Chicken Coop Designs Through the Years

By the winter of 2012, I’d spent about six months in my new house. I’d learned that the dirt in my yard was hard clay that stuck to my shovel like peanut butter, that roaches appeared in surprising places during warm weather, and that I really enjoyed working outside and taking care of animals.

So I started planning for chickens.

Things I knew, starting out:

  • My backyard is fenced in, and I planned to let the chickens free range while I was home. Therefore, the size of the run could be a bit smaller than if the chickens were in there 24/7.
  • Everything needed to be enclosed. I wasn’t sure what my predator situation was yet (see a few paragraphs down), but I didn’t want to risk a chicken to find out.
  • Since heat is more of an issue in south Louisiana than cold, the coop needed good ventilation.

The feed stores wouldn’t have any chicks until February or March, so I fumbled my way through building my first coop in January. It was my first major build, the previous largest being storage bench. I researched and sketched and researched more. Finally, I ended up with this happy little blue number perfectly sized for two chickens:

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I couldn’t find any good pictures of the run, but it folded up small enough to fit into the back of my car. At the time – keep in mind I was in my initial year of living in a hurricane-prone area – I was very worried about how and where to take my chickens should we need to evacuate, so a transportable run seemed like a good idea. But I’d also overbuilt it out of heavy wood, so it was really unwieldy for everyday use. I hated run.

A few months after my first chickens arrived, I decided to get another pair of chicks. Halfway through 2013, I returned to the sketch pad.

This new coop would not only be larger, but it would have a fixed run. I was worried about the chickens scratching one spot of grass to mud, so I read a lot on chicken tractors. With some good wheels and mechanical advantage on my side, a heavy coop would be easy to move around the yard every other day or so, right?

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Those tiny, tiny wheels.
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Here, you can see the old coop behind the new one.

In that first picture, you can see “levers” connected to the wheels. The idea was that the coop would sit squarely on the ground until it needed to move. Then, I’d pull those levers and engage the wheels.

That, er, didn’t exactly work. The coop was heavy and – once again – unwieldy. I also have far too little land for a chicken tractor to be effective; my entire lot is less than a quarter of an acre. So the wheels came off and the coop found a permanent home in my yard. I filled the run with sand, and for a short period, everyone was happy.

But it was with this second coop that I learned about my nocturnal predators.

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“Borrow a cuppa sugar, friend?”

See, the part of my yard that isn’t peanut butter clay is sand. Apparently, my area has many, many raccoons and opossums, and those critters like to dig. I woke up in the middle of many nights to chickens shrieking because something dug under the edge of the coop and squirmed inside. Fortunately, the only victim was the chicken feed. I laid down a perimeter of galvanized hardware cloth and heavy stones, and all was well again.

It was also around this time that I tried using an automatic coop door. The idea was that the coop door would slide closed at sunset and open at sunrise, so that even if something got inside the run, the chickens would be protected. Although now I see plenty of kits and ready-to-go options for sale, back then, it was more reasonable to put my own together with a solar panel, battery, and gearbox. Technically, it worked, but with the expansion and shrinking of wood, the door got stuck and trapped my chickens in the coop. I eventually gave up on it and resolved to put my energy towards making the coop and run like a fortress.

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It’s not perfect, but this was probably my most charming set up.

I was happy enough with that coop, until in 2017, I decided to get ducks.

So here’s another obvious mistake I made:  even if you think you’ve sealed your wood, don’t let it sit directly on the ground, especially somewhere with humidity and insect issues like Louisiana. As I dissembled the coop and run, some of the wood on the bottom crumbled. Of course, the pressure-treated pieces held up better, but still:  don’t let wood sit directly on the ground.

I had some experience behind me, and I’d gathered some tools since my first coop back in 2013, so the 2017 edition went up more quickly and was more solid than ever.

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Okay, so what do we have different than before? The whole thing sits up on leveled concrete blocks. All of the lumber is pressure treated and painted with exterior-grade paint. I actually built this in two stages – you can see the separate chicken coop to the left is actually finished and sealed off.The ducks have their own separate house, lower to the ground for stubby little duck legs (although one or two have already shown off that they can awkwardly waddle up the ramp into the chicken house).

Finally, this much larger run is easily tall enough for me to walk around in so I can clean. This is particularly important because the bathtub for the ducks requires a regular water change. The height also allows easy access to the feeder, the houses, the water reservoir, etc. And when the ducklings first moved outside in 2017, it was easy to cordon off an area and keep them separate from the adult hens until the ducks grew large enough to hold their own (which didn’t take much time at all – maybe a few months – ducks grow very quickly).

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Man, they were so freakin’ cute.

For anyone interested, I do water changes using a submersible pump that can handle large chunks (little pebbles and sticks often wind up in the tub). I swap out the water three times per week and sprinkle a few mosquito bits to prevent larvae in the standing water.

This coop has performed well. Zero predators have gotten inside. However, I’ve [grumble grumble] started having some problems with mice. I’m currently trying a treadle feeder to see how that helps the problem. And in the spirit of disclosure, I’ve also laid out poison (protected from the reach of the ducks and chickens). I don’t like using poison, but mice and rats are not only expensive (they blow through feed), they carry disease and can chew on and damage wooden structures.

Another change I made with this coop is the substrate. Previously, when I only had chicken, I used sand. It’s easy to rake and keep clean-ish. The chickens seem to like it for scratching around and dust bathing. But while preparing for ducks, I knew wetness was going to be an issue. Not to get too graphic, but while chicken poo is solid, duck poo is more like diarrhea. Yum. Therefore, in this coop, I used pea gravel almost everywhere; it’s easy to hose down and rake. There’s still one corner of sand for dust baths.

Alright, so what I have learned from building and rebuilding and building again?

  • Never let wood rest directly on the ground; set it up on concrete blocks.
  • Build a run big enough for an adult human to stand up in and move around.
  • Bury hardware cloth around the outside and secure 1/2″ or smaller hardware cloth to all openings using fender washers (they have a large diameter); assemble that coop and run like a fortress.
  • Given tools, time, and the ability to understand your mistakes, you can always rebuild.
  • Sand for chickens; pea gravel for ducks.

Every time I was preparing to build, I’d also visit the BackYard Chickens forum for ideas and instructions. The trick is, though, understanding your environment and building (or rebuilding) to that. My chicken-keeping friend in Colorado has no roof on her run – it’s basically a fenced-in patch of yard – but she doesn’t have the same predators that I do. Understanding your environment might mean that your first stab at a coop sucks, and that’s okay. It’s only a problem if you never do anything to make the situation better.

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The Project Just Started and I Already Screwed Up

Ya know, I guess it’s nice to get mistakes over with in the beginning. At that stage, work can be undone – or at the very least – it can be easier to revamp the rest of the plan.

Before the Great Shed Revamp really began – as in, before I started the fun building stage – some prep work was required. Part of this entailed setting up a temporary shed for equipment like my lawnmower that needs protection from the elements. The other big – huge – MASSIVE part involved moving the shed.

A few years ago, an ex-boyfriend and I used a jack, 2x4s, and poles leftover from a chain link fence to roll my shed back about ten feet. My initial plan involved moving it forward, thanks to an oak branch that had so delightfully decided to prop itself on the back corner of the shed.

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Ya jerk!

I was a little worried about the stability of the shed after moving it and then however long the branch was propped up there. Also, just moving a shed is definitely a two-person job (not to mention, I couldn’t jack it up like last time, thanks to Mr. Branchenstein up there). Therefore, I decided to dissemble the shed and rebuild it. Bigger. Faster. STRONGER.

Or at least more stable and scooted forward about four feet.

Step one of disassembly involved removing the roof and OH MY GOODNESS Y’ALL, that was not easy. I mean, it’s great that the roof was on there so securely, since south Louisiana is prone to hurricanes and storms, but not so great when I was trying to pry the plywood away from the rafters. But I finally popped piece free!

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Yaaay! Don’t look at the hastily propped up window! Stop looking at it! Stop!

Before I got too much further, I realized I should go ahead and trim some of the smaller branches above the shed so that I didn’t have a future of leaning branches ahead of me, no matter the shed’s location. Previously, on smaller limbs, I’ve tortured myself by using a handsaw. Not this time.

A few years ago, my dad got me a circular saw and a drill from Ryobi’s ONE+ line. They’ve held up well and are my go-to tools. On his advice, I bought several batteries, so I never run out of juice. I was all too happy to see that the ONE+ also had a pole saw, and it was cheaper than most I’d looked at, so yay for that.

Once I got back to my house and set up the pole saw, I…well, I went a little wild. Slicing through all the irritating, half-dead limbs that had bugged me for months was exhilarating. Within half an hour, I’d created a small mountain of detritus.

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Destruuuctioooon.

Then an idea occurred to me, and the icy flames of excitement and dread licked my neck.

I walked around to the back of the shed to check out that branch, that core reason for shed disassembly and pain…

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Sweet Sally May.

Sure enough, my enthusiasm with the saw removed enough weight for the branch to lift off the shed.

Overall, this is fantastic. I no longer plan on moving the shed (one of the downsides of the move was that the new shed would eat up some of my precious, tiny yard). However, groan, I have to scrabble all around the roof and nail it back down.

At some point, I will probably tackle the rest of the branch and trim it back down to the main trunk, but oh man, do I wish the idea of the trimming the tree would’ve occurred to me earlier. Oh well. Better now than after I’ve taken the whole shed apart.

I still plan to reinforce the inside of the existing shed, just in case there is hidden structural damage. I’m also replacing the roofing. My plans have changed slightly (more on that coming soon), and shingles aren’t really viable for my long-term plans. Also, I hate shingles. I used them on my first chicken coop – never again.

Alright, I have a roof to nail back on…

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Preparing for the Shed Expansion

Coming off of the giant project that reformed my front yard, I thought to myself, “I can’t stand not being worn out everyday! I need to sweat until my eyeballs slide out!” Enter:  Shed Expansion.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with my little 10’x10′ shed. It’s perfectly find for storing a small amount of lawn equipment, tools, and old paint. But I’d really love a workspace. And, if at all possible, a little greenhouse would be nice too.

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Peekaboo, I see you hiding back in those branches.

My backyard isn’t huge, so I can’t go too wild. I’m planning on lengthening the shed by a moderate 6 feet for a final footprint of 10’x16′.

There are some issues to take care before I go construction-crazy, though. First of all, some equipment like my lawn mower really can’t afford to sit outside in summer thunderstorms, so I installed a little resin shed behind the existing shed.

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Sad, empty, wasted space!
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Building a level surface out of pea gravel and pavers.
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Happy little resin shed (with bonus chicken)!

After everything moves back into the main shed, I plan on keeping my chicken and duck supplies in the resin shed. Currently, the wood shavings, feed, etc. live in that trash can to the left of the resin shed. YUM.

The littlest shed had performed beautifully so far. Do you want to see how much stuff fits inside that lil 5’x6′ box?

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Such a shameful mess!

Okay, every single piece of this did not end up in the resin shed. I’m getting rid of the bicycle, and a lot of the wood and tubing will live outside for a bit. But that little resin shed is packed to the gills now.

On the next post, I’ll share how things have gone . . . not so well in the next stages. Until that point, though, I have time to recover those mistakes so I can present something a bit more hopeful and wizened!

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Update: The Birds

You guys, I know it’s more than halfway through June and I haven’t really peeped about my June project goals.

Eh, well, things have not gone quite as Snow White as I was hoping. Fresh off my trip to my parents’ houses, where each has created an avian paradise with feeders and a delightful variety of songbirds, I resolved to add some feeders to my front yard garden and create my own chirpy paradise.

My wise mother advised that the key to a variety of birds was a variety of food, so I added this sweet but sturdy shepherd’s hook and two feeders.

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Every few days, I stock one feeder with a songbird blend and the other with pure black oil sunflower seed. I haven’t yet decided what to put on the lowest hook yet, because the birds are like little piggies on the existing feeders. They fling food everywhere. That stuff that looks like grass in front of the bird bath? Sprouted birdseed. Lovely. Fortunately, it’s super easy to pull. I only fill the feeders once or twice a week, which forces the birds to dig around on the ground for scraps and (hopefully) minimize what’s left behind to sprout.

My mom’s significant other always sings the praises of suet. I always reckoned suet as a cold-weather food, but apparently you just have to make sure you get the no-melt kind in summer. I got a cheap little suet holder and hung it from a tiny shepherd’s hook below my crepe myrtle. Inside the branches of that tree, I also have a little nesting ball to encourage some birdies to take up residence in my yard.

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The blue circle is the suet feeder; the orange is the nesting ball.

Most recently, I’ve also added a little hummingbird feeder to my kitchen window. I’ve never successfully attracted hummingbirds, though apparently they’re prolific in my area. I’m also terrible at remember to switch out the nectar, which may be the problem.

So what has this bounty attracted to my yard?

Like 5,000 house sparrows.

For a while, I also has numerous crow visitors, but they seem to be taking a break.

Briefly, I thought I saw a chickadee or two. I love chickadees because they tend to look chubby and cheerful. A few grackles have also visited. I’ve also seen several brown birds with red heads. The internet suggests these are house finches, but elsewhere, it doesn’t look like those little guys are supposed to be in my region this time of year.

But I really wanted some variety – some robins and bluebirds and goldfinches. Some color.

Ask and ye shall receive.

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Pigeons.

Last weekend, the pigeons found my feeders. Oh boy, did they find them. They told all their pigeon friends and they had a pigeon party at Chez Robyn.

Ugh.

But maybe word will eventually get around to the other songbirds and I’ll see a bit more variety in breeds. I might eventually add a peanut feeder and see if that attracts anyone else. On the plus side, unlike my mom, I don’t have to battle a horde of squirrels. I really just have one stubborn little monster who digs up my bulbs. I think the armies of birds around my feeders intimidate the squirrel, as I haven’t really seen it go for the feeder. So yay for the small victories!

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Things I Made Last Weekend

My life isn’t all digging in the dirt (but it mostly is)! I like to make things inside too, particularly as we move into hotter weather.

This past weekend, I made a few things:

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First, I sewed a simple wrap dress using Butterick See & Sew pattern B6543.

It hassss pocketssss.

It was easy to sew, as advertised. However, I’m not super happy with the sizing. Typically, you’ll want to make a muslin (mock-up) of a garment before using your final fabric, but that’s tough to do with a stretchy knit (old sheets work great for non-stretchy clothes, though). Plus, I figured a stretch knit would be more forgiving of mistakes. In terms of the Butterick size chart, I should be close to a 14. Looking at the pattern lines, that seemed a bit large, so I cut between the lines for a 10 and a 12.

Y’all, that size chart is way off.

I should’ve made an 8. The shoulders are falling off. Fortunately, I’ve played around with some tucks here and there, and it should be easy to sew in some neat little folds that will both add visual interest and help keep my chest from being fully exposed.

Last weekend held a second sewing project (whooaaaa), this one on a whim. I buy quite of bit of fruit and veggies, and I hate the plastic bags the grocery store has. I found some netting, cord, and toggles in my craft stash and whipped up some reusable produce bags. bags.jpg

Unlike the dress, there is no sizing issue with these. I’ve also moved them into my car, since I tend to stop by the grocery on my way home from work. The sides are sewn with French seams for durability, and the tops are folded down approximately 1 inch and secured with a zigzag stitch as the mesh has a little bit of stretch. They aren’t perfect, but they should work beautifully.

Now onto another domestic art:  cooking!

I kept reading about how gaga people were over Instant Pots, so back in January, I ordered . . . not one of those. I actually ended up going for the Crockpot version because it was cheaper and everything I’ve owned by Crockpot has held up well. Anyway, I definitely understand why people love these things. They make amazing rice. I regularly use mine to cook around six pounds of chicken thighs to shred and freeze for lunches and dinners.

They also turn dried beans into cooked deliciousness in 22 minutes!

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Bonus:  McCoy creeping across the background.

For these, I cooked 1 lb of dried black beans and 1 lb of dried kidney beans in chicken broth. I don’t know exactly how many cups of broth because I just stopped at the “Max Fill” line on the pot. Add some diced onions, set the timer, and voila! Beans for weeks. They freeze well, and they’re good.

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