Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Timber frame chicken coop

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The construction of our chicken coop has been a slow process, as good things take time.  I never imagined when I brought home day old chicks that my husband would want to make a timber frame chicken coop, or  that it would have a basement, or that it would turn out so nice. We've had a couple friends who've said they could live in it, I guess set up with a kitchen, deck and fireplace it could be cozy. 

The size of the coop is 10 feet wide, by 12 feet deep. The foundation is  6 piers, 2  pairs are connected with an arch.  The piers are 4 feet into the ground to the hardpan, with cages of rebar within the concrete.  The foundation is then bolted to the wood structure.  Most of the wood we used was salvage, and some from trees off the land, most of it was what we had on hand, so there was a lot of mix and match, and seeing what sizes  we had that would work. 

A note here worth telling, is that with some forethought and  chicken knowledge, we would have done things differently.  We would have dug out the basement and poured an entire concrete foundation, bottom and sides.  I had read an old timers book about chicken coops, and she said that her chickens love the dirt under a chicken coop because it stays dry in the winter, and the chickens can take dust baths.  Well the first winter that they lived in the basement was fine, we didn't begin to have troubles until spring with new baby chicks arriving.  Something began to dig under and steal a chick every few nights.  So I proceeded to spend a couple long days in the cold digging out the dirt a section at a time to a depth of about 1 1/2 feet, and laying rabbit wire to prevent dig ins.  I then refilled the dirt so they could have their dust baths.  This would have been so much simpler to do at this stage, rather than bent over digging where a full size shovel wouldn't fit.
The 7 hens we had left in the Fall, out of 20 chicks we started with in the Spring, shows the learning curve we've had with chickens.  Do not underestimate how many things want to eat your chickens.  They will come by air, ground, and even underground.  The need for a strong coop becomes paramount to keeping your flock alive. 

 The first winter we got the chickens all set up in the lower level, with perches and the aviary/chicken run.  Before the aviary was finished, we were just letting the chickens out to free range during the day, I had this dream of free ranging chickens that could run around the property.  After several fatal attacks from neighbor dogs, coyotes, and hawks beginning to fly overhead regularly, we realized the seriousness of keeping them safe in a coop and chicken run.  We also set up dog protection in the form of a zip line for Sierra and a tie out spot close to the coop for Summer.  We still put the dogs on chicken duty when we let them loose, this has been effective.  We try to let the chickens out several times a week on dry days, for a couple hours.  I notice a difference in the amount and quality of our eggs when they can free range.
When I first brought the chickens home, we kept them in a large stock tank with a light, and I would bring them out to the garden to run around while I worked.  I hauled them back and forth from the barn to the garden so many times that summer, a year and a half ago.  The coop has been done in stages, because we have other projects and work going at the same time.  It's still is not totally finished, we have plastic up where the windows should go, and we still need to put the final siding on the front and sides, along with building the overhang and landing at the entrance.  These will all get done in time

The bottom doors open up to get inside the basement, and allow access for food and water, and cleaning.  The panels on the basement have strong rabbit wire to keep out rodents. 
One of our Rhode Island Reds cruising through the arch from outside, you can kind of see the ramp that goes upstairs in this picture. 

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