A blog about our kitchen/garden wouldn’t be complete without giving our other three family members a mention – the chickens:
These three provide us with so many eggs! Enough that we’ve introduced egg night for dinner once a week, breakfast eggs on the weekends and I seem to be forever baking (more about that later). There will no doubt be lots of posts that feature the chickens in the future, however to begin with I’d like to show you their house – “The Hilton”. And there is no better way to do that than to hear from the man who built it, my other half Greg.
The following post originally appeared on The Vegging Gardener on 7th November 2009. Re-published here with permission from the author, Greg.
With the passing of October, its come a full year since the hens came home to roost. Twelve months ago I would have been undoubtedly biased on the merits of keeping chooks. I probably still am. And while some things went very well… not every idea was a winner. But with the gift of hindsight, over the next few days, allow me to share with you some of the triumphs and tragedies.
The coop (my Adventure in Carpentry) was the first major project I undertook after taking control of this kingdom. I spent months reading, investigating and designing my masterpiece of poultry-housing craftsmanship. Many have referred to it as “The Hilton”, and have oft asked questions such as “when is the air-conditioning going in?”. But now for all that effort and sarcastic praise, I have serious doubts about just how luxurious it is.
The floorspace measures there-bouts of 1.2m across the front, by 2.4m deep. Additionally the nesting box is raised, and provides an extra 1.2m square of protected space. Since my birds don’t get out while I’m not at home, my aim was to give them the maximum amount of room inside the coop to stretch their wings and enjoy all the best things being a chicken affords. And indeed, many sources will tell you that three to four chickens will fit comfortably in this space. They lie! For the two chickens I have, I now consider this amount of space to be a travesty. Sometimes even the best chicken friends just need some time apart, and right now they can’t often get a moment alone to think – so instead they take to pecking each other for the tastiest feathers. I’m moving up plans for a permanent access to all the space in the chicken run. Not even the Hilton is a very fun place if you can’t leave the hotel.
My next regret is the usage of aviary wire over chicken wire. The idea was that it’d be better at keeping the pestilence out (i.e rats). I’ve since learned that aviary wire is a much more abrasive choice of decorative walling, and you’ll have the poor birds dropping feathers whenever they rub up against it. And to further rub salt in that wound… if the rats want in; that aviary wire ain’t going to be stopping them anyway.
What’s worked really well for me is the removable litter tray. The whole floor of the coop is a piece of shadecloth wrapped loosely around a frame that tighty fits between the walls of the coop; such that it forms a tray 10cm deep (observe figure three; of much-better-days for the lawn). Not only does this effectively stop any other consumers-of-chicken from entering the coop, it also means when replacing the litter, I can pull the whole tray out and drag it right down to the compost heap in one movement.
I can’t really tell if the pitched roof has worked well or not. The idea was partly improve the airflow, and partly to improve the appearance (in the latter, of course, it has been a success, as assessed by the wife). I take pride in the fact that the chickens haven’t been fried alive yet. It also gave me one of those feel-good-feelings that I hadn’t wasted all that time studying trigonometry for nothing. The galvanised steel roofing is bloody heavy; but it doesn’t heat up the inside quite like a polycarbonate oven. The orange trees are getting big enough now to shade some of the roof, wish makes the situation even better.
I built a perch in the nesting box for my birds… I’ve never seem them on it. Maybe this is because the nextbox is already elevated and protected. But I’m far from an expert on chicken behavior, and they are strange birds, indeed.
Always make sure your egg collection point is easily accessible from outside the coop, and never assume the birds will lay in a spot that’s good for you. Mine currently lay as far from the door as possible, oh, the spite! Buy some tongs.
Finally I’d say unless you’ve got a specific design or space to fill, consider buying a pre-made coop. It’ll cost about the same and will take a lot less time.