Chickens / Coop / Homestead Vision and Action / Management

Designing My 40-Year Coop

Cordwood construction; photo credit: London Permaculture via photopin cc

This spring, we’ll build the chicken coop on my new property.  My goal is simple: Build a coop which will serve my needs and last at least 40 years.  With this as my goal, my requirements were clarified:

  • Room for enough chickens to provide meat and eggs for at least six people (my husband and I, parents, future children)
  • Additional room to make up for the extra time the birds will spend inside with all of that snow!
  • Great insulation value and large mass of still air
  • Sufficient ventilation
  • Rainwater collection
  • Separate pens for breeding groups, broody hens, etc.
  • Work and storage space
  • Low cost

For cost, insulation, and ease of building, we’re going with cordwood construction.  Cordwood is easiest when buildings are round, so round it is.  Usually, cordwood roofs are rounded, but we’re going with a flat, metal roof to collect rainwater.  So that I can walk around and to create a larger mass of air, the coop will be 8′ at the front to the south and 6′ in the rear.  I want to have room for 40+ birds, and I would like to allow six square feet per adult bird.  I’ll need at least 240 square feet.  A 20′ diameter coop will give me a total of 314 square feet, some of which will be for human use.  To calculate area of a circle: πr2 = 3.14(102) = 3.14(100) = 314 sq. ft.

Here are some preliminary sketches of my ideas.  I haven’t run this by my friend who will be building it, so it is definitely subject to change.  You can click on the images to make them larger.  The files are pretty big.  Try using “Ctrl” and “+” to zoom in gradually.

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I’m planning to build in the clearing pictured below.  I’m not great at estimating distance, but I think this clearing is 60’+ in diameter.  It’s a bit away from the house, but there is a beautiful pathway connecting the two clearings, and this way I don’t have to worry so much about runoff from the run contaminating the stocked fish pond.

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This post is part of the Homestead Vision and Action series about planning my new homestead.  Check it out!

Shared with:
The Chicken Chick Natural Living Mamma

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26 thoughts on “Designing My 40-Year Coop

  1. Greetings,

    I did some research about cord wood construction several years ago, I think it is a great way to build your coop. with your windows facing south you will get a lot of daytime buildup of warmth in the winter time, the chickens will like that. I can’t remember if it was Mother Earth News that did a lot of writes ups on south facing, the angles for both summer and winter and the reflection off a pond for more solar heating in the winter. Lots of ways for you to take advantage of solar heat in the winter. Your chickens will have a great home. Oh yeah, are you planning dirt floors and deep litter for your coop? being we get around 100 inches of rain during the 6 or so months of the rainy season here I had 2 foot footings under 3 rows of concrete blocks to keep the dirt floor dry as well as the deep litter. The chickens go out in the rains so it is extremely important that their coop is dry. Sometimes they go in at night looking like drowned rats but come out all fluffy and dry the next day. We get most of our rains in the afternoon so the chickens have choices as to getting wet or not. There is a 1 meter concrete walkway around the coop/wood shed so they can shelter there and now that the golden dewdrops are bushing out they can shelter under them and stay relatively dry. I’m guessing you will continue fermented feed for your flock, a small enclosed are in your coop should be easy enough to keep it warm enough for good fermentation. I am now fermenting for 4 days, the mother on top when I take out the FF is very thick, smells like sourdough. We are working hard at thinning out the young chickens as we are running out of room in the coop with too many birds and Momma PJ has hatched out 10 youngsters so room is getting to be a problem. Using that area already cleared is a good idea. Can you get water into the coop easily? It sure would be a boon if you can. Anyway, your planning way ahead will make things so much easier and avoid lots of problems.

    Enjoy the whole process, it really makes life so good!

    Art

    • I will take a look on M.E.N. for some of those passive solar ideas. I am planning to use deep litter over a dirt floor! I should have mentioned that. That’s a key part of the plan. We’ll do a ring of concrete around the foundation. I’m not sure how deep; the circumference is 62.8 feet, so that’s a lot of concrete. I’ll also keep fermenting, and I do plan to keep it in the coop in my storage area. I’d like to switch to a deep, food-safe barrel. Right now, I’m fermenting in rubber tubs. I am taking out what I need for the day and adding new feed. I’ve had my current ferment going for weeks, and it grows a really nice cap of white mother that has that same sourdough-y smell. It’s definitely the best set-up I’ve tried. (Many!) I am definitely enjoying the process. I get a little overwhelmed a few times a day thinking about everything that needs to be set-up at the new place and, on top of that, everything I need to do to sell my current place. Thanks, Art!

  2. Be sure that the pitch of your roof will be more than adequate to encourage complete runoff of rain and melting snow. If possible, try for clear roofing panels to allow lots of daylight into the coop for the days when they are locked in because of weather. Doesn’t have to be the whole roof, but at least a large enough section so all the birds can gather there in the sunlight when it’s too much of a blizzard to leave the coop. My best coop accessory: long-handled barbecue grill-scraper/wire-brush gadget. Two or three swipes over the roost board every morning and the board is clean. Keeping a spray bottle nearby filled with a 50/50 solution of plain white vinegar and water allows you to easily squirt some on the scraped roost board; then toss a paper towel onto the sprayed board and use the scraper to push the towel over the whole board and dry the vinegar solution. Makes the whole board clean as a whistle and your hands never touch yuk. Whole thing takes maybe 60 seconds every morning. Keep a rake in the coop; every two or three days or so, stir up the pine shavings in the coop (especially under the roost boards) and rake it all nice and smooth and level. Looks so purty. Keep a container of DE in the coop with a small flour sifter or tea strainer in it. Once every one or two weeks, sprinkle DE just about EVERYWHERE: roostboards, coop floor, run, nest boxes, dustbath cubbies or dustbath holes in the ground out in the yard. I also keep a squeeze bulb full of DE and point it up under the girls’ feathers, close to their skin once a month or so. I didn’t study your plan to see how you’ll keep their water from freezing in winter. Use either a cookie tin with a lightbulb or a mug warmer inside the tin and then place the water bowl on top of it, or a heated dog bowl. I’ve used both and they’re both great. Two or three LARGE metal garbage cans with lids for vermin-proof storage: one for feed, one for scratch, and a third to house a bunch of different foodstuffs: Farmers UltraKibble, BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds, dried mealworms, calcium pebbles (crushed oyster shell) and grit. Don’t forget to also keep a big fluffy duster handy to brush down EVERYTHING once a week or so. The dust they generate from digging and scratching is incredible and covers everything.

    • You rock, Carolyn! That is all awesome advice. I had considered the clear roofing. I was concerned because it was plastic. How do you think it will hold up over time? I love all of the cleaning advice. I’ve used lime and DE in my coop. The sprinkling idea is great and I’ve got to get one of those squeeze bulbs! I’m not sure what I’ll do about their water in the winter. I don’t plan to run electricity to the coop, so I’m going to have to figure something out. At this house, I just carry out water every morning, but the amount I’ll need to carry will increase as the flock size does. Hmm. Again, this is a heavy dose of fantastic advice! Thanks for sharing, Carolyn!

      • Oh, yes, and you mentioned the slope of the roof. I was wondering if 2 feet of drop over 20 feet would be enough to shed some of the snow. Would three or four feet of drop be better?

      • We’ve used the clear roofing panels from Home Depot for about four years now. Not one crack or problem. Transparency remained the same as on day one. We hose it down in the Spring, from the winter debris of twigs and branches and leaves, and then maybe once mid summer and again in the late fall. The panels are “scalloped” and plain ole dirt and stuff tends to collect in the channels. A loooooooooong handled broom while standing on a tall ladder works well. Or the power-washer. We keep the roof panels in place by simply laying an aluminum downspout pipe across the whole roof (crosswise on top of the panels) and then tying the pipe down to the coop at both ends. I refused to let DH screw it down because I don’t want rain leaking in through the screw holes. Even though DH said that caulking would make it waterproof. As to appropriate pitch for the roof, you’ll have to research the web for that. Try going to http://www.backyardchickens.com and then the forum there to the drop down menu: Raising Backyard Chickens and then to the sub menu: Coop & Run design and maintenance. Once there, type roof pitch in the search box. That should get you some powerful good answers.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this! We were thinking of doing a coop with cob over strawbales or even tires….like the earthships design, for insulation and ability to build build-on nests… so I want to ask how you would arrange next boxes on a round wall?
    I hadn’t thought of either the wood as walls or what to do about roofing. (the comment about the clear roofing panels helped!)
    I currently use a shed that I couldn’t replace since it would probably cost $3500 from Home Depot (it’s 12’x12′ with 3 shelves each two feet deep and a huge 3’x3′ window – it’s on 4″x4″ skids so can be towed if we ever move, but there is no insulation and the window doesn’t open (yet). All my big-combed birds got some frostbite this January… even with a heat lamp and a foot of straw and stuff.

    • I’m dividing my coop into three sections with straight walls, so my nest boxes will hang from those. However, there are many ways you could set up your nest boxes in a round coop. You could hang 5-gallon buckets on their side or in a stack like this. You could also use stacking plastic trays like this or just set some milk crates on the floor.

      As far as frostbite goes, you should think about ventilation. Heat can often exacerbate the problem because, unless you live where it gets down into the negative digits, most of your issue comes from cold *with high humidity.* Heat and closing up the coop makes the humidity worse and interferes with your chickens’ natural ways of adapting to winter weather. Cut vents into your coop so that there is 1 square foot of ventilation per bird. Put all of the ventilation on one side, away from the roost, so that you are creating ventilation and not drafts. You can read more about creating ventilation for the cold here.

      I think you have an awesome plan! I would love to see your coop when it’s done or your sketches and plans along the way. The earthship idea is fantastic!

  4. There has been a lot of good comments. The only thing I can add is your run is no where big enough. Within 4 months or less, with that many girls, there will no be a any vegetation left in the run. If they must be in a run I would include a large portion of the woods around the coop. I only have 6 girls and about the same amount of run and I’ve had to expand it and then add a “summer/winter” run area to make it even larger. I know they would absolutely enjoy scratching in the woods for bugs. I wish I had known how much outdoor space they really need to start with. No matter how much run you plan, you will always be looking to expand it to make them happy. I noticed once I greatly increased their run area they started laying much more quickly after motling. If you live in an area with a lot of snow, then you need to plan on providing them with greens in the winter. Around here that is not a problem because chick weed thrives in winter and we don’t get much snow. If you have the option free ranging is the only way to go. Well that’s my two cents.
    I do love the idea of having a seperate hatching and brooding area. Having their own fenced in area will allow socialization with the older girls till they are large enough to mix in with the flock.
    I’ve also experimented with long term storage of feed pellets. I know the feed store and most convention wisdom states that the pellets must be fresh and used within a month or two of purchase. I’ve stored a 50 lb bag in two 5 gallon buckets in mylar bags with and oxegyn absorber. I used one bucket after it was stored for six months and the other bucket after it was in storage for a year. The eggs production continued unabated and the eggs tasted fine. The birds ate the pellets at the same rate and they suffered no ill effects from the storage. Of course with that many birds it would take a lot of storage space. WIth that many birds you are going to be overrun with eggs for your family and will end up selling them or giving them away. With just 6 birds in their 3rd year of laying we are still getting 3-4 eggs a day for the 3 of us and we don’t eat eggs every day.
    Of course the hens are a good meat source but it will not be the main reason for them simply because it will not be a constant source of meat. But with the eggs you don’t need to eat as much meat for a blance in a diet.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Dan! I do generally free range my flock all day. I hope I can do the same thing there, but I like to have a run for the days when no one is home. They would definitely need much more room if they were going to be confined. I think the breeding groups will be confined more than the main flock, during the spring anyhow, so I will definitely look to making their runs as large as possible. Fascinating feed storage experiment! What is the oxygen absorber you used? I have never heard of that, but you had excellent results! I have about 20 chickens at the moment, mostly hens and pullets but also a number of cockerels. I’m sure we will be overrun with eggs in the spring and summer months, but I hope to be able to store the eggs whole or separated and frozen for winter use. We eat a lot of eggs around here – probably two per day per person – and we’ll have the in-laws living with us as well. I also like to have extras to give my parents, and many will be used for hatching and breeding projects. If we do have extra, it would be great to participate in local farmer’s markets. We want to produce as much of our food as possible, so some of those birds will be cockerels growing out for meat. I also have several breeding projects I want to work on, so I need to be able to grow out and select birds before selling or eating them. I really appreciate your stopping by and sharing your feedback and ideas!

      • If you are storing pellets then a 2,000 cc is recommended but I think you can get away with using a 1,000 cc. If you are storing crubles then definetly a 1,000 cc is enough since the crumbles pack so much denser. I looked into this because if the economy tanks I want a way to sustain them till I can get enough growing to replace the stored feed.
        We worried about storing enough eggs but we only need to store them during the molting season. Our girls started laying again in a month or so once they molt and eggs will keep in the fridge at least that long.
        We used to worry about keeping them in the run when no one was home (which isn’t often) but our mutt of a dog is a fierce protector of the girls. He’s already killed two possums and a red fox trying to get them. She sat and stared at a Falcon sitting in a tree for a long time and when the Falcon took off she ran to the area the girls where in and sat there watching till the Falcon left the area. I was impressed.

  5. Normal roof slope is 3 1/2 feet to every 12 feet here in the south. If you get a lot of snow you will need a steeper roof angle. I enjoy all the comments.

  6. I like your design. I keep debating on if I need a permanent structure or something that can move around with the movable electric fencing. I also think we need some tractors that we can have them concentrate on a specific area. I would like to have them till and fertilize the garden in spring and fall.

    Carolyn, love your idea for keeping the roosts clean. I’ll need to get a BBQ brush/scraper thing.

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