Coop co-operation: Project Springtime part 4

It takes about a thousand curse words to complete a chicken coop like mine. 

Also, it isn’t “finished” but it’s complete enough that the chicks have been living in it for a week. 6 week old chicks can make a huge mess, by the way. I’m still cleaning up chicken droppings from my porch, but that’s another story. 

The coop: I liked the plan because it appeared to be simple and straightforward, with an enclosed run below and a coop above for sleeping and laying eggs. I learned a whole lot. I’m not a total stranger to woodworking, but it has been many years since the last time I smelled sawdust. 

It’s particularly important to measure. Everyone will tell you that when you’re working on a wood project, especially when you’re a woman and they’re a man. But it is important. I measured everything except the space I was putting the coop into. I just eyeballed that. Whoops. 

I’m raising urban chickens, so space is at a premium. That was another factor for the coop selection. In my mind, 5.5 by 8 feet is easy to estimate and not so big. Not only is it big, its heavy. 

So the space was an issue, but only by a very very small margin, I’m talking a couple of inches (turns out I’m pretty good at eyeballing measurements!) in the wrong direction. The “landscaping” in the “backyard” here is odd: a mature chestnut tree is immediately surrounded by painfully rough and jagged but uniformly white rocks, and then a narrow long raised flower bed with bricks bordering it goes around 3/4 of the perimeter and opens up to a little garden bed. The rest of the functional “yard” is a concrete slab. I planned to put the coop in the unusable portion of the “yard” behind the long narrow raised flower bed, between it and a (commercial) building which butts right up against this property line. That space, without the bricks on the far side, is about 5.5 feet wide but it has variations that didn’t allow the coop to sit on the ground. 

Luckily, there was an abundance of concrete blocks lying around (and also on the backside of the flower bed, where nobody was looking so it didn’t need to be the pretty/expensive scallop shaped brick). I decided to make a perimeter (hah! That makes it sound homogenous) of concrete blocks, and rest (hah! That makes it sound easy) the coop on top of that. 

Problem 1 with this plan was that the coop was already over in the spot, teetering on little protrusions, somehow balanced but NOT FALLING APART BECAUSE ITS A STURDY…THING. I’m still amazed by this, as you can tell from my use of the caps lock button. 

My help (limited to 2 minutes in between watching the kids and leaving for work) from my partner was getting it over there from the slab where I built it. I could not have done that part alone. The rest (save for that one side he was available to help on) I completed alone. It can be done. 

So there it was teetering, and I’m thinking I have the answer in the form of concrete blocks so I start tossing them into the coop, then I enter the coop and lift the coop by the crossbars with my back while simultaneously shoving the concrete block “perimeter” in place under it. This was by far the hardest part of the project, and while the pain of it did not compare whatsoever to giving birth, I’d like to avoid repeating it.  Some areas have extra blocks in front of them – a halfhearted attempt to disincentivize predators.

 I had to finish the front and back (2 triangles) after the placement. I was unable to procure hardware cloth and unwilling to use more chicken wire (many urban farmers were telling me horror stories), so I chose instead to go “off-plan” and build doors. I stand by this modification, though it is still one of the least complete parts. I was freehanding the circular saw to cut the plywood, which resulted in uneven sides of the doors – wavy, even. I kept having to take them back to the makeshift table (a slab of thinner plywood on 2 plastic sawhorses) and shave off a bit more. Once I was able to fit them in while the coop was on the slab, I expected to be done with that part. However, the weight distribution along the concrete block perimeter, coupled with the blocks themselves sitting at slightly different heights (undetectable to the human eye) meant that the doors did not fit perfectly once the coop was in its place. Lots of shoving, and bits of lifting later, and one door had 2 hinges. The other is just jammed into place, but it’s on the side I don’t need to open. 

Funny thing, today the heat lamp bulb exploded, so I had to open that door I thought I wouldn’t have to open. I used a hammer. Don’t worry, it’s still in one piece. 

Oh there was one other thing I didn’t measure correctly: the placement of the center stabilizing bar on each side. I didn’t see the measurement so I assumed t was halfway up. Later, when the cross bars went in (the ones cut at 30 degrees, which hold up the coop floor), they didn’t sit flush with the stabilizing bar – it was a couple of inches too low. That, of course, meant the side doors (the primary access points) were not the right size anymore, so I had to add a custom trim of a 2×4 on top. It came together in spite of these challenges and I’m proud of my work. 

Here are the things I’d like to fix/finish:

Front and back doors: trim, add hinges.

Side doors: add hinges to far side

All open spaces: add hardware cloth. 

Add nesting box

Make ramp more accessible

Waterproofing: silicone sealant for top gap, ?for other areas around doors. 
The chicks love their coop, although only one can get up and down the ramp. They also love papaya seeds and finding worms. They’re cute chickens. 

Measure everything. 

Coo coo coop. Project Springtime part 3.

It has been cool and rainy every day. All the plants are behind schedule. I’ve had materials for the chicken coop for a month. Boards are cut to size, ready and waiting for me. 

Today it was 85 degrees. 

I do almost everything with my baby strapped to me, but using a power saw is where I draw the line. Actually she draws the line a bit before the power saw, somewhere around hammering or leaning over to measure, but we most certainly will not use the power saw together. 

I finally had the combo I needed today: another adult and no rain.

I chose an A frame coop by Ana White, as it seemed simple and moveable. We are renting and hoping to buy in the next couple of years so I want to take it with us. The top of the A frame has board ends cut at 60 degrees off square. I had our super awesome neighbor’s help the other day getting the 30 degree cuts completed but he didn’t feel comfortable doing the 60 degree cuts. 

Here is the first thing I learned doing this project: 60 degrees off square is tricky!

I am lucky to live in a town with a tool library, so I signed up and borrowed a chop saw. I used one of the 30 degree cut boards as a jig (a device that holds a piece of work and guides the tools operating on it) and secured it to the saw. Then I put the board against the 30 degree cut board, with the blade still set at 30 degrees, endured it was even with my line, and cut. 

It wasn’t perfect. I was still proud. I had to tear off the pieces that were not completely cut off but very close. Then I set the blade to the highest number possible, somewhere around 53, placed JUST the part that hadn’t been cut off into the blade line, and chopped that off. 

Following this, I was interrupted with an urgent chicken need. My other half had heard the chick alarm-peep and noticed a kestrel stalking them very close by, as the chicks retreating to the hedges. He put 2 away successfully but 1 was eluding him so he came to get me. No casualties, except maybe some of my not-quite-seedlings in the planter boxes that he didn’t know were there when the baby decided to plunge her hands into the soil…

Then I began to assemble the sides of the coop, but baby was beside herself and I needed reinforcements. My other half came to the rescue and helped complete the first side, and by then baby was calm, so I quickly put together side 2.

Putting together the sides was slowest during the chicken wire securing part because we couldn’t find the staple gun – I put the chicken wire on from the beginning, with staple-nails and I wish I had just sprung for the hardware cloth (nevermind that my supply total was just over $200 as it was) but I think I’ll get some and put it over the chicken wire and the flooring anyway. 

The sides look good. It appears the next steps should be relatively easy. 

I’m planning to put doors on the front and maybe then back too for easy access everywhere. They’ve got to get off my porch. Do you know how messy chicks are?!

Project Springtime, part 3: letting the girls out

The chicks are getting big, of course, and wanting to explore. I don’t have the heart to put a cover on their brooder so they keep getting out and leaving gross not-exactly-breadcrumb trails showing me where they’ve been all night on my front porch. I re-vamped their area so they’d be leaving trails mostly on cardboard and paper, and hopefully after they transition to the coop it will be easy to clean up after them. 

Today, after many many many days of rain, it was cloudy, and I was home planting seeds. I realized quickly that the girls NEEDED to get out in this short window, as they’re about 6 weeks old and have only known pine shavings and front porchy things. I made a quick makeshift enclosure of the front yard next to me, and brought out clean water. Madame Secretary, the buff Orpington, came out first. She is largest but I’ve realized she isn’t the leader. She was a bit concerned to be out by herself. Rashida and Albertina came out together and they 3 huddled for a moment and moved about in close proximity. It seemed they got pretty excited about the new things to peck at. Sadly, it began to rain – although lightly. I stayed out and finished the planting, and as I was getting ready to bring them in I noticed they were nearing the bushes for cover. 

Thankfully it was a smooth and easy exploration, no casualties or chasing involved. I look forward to more!

And the parts to the chicken coop are all sitting in wait, measured and cut. I will do a lot of things with a baby strapped to me, but using a circular saw to cut the angles on these boards isn’t one of them. Soon I will have help. 

Project Springtime part 1.5: chick maintenance

Visions and reality are often a little different. 

I envisioned having three cute chicks whom I would carry around lovingly, let the kids hold, and generally become attached to. 

We are all attached to them, but we handle them a heck of a lot less than I expected. 

Yes, they’re also a lot of work. Here’s what we have done so far, after the brood box setup from my last post.

Daily: change the water and check/change food/grit. Move lamp if necessary. 

Weekly: change the pine shavings (bedding), clean off poo from various places. 

Monthly: (I’ve had them a month, so I mean just once so far) add bricks to lift food and water, add 1 rock and 2 sticks for general amusement/perching. 

Water is critical and needs to be checked on multiple times per day I have found, since the chicks are really enjoying jumping onto the water jar and then the side of the box (sometimes out of the box too). On a few occasions they knocked over the water, and often the water tray is full of shavings even when upright – sometimes poo too! Yuck. If it’s got wet shavings in it I dump it outside on the ground between hedges before bringing it in for a good cleaning. It needs to be cleaned (in my opinion) with hot soapy water every day. I like watching them drink the fresh cool water when I replace it. 

Like children they seem to go through growth spurts, eating more on some days than others. I was filling the tray without a bottle on top at first, then they started eating all the food in a day, so I added the bottle. They slowed down and I think the bottle was unnecessary (didn’t hold any extra feed, difficult to get on and off, hard to refill if there was still feed in the tray) so I removed it today. So far not much poo in with food, but when there is some I remove it.

The bedding, especially if an inch or two deep, should last all week without getting too stinky or yucky looking – depending on how many birds you have I suppose. When I see a lot of poo mid-week I scoop some out. Since I upgraded their box a couple weeks ago I am scooping the old litter into the old box, and will take the whole thing to compost as it gets more full. I’m using an old plastic container to scoop out, and removing the litter with the chicks still in the box. They don’t seem to like this process, but they dislike the addition of shavings even more. I usually grab a big handful at a time and toss it in to the section they are avoiding. I assume there is probably a better way to do this, maybe moving the chicks to a different box while changing litter but that seems like unnecessary mess. Tonight I also cleaned up a bunch of poo outside the box. I’m looking forward to the coop. 

Of course, as I’m doing all these things I have a baby strapped to my front, and she’s going nearly upside down as I bed forward to remove and replace shavings. Mostly, she is agreeable, especially if I pick up the chicks afterward so she can touch them. She is far gentler than I expected considering how rough she is with us humans. All day long she says “bok bok,” which is her way of asking to go see them. When we have to come back inside she screams. She loves them dearly. As does the dog, who thus far has been very well behaved around the chicks, but insistent upon going to visit the box as often as possible. 

I have acquired all the wood for the coop, and will be posting about that as I begin construction. So far vision and reality have not looked alike, but I am thoroughly enjoying having chicks and the adventures associated with them so far.