We’re planning for chickens. I vaguely remember being at this place last year, when woken from sleep in the early hours of the morning, I’d fret over heat lamps and brooders and chick feed… oh, my. But now, after successfully raising our first batch of Murray McMurray Buff Orpington chicks, we’ve decided to hatch our own this spring, and while last year, when we built our hoop house, I promised Jason that we would be all set for chicken housing for the foreseeable future… well, we’re going to have to build just one more coop.
Why? Well, here’s what we currently have at our disposal. In 2010, we built our A-Frame Coop from a design that I hacked together after several hours on the internet. We had 4 Rhode Island Reds arriving on Monday and it was Friday evening. Well, we managed to build the coop in under 48 hours, and other than owning the world’s grumpiest chickens, it worked out just fine. However, since this was only a summer coop, they went up the road to live with a local farmer who could house them for the winter (this is not a euphemism!), and when spring came around, we decided to just leave them there and start over with a friendlier breed of bird.
In 2011, we started our chicken coop building by refurbishing half of an old shed/tractor garage and turning it into a chicken coop with an attached work stall, where I could store feed, hay, and other necessities. We’d always intended this to be the winter coop, but when the chicks arrived, we started them out in there and used the hoop house as only a daytime grazing tractor, simply because I wasn’t (and am still not) sure it would survive a predator’s interest.
The hoop house that we also built in 2011 is a large, rectangular structure, with a cattle panel forming an inverted U-shaped roof. It is covered in hexagonal chicken wire, and then half is also protected by a tarp to protect the chickens from the elements during the day. Although we’d hoped we’d be able to move this by hand, its weight necessitates that we use the pick-up or tractor (which, honestly, isn’t all that much of a burden since it is usually moved without the chickens present). However, while it’s a great daytime coop; it’s just not rugged enough to be a permanent shelter.
So, as I’m writing this, we currently have the A-Frame coop with a capacity of 4 – 6 mature birds (depending on temperament and coop movement strategies); the daytime hoop house that can easily handle 18 – 22 mature birds for the day as long as it is moved every 12 hours to allow for fresh, clean pasture; and our wintering coop which comfortably houses 10 – 12 mature birds all winter long, but could easily handle more if it were only a nighttime coop in the summer.
My plan for 2012 is to regularly (morning and night) transition our laying flock & its two roosters from the winter coop (safe at night) to the hoop house (fresh grass & bugs all day!). Abby proved more than capable of helping with the chicken herding last year, and now that the laying flock is so comfortable with her, I’m hoping this will be an easy morning and evening routine.
We’re hoping to hatch out between 20 – 24 chicks, who will start off in a section of the winter coop and then move (hopefully with a mama hen or two) to live in the mini A-Frame when they are around two weeks of age. Once they are more mature, we’ll move the mamas back to the regular laying flock and transition the little ones into this year’s building extravaganza, Harvey Ussery’s Mobile A-Frame Shelter (covered in detail in his incredible book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock). This chickens will be used primarily for broilers with a few, select birds joining the laying flock as they mature.
Now, I’ve been looking at chicken coop designs for weeks (you can look at some of my ideas over on Pinterest; however, Ussery’s pattern mixes two things that are crucial for me when it comes to raising broilers: safety & mobility and combines them with a coop that is sleek and will fit into our landscape and add to it rather than detracting from it. We will likely modify his design in order to add a drip-fed, chicken-nipple waterer and – perhaps – a drawbridge door that would allow the chickens to be secured in the top section at night. In addition to this, we will likely replace one of the roof panels with hardware cloth to allow more sun, but modify that with a cover-tarp for days when it’s raining hard or particularly hot and sunny.
Our goal is to have between 22 – 24 chickens to send to freezer camp next fall and 2 girls to add to the laying flock. Here’s hoping that this is the last coop we build for a few years! Between a new coop and the wedding, I think we’ll have our hands full!