Three years into having chickens and I’m still not sure if we’re doing it right. I’ve learned a lot about having chickens, for sure. People have started asking me chicken questions, which is a sure sign of having some sort of Chicken Owner Seniority. But things never go perfectly.
Take our coop, for example. It was a disaster from the get go. We hired a contractor to build it, being short both on time and construction skills. He didn’t understand what we were trying to do (we wanted a lightweight mobile coop), so we ended up with a very sturdy non-mobile coop with a wire floor. It took our contractor twice as long to build it as we thought it would, too, so it cost us about twice as much. We installed the roosts ourselves, first putting them perpendicular to the nesting boxes, which turned out to be a bad idea because it left no space for a waterer and feeder inside the coop. So we redid those and reinstalled them parallel to the nesting boxes, which means we only have two of them. This is fine, we still have enough roosting space because the nesting boxes were built inside the coop, instead of hanging off outside the coop. This means there is a nice shelf for the chickens to use as roosting space about it. It also means that all the poop gathers on top of it and we have to frequently go out there and scrape it off. It also means that there is wasted space below the nesting boxes, which usually serves as a good place for chickens to sneak under and hide eggs.
The doors to the nesting boxes on the outside of the coop are basic paneling. At first they shut fairly tightly, but over time they have warped and started to bow out, leaving a nice gap between the door and the side of the coop. This makes the coop drafty and that is exactly what you don’t want in a coop for your chickens.
Our contractor also insulated the coop for the winter. It’s a toss up whether or not this is necessary. Chickens tend to keep themselves warm well enough as it is because they have a lot of feathers. In our case, it was futile since neither we nor our contractor covered it with anything (such as hardware wire or boards), so the chickens ended up removing basically all of it. And then they pooped on it. So we had to drag torn up mats of chicken poop covered insulation to the town dump.
Originally, our coop was going to be mobile. I have no idea how we thought this would work. It’s built too heavy for the two teeny tiny wheels my husband bought for it. To even hold it up off the ground, we’d need at least 4 larger wheels. And we’d need to be able to steer it. Unless we wanted to only push it around, we’d have to get a tractor or something with which to pull it as well. And probably an axle so we could turn it. Basically, it’s a stationary coop.
We also thought we would have a coop with a wire floor so that the chicken poop from the roosts would simply “fall through” onto the ground below, thus saving us a lot of mucking out. This worked for a little while in the beginning. But once the chickens reached a certain age, the poop just started clumping up together on top of the wire with feathers mixed in for good measure. It started to smell, too. Then I read that wire floors are bad for heavy breeds, so we gave up and cut the floor out and switched to an impromptu “deep bedding method.” Since we never got around to putting in an actual floor, we’ve decided to stick with this one.
After Mr. Fox slid under our coop a few times to steal chickens, I took some wire fencing and stuck it around the coop with wires. This keeps the fox out and keeps our deep bedding in–a double bonus. Whenever I want to remove the bedding, we just remove the wire and rake it all out. Violá!
This year we’ve decided we’ve learned enough to really know what we want in a coop. So we’re going to make some changes. The biggest change is going to be in the nesting boxes. Since the chickens only use 3 of them anyway, we’re going to rip them all out and build one row of 6 nesting boxes hanging outside the coop. This will 1) prevent the chickens froom roosting on top of the nesting boxes and pooping up there 2) Get rid of the drafty gap from the nesting boxes’ door (the new door will be a lifting roof that should fit snuggly) 3) give us more room inside the coop for hanging feeders and waterers and another roost. We will reinsulate it and cover the insulation with paneling or hardware wire (we can’t decide which). We will take more hardware wire and staple it to the outside of the coop around the bottom to replace the wire fencing we currently have. This will prevent chipmunks, mice and rats from being able to sneak into the coop to nest and steal food, hopefully decreasing our feed bill. We will still be able to lift up the hardware wire when we need to clean out the coop.
We still need to find a solution for keeping the deep bedding from overflowing and falling out of the coop. We have two doors: the original one and a smaller chicken sized door we cut into the back of the coop. At this point, the smaller door is entirely covered and I’ve been adding blocks of wood in front of the bigger door to make a threshold. I hate having to leave that door open so the chickens can get out, but I don’t want to lose bedding through the back door. We’ve thought about cutting subsequent higher chicken doors, but then we’d need more chicken ladders. Other than that, I feel like our coop is finally getting to a point where it isn’t completely ill-suited to our needs.
Having chickens is complicated.