Automatic Door

I wanted Coop Knox (construction details here and here) to have an automatic door, for several reasons.  One was that the many evenings I’m off property partying with the local elites or receiving honors from officials and academics, the birds are securely locked away before I get home.  Second, when I spend longer times away assuring world peace through high-level diplomacy or simply vacationing internationally in my jet or motor yacht, I wanted the flock to be semi self-sufficient in terms of getting in and out of the coop.  And one other factor so insignificant it doesn’t really bear mention, is that hot coffee in my slippers while watching the chicken door open from the kitchen window beats wind burn on my cheeks while opening the door myself in muck boots during a blizzard.

I researched every automatic door out there before deciding on the Pullet-Shut (say it aloud) door that swings outward to open, rather than the guillotine (that just sounds bad) style that slides up and down in a track.  This door had great reviews and when I called to ask some questions, the inventor/builder/seller was just great.

I chose the solar power kit instead of electricity for a couple of reasons. First, so that in the event of a power outage, the door will still open and close.  Second, because although I do have power to my coop, I thought it best to save the outlets for other things I might need plugged in, rather than tie up one outlet permanently.  And I liked the light sensor better than the timer, as I don’t have to adjust it year-round as the daylight hours wax and wane.  Installation was easy.  The abrasive cut-off wheel on the circular saw cut through the metal, then a regular blade cut through the OSB.  Four bolts installed the door, and then I had to run the wiring.  The battery sits inside the coop above the window.  The solar panel and light sensor sit on the south wall of the coop.  So far the door has worked flawlessly.

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However I had a problem with birds trying to sit on top of the door.   The door was NOT cheap so in order to protect my investment I built a “chunnel” (chicken tunnel).

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The chunnel is constructed from the last of the four internal doors that were donated to me.  I cut it in half, “roofed” it with some scrap pieces of plywood, triangulated the bottom with some more scraps, and sat it in front of the door.  Besides keeping the birds from perching on the door, it has the additional benefits of keeping out drafts, blowing rain, and snow, and it protects the (already weatherproof) door mechanism from rain and the stress of occasional tornado-strength winds.

 

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Gutter Feeder

Over the years, I’ve tried many styles of chicken feeder; each have their drawbacks.  Some allow the birds to easily bill the feed out, making a mess and wasting a lot.  Others can be overturned, sat on, pooped in, or rained on.  I needed to come up with a way to allow the birds easy access to feed without wasting it.  After installing the gutters on the coop, I had an idea.  I took a left over piece of gutter, added end caps, and attached it to the internal wall of the coop.  Then HWA took a piece of 4″ PVC pipe and inserted it almost to the bottom of the gutter, leaving just enough space for feed to spill out into the gutter.  He attached the PVC pipe to the wall with metal strapping.  The top of the PVC is angled to allow pouring into it more easily without spilling.  I can now fill the pipe from the feed room side of my coop, and the birds themselves spread it down the length of the gutter.  The pipe holds enough feed to last about a day so I only have to fill it once, and this also allows me to better control the amount of feed I use.  The feeder takes up almost no room in the coop, since it is attached to the wall and sticks out only 3-4″.  And because it only sticks out a few inches, birds don’t try to roost on it or sit in it.  It is inside, where it is not subject to rain and snow.  But best of all, the steep sides of the gutter don’t allow the birds to bill the feed out, so I have almost zero waste.

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More recently I added a second gutter to the opposite wall – this time to provide oyster shell.  As it only needs to be filled occasionally, I did not attach a PVC pipe this time.

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The “perfect” feeder probably doesn’t exist but in my opinion, the gutter feeder is as close as it gets!

 

Poultry Coops and Interior Decorating Thereof

Having completed the external shell of Coop Knox, it was time to outfit the inside for me and my birds. First, I built an internal wall, dividing the space into a 10×10 coop and a 4×10 storage area with 2×4 framing including framing in a door.  (More on the door below.)  Next, I used a sheet of OSB to create a solid lower portion, and chicken wire covering the remainder.  The solid lower half prevents the birds from kicking bedding through while the open upper promotes good airflow and allows me  to see through.  I used chicken wire here since it is cheaper and doesn’t need to be predator proof.

Dividing the Birds and the Storage
The storage area has a large plastic shelving unit at one end (visible in this picture) and metal garbage cans as feed bins at the opposite end.  Having my feed and other supplies right there at the coop has been one of the best features of the coop.

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What the picture doesn’t show is a) the external door 4 feet on the other side of the internal door and b) that the internal door is hinged to open into the coop area.  That latter bit is a problem.  My original thinking was that the storage area was already small and I’d rather have the door open the direction I’m more often carrying items.  What I failed to consider was that the birds’  bedding would block the opening of the door making it, effectively, more wall.  Ooops.  Fixing that is on the “someday” list.

Nest Boxes
Next up was a place to lay eggs.  I built nest boxes from scrap lumber and installed them by screwing the back directly into studs.  The hens don’t seem to have any problem jumping directly from the ground to the top row of boxes.  Each box is 14x14x14.

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The very next morning my hens demonstrated that they recognized what the nest boxes were “for”:

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Roosts
The last internal item was to build roosts.  BOF and I completed this in an hour or so using more scrap lumber.  The  roosts consist of 4 parallel 2×4’s that are 3′ off the coop floor (less as the deep litter bedding layer builds up).  They are attached to the studs using lag bolts, allowing them to be raised up for cleaning.   An eye hook in the middle of the front roost, attaches to a cord hanging from the rafters, and holds them in the up position.

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The picture above shows the west-side roost.  Later HWA constructed a similar roost on the east side which incorporates some lessons learned on the first roost.
1) The roosts (2x4s) are screwed into the bottom of the supports extending from the wall; this change allows the roost to be folded up flush into the wall framing.
2) Where the roost goes all the way to the wall, it is supported by a length of 2×4 nailed to the wall rather than a leg extending into the litter.

These pictures show those details and also a) how the “rounding” of the roost support rail and the lag bolt design at the “hinge” permits the roost to be folded up into the wall, b) “framing out” sections of roost to avoid interference with the nest boxes, and c) the the space and ease of working provided by folding the roost into the wall. 

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The final element of Coop Knox is the absolutely fantastic, so-good-I’d-ditch-my-family-and-run-away-with-it-if-it-had-a-penis, automatic door, but let’s save that for another post.

Building a chicken coop (Coop Knox)

I grew up keeping poultry.  Mum took us kids to a local market every spring and each of us got to pick out a chick or duckling to raise.  We had a duck coop and a chicken coop, but no run; the birds free-ranged during the day.  It was the kids’ job to shut the coops up each night.  That was important, because in Australia, where I grew up, foxes were ever-present.  When – because kids are kids – we forgot, we woke the next morning to devastation.  Beyond that, I never gave a lot of thought to the birds – they were just “there”.

As a young adult, while house-hunting, we looked at a house that had a fabulous chicken coop in the backyard.  We bought that house because of the coop.  As part of the contract, the sellers agreed to leave some hens, so we had eggs as soon as we moved in.  I thoroughly appreciated being able to collect the fresh eggs, and between those and the vegie garden I started the day we moved in, I was able to feed my toddlers some pretty wholesome meals.

Then I moved to the US, to a city where I never saw any poultry and assumed there were rules prohibiting them.  It wasn’t until 2009 that I learned that they are legal.  I lost no time obtaining 8 straight run (unsexed) chicks from a local breeder, and a free A-Frame coop from a woman on “Freecycle”.  Of the chicks, 4 were male, and since the city ordinances prohibit roos, we were quickly down to four.  Not for long.  “Chicken Math” took over, and before I knew it I had 12 hens – the maximum I was allowed – and STILL there were more breeds I wanted.

So what does any sane person do in this situation?  Keep in mind this person has already bought one house primarily because of the coop in the backyard……you got it!  We bought a house on 10-acres, out in the country, where there are no restrictions on poultry.  (Having a wonderful HWA is a pre-requisite – I don’t know many men who would be so supportive of a wife who buys properties just to keep chickens.)

The property we purchased already contained a concrete slab (once the floor of a dog run) that seemed to be the most appropriate place to build a coop.  The slab measured 15’9″ x 10’8″.  I decided to stick with even numbers and build a 10×14 coop.  The front 10×10 to be coop proper, with the back 10×4 area to store feed, medicine, chick feeders/waterers, etc.

I started by building the walls one by one on the slab.  When all four walls were built, I spent a long, hot, dirty day drilling 34 holes in the concrete with a hammer drill and anchoring the walls using zinc-coated 5-1/2″ long concrete wedge anchors through the 2×4 treated lumber footer.  (Note: the anchors weren’t easy to find — I had to order them from eBay.)  

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As you can see from the picture, I did not yet frame in doors and windows, figuring it would be easier to build walls with studs 16″ on center, and then cut out openings for windows and doors.  If you have better visualization and carpentry skills than me, it would probably save time to build the walls with those elements in place, but I know my limitations. <smile>

HWA was too busy at work to be able to dedicate time to a coop build, so a friend, Rob, offered to come and help me.  I couldn’t have done it without him – some of the pieces are so long/heavy/unwieldy that there would be no way for one person to handle them alone.  The next step was to design and build the roof trusses.  We built one to make sure it was the angle we wanted, and once we were satisfied with it, used it as a template to build the remaining trusses.  Then I stood on a ladder and Rob passed one end up to me, then climbed up his ladder, and pulled his end up.  Triangulating and securing them took some time but we were pleased with the end result.  A few nights after installing them we had a storm with 70mph winds and the trusses stayed right in place.  At this point you can also see where we had cut out and framed the windows and doors.

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Now the fun part: sheeting.  I loved this part, because each sheet that goes up looks like huge progress yet only takes minutes.  I purchased a framing nailer which was a huge time saver, allowing me to nail each sheet of OSB up in 5-10 minutes.  In no time the coop went from framed out, to looking like a real building.

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Once all the sheets of OSB were up, we installed the doors.  There is a door at each end, as well as an internal door in the wall dividing the coop from the feed room.  I was fortunate that the doors were given to me by a neighbor who was doing some renovating.  They were internal doors at her house but two of them are external here.  Hey – its “just a chicken coop”!

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Having purchased an additional sheet of OSB we were able to add the triangle-thingies at the end of the coop.

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The windows we covered with hardware cloth on the inside using fender washers.

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Several sheets of metal roofing were donated to me and although metal wouldn’t have been my first choice…..free is free.  The first thing was to lay some furring sheets horizontally across the roof trusses, so we would have good anchor points for the sheets of metal.

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Next, we installed the first sheet on the roof as the foundation for the rest of them to line up on.

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We decided to alternate sides, doing one sheet at a time left and right.  That allowed us to get up on ladders from the inside of the coop and screw the sheets in the middle.  There was a LOT of getting up and down from ladders.  The coop is 12′ at the peak, and I had to get up on a high rung of the ladder in order to lean over the top part of the roof to affix screws.

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I found some sheets of metal siding in our pole barn left by the previous owner.  Our summers get very hot so metal wasn’t my first choice, but I decided to try it since it can always be replaced if necessary.  With OSB under it, lots of ventilation and a hedge-row on the west providing afternoon shade, I hoped the coop would stay cool enough. We had a heat wave after moving the birds in, with temps of up to 112, but the coop was never hotter inside than out.  

Here is a photo with the siding completed.  To trim the edges, I used $7 strips of galvanized flashing.  I don’t love the silver but it was better than paying $35 apiece for the metal corner pieces that are typically used.  If I really get motivated one day I might strip them with vinegar and paint them white.  For now they are doing their job even if they don’t look great.

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And the last outside step was to add a ridge cap.  I had one of the metal siding corner pieces in the barn, but instead of using it as a corner piece, I used it as the top ridge cap.  Since it was 10′ long and I needed 14′, I slid a 4′ piece of galvanized flashing under each end.  What I love about the ridge cap is not how it looks but how it performs.  Because the corner piece has 4″ sides, it sits up from the top of the roof, allowing hot air to vent along its entire length.  The flashing underneath extends 2′ under on each end, to prevent rain entering via this point.  We had a torrential rain 2 days after it was installed and the coop stayed dry.

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With 8-foot walls, metal roof and sides, a concrete floor, and heavy-gauge hardware cloth over the windows, it is an extremely secure coop.  A tornado or a grizzly could probably get in, but this coop — HWA named it “Coop Knox” — will protect against the largest of hail storms, foxes, coyotes, dogs,  and raccoons.

Lessons learned:
1) Reuse & repurpose to save a bunch of money; poultry don’t read Architecture Today or Better Homes and Gardens.
2) Drilling holes in concrete with a hammer drill is just one rung above cleaning septic tanks.
3) Friends are great to have.

Creeper Feeding Chicks

The creeper referred to in this post is nothing like these.  The word comes from creating a separate feeding area that piglets, lambs, etc can access by “creeping” under a barrier too low for larger animals to pass.

Young humans mostly have it good.  Young birds, not so much.  They are slow, small, weak, and inexperienced feeders relative to the rest of the flock.  They are at the bottom of the pecking order.  Literally.

This summer I was concerned that small chicks (with and without their mother hens) couldn’t compete well with the older hens and pre-freezer cockerels for food.  The coop feeder is too high; a length of plastic gutter mounted at the level of an adult hen’s back, plus the bigger birds always got to the “treats” (insects, toads, frogs, etc found free-ranging and the kitchen scraps I throw to them) first.  So, I came up with a simple way to ensure the smaller birds access to food.

HWA and I originally made this little pen for SAB’s rabbit a million years ago.  Never intending it to be anything but temporary, we snapped together some 1×2’s and chicken wire one afternoon, so the rabbit would have a way to get out and eat some grass in the backyard safely.  However, over the years it has held together and been used almost constantly, either to segregate a broody hen in the coop, or to give chicks a safe place for their first outdoor excursions.

Anywho….while trying to figure how to allow chicks access to food, it hit me that this little run, raised on some bricks, would allow the chicks to slip under to eat, while preventing the adults birds from gaining the same access.  It has worked phenomenally well.  It doesn’t take chicks a heartbeat to “figure it out” and I’m certain they appreciate having access to feed without the adults crowding them out.  Unfortunately, there were no chicks eating at the time I snapped the photo here, but I thought it would give the idea anyway:

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It is hard to see that it is raised off the ground, but you can see the bricks – the run is on top of them, so 3-4″ off the ground.  Newly hatched chicks run under easily.  My current youngest chicks are at least 8 weeks old and they now have to flatten against the ground to squeeze under – but they do it!  Experimenting with it, I’ve found I can’t raise it much higher without the older birds snaking their necks under and getting at the feed, so I leave it at this level and once the chicks grow too much to even be able to belly slide under it, they just have to start eating at the big feeder instead.  By then they are old enough to hold their own so it all works out.

HWA has proposed a more permanent and purpose-built solution which would a) be mounted to the side of the coop, b) have a solid (rain-proof) slanted roof hinged for easy access, and possibly c) adjustable height barrier to entry.  That sounds great.  I’m sure he’ll have it built by the time a) we’re all dead and buried, b) the planet-destroying astroid hits, or possibly c) global warming has made our home the same shallow sea it was during the late Cretaceous Period.

Hoop House

My flock runs together during the day and sleeps in a main coop at night, which works out surprisingly well.  However, as spring drew closer, I started to worry about safety as birds start thinking about brooding and raising their young.  A friend had a terrible experience last year when her turkey built a nest in her hedgerow and was taken by a coyote.  Not wanting the same thing to happen to mine, I devised a plan to keep them safe while brooding: a hoop house.

I already had some livestock panels purchased at a farm auction for about $6 apiece and using scrap lumber, I was able to build the entire thing for under $50, not including the tarp which was another $30 or so.  It is 10×12, so 120 sq. ft of “floor space”, yet tall enough that I, at 5’4″, can stand up inside without bumping my head.  The livestock panels don’t have to be perfect.  The birds won’t care and in most cases, if they are bent or twisted, they can be straightened out with a little effort.

Step 1:

I laid out the 3 panels and lined them up on my 12′ board (this is when I discovered that my panels are actually 52″, rather than exactly 4′ tall.  For the second hoop coop, I plan to buy 14′ boards and cut them off when all 3 panels are laid side by side, rather than having the overlap there is on this one).

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Step 2:

Secure the panels to the boards.  I used fence staples but then started to have reservations about their true ability to hold the weight under stress, so I also used metal strapping in the corners and at all overlap points.

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Step 3:

Using 14-gauge wire, I tied the panels together every few feet.  Not much to photograph there.

Step 4:

This was the only step for which I needed HWA’s help.   With the ratchet tie-down fastened on one side, HWA lifted up the 12′ board with the 3 panels attached, while I pulled on the tie down, to pull it into a hoop shape.  Once I had my end on the ground, I tied off the tie-down to the opposite board, to hold the hoop shape.  This allowed me to leisurely affix the end boards of the rectangular frame.  Initially the end boards were secured with 3 screws apiece.  I later bolstered the strength of the corners by taking another piece of metal strapping, bending it into an “L” shape, and screwing one side of each “L” to each side of the corner.

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Step 5:

Create framework for the non-opening end.  HWA, who is an engineer, assured me an A-Frame design is the strongest, so, using 2×4’s, we carefully cut them at an angle to meet at the top.  We then secured the bottoms to the inside of the frame.  The tops feed through openings in the panel.

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Step 6:

Cut two lengths of 3′ tall 2×4 welded wire and staple it to the bottom frame and the A-Frame supports, to create the end wall.  I secured it to the panels with more wire.  While zip ties are easier and faster, they wear out in the sun.  I am hoping that by using wire, I won’t have to “re-do” this every couple of years.

Step 7:

Create the framework for the front.  The previous owners of our property left a lot of scrap lumber lying around when they left.  I decided to pillage some of that since I did not need full 8′ lengths and it was a good use of some otherwise hard to use lengths of lumber.  One had a charred end due to being in a burn pile at some point.  We call that “character”.  The two vertical pieces are attached to the bottom of the frame on the outside.  The horizontal runs through an opening on either side of the panels, and is then screwed to the verticals.

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Step 8:

Use 2×4 welded wire to cover the front openings except where the gate will be.

Step 9:

Create the gate.  I used 2×2 lumber and cut it to fit.  The height of the door opening allowed me to create the entire gate from only two lengths of 2×2.  The pieces I cut off the verticals were wide enough to do the horizontals, and the small pieces I had to cut off the horizontals became the triangulation.  I had the hinges left over from a previous project and attached the gate so that it opens fully and rests against the outside front wall.  I then used a latch to make sure it is able to be locked closed.

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Step 10:

Attach a tarp.  I bought one of the more expensive tarps that has the reflective silver on one side, because we get very hot temperatures here and I figured it would help keep it cool.  The tarp is 10×12 and the 12′ length runs down the 12′ length of the coop.  I wanted to leave enough on each side for them to see out and get air flow.

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So there you have it – how to build a hoop house in 10 easy steps, even if you are a petite woman with limited building skills.

Oh – on the inside I added a dog house for them to nest in and roost on, and set a feeder and waterer on the ground – the waterer in a corner so it can’t be knocked over, and the feeder in the middle where it is protected from rain blowing in from any direction.  It would also be easy to hang a feeder from the panels, and to make the waterer fillable from the outside, if necessary.  The last thing I did was to add chicken wire on the inside of the panels all the way around, to keep newly hatched chicks, poults and ducklings from escaping the safety of their “nursery”.