Monday, July 6, 2009

How (Not) To Build a Chicken Coop

In 2006, we brought home our first three pullets (a term, which I found out referred to, not just adolescent hens, but any female chicken under a year old - boy chickens under a year old are cockerels). I'd read the book, Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces, about raising backyard chickens, and I still use it as my primary recommended reference for people who are just starting out in the backyard chicken business.

But, now, I also, strongly, recommend reading other, online and offline, resources.

Really, one should read as much as one can, prior to bringing home any animal - whether it's a pet or livestock (even better would be to know someone who has said animal to give advice on getting started, but barring that option, read, read, and then, read some more - and as many different resources as possible).

When I decided I wanted ducks, I read everything I could find on my chosen breed, and then, I bought a book on ducks, too. I just wanted to be sure, you know? Things happen.

But with the chickens, in the beginning, it was, mostly, just that one book. Which was good, but didn't fully prepare me for everything I'd need to know.

The first six months of chicken ownership were a breeze, mostly, except once they learned to fly, keeping them in their coop was a little tougher, but those eggs ... it was wonderful!

Then, I walked out to the chicken coop early one winter morning and found a dead chicken. She was fine the previous night and dead in the morning. It didn't appear that she had been attacked - there were no wounds on her, no blood loss, and she was still intact. The water bottle, which was in the henhouse, was knocked over and all of the doors were wide open. We thought, she'd probably gotten spooked by something, knocked over the waterer and got herself wet, pushed open all of the bottom-hinged doors, and then, with the house wide-open, she couldn't get out of the cold, and ended up freezing.

That was our first lesson in the fact that our coop design was flawed.

The idea in our first coop was to build it as cheaply (free) as possible. I wanted to be able to stand up inside it and I wanted a roof that would keep out the snow. It had both features, but the one thing that it wasn't, that it should have been, was secure.

The chickens kept escaping, and I kept tacking things (wire and boards) up to keep the chickens in, but the idea that I might need to keep something out never crossed my mind.

And you know what? If you find one of these ...

... inside your coop. You've probably failed in chicken coop design class ... and you'll probably need to get a few more chickens.

Doesn't she look comfortable? Even with the crazy human standing there with a camera, not four feet from her, it looks like that space was just made for her. It wasn't.

Raccoons eat chickens ... but not the *whole* chicken ... just the head. Ask me how I know.

So, we sat down and did a redesign of the entire structure. It still has all of the features we wanted with the old one - tall enough to walk into, roof to keep the rain and snow out, plenty of room for the chickens. But it's also secure enough to keep critters (except chipmunks, and they don't eat chicken) out.

In the end I did learn that it pays to do a little planning and take a little time. Your chickens will thank you for your efforts with lots of yummy eggs.

And the raccoon? There seem to be a few less mice around ... and I don't think I've seen even one squash bug.


  1. We have raccoons out back who visit our compost bins for 3am parties. Our bedroom faces that way and sometimes their loud rock music wakes us up. At least that's what it sounds like....

    I am already planning our first coop to be the Chicken Palace knowing we have the 'coons around. Hopefully next spring!

  2. I still don't get how your city will let you have chickens and a coop, but you can't build a greenhouse. Weird. Maybe you should build a solar warmed "coop" ;-)

    I like the new design. I guess that's why they call it chicken wire huh?

  3. That is a nice coop. I've tried to do many things here cheaply and have had to go back later and do them right. Sigh.

  4. It's a hard way to learn a lesson, but the new design is wonderful. I had a coon once too.....

  5. your post makes me realize that i rely on our dog far too much. sorry about your chickens.

  6. I woke to a decapitate hen today. I always have know skunks to do that. Maybe it was a coon. My chicken fortress seems very tight to me but somehow we keep losing chickens.

    Even worse, we had gotten lazy for a while and didn't collect the eggs. Then hens had been doing so such a great job of setting and we had plenty of eggs so I decided to just let them be and maybe for the first time ever I would get to see chicks following their mama in the chicken yard. They have been setting on the eggs for about 2 weeks. Going in this morning to check after finding the dead chicken, I discovered that all the eggs had been eaten and all I had was a few scattered egg shells.

  7. I always get a good chuckle when somebody says "Ask me how I know."

    Glad to see you've got your chicken coop properly built, and hopefully it keeps all those rascally raccoons away from your chickens.

  8. I hate to state the obvious but it looks lined in chicken wire. I have been reading that coons can rip right through the chicken wire. Have you had any problems?

  9. The coop frame is covered with chicken wire, and no, since we built the "new" one, we haven't had any problems ... at all. Even the maurading neighborhood dogs didn't get through to the chickens (although they did kill one of our rabbits, but we've, since, fixed that issue, too).

    Thanks for stopping by :).