Monday, May 19, 2008

New Chicken Coop!!

I wanted to build a predator proof chicken coop - the Fort Knox of chicken coops, actually. I also wanted them to have a large, fenced and secure run so that they can run around when not allowed to free-range - like on my upcoming trip when they will more or less be in the run three weeks with very limited free range opportunities. I decided to convert an old dog run that was here when I moved in. It's roughly 5' wide and about 20' long, and it had chain link around it and a concrete pad, and a "dog house" built into a shed that is really just a plywood box you can open if you need to from inside the shed. Unfortunately, a tree has grown through the chain link in a couple places, a few metal bars were missing, and there were some holes in it (at one point it appears someone cut a dog sized hole out of the fence, and I would love to know the story on that).

I ended up making a frame over the top of the dog run by laying old PVC pipe every few feet and stretching chicken wire over it. Everything is affixed by cable ties, the goal being that there is a completely secure enclosure and inside that, a completely secure chicken coop.

I wanted the chicken coop door to open and close automatically on a timer, so I don't have to worrywhen out of town that the girls are being tucked in and untucked at a decent hour. Unfortunately, the only door on a timer I could locate was in England. I ordered it, and so far, so good. It does work very nicely. You can get it to operate on solar or a timer. Now, theoretically, I could be gone for a weekend and the chickens could be safe and sound.

The coop has high nest boxes due to making room below for food and water storage, and the door. So far the chickens haven't used it - they didn't want to go in last night. They are creatures of habit and I am hoping this is just a new routine they need to get used to. I manually tucked them in last night (with assistance, as someone has to block the door while I add chickens). This morning the timer opened the door and Samantha peeked out. I gave her and Athena, first ones up, some scratch grains and when I went out later everyone was up. So hopefully they will make it a new home quickly. The food and water is in there so they should go in - and I left the food/water door open today so it isn't dark inside. We used an old ladder to make roosts (very nice!) and they have everything they need. It is insulated with old political campaign signs that are corrugated plastic and trap air. It has a Boston top for ventilation (screened). Overall it is very well built (by a local framer).

I designed the bottom to drop down for easy cleaning, and I lined it with a tarp and cedar shavings. I should be able to drop it, take up the tarp and lay a new one every few months as needed. The nest box part is not insulated, nor is the door, but the rest is. It will have a heat lamp for winter, and I use a dog bowl that's heated to prevent the water from freezing in winter. All in all, it should function if I can just get the ladies to lay in the boxes and to see it as home, not a strange new place. It is also elevated to maximize their roaming area in the pen. They have tons of space - but they clearly love being free best of all.

I had the pastures corrugated Saturday to allow better irrigation and WOW I wish I had done that a long time ago! I get GREAT coverage! The chickens love it and cruise way far into the pasture getting the best bugs. The horses are learning to walk on the top parts and avoid the ditched altogether, which is cool. And the coverage is good enough that in fall or next year I can re-seed and know I can get water - this will allow me to vastly improve my pasture over the next year. While I lose some space corrugating, I more than gain it by watering previously dry areas - plus I spare dust and mud! I'm a tad worried about the existing grass but the corrugator man said it will grow back through the dirt over it now and I have no reason to doubt him.

As I cable tied chicken wire and dug ditches all weekend I marveled that I actually like this stuff. It never seems like work, running the ranchette is just fun and a challenge!

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