Tuesday, March 22, 2016

So my husband and I bought a house in a part of Orange county that does not qualify for the "Backyard Chickens" program that allows you to obtain a permit for up to 4 hens. 

After talking to my wonderful neighbors about my pets, my gardening and all the wonderful things neighbors talk about I decided to ask them if they would care if I had chickens in my backyard. None of them minded and all were more than pleased with the prospect of getting fresh eggs in addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables I already grow and share from my backyard garden. 

So began the planning phase, I had originally considered the east side of the house as it is the coolest part of the yard in the middle of summer when the sun is unrelenting...
...but after a call to the utilities I learned that that side of the house was where all the major plumbing and utilities were running into the house and I  didn't want the coop to be built over an area that might have to be dug into one day. So I began considering building the coop in the middle of my backyard garden; but I wanted it to be a beautiful addition, not an eye sore since I spend a great deal of time outside and some of my neighbors can see the backyard in the winter/spring when my garden goes dormant or gets a trim.

On Valentines Day I took my mom to the State Fair and after touring the poultry barn and texting my Hubby pictures of cute day old chicks he said I could have them so I brought home 4 Black Sex Linked chicks!
Needless to say these little chicks effectively lit a fire under my butt and I became obsessed with chicken coop design and planning and spent every free minute working out all the details of my dream coop for these four little puff balls.

First I began to think of the size of the coop. After many hours of research I decided that a minimum of 50 square foot of space would be required since my hens would not be able to free range on a regular basis since I cannot let them out unsupervised so I started mapping out a 6x10 foot area of my yard to get a visual for exactly where it would be and how it would look from different vantage points
That is my master bedroom window (the sliding glass doors) which we keep shut 99% of the time due to privacy issues and all that, so the coop will serve the purpose of providing some privacy and giving us a reason to open the blinds to check on the girls.

This is the view I see from under my pergola looking to the left side of he yard, where the coop will be.

I spent several weeks drawing up design plans and modifying them and rethinking the design and modifying some more... After research hot weather coops I decided that a "coop" wasn't really necessary if I made the run predator proof and provided them with shelter from the wind and rain. In this part of Florida we get like 3-4 nights per year of low 30's or anything near freezing temperatures. But I DO have to deal with lots of rain... daily rain... sideways rain... and when its not raining it is HOT. So with all that in mind I started where anyone would have to start on a project like this... with he foundation of course!

I picked up 22 concrete blocks and laid out where I wanted the chicken coop to be located, making sure to have plenty of clearance for my wheelbarrow on both sides.

Then I dug out all the soil so I could lay down and bury hardware cloth 1 foot deep and all around the perimeter of the coop. 
I excavated about 6-8 inches of soil over the entire 6x10 foot space before I decided that if I'm going to have the hens scratching on the ground then I don't want them digging down to the hardware cloth and cutting their feet.
So then I continued to remove another 6 inches of soil around the perimeter to make sure the hardware cloth was deep enough to deter any digging predators.
Then I folded it over so that the cinder blocks would sit on them and the concrete mix would kind of seep through and bind it all together.
And I put all the concrete blocks on top and decided to fill it with dirt instead, its cheaper and its just a chicken coop right??
Leveling is a pain in the ass, and back, and arms... my whole body hurt from lifting those blocks over and over again. 
It was kind-of not really almost level... sort-of... 

Success!! This took me a whole weekend to do by myself... then my Hubby came out and said "doesn't it need to be level?" and I was like, "well I want it to slope for drainage when it rains" and he was like "OK, its your chicken coop" and so I spent the whole week researching again and learned that the foundation is the MOST important part of a structure and so... I spent the NEXT weekend redoing the foundation to make it level... but hey at least the hardware cloth was down!

Doing it right!
I also had my hubby pounded 2 foot rebar into the corners and the middle of the sides and I filled all those holes with concrete.
By the end of this process my biceps were huge! 

Now the sad news, one of my chicks died early on... it is not uncommon for a newly hatched chick to die from coccidiosis but after a few days it was clear she was not doing as well as the others, she was half the size of  her hatch-mates and so I removed her to her own brooder as a precaution and she continued to eat or drink very little and eventually passed.

But the other 3 were getting bigger and bigger and their feathers started to replace the fluff... I was very, very anxious to continue the chicken coop so I bought all the lumber and began pre-painting it in the evenings after work. 

I set up a little crate outside so the girls could get out of their brooder for a couple of hours and watch me work on their new house. They loved dust bathing and pecking at the grass.

The next weekend (to my delight) my hubby decided to "help me" with the chicken coop, I showed him my designs and told him where I wanted all the pieces to go, I measured and cut everything and he drilled and screwed it all together. I didn't get to take a lot of in progress pictures but here is what it looked like at our stopping point for that day. 

 Here you can see how my hubby attached the wood for the frame to the wooden foundation that sits on the cinderblocks. He used a countersink bit to countersink all the screws and I eventually filled and painted over them. We used all 2 1/2 inch screws for this part. I bought a 5 pound box and we still have a few leftover.

 Here is a closeup of how the corners look, I was going to do 4x4 posts but I saw a couple other chicken coops that used just 2x4s in the corners and I linked this better because it was going to make it easier for me to add things like the poop board and nest box without having to cut notches out for the corners.
All the posts are attached to the side of the wood foundation which is two 2x6s one flat and one on its side, they cover the holes in the concrete blocks.

That night I finished pre-painting the rest of the lumber and the next day we put up the rest of the frame and roof.
My hubby attaching the wooden frame to the concrete foundation with hurricane straps.
These will hopefully help keep my coop on the ground if we get any hurricanes in the upcoming years... but I would bring the girls inside if there were any threat of a hurricane hitting us.

 Finished the sides... now its time for the roof!

 middle support bean goes all the way around and it is also the height of where the poop deck will be attached above the roosts for nighttime poop collecting.
  This spot had to be a little different because this is where they nest box will go. I needed two braces to attach it to and I wanted it to be low enough for the girls to be able to jump into the boxes but high enough that I don't have to squat or bend over to collect the eggs from the other side.

 The supporting beams for the roof are up! and my Hubby cut all the excess lumber off the side pieces. The roof slopes down toward the back of the coop where I will later install a short piece of gutter and have the water drop into a rain barrel that will serve as a source of fresh water for the hens to drink. I'm going to set up a nipple system using pvc pipe and the little red poultry nipples that they are already drinking from (I just stuck them into a gallon jug that I hang for them at the moment.

We had used Suntuff Polycarbonante panels on a previous project and while  I liked the ease of installation I wanted something that was not transparent and while I was looking online I found ONDURA panels that were completely opaque. I also loved that these panels came in 4x6  sheets that not only fit nicely in my kia rondo but four of them would cover the size of the roof I had designed without any need for trimming at all.
 Can't see it here but I went with the Brown color of roof since out house is trimmed in brown.
 The ONDURA panels are pretty light weight and easy to move around, we have them overlapping one rib down the whole middle length and about 6 inches between the front and rear panels. 

At this point my Hubby happily declared he was done with his part of the chicken coop and after I thanked him in the way wives thank their husbands I began my next task; the dutch door that would be the "human entrance" to the chicken coop.
 Measured, cut and framed my door. I LOVE the way it is looking!
 Painted Pumpkin Cream

 Basic small gate hardware they sell at Home Depot I went with Black since this area will be protected from most of the rain I don't expect it to rust as quickly... and if it does I'll replace it with the weather proof ones and spray paint them black.
 I mistakenly put the latch connecting the two doors on the back originally and then figured out that I cannot open the top only without first opening the bottom so I switched it around. 

The next challenge was installing hardware cloth to the inside of the coop... I did this in small sections in the time I had after work in the evenings and I solicited the help of  a friend as well.
 I used 1 inch screws and washers to secure the hardware cloth to the inside of the coop. Nothing is getting in to my girls!
Now I know that hens wont start laying their eggs until about 8-10 months old and because of this I wasn't planning on building any nest boxes until later in the summer when I had more time off to work on projects; however in a moment of exhaustion I started trimming away the hardware cloth that was not needed where the nest boxes were going to go... which left me with a rather large hole in my coop >.<
So I went to bed...

And the next day went to home depot to pick up plywood and start building the nest boxes...

 I already had a design in mind with plans and so I knew how much plywood I needed and I asked the nice gentlemen at Home Depot to cut it down to size for me so this was a project I could do all by myself, I had my hubby make the angled cuts they couldn't do for me at the store and then I was off!
 I painted the inside of the coop the darker brown because hens like a dark place to lay their eggs and I plan on making curtains for them later but like I said my girls wont be old enough to lay eggs until November or December so I have time to work on that over the summer.

Finished nest box?? Not really, there is a small gap at the top where the roof and the back meet so I need a plan for making that water tight, and I have to get my Hubby to cut holes out of the back so I can access the eggs from the front of the coop without having to go inside. 

I went back to Home Depot and picked up a small peice of the ONDURA roofing material that is made to go at the top of a roof, and I used liquid nails and a few screws where I could to cover this gap and also make it look pretty. 

Once I finished mounting the nest box over the gap in the hardware cloth I was able to bring the girls into their new home!
They didn't quite know what to think of it all at first :)

This nest box has laminate flooring to help with cleaning.

 Here it is with the removable lip and the perch for the girls to hop up and into the nest box, it is 18 inches off the dirt in the coop so they should be able to hop up there with no problem.

To be honest I don't think they know what this is for yet, they don't even jump up there on their own... I had to put her there for this picture... but they will figure it out.

The nest box opens from the back side,  made a sliding door to cover the holes and the only thing I need to change is that I want each door to open individually, at the moment they are one solid piece of plywood, but I'll fix that later. I also plan to add latches to keep it locked shut because we get raccoons at night and they are smart enough to lift these doors.

While I was at home depot I picked up some 4x8 pressure treated lattice panels and a fine tooth bit for our hand saw. My hubby had to cut the panels to fit the gaps in between the frame, some of the panels had to be a little skinnier than I wanted because he had to cut where there were not any staples in the wood, but I don't think you can tell from just looking at it... unless you are a super critical asshole and then I'll just tell you that you are in case you don't already know it =P

I painted these and then attached them to the outside, this adds a second layer of protection for the girls but most importantly it provides them with shade during he earlier and later parts of the day when the roof won't be able to shade them. It also makes the chicken coop look like a garden shed which I love and it helps to "hide" the girls :)

 Painting these panels took an exceptionally long time and so I painted one or two a day after work and worked on other projects for the coop.

I made an automatic feeder which I made using four 3 inch 90 degree PVC elbows, a empty cat litter container and some silicone sealant. The girls can get their food out of the bottom and as they eat it gravity brings more down to them, this saves the feed from being flicked out onto the floor and I am hoping that it will keep  their feed dry on rainy days.

Then I added their main roosts and a "poop deck" to collect their nighttime droppings and a ramp up to the roosts since it is a little high for them to fly up right now. 

Their roosts are an old 2x3 and 2x4 that I had leftover from other projects and I picked up some Simpson brackets for 2x4s and mounted them to a piece of 2x4 that I screwed into the side of the coop to give them two roosts at different heights. I painted them the same pumpkin cream color as the door and lattice.

The "Poop deck" or droppings board is a painted piece of plywood with laminate flooring on top supported by two pieces  of 2x4 and a brace in the middle I used a shelf bracket for that so it wont sag  in the middle over time. It is also the only thing that I painted white. I read that you can monitor your chickens health by looking at their poop and so I decided that a white poop board would give me the best view and I would be able to tell the color better than if I were looking at poop on a darker or some other color board.

 The ramp is a fence post that has little 1x2s every 4 inches or so, it is a little wobbly so I might have to add a 2x2 or 2x4 to the back to keep it from breaking if the girls decide to all sit on it at once...
It is also removable for easy cleaning, I used hooks and eyes to attach it to the poop board.

 I also installed a mail box on the inside of the coop to store essential items such as cleaning supplies and whatever else I find necessary to have on hand in the coop in the future... 

I added two large hooks to the top of the coop that I can hang a rake and other garden tools as I need them, for now this old rake will work fine for cleaning up their mess.

 Here is a picture of their temporary waterer its just a plastic jug hung up with wire and a hook and the poultry nipple on the bottom this lasts them about  2 or 3 days before it gets low enough that I refill it and the water is always fresh and clean and cool.

This is the "pond" I also added, they don't drink out of it so much and they don't bathe in it either, chickens dust bathe, but its's in here to help them keep cool if they need to they can walk through the water or dunk their heads under in. Chickens can't sweat like we do they have a harder time regulating their temperatures so to cool off they can get their feet wet or wet their combs. 

This is my emergency escape plan, the coop door has a spring to keep it shut tight and the latches only open from the outside so I tied this string though and you can get out of the coop by pulling on it to open up the doors.
 The planter also makes the front of the coop look nice, I planted mint, sweet potato vine and coleus all from other places in my garden.

We had a small rain shower and it got the pop deck wet and  I don't really have a dry spot for the girls other than the middle of the run so I went to Home Depot again and picked up a 12 foot piece of Suntuff's clear polycarbonate roofing. I had some help cutting out pieces to go in between the frame like I have the lattice. I pulled the lattice panels back out (still not done painting it so I haven't attached it yet) and put the polycarbonant panels up underneath the lattice - you can see what I mean in the pictures below. Once I painted the lattice panels I was able to screw them on right through the polycarbonante, its not going anywhere and now the roosts and poop deck are protected from wind and rain!
 The roosts are fully protected on the inside now.

 You can hardly tell it is there on the outside unless you catch the glare.

 So the coop is pretty much done, now I'll move on to landscaping around it to blend it into my backyard garden, it looks great and I love how it turned out!

 The girls seem to like it too :)