cleaned with a hose and a brush. The chickens can be locked out during a cleaning, or can be captured inside the coop during a move.
We cut the three sheets of HardiePanel in half so that we had six 4' x 4' pieces (a lumber yard will do that for you at the time of purchase). Four were used for the sides and the other two made the roof and floor. The framing was treated fir 2" x 4", although 2" x 2" would have worked just as well and would have made the coop a bit lighter. See a picture of the inside on this page.
That horizontal white door at the top? That's easy access to the nesting boxes to harvest the eggs.
Building the Run
This type of structure is called a 'chicken tractor' because the hens do a great job of stirring up the ground underneath the run, fertilizing it, and working organic matter into it. They enjoy digging down as much as a half-foot chasing after bugs and worms. The whole assembly is moved to another area when needed, leaving you with an area that will make a great candidate for a garden bed. This move is also beneficial to the health of the chickens since it will eliminate a build-up of pathogens in the soil and allow you to tailor their outdoor exposure to the season.
A fenced run may not be necessary if you live on acreage, but it's a must in the suburbs or if you need to keep the chickens out of your landscaping. This one is 40" wide and 8 feet long and is made of treated fir 2" x 4". This length allows you to use a rake inside. Chicken wire with a 1" mesh was stapled and nailed to the sides and the top. One end of the run hooks to the coop and the entire other end (where we place the drinking water) is an access door. During the rainy season that portable roof lays on the top of the run to keep the soil from turning into mud.
And Handsome Jack, the Guard Cat, in that picture above--he'd like to play with his new little friends. But he's a little too rough for them at this time in their life, so he's just going to have to be content with watching them for now. Back on the farm the chickens ran loose at four months. They held their own against the cats and even the dogs (one peck from Mom and the dogs learn fast). But here we're going to keep them locked up, both for their safety and because we want to keep them out of the lettuce. They get the trimmings. And we get the eggs.
Next: All about the eggs!