Oh, the satisfaction of designing and building things. This simple looking structure is the result of a transformational process – taking abstract ideas and converting them into a usable and effective product. A series of challenges overcome through the application of innovative…(sigh)
Okay…it’s a chicken coop. But it’s a really good chicken coop.
My vacation was coming to an end, so I had to accelerate the pace a little, and get the birds installed. Still, I wanted to add features to make the egg operation as easy as possible.
The human entrance to the birdhouse, for example, is a Dutch door. Rather than going into the birdhouse to check on the birds, refresh water and add feed (all daily activities), I only need to open the top half of the door. I can view the birds from the outside, plus, the water and food dispensers are suspended from the ceiling on chains just inside the door. I can easily reach inside to refill, or lift them out for cleaning.
After finishing the inside paneling, I added nesting boxes along the back wall. Building the boxes inside meant the doors for accessing the eggs could be flush outside. It’s more of an aesthetic consideration, but it might mean the nesting boxes stay warmer than if they protruded outside with winter air circulating around them. Of course, they’ll be warmer in summer too. But I’m working on a different solution for that.
The top of the nesting box assembly is heavily slanted, of course, to keep the birds from perching there. And 5 boxes is more than enough for 10 birds.
To latch the nesting box doors, I used an old-fashioned solution: Wooden twist latches. Simply drill a hole in a scrap of lumber, then run a screw through the scrap into the edge of the door frame. Voila – a latch handle. Leave the screw just loose enough for the latch to rotate easily.
Having decided to insulate the birdhouse, the simplest solution for covering the ceiling was to create a roof liner using a sheet of 3/4 inch, foil-coated, foam insulation board. The single sheet of foam board was inexpensive and easy to cut and trim. A handful of roofing nails were all that was needed to hold the lining in place. I used foil duct tape to seal the seams.
Adding a coat of paint made the inside look uniform and clean. It might also make cleaning up easier. The electrical wires in the ceiling were capped with a light socket and an electrical outlet. A light switch was installed just inside the Dutch door. Running electricity to the birdhouse will be done later.
Most of the information I read about chicken coop design recommended installing a vinyl floor remnant to make cleaning easier. So the birds have a nice faux stone pattern floor. The pristine appearance of the nearly finished interior lasted about 5 minutes…just enough time for a photo before the birds were moved-out of the basement and into their new house.
The birds were able to live in the house while exterior painting and finishing work continued, including the windows and moulding. The birdhouse was painted green with white trim to match the other buildings on the farm (except the barn) . I tacked leftover paneling over the window openings while fabricating the windows.
Rather than buying window units, I opted to build simple sliding windows. Each window required the following:
- Four pieces of 1×4 plank to line the window opening (like casement)
- Each plank had a pair of 3/16 inch grooves cut along the full length of one side, using a table router
- Once installed, the grooves would form a track all the way around the inside surface of the window opening
- Two window panes cut from a sheet of 1/8 inch plexiglass, measured to fit into the grooves when the casement was installed
- Each pane was cut wide enough so they overlap by about 1 inch when pulled all the way to opposite sides of the window opening
- Each pane had a finger hole drilled on one end with a 5/8 inch butterfly bit, for opening and closing
- A piece of 1/2 inch square wire was stapled to the inside of the window, to keep birds in, and predators out
The windows worked perfectly, even though cutting plexiglass was challenging (it’s very brittle). A roosting bar suspended between the open windows in summer, will allow the birds to perch in the cross breeze.
Chickens generally require a chicken run – an enclosed pen attached to their coop where they are safe to be outside. In addition to a chicken coop & run, many chicken owners have a “chicken tractor”. It’s a portable enclosure (often on wheels) that can be moved around the field, so the chickens can scratch for bugs and bits of grass…more difficult to do if they are restricted to one spot. It’s healthier for the birds, providing extra nutrition and exercise, and better eggs.
Instead of building multiple devices, I decided to build one device that functioned as a run and a tractor. The chicken run attaches to the chicken coop on a docking station. When it is undocked, the chicken run sets on the ground and can be moved around like a chicken tractor.
The first steps was to build the docking station – a short platform upon which to set the run.
The chicken run frame had to be designed for strength and light-weight. The frame assembly is a combination of 2×4 and 2×2 boards. Such a delicate frame would have been a perfect case for using mortise & tenon joints – a square peg cut on the end of one board tucked into a square hole cut in another board. Very strong. But that would have taken much longer. Instead, a few lap joints, deck screws and construction adhesive were used to join the pieces together.
The chicken run/tractor simply sits on top of the docking station without fasteners. Eventually, a roosting bar will span the enclosure, and a couple of nesting boxes will be installed.
When docked, the door to the coop is open, and the birds move through a portal between the units. The portal is attached to the coop with deck screws, and aligned with, but not attached to the opening on the run.
A drawbridge is hinged on the inside of the chicken run opening. When it is lowered, it serves as the ramp for the birds to descend into the enclosure. In preparation for undocking, the drawbridge is raised and latched to shut off the opening. Moving the run requires two people – one on each side. Eventually, I’ll figure of a way to add retractable wheels so it can be deployed by one person.
The chicken run is wrapped in a single roll of chicken wire. The seams and edges of the wire sometimes have sharp ends that can snag clothing and skin. Seams and edges are also the most likely places for predators to break in. To mitigate those risks, all seams and edges are to be covered with batten, fastened by screws. I’m using 1/2 x 2 inch treated lumber stock…commonly used for garden stakes.
The wire is also buried all the way around the perimeter. Of course, the wire will be cut along the line between the docking platform and upper frame (where they come apart).