Third time is the charm?
I like having chickens. There’s nothing quite like fresh eggs laid by chickens in your own yard. Chickens that get to walk around all day and eat bugs and scrap veggies. Chickens that you feed and talk to and watch. I had chickens for much of the time that I lived in Arizona and really enjoyed not only the eggs, but the experience.
So it made sense that I should have chickens here at my new home. I got them as chicks in April 2014 and waited five months for them to start laying eggs. I started with eight of them, lost two early on, and lost a third when I got my rooster.
The First Chicken Yard and Coop
When the chicks grew to a size where they were ready for a chicken yard, my friend Mike and I built one out of 6-foot T-posts and 5-foot horse fencing. I blogged about the whole prep thing here.
A few weeks later, I built a coop — a building with roosting and nesting areas — for the chickens. I go into a lot of detail about that process here.
The coop was ugly, but the chickens didn’t seem to care. They roosted and nested and made eggs. I never did get around to putting shingles or any kind of protective material on the roof. It was just painted an ugly dark green and nearly flat so water soaked into it when it rained or snowed.
Meanwhile, the chicken yard was functional — it kept the chickens safe — but to keep out birds of prey I had to run bird netting over the top. I’m 5’6″ tall. The bird netting dipped down below 5 feet. Needless to say, going into the chicken yard was a bit of a nuisance. And since that’s where the eggs were, I had to go in daily to collect them.
The Second Chicken Yard
A friend of mine was creating much nicer chicken yards by building a frame and then fastening chicken wire on it. I had some 20-foot long palette wood that my building’s metal sheets had arrived on. In September, I cut them in half and, with some 6-foot 2x4s, built three frames. I used the same horse fencing inside each frame, running it vertically in 5×6 sections. Then, with the help of a friend and his mom, I assembled the three walls in place of the existing yard fencing with the coop on the outside of the yard. I built a door, added bird netting and some shade fabric I’d brought from Arizona on top, and had a new chicken yard. One I could stand up straight in.
As winter approached, I worried about my chickens keeping warm. Their coop’s doorway was very large and wouldn’t offer much shelter from a wind coming out of the east. If it snowed, their food would get wet and there wouldn’t be any place for them to walk without snow. I put some metal panels leftover from my building on top. This protected them and gave them shelter from rain. I fastened wood and metal panels around the north side and stacked up hay bales on the east. It was functional and the chickens seemed to be fine all winter, but by spring I couldn’t deny one simple fact: from the road, it looked trashy. And if there’s one word I don’t want applied to my property, it’s “trashy.”
The Hoop Yard
My next door neighbor, Michelle, got chickens in the spring. She built a chicken yard out of “hog panel” fencing hooped up and over into a rounded top. It looked great. Although she started out with a large coop inside the hoop, she later cut the coop in half and positioned it on one end of the yard, giving the chickens a lot more room inside and making it possible for her to walk around in there when she needed to. I started thinking about doing the same thing. But I’d also need a new coop; the nest boxes and perches in the one I’d originally built were falling apart.
Over the next few months, I bought some panels and started to plan. I was busy with other things — mostly finishing up my home — and it was brutally hot for most of the summer so I really didn’t want to work outside. But about four months ago, I got to work on the new yard, extending the chickens’ existing yard another 10 feet out the back side with the hoops. I liked the way the frameless design made the extended yard blend into the scenery. But it was too hot and I was too busy with other things to finish the job so I put it on the back burner.
The New Coop
About a month ago, I started making the new coop. I decided to build it with scrap material and to design it so it resembled my building. I’d even use the same metal for the walls and roof.
I had a lot of building materials, including lots of pallets in really good condition, lumber in all lengths and sizes, insulation leftover from my RV garage, Pergo flooring leftover from my home, Trex-style decking, leftover from my deck, and metal panels leftover from my building’s skin. Not only would I build a solid structure, but I’d insulate it to keep the chickens warm in winter and have a removable panel for ventilation in summer.
I got to work on the RV garage floor. I worked on it for a few hours a few times a week. Slowly but surely, it began to take shape.
At the same time, I was raising three kittens as a foster home for them and their mom. As the kittens grew and become more adventurous, they started playing in the coop as I worked on it. I captured some video one day. They’re gone now — a friend of mine adopted the whole family as barn cats — but they sure were cute.
At some point, I realized that the thing I was building weighed a ton. Well, not literally a ton, but a lot. A lot more than I could lift. I started thinking about how I was going to get it out of the garage and into place on the other side of my gravel driveway. My RV was parked out there at the time and that really restricted how much space I had to maneuver in.
I started by buying wheels for it and fastening some scrap 2×6 lumber to mount the wheels on. The hardest part was getting the damn thing off the ground so I could put the wheels on. I had to use my winch, mounted in my pickup truck’s bed. That made it possible to move it to the front of the garage. I got it to the point where the only thing left was to put on the metal skin and Trex porch floor. That would probably add another 50 pounds of weight — better to do that when it was in position. But I wasn’t ready to bring it outside yet. I still had work to do in the yard.
Putting It All Together
I had a party last week. A little get-together with friends and neighbors to show off my home and sit around the fire pit on what could be the last warm night of autumn. I showed off the chicken coop as part of the tour — everyone wants to see my garage. My friend Alyse said I should get everyone there to help me drag the coop out. But it was dark and I was tired of getting visitors to help me with the few tasks I couldn’t do on my own. Besides, I was almost looking forward to the challenge of getting it out there on my own.
Before I could get the coop into position, I had to disassemble the old chicken yard and add one last hog panel hoop. That was the big job. I tackled it on Tuesday, the only day this week forecasted to have good weather all day.
I started by pushing the coop out onto my concrete driveway apron. By this time, I’d replaced the wheels in the back with another set I’d bought. I didn’t want to spend a lot on them because they were temporary and they turned out to be pretty cheesy. But they worked, so I’m not complaining.
Then I got to work on deconstruction. I set up my GoPro and did a time-lapse. It’s kind of funny to watch, especially once the chickens get loose. I started by removing the panels I’d put in the top of the yard and then disassembling the panels. I didn’t want to spend time removing the wire fencing; I figured I’d do that later. I used my ATV to drag away anything too heavy to lift. (It’s a 600cc Yamaha Grizzly that I bought new in 1999 and it’s up to any task.) Once the panels were all out of the way, I added a third hoop and used wire-ties to fasten it to the one beside it. I completed the bottom frame so the entire yard was free-standing and quite sturdy.
Next I had to move the coop into position. None of the wheels steered so I had to roll it in one direction, then use the ATV to pull the front wheels one way or the other on the gravel, and then roll it again. The whole time, I was worried that one of the wheels would pop off. The rear wheels, which were not nearly as good as the ones I’d bought for the front, were really taking a beating. I had to reposition the ATV and the strap I was using to pull with quite a few times. It was slow-going but I wasn’t in a rush. It was important to get it into position before nightfall so the chickens would have a place to sleep.
Three views of the chicken coop as I left it on Tuesday evening.
Once I had the coop in place, I removed the wheels and set them aside. I’ll store them for use on another project. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past three years, it’s that wheels make it a lot easier to move things.
I did a little work with chicken wire to fence in the far side of the porch. I also laid in most of the porch floor. But I didn’t have enough pressure-treated lumber to get the end framing and yard door done.
By that time, it was about 5 PM and I was completely exhausted. There was no way I’d be able to get the chickens in the yard and keep them there without a door. So I let them be. They wound up spending the night in their old coop. One of them even laid an egg in there.
On Wednesday, it was cold and kind of nasty. I spent half a day writing blog posts while I waited for an inspector. I spent some time disassembling the old coop so the chickens couldn’t spend the night in it. When the inspector left, I ran out to do some errands. When I got back, the irrigation guy arrived to fix the water line, which had burst because of my outrageously high water pressure. While he worked on that, I set up my weather station. Then it started raining. Hard. That day was shot.
On Thursday, I went for a hike up in Leavenworth, ran a few errands on my way home — including getting the lumber I needed — and then went out again to help some friends with a catering job. It was dark when I got home, so that day was shot.
The chickens, during all this time, were free-range, scratching around the garden and under the bushes and in their new chicken yard. One of them started laying eggs under a sagebrush beside the driveway. At night, they went into their new coop. The first night they were in there, the rooster slept in the doorway with his head sticking out. I have no idea what that was all about.
On Friday afternoon, I was ready to finish up. My main goal was to get the yard fully enclosed so that the chickens could be secured. I framed out the doorway beside the coop. I closed the other side of the porch with chicken wire. And then I went inside to build the door. The old door had been a pallet and it was misshapen and falling apart. I wanted the new door to be sturdy and a perfect fit. I cut some of the wire fencing from the old chicken yard and nailed it into the door. But by that time it was raining and getting dark and I’d had enough for the day. I coaxed the chickens into their yard and used a scrap piece of plywood to close it up.
On Saturday, I did the job I’d been dreading: putting the metal sides on. Why did I dread it? Because I had to cut the metal. Corrugated metal is a real bitch to cut. After trying several methods, I’ve finally found one that works for me: a metal cutting blade in my jigsaw. The only drawback is that cutting it makes a gawdawful noise. Fortunately, I bought a set of ANC ear protectors. I pretty much wore them all day on Saturday.
Bit by bit, I got the metal cut. It was an odd day with a lot of moisture in the air and a series of rainbows, one after the other, appeared to the northwest and north throughout the day.
I screwed each piece into place, feeling myself getting closer and closer to being done. Finally, the last piece was in place. I was done.
Or at least done enough for now. I’m still thinking of painting the exposed wood. But not this week.
The finished yard is 8 x 15 feet and tall enough for me to walk inside standing straight up. The eggs are accessible from the outside. The chicken’s food is under the porch roof where it’ll stay dry. There are enough perches inside for all six chickens — and hopefully for a few more next spring. The coop is solid, insulated, and protected from the elements.
I think I’d call this a win. It only took me three tries to get it right.