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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16 Comments

  1. July 29, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Wow, that goat’s so cute! I’m not so much into live chickens (feather allergy), but I appreciate their fecundity and protein contribution. You’re so clever and industrious too, regarding coop design. It does make sense there would be methods. They raise chickens in Maine, and it gets murderously cold there.

    • August 11, 2011 at 7:17 am

      It’s unfortunate that you’re allergic to the birds, they are highly entertaining! I remember a few times finding a chicken or two huddled in the snow last winter, having spent the night out doors and survived, so I’m feeling fairly confident. As long as I don’t “chicken out” before they do and board everything up, the girls should be fine!

  2. Diane said,

    July 31, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    That is so stinking cool!! You are my hero. Of course, I expect updates as winter goes on. 😀

    • August 11, 2011 at 7:25 am

      Hahaha! Hero? You realize that when I have questions that need answers, YOUR blog is the first place I look, right?! We are going to keep a journal this year tracking temperatures, conditions and bird reactions, so I’ll keep you up to date.

  3. willowbatel said,

    August 3, 2011 at 3:50 am

    hahaha, I bet you all looked hysterical chasing those birds around. Why haven’t you posted a video for us yet?
    I like the idea of the coop. The one I want to make out of cob (it’s basically modified mud) is supposed to be great in almost all climates because it insulates in the winter and cools in the summer. The trouble is, there’s almost no air circulation. My cousin has a cob coop and he’s blasted holes in it all over the place to get proper ventilation through it. I might have to let him know about this open air ventilation book. Thanks for the insight and fascinating new idea! Hope all goes well over the winter.

    • August 11, 2011 at 7:36 am

      Cob sounds like a great idea, I bet it could be modified with screening in the building process for ventilation. We are already noticing differences in the birds since moving them to the new coop and it’s certainly easier caring for all the animals now that we have semi-separated Lilliput from the chickens!

      • willowbatel said,

        August 15, 2011 at 1:35 am

        Yeah, he’s given the coop an antique appearence, using a bunch of actual antique items to make it work. He’s filled in all the holes he made with old furnace vents. it’s really pretty. He said it cost him just over $1000 to make, but that’s because he’s using antique items and he’s got a ‘green roof’ which he grows a bunch of plants on. They have a giant walnut tree (I think it’s a walnut) which means the acidity on the roof (the coop is right next to the trunk) is really high due to the trees leaves. So he’s been dumping a bunch of money into humus to get the acidity down. Other than that it really costs nothing to make. If you’ve got sand, dirt, clay and hay, then you really don’t need anything else. lol

  4. timethief said,

    August 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    It does look like quite the palace to me. Hopefully, it will keep “the girls” safe all winter long.

    • August 11, 2011 at 7:38 am

      We’re keeping our fingers crossed, I just came across an article for a composting floor that’s supposed to help regulate the heat in an open air coop, so I’m even more encouraged.

      • Diane said,

        August 11, 2011 at 10:43 am

        Is that the deep litter method or something else? We’ve done deep litter for years now and love it.

        • August 12, 2011 at 9:51 pm

          Yes! In the old coop, the floor was slatted so bedding and manure fell underneath, and we would clear it out twice a year. That worked pretty well, helped heat the coop and got a headstart on the composting. So when I read an article about the deep litter method, I was pretty excited. I’m only having one problem with it so far…the chickens nest in the goat’s litter most of the time, rather then in their boxes, so I find myself digging for eggs. But other than that, I’m in love with the idea. What are you using for litter?

          • Diane said,

            August 15, 2011 at 10:24 am

            We get free wood chips/shavings from the local electric coop. They pile them up outside their building for anyone to pick up. Most of the time, “anyone” is only us.

            At the old place, we had the same issue with the hens laying in the chips at first. We had our goats sharing with the chickens, too. Once we built a divider to separate the egg laying area from the main area, they started laying only in the next boxes again. Um, mostly. We put in a door and left only a chicken-sized hole in it so that the goats wouldn’t bother the eggs and the chicken feed.

            Here at the new place, they just lay in the nest boxes. *knock on wood*. We have a bunch of new layers growing now so I’m sure they’ll put an end to such neatness in laying habits.

  5. timethief said,

    August 3, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    YIKES! I can spell – my problem is I can’t see well. So will you please edit that typo above for me?

    • August 11, 2011 at 7:45 am

      Done and done…I have to admit though, I got a helluva laugh out of your typo! It was like you were channelling my thoughts of “HOPE mixed with DAMN, THIS COULD REALLY SUCK”

  6. timethief said,

    August 20, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I’m glad my typo made you laugh. We can all use a lot more laughter in our lives especially when we are laughing at ourselves.

  7. jollof said,

    December 22, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I really liked the pictures, Shebox. What’s been happening? Haven’t seen recent posts. Hope you’re alright or perhaps you’re quite busy with the family. Hope to hear from you soon. Your fan, TCN 🙂


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