Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chicken Coupe

And so it began;

(pics are all click-able to bigger pics)

She was pretty serious it seems in her intention to actually get chickens running about in the yard. The idea had been kicked about for a number of years, but the deepening involvement in PASA and with some of our more favorite local farms and farmers proved to tip the scales, and it seems the kitchen garden/edible landscape wouldn't be complete without some form of livestock. So, chickens.
Initially inspired by this pic off the Surlyblog a couple of years back, the concept for this coop had been brewing for a while. I was like, "Hey, that looks like an oversized gardencart!". So, the slow search for a domestically manufactured garden cart began. Yes, you see these things sitting in the corner of various backyards all over the country, usually in places where folks drive old volvos, have Appalachian Trail stickers on their 'stuff', a ski wax thermometer hung on a shed, and lots of stuff growing all over the places. These carts are often decades old, have years-old compost still sitting in them, and yet, they still seem to be functional. So, off to a few garden centers, finding lots of 'knock-offs' from various pacific rim points of origin. Some searching about on the internet, despite the oft-told story of 'Oh, you can't get those anymore', and Carts Vermont came up. Calling around to various garden centers, 'No, we have this cart instead' blah blah blah, I ponied up and ordered the large garden cart with the 'heavy duty' wheels from Carts Vermont, and it arrived a while back, just in time for her birthday.

A couple of weeks prior to Easter, the chicken need became too much, so it was off to drive about and pick up Peeps. You can read about that big fun over here . Time goes by, and these critters pretty quickly outgrow their kiddy pool of wood shavings and chicken wire, and even they get tired of stinking up the house. So, it was time to actually make good on my promise to build the new chicken house. So, I hauled out the shiny new garden cart, and started adding wood. The initial concept was pretty simple. Was to hold four chickens, and with that criteria in mind, she got six peeps figuring four would make it to laying age. Things have changed a bit since the days when everyone got their peeps through the mail I guess, as -aside from some real drama with the Blue Hamburg involving application of chicken proctology- these chickens are all doing really well in their teenage weeks, and so the house will likely be the home of six rather than four. Anyway moving along, it needed nesting boxes, two doors, (a chicken coop can only have two doors, if it has four, it's a chicken sedan) for easy cleaning, needs to be tightly secure-able against critters that might like chickens and eggs as tasty nighttime snacks, and be a happy home for chickens. So, add more wood: She -rightly I think- came up with the idea of using those big kitty litter boxes that had served us so well in other applications for nesting boxes that could be easily removed and cleaned regularly. Chicken hygiene -as it turns out- is crucial to happy healthy birds. The old days of feeding and watering them on the ground, and letting them roll about in their filth is long gone. Gee, whoda thunkit? Add more wood: The wood was all sourced from a local sawmill that doesn't have a webpage, elsewhile I'd link it right up. A family operation, they've been supplying us with all kinds of goodies at prices that $BIG_BOX shoppers can only dream about. In this case, we're using 4-quarter to 5-quarter by ten, or nine and a half or eleven or so hemlock, rough sawn fresh off the blade face and air dried on edge. You can keep that kiln dried stuff of which the production first-and-only folks are so fond. I got no use for it. Gimme 'real' lumber any day. (okay, as a small mill operator myself, I might be biased, fair enough). "Gasp! Hemlock? The silent sentinels of the secret and sacred mountain creeks? How can you?" Well, most of this is 'salvage' harvested, with NO THANKS at all to the hemlock woolly adelgid It's not without thought that I use this wood from these trees that I deeply love. It's a reminder, , , and a sacrement.

Anyway, add more wood:

It began to make some sense. Some folks have made mention of wanting to see the plans. Plans? We ain't got no plans, , Anyway, this is about the point where tearing it apart and starting over began eating at me. Fred Brooks talks about good design and tearing it apart and starting over being part of the design process, but the chickens need a house, and they need it now, not when I think this project should be ready. Add more wood: I know I could do better if I started over. Maybe I'll build another one and sell it, this time documenting it so others can build'em. But I have a feeling that only an idiot would spend this amount of time and money and effort on a backyard chicken house. Touche`

Add more wood:
And so on.
The windows were a lot of fun. These were salvaged from the house when the new thermal windows were installed last year. These were in the bathroom and the folks who had installed them had a lot of fun with 'stained glass' applique. They had been kicking around in the big shed waiting for a place and time, that being now and here. It's starting to make sense now. Chickens need a roost, and the roost is easily removable for cleaning. Trap door for chickens to come and go, and it is latched up at night to keep the critters out. Add more wood. I didn't want to, but it was off to $BIG_BOX hardware/building supply depot for that sheet of plywood. Initially I'd hoped to just fir out the roof for the steel, but the plywood layer just made sense from a weight/rigidity standpoint, so on it went. That plywood was too large to move in my prius work truck, but we managed anyway, just bent it and shoved/pulled it in, nearly sawing off some fingers on my right hand in the process. Some colorful language on that one. Nearly done adding wood at this point. Time to bring the chickens in to see what they think. (Do chickens think? I think they do.) Chicken pondering.

More chicken thoughts and considerations:
All in all, they didn't seem too convinced. Not too sure about it all. Well, at least they got to go back home to the kiddy pool for a couple more nights while the finishing got done. There was some miscommunication between the contractor/contractee/painter/builder concerning the stain. But it grows on ya. Really. I expect it will help with the much-needed winter heat gain also. Really, it grows on ya. Sure, the naked wood looked nice, but it's not real practical. And we're told that chickens like red. So, there you are! really helped nail down the roof color though. For some reason, the pic doesn't show it very well, but it's a nice green roof, really sets off the colour. Not that it matters much, as most of the roof is covered by a relatively huge PV panel. This grossly oversized (greater than 200w) PV panel was supplied by the good folks at Pimby Energy LLC of Thomas WV. Freight damaged salvage. The tempered glass laminate is shattered, and it's virtually useless in a proper array. A big shame, but I thought it might make a useful addition to a chicken coop. At some point I'll have to figure out how to shore it up some from underneath. Add some more structure to the frame, and fill it with expanding foam or something, as the surface really will not bear a snow or wind load. For now, it's set at this extreme 'summer' angle, principally because it's easy, and that reduces the wind loading a lot. There is a pretty chunky AGM battery mounted beneath the axle underneath the cart. This helps stabilize the cart a bit, lowering the center of gravity without changing the fore-aft balance, This battery will run the fence energizer for the electric fence, and will at some future time, power ventilation and some lighting for the backyard. Also, it's my intention to add a decent inverter so we can run electrical tools in the garden/kitchen-farm. This will also serve as an APU for the house. Also, maybe pump some water around. We hu-mons love to move water around, it's what we do best. Heck, it's what we're all about. Okay, moving along, chickens in a cart, cart won't go, , , The chickens still aren't really sure about the coop, but Wow! do they love being out in their little electric fence. The fence is basically a net, and we like the color, it doesn't stand out. The chickens don't seem to be bothered by it at all, but boy! work down on your knees and brush up against it, and you'll wish you hadn't! At this time, the chickens still aren't all that keen on the coop, and they don't like to go in when it gets dark. Typical teenagers. But they sure do like being out in the yard. The electric fence isn't so much about keeping them in, as it is about keeping them safe. From predators and torturers of all kinds. Neighbors have lost backyard rabbits to bored kids, and we'd just as soon they not come for visits here. We want folks to see and appreciate the garden and the chickens and all the fun, but we also like for folks to enjoy from a distance. Especially their dogs. So, that's it for now.


Jonathan Angliss said...

Looking good. Love the stain glass windows too. Those chicks live better than me ;)

Did you put 'steps' on the ramp into the house, or little blocks to help walk up? How do they like the kitty litter boxes? I'd have thought they might not like being enclosed in a small space.

cpm said...

Hey Jonathan;

No, I haven't put 'steps' onto the ramp yet. And I need to. They can get up and down, but they do slip around a bit. Since the lumber is rough cut, I thought that would suffice for traction, but it really isn't enough.