Sunday, July 31, 2011
A Better Chicken Coop
Based on the success of our root cellar project, Bernard and I decided to use the 'earth bag' system to design and build a better hen house. As our hen population kept increasing, we continued to build coops based on a very efficient design I purchased on-line. Although the coops were ideal in many ways, the goats (who share woods space with the free-range chickens) were compromising the the coops to the point where they were becoming harder and harder to properly maintain. The goats would jump on the roofs and butt the walls off their foundations to shake grain from the interior feeders so that it would fall through the screen flooring. I had to screw shut some of the access doors provided to allow me to reach in for cleaning and maintenance. (The goats had figured out how to open the latches and they would stick their heads inside to wreak more havoc!) Some goats were even crawling under the coops and ripping holes in the floor so that they could squeeze their heads through and raid the feeders directly! We needed to design and construct a goat proof hen house!
Since we need to come up with a new design, we decided to incorporate improvements based on all the things we have learned from observing chicken behavior into the new model. Our list included....a roof higher than the goats jumping range; walls stronger than a goat's 'butting force'; feeders that were totally enclosed in the structure (our coops had feeders that were loaded from the outside and thus more vulnerable to the wiles of the ruminants); a ceiling and doorway that would enable us to actually walk in to the coop for easier cleaning and maintenance; nesting boxes that were higher and devoid of entry perches (we noticed that in the original coops, because the hens tended to roost on the perches outside the nesting boxes, they would pollute the boxes with droppings
during the night); and finally, ample roosting perches so that we could house up to 100 chickens in the new hen house. We were able to cannibalize hinges and other hardware from the original coops and we had a great heavy duty door left over from a replacement job we had done earlier at a local church. Bernard's moonlighting as a construction worker provided new skills which he utilized to design the interior trusses, which were a great improvement over the lean-to roof I had envisioned.
As you can see from the photos, we are still putting the finishing stucco coating on the outside. Bernard designed retractable perch pyramids that provide maximum roosting area but fold up easily so that we can clean the house and easily fill the feeder located on the back wall.
We even wired the house for electricity so that we can run a timer light to ensure that the hens have a full 14 hour light window which triggers them to lay eggs all year.
To our delight, the structure works better than expected. Within a week of completion, the hens abandoned the other 3 coops entirely for egg-laying. I burned down the old coops and have noticed that the ladies are all vying for 'pecking order' preferences on the new roosts.
Nice dry and clean eggs can now be picked up from either the inside or from the fold-down doors on the outside of the nesting boxes.
Our next 'earth bag' project will be a small hermit hut. We'll keep y'all posted!