Welcome to the Chicken Chateau

>> Monday, June 29, 2009

Meet our chickens! We are now the proud owners of five hens and one rooster. Here they are in the crappy old coop we inherited. They're waiting and watching while we build their new, deluxe accommodations:

We based our design on plans we found online (opens as a PDF) for an a-frame chicken coop, but we improvised a bit in the construction. We initially tried to use metal sawhouse brackets to join the top, but they didn't give us the wide base we wanted.

After the frame was built, we added a floor with a door cut in it. The gangplank to get inside would be added later.

Here's Jo, pretending to be a chicken as she comes inside.

On the other side, we put in slats to support a double chicken-wire floor. It's important for chickens to have a lot of circulation, so we didn't want to totally enclose the top of the coop. This will all have straw spread over it anyway, which will help insulate it in winter but still allow air to pass through. This is the side where the nesting boxes will go too.

One of the nice features of this coop we're building is that it's portable. Chickens will scratch and pick at ground until it's dirt and mud if you let them, so we want to be able to move the coop to different areas of the yard. We also plan to build our garden in raised beds that are the exact dimensions of the chicken coop's base, so our birds can till, clear, and fertilize the soil in each one!

The gangplank is added. The area on top is the coop where the chickens are closed in each night for their protection. The area below, accessible via the gangplank, is an enclosed, protected patch of ground where they can scratch around during the day.

The effect from the ground makes the coop look like a UFO.

To raise the gangplank, we added a pulley! I've held on to this pulley for a long time, waiting for a chance to put it to good use. Words cannot express how happy I am to have a pulley on our coop. I think it elevates it from clever to ridiculously over-engineered.

The gangplank cord runs up through the chicken wire to the pulley, then across to a hole in the frame. Jo's giving it a test run here.

But I had to get into the act too. Pull, Gilligan! (Note the inferior, non-pulley-equipped coop in the background...)

Pulling the rope all the way out raises the gangplank, securing the door to the coop. Later we add a cleat--one of those metal double-hooks you see on ships--to the side of the coop so the rope can be tied off and secured when the walkway is up.

Next up is covering much of the outside with chicken wire. The bottom sides and this end of the coop are completely covered.

This end was a bit taller than our wire, so Wendi did a bit of metal sewing in addition to our work with the staple gun, just to be sure.

The other end needed a bit more work, as we wanted another door on the bottom to let the chickens out into the yard if we were going to be out there with them. We framed the hatch with 1x3s, but we ran out of the store-bought chicken wire. Luckily (if that's the word) the previous tenants left a huge pile of crap in the yard, including some old metal fencing. Call in the salvage team!

And there we go. A hinged door to let our chickens roam free when we're with them. (We've just put the coop on blocks to be able to work on the lower parts of it better. It actually sits on the ground.)

Above the lower hatch is another access panel--this one so we can sneak a hand into the nesting boxes and steal eggs.


Like the rest of the doors, this has latches we hope will keep out some of the more clever predators our birds are likely to attract.

Once the ends were finished, it was time to begin adding the metal roofing pieces. Once again, we were pleased to be able to salvage this material rather than have to buy anything new. These are scraps from the metal roofing on our own house. (Or the "human coop," as we've taken to calling it lately.) There's only a half row here because we're going to put on another hinged door--one that will go all the way across the bottom to allow us to add straw and to occasionally rake the coop clean.

Cutting this metal for the roof pieces was easily the worst part of this entire build. We bought a metal-cutting blade for our circular saw, but the thing threw hot burning sparks all over us as we cut it. I still have red marks up my right arm and on my chest. Wendi had hot sparks burn holes in her shirt! And the metal-cutting blade disintegrates as you use it too, so that by our third panel it was so small it was no longer usable. Reluctant to burn ourselves further, I put a metal blade on the jigsaw and gave that a try. It was slower, and shook me so badly I was vibrating like a cartoon character with a jackhammer, but at least it didn't throw hot molten death at us. We could have gotten away with fewer cuts if we had bought new panels and not tried to salvage what we had, but we were bound and determined to recycle as much of our building waste as we could, and we're pretty proud of the result.

Because the bottom half won't join the top half, we wanted to make sure rain didn't run right behind the bottom hinged door, so we created a bit of an awning up top with a 1x3 turned on its side.

After adding the hinged door at the bottom and the flat panels along the back side, we were finished! And it only took us a week. Working four and five hours a day on it. Seriously. This took us FAR longer than we ever expected, keeping us busy until nightfall more than a few times.

We tried to come up with a name that would match the coop's luxuriousness, and we eventually settled on "The Chicken Chateau"--but you have to say the "ch" in chicken like the "sh" sound in chateau. Also considered: "Chicken Chalet" and "La Maison de Poule"--"The House of the Chicken."

Check out the chickens down below, enjoying their courtyard!

Lots of places for Jo to feed them greenery too. Welcome, chickens!

7 comments:

Sara Z. June 29, 2009 at 3:37 PM  

Is there NOTHING you two can't do? Awesome.

DaviMack June 29, 2009 at 4:06 PM  

Oh, so WAY engineered it's not even funny! 2 questions, though:

Can you lift the thing? (If you're going to move it around, to different beds, you'll need to - and high enough to clear the raised bed edges.)

Did you install a latch, for after you've raised the gang-plank? Or are you trusting that anything which gets past the bottom layer of chicken-wire will be not large enough to force entry (and/or jump high enough) to get into the gap between where the rope will sag during the evening and the bottom of the coop? It looked like a natural fiber rope ... which will tend to stretch, during the night.

Awesome build! I kept reading ... and reading ... and READING ... and was constantly amazed that there was SOMETHING MORE TO BE ADDED!

Alan June 29, 2009 at 5:18 PM  

@ DaviMack:

We CAN lift it. As a matter of fact, we tried at every turn NOT to add things that added weight. If we could get by with a 1x3 and not a 2x4, we did. At every turn, we asked ourselves, "can we do this part with less weight?" The result: with one of us at either end, we can lift it a few feet off the ground and carry it anywhere in the yard.

And no, we did not install a latch on the gangplank. We haven't seen much stretching in the rope in the mornings, though that may of course change over time. It would be tough to get under there to latch it anyway. As we were building the thing, I debated adding a pole that would slide across the bottom, adding an extra bit of security/strength to it when closed. If the rope becomes an issue, we'll either replace it with a nylon rope or add such a bar across the bottom.

Gretchen June 29, 2009 at 7:12 PM  

Wow, I am so envious! I really want chickens, but I'm not sure I'm ready to take on the responsibility yet. Plus, I'm really afraid that either my dogs or the coyotes will eat them. That would suck.
Your coop looks awesome! Nick work, and happy egg-eating!

DaviMack January 27, 2010 at 1:56 PM  

Dreamed about this thing last night. Shows you the depravity of the PhD mind.

DaviMack January 27, 2010 at 1:56 PM  

(Well - perhaps it shows you the depravity of someone living in Glasgow, Scotland, without running hot water or central heating.)

Anonymous,  January 30, 2011 at 4:15 PM  

Nice Job. Thanks for posting. So refreshing to see someone NOT trying to sell us PDFs from a site I won't mention. Hope your family continue to enjoy :)

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