Poultry Palace

We have needed a new chicken coop for years. The bird’s old accommodations were an unused wood-shed built fairly close to the house. The shed wasn’t ideal, but it worked well enough. The ducks had a difficult time living there, mostly because they were fat (and Rouen ducks don’t fly) and couldn’t make it up the chicken run into the coop. The poor ducks had to be “captured” every night (imagine if you will, us chasing a couple of three foot tall, 30 lbs ducks around the yard, with all the squawking and quacking and wing-flapping and cursing you can fathom) and gently pushed through the little, wee chicken door.

The pain-in-the-ass that was the ducks, sadly came to an end the morning the fox invaded, and life in the wood-shed slash chicken coop became a little easier to live. But then, enter Lilliput.

Last year, housing Lilliput with the chickens wasn’t so bad, since she was small and didn’t snuffle through an entire bag of grain in a day. This year, Lilliput is not so little, and she still refuses to be separated from the chickens.

Back in December, Diane posted her new open air chicken coop on her blog, over at Speedkin.com. Diane and the family had recently moved from Oklahoma to Missouri and needed all new digs to house the menagerie of life on the farm.

I was greatly inspired by Diane’s new coop. I could imagine both goat and bird living harmoniously in the same structure, with a simple wall between them to keep Lilliput from eating all the grain meant for the chickens. I could even imagine building the coop without it costing us a dime, since the material could be salvaged from our local dump in the Spring. My only real concern was the open front.

Diane’s coop is just faced with mesh “chicken wire on steroids” and at first I thought there was NO WAY this would keep the animals warm enough to survive our hard, Northern Ontario winters. The idea behind an open air chicken coop is that it keeps the birds in better health, less congestion (ever heard a chicken sneeze? Funny shit, that) less bacteria, less illness, fresher air, healthier birds.

I had just decided to construct panels for the front to enclose it for the winter, when Diane sent me a copy of the 1912 book Open Air Poultry Houses for All Climates. Because she’s awesome like that.

Eureka! Here was proof from ages gone by that open air would work! I quickly and eagerly set about designing my new coop according to the specs and sciences provided in the pages of the book. The coops recommended for my area were not built like Diane’s, but the premise was the same, leaving a portion of the front unboarded and open with only a mesh screen to keep predators out and the birds contained. I was faced with a lot of naysayers in the area who said it would never work, but I was inspired nonetheless. All I had to do was wait out the winter until the snow melted so I could salvage my list of materials from the dump in the Spring.

Before the snow melted, life went to shit, Paul had his heart attack and all thoughts of building got put on the back burner. By the time life was normal enough to start salvaging, the construction waste site at the dump had been plowed over.

We talked about waiting until the fall, when the construction season was over and the waste site was again full of goodies, but Lilliput was costing us a small fortune in grain and she and the birds were constantly escaping into the vegetable gardens. I had to replant the carrots three times, thanks to the chicken’s endless scratching and pecking, and there isn’t a corn stalk to be found because of Lilliput’s addiction to the grain.

Sucking it up, we decided the best thing would be to just cave and buy the wood.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that raising a small flock of chickens is a worthwhile financial investment. It’s not. Chances are, when you factor in the costs, the losses and the hassles, unless you’re raising 1000 or more birds, you’ll be hard-pressed to break even. Our new coop and it’s companion pen cost us a dear $1090, not including the donated labor of friends and family and three days worth of bed, BBQ and beer for said folk. Sure, it should last for years, with only minor upkeep and maintenance, but it will take years for my measly flock of 15 to produce enough eggs to pay it off. They barely produce enough eggs to cover the cost of their feed every month.

But, owning Lilliput is as endearing as owning a dog, chickens are fun and entertaining and you just can’t beat the taste of farm fresh eggs, so here it is, our new open air coop…

It’s not complete of course, nothing around here ever really is, but it stands erect. Whether it sustains the birds through the winter is yet to be seen and a huge Thank You goes out to Diane for the inspiration…and the book!

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