New Digs for the Chicks!

by Lisa Linderman on October 11, 2009

in chickens,photos

Since we had a hen go broody several months ago, we’ve been planning the expansion of the chicken coop. We started with five girls last year, and after acquiring three new girls from a neighbor and having 4 babies hatch from our broody hen’s clutch, we now have a total of 12 chickens. The coop that was more than adequate for 5 girls was just a little snug for 12, both in the “bedroom” and the outdoor run. Never fear, husband to the rescue!

First, he laid a new, dug-in foundation of cinderblocks to prevent any pests from digging into the coop easily. Given the hardness of our all-clay soil, I’d be surprised if anything could dig under the coop in one night even without the blocks in the way, but doesn’t hurt to be safe. Then we moved the entire coop, chickens and all, using a hand truck and a lot of heaving and cussing. Fortunately, we only had to slide it over by the length of the coop.

After the coop was moved, Todd built a new run for the outside. He left the original coop roofed over, and the new run has a roof made of sturdy galvanized chicken wire. It more than doubled the fenced-in run space the girls have. Since we leave them in the run more often than not, we wanted to be sure they had adequate space to get away from one another and roam, and a place for me to throw treats and entertainment (it’s amazing what an entire uprooted cauliflower plant does for the activity level of the girls!)

Then he started in on the “bedroom”. Our original design was nice, with the nest boxes and roosts enclosed up above an open area on one side of the coop. It left more floor space “outside” that way, but it had a couple of inherent flaws. First, the girls’ exit door into the run flipped up instead of to the side. Being short, that presented a problem to me, given that it was over halfway up from the floor and I sometimes had a hard time latching it open at the top. And since it was up high, we had to have a ramp in the coop for the girls to climb up to their “bedroom”, which took up space and presented a lovely platform for poo-collecting. However, the biggest problem was cleaning the inside area; in order to clean the floor of the roosting area, we had to flip open the entire back of the coop, remove the nest boxes and roosts, and shovel it out. Big disruption to the girls, and not quick or easy for the humans.

Human Access DoorThe door into the run/coop from the outside. The girls know I’m going to open it soon!

The new setup has less “outdoor” space, since the area under the nest boxes and roosts has been enclosed, but they can walk in and out of it all day as they like, so they’re not really out any floor space. Since it’s siding over chicken wire, the back and sides of the bottom enclosed area can be opened up during the day in the summer for ventilation and closed up again at night to provide added protection from weather and predators. And since the floor of the space is now at the same level as the rest of the coop’s floor, and there’s a human-sized door to access the area, I can just rake out the floor. Yay! We’re also working on a small storage area inside above one of the nest boxes, to store small containers of grit, oyster shell, and scratch.

The “Bedroom”Two roost bars are natural tree branches from an old lilac of ours, and two are squared wooden rods, so they can choose whichever they like. There are now four nest boxes, the rightmost being the brood box the four little ones standing on it were hatched in. Above that box will be a new storage cupboard. The bottom left, back, and right panels can be removed for ventilation as there is also sturdy chicken wire in place.

The girls have gone from 3 nest boxes, two very short roosts and one longer one to four full-length roosts and 4 nest boxes. When we put them inside it last night, they sat and gabbled loudly, just as if one of them had just laid an egg. Complete confusion! We apparently upset their long-established roosting order, and everyone had to call dibs on a new bit of roost. Two even went back to their old habit of trying to roost in the nest boxes. The four little ones decided they’d be safest up on top of the only flat-topped nest box, and we didn’t discourage them last night. Soon that’s where the storage area will be, so it’ll be a moot point.

The New Wall

The entire roost/nest box area used to only take from the center bar upward. Instead, we’ve moved the chicken access to the lower left floor, removing the need for a ramp, and we’ve installed a human-access door to make cleaning easier. Everything can be locked if necessary, but we usually just latch it.

Poor little ones spent all day inside the roosting area, since they’re new to the flock and smaller than the other girls. I gave them their old feeder full of adult (high protein, all organic) feed and their old waterer full of clean water. Once they assimilate a little better into the pecking order in a week or two, I’ll remove the extra feeder and waterer, but for now I’d rather they not be starving and dehydrated as well as stressed out!

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