Coop, Nest and Run Constructio
Newest on top--scroll to the bottom to get the whole story.
After lots of success with a makeshift brooder, we decided to clean up and remodel the brooder and storage area. The 8x10 room in the barn was cleared out, painted white and got some new shelving. A solid (wood) divider was added for rigid sides for the brooder and a hinged door to make getting in and out easier for the humans. I'll still add a plastic liner and shavings for the babies when they arrive in February.
I read about ducks before they arrived. They drink a lot of water and make quite a mess with it. Water and shavings don't mix well in a brooder, so we improvised a water device to collect spills.
A 2x6 board frame with 1/4 inch hardware cloth stapled on top and covered with, what else, duct tape to protect little feet from pointy wire. Set the water on top and everything stays dry except the plastic box beneath. Pictures (click to enlarge) show the parts and then the assembled water (and feed) station in practice.
The box needed emptying about once a week. Even after the babies moved outside at 3 weeks of age, I kept using this box/catch basin under the automatic waterer because our barn has a soil floor and we don't want muddy places.
We have downsized the flock to 8 hens so we decided to also downsize the roost area. For 2013, we've gone back to the flat design we started with. Lighter to lift, easier to access the dropping pit. Click thumbnail on the right to see the latest.
Below on this page find the earlier models:
Roll-Out Nest Update - February 24, 2012
Well the roll-out nest idea is good and we had some successes (see the update for August 6), but after molting and taking a winter break, the girls won't lay in it. They insist on laying their eggs in a couple of piles of shavings on the floor of the coop.
I tried lots of ways to discourage this. Removed the shavings from the floor, blocked off corners, replaced the pointy nest mats with carpet. The carpet worked with some of the girls while others insisted the floor was better.
I finally gave up the roll-out idea. I fitted the bottom of each nest with a piece of a yoga mat cut to fit the nest. The rubber is washable and keeps shavings from falling through the slits in the nest bottom. Then I filled each nest with shavings including the roll-out cup behind. Bingo. EVERYONE immediately started laying eggs in the nests.
The big reason I got the fancy roll-out nest thingy was because of egg eating. So far that seems to be over so maybe this will have to do at least until another egg eating outbreak starts. Someone thought maybe a calcium deficiency was to blame for canabalistic behavior.
The metal is still an advantage over wood because insects can't hide, and the nests are easy to clean. Also, the perches in front of each row of nests fold up and close the nests. I close the nests each evening so no one sleeps (poops) in the nests overnight. I guess I'm happy. :-)
We haven't made changes to the coop in a year! Time for a big, well expensive, change. The egg eating will be cured forever with a fancy nesting unit that allows eggs to roll out the back and out of harm's way.
Pictures on the right (click to enlarge) show the nest set in place--it replaces 4 nest boxes. The middle picture is of inside the nest--plastic nest pads make a soft landing for the egg when it drops and rolls. The bottom picture is of an egg that has rolled out and rests out of reach of a hungry hen.
No more egg eating chickens for The Poultry Project. I think filling eggs with hot pepper sauce mixed with liquid detergent actually cured them of that disgusting habit, but this new nest is much cleaner. There are 10 nests in 2 rows. Each nest has a plastic cup-shaped bottom that is tilted backward. There is also a version of this nest unit where the eggs roll to the front but it seemed that rolling out behind would be safer.
This is a long-term investment at $350! I found it at Murray McMurray Hatchery and was pleasantly surpised to find it almost $150 less there than other sources I found for the same Kuhl unit.
The nest comes in pieces you have to assemble. A pop-rivet gun is required, but not included. Instructions were fairly easy to follow. It took my hubby and me about 2 hours to put it together. We waited to install it till the girls were finished working for the day.
Update August 10 - They are still hesitant to use the new nests--change is hard. A couple of them use it, but most stand in line for the 4 remaining old nests.
Update August 12 - We removed the old nests--the girls just weren't using the new nests. I also turned the prickly nest mats in the new nests over so the smooth side is up. With no other nests, the girls now lay on the floor of the coop!
Update August 14 - Baby steps. We still have eggs on the floor, but over half of today's eggs were in the new nest roll-out cups!
We've been using a sectioned off place in the barn for broodies. Two or three nights in jail and the girls give up being broody. These quarters; started out as a temporary pen for the youngsters I started last spring. The two pens share common wire walls so everyone can see each other, but in the case of broodies, no access to nests and for jurveniles, protection from bossy hens.
Pictures on the right show the 'before' space on top followed by the 'makeover'. The new space eliminates a wasted alley between the two and a 3x3x2 foot high dropping pit with 2 roosts collects more wonderful compost for my garden.
With a new set of chicks coming along, we decided to update the space with adult chickens in mind and use it for babies when we have them. The 7 Easter Egger chicks will be 6 weeks old in the middle of July--when they should be big enough so they can't get through the wire! They new home is all ready.
Seven more chicks. This time it's almost summer so heating isn't such abig deal. I decided to give the chicks a big area from the start. They have about 6 x 8 feet. I lined the concrete floor with heavy plastic and lined the walls with cardboard that is about 3 feet high. Shavings to about 6 inches gives them a nice big area.
The heat light is at one end so they can get to heat or cool off at the other side. A sunny window give them a little vitamin D! With a few rocks, they are learning to climb.
Since we frequently get over 100 degrees here in spring and summer, I've been wetting down the shady ground. The hens seem to appreciate having someplace cool to sit in the afternoon.
Since nothing is too good for my girls, we installed a misting system for them. Actually it was surplus from an area in the yard cooled now by trees. So far they don't like the mist to touch them... Maybe on the next 106 degree sizzler, they will change their minds!
The misters are set to spray outside of their pen which is upwind. We usually have a slight breeze so misty air sweeps back into the pen. With no wind, the mist cools the ground under redwood trees.
These pictures enlarge.
With these 4 new nests, our work is complete for the 11 new hens who will join their big sisters this week and hopefully begin laying eggs (in the nests) within the next month. The new nests are on the opposite side of the coop from the originals. It's a little brighter over there so I may add some shade cloth on the end. Like the first nests, the 1x6 wood front that holds in the shavings removes for cleaning.
Since the hens spend so little time in the coop, we didn't think it would matter that the new nests take up space. The first nests (left of 2nd photo) were built so only the perch was inside. So far the girls, like this Light Brahma, have inspected but not laid in the new nests.
These pictures enlarge.
New Roosts - May 11, 2009
With 11 more little girls soon to join their big sisters, we expanded the roosting space to accommodate them. From three 4-foot roosts all level to three 6-foot roosts stair stepped up. You'd think the girls would all want to be on top, but they line up on each roost next to the wire fence!
This is much nicer that the original setup. The frame is hinged at the top so I can lift it to clean the pit. And the individual roost boards are resting in brackets so the 2x4s come out for cleaning. There was wire under it originally, but the hens don't seem interested in getting into the pit so we removed it. The thumbnail enlarges.
Moving Day - April 16, 2009
The chicks (6 weeks old) have moved into the barn. They are separated from the hens with fencing, but now they have an outdoor space as well as indoor. This picture enlarges and see more photos on this date in the Gallery.
They began with the typical panic as we completed their roost and hung the heat light. They are all 6 weeks old or more today so probably don't really need the heat, but I'll turn it on for the next few nights since they won't have the indoor protection of the tack room anymore.
We are thinking we will probably keep this small separate pen for broodies.
Even Bigger Digs - April 7, 2009
Little chicks growing fast. Now they have a 6 foot by 6 foot pen in the tack room that barely contains them (the thumbnail at the right enlarges). Since the smallest ones can squeeze through the chain link wire of the outside pen they all have to say inside till they get a little bigger.
We are hoping the big move to the barn will be over the weekend of April 18. Till then, I bring the babies clumps of grass and weeds to dig through. A window in the tack room gives them the light of day.
Bigger Digs - March 12, 2009
No deep water tub this time. With the arrival of 5 more chicks (total 11) I enlarged their space in the tack room by using a corner of the room and cardboard around the sides. It's funny that I don't remember how fast they grew and required more space! This picture (unlike those below) enlarges if you click it.
More Chicks - February 26, 2009
No photo of the brooder with this batch of chicks (second child--fewer pictures!). I used the same shallow water tub as with the first chicks. See it here.
The Bigger Outdoor Run - January 21, 2009
The new outdoor pen is finished and the hens LOVE it. I thought maybe they would be fearful of such a vast space with no cover. Wrong. They charged right out there. See the pictures of the new space in the Gallery on this date.
The Bigger Outdoor Run - January 10, 2009
How much space do chickens really need? Our girls already have a lot more (30x50 ft) than required for good health. The photo at the left shows their current space (bare ground) surrounded by what will be their new space.
The new space (grass in front, red circled post is one corner) will measure 80 x 110 feet--still not enough to label them 'free range'. The definition of free range as I understand it means they get all the nutrition they need from the land. I will still feed them layer food. But the new space will be welcome when we get new birds in the spring.
In December I planted fruit trees in the new space--invisible sticks in the picture. In time they will provide some shade and cover for the girls and fruit for the humans--I hope.
Today we replaced the last 30 foot stretch of corral fence on our landscaped yard with 6 foot high welded wire. It's practically invisible compared with corral. This last yard fence completes the 110 foot south side of the new pen.
With nice weather predicted for this week, we hope to get the wood corner posts set and hang a gate. The wire I've ordered from a local feed store will be delivered this week and we can get started driving in T-stakes and hanging the wire. Stay tuned.
According to the books on chickens, four nests are enough for 13 hens--actually more than enough as one nest can serve up to 4 chickens.
Our nest box is made from one 4x8 foot sheet of 1/2 inch oriented strand board--a type of plywood. Individual boxes are 14 inches front to back and about about 11-1/2 inches wide. The lid is slanted so the hens won't roost on it, and it's hinged at the top so egg gathering can be done from outside the coop by lifting the lid.
The 4 foot long box rests on a 2x6 board mounted horizontally between the post and wall. Four metal brackets under the nest support it.
Inside the coop is a perch made of 2x3" wood held in place with 3 metal brackets on the same 2x6" board that supports the nest box.
To make cleaning the nests easier, we added a 1x6 (the 1x4 in the picture was too low) removable board to the front to hold in the nesting material. That board is wedged up against the nest box with wood blocks that fit between it and the perch. So cleaning is done by removing that board and sweeping the shavings out.
The nest was completed just in time for the first egg the same afternoon! See the Gallery on this same date for our eager bird and her delivery.
I think this is the end of our projects. With acceptance of the nest boxes, we are ready to go into production mode!
The Outdoor Waterer - April 29, 2008
Today I bought another automatic waterer--this one for the outdoor yard. Rather than attaching to a fence, this one is free-standing. Otherwise, it's the same--float valve inside, attaches to garden faucet.
You can see from this photo, the hose it comes with was long enough to set it up next to the hose bib. I just added a splitter to the bib so now both waterers are run from the same faucet.
The chicks figured it out in no time.
I've been asked where I got these waterers. A local feed store carries them and I've learned they get them from a California wholesale farm supplier who sells to feed stores on the west coast. The cage mounted model was $30 and the free-standing was $40. If you are interested, check with your feed store and maybe they can get it for you.
The Outdoor Yard - April 23, 2008
Finished at last. Here is the new and spacious outdoor yard we built for the chicks. This area is about 52 x 30 x 6 feet high. We used welded wire mesh on wood posts for the side nearest the house. It becomes almost invisible in fact you can't really see it except for the chain link gate on the left side of the photo below.
The outside fence line consists of are 7 dog run panels, each 10 feet long x 6 feet high--also fairly invisible in the picture. They attach to the red barn on the right and to the shelter on the right. I'm told this area will be transformed from grass into packed earth in no time.
The side nearest the house replaces an old pipe gate and white rail fence that had rotted over our 18 years here. We decided to omit the rails so the view from the house into the pasture would be more open. Compare the completed project with the "before" photo at the bottom of this page.
Another Temporary Yard - April 16, 2008
I was getting very tired of opening the heavy, big barn door to let the chicks out every day, so we changed things up.
We went to Lowes and got another set of 4 dog run panels and used the 3 panels we had to make a big circular space outside the small barn door. The chicks quickly figured out they had a wonderful new space to enjoy.
This is still temporary. We have been delayed by travel and life from getting their permanent outdoor pen finished. We need a bunch of post holes dug and are hoping to pay someone to do it! Till then, the girls have more room and I just have to turn a knob to open the door.
New Waterer - March 23, 2008 (cleaning update 4/23)
We found a great automatic waterer at a local feed store. It works with a garden hose and a little float valve, and it attaches to the coop wall with screws. As the chickens drink, the float inside turns on the water to refill the small basin.
A little piece of chicken wire on top keeps the girls from sitting there and pooping! The round openings (for heads) prevent debris from getting in--hooray! I clean it by turning off the water and swabbing the basin with a wash cloth.
Now I'm just paranoid something will go wrong so I check it often.
When we finish the permanent outdoor run, we will add a second waterer like this out there.
The Temporary Outdoor Run - March 22, 2008
We will begin construction of the permanent outdoor area soon, but till then, three chain link dog run panels of the four we got at Lowes have become the new temporary outdoor run.
The chicks LOVE going outside. There was, as always with something new, a big learning curve because they have to travel from the coop across a short section inside the barn to access the outdoor area.
We began this journey with mother chicken (me) scooping up each chick and placing them outside the coop. Once half of them were out, the rest got the idea and scurried out to see what the others were doing.
See the Gallery for some photos of them enjoying this new frontier.
No more sleeping in the pit. The chicks now sleep on top of the pit either on their new roosts or on some bedding I spread on top of some plastic for those who aren't quite ready for a roost at night.
There are three roosts (2x4 by 4 foot boards) on top of the frame with chicken wire under the roosts. This is enough roosting space for 15 hens giving each 10 inches of space. The chickens will sit on the roosts with their butts over the wire--droppings go into the dropping pit where they dry and stay out of the hen's reach.
We put a small board to be used as a ramp up for them, but most jump/fly up from the ground or the small practice perch.
They still need the heat lamp at night for a couple more weeks, but I turn it off during the day now. They are loving being in the whole coop all day, and I'm loving not having to catch them at night to put them in the pit! Everybody's happy.
I bought an automatic waterer with a little float inside that hooks up to a garden hose. We'll be putting that up for them soon. The feed store said it stays clean and requires almost no maintenance--hooray!
The Coop - March 2, 2008
The final section of the coop is up--to the left of the post. The portion from the bottom up will eventually be solid wood with 4 nest boxes. For now the chicken wire is tacked up to close the space.
The chicks seem interested in the new space. They jump up to the edge of the dropping pit when I have it open. So far they haven't ventured into the new big space. If they do, I'll have to chase them down! They seem to prefer the safety and warmth of their pit after looking over the edge.
More shavings will be added when they begin using this space. One bail of pine shavings pretty much covers one 4x6 stall mat with 2-3 inches of packed bedding. The 6 inch bottom rail will allow the coop to be filled with a nice thick bed of shavings--which the chickens will promptly kick out!
Everything takes longer than you expect. Building something in a barn means measurements have to be flexible and you get very familiar with the drive to the hardware store!
Voila! After 4 days of part-time work, we have a dropping pit, a fence panel with working gate, and the chicks have another new home. We still need a practice perch inside the pit, but this is home sweet home for three more weeks of heating.
The ready-made dog run panel with gate we got at Lowe's is mounted to a post at one end and sits on a 2x6 bottom rail that will help keep the pine shavings bedding inside the coop.
The partly completed coop is temporarily closed off with chicken wire stapled to the post and wall, just in case someone decides to fly out of the pit when I'm cleaning or feeding. So far, several of them have flown up to the rim when I have the top up, but decide the pit is a better deal and jump back in.
The dropping pit (with future roosts mounted on top) is 4'x6'x2'deep and has a removable top that fits over the 2x4 frame. When the birds grow up, they will roost on top at night on 2'x4' perches, and their droppings will fall through the wire to the pit below where it will dry and the birds won't be able to get into it. This method is supposed to keep the rest of the coop fairly clean because the chickens will be outside for most of the day and only use these roosts at night.
The final coop construction task is to finish the the wall to the left of the gate where we will mount 4 nest boxes. For now we will just use a 2x6 bottom and wire the rest. Nests won't be needed till just before the hens reach laying age--in about 5 months.
The Coop - February 23, 2008
Today we moved the stall mats into the barn. Four of them fit perfectly side by side across the 16 foot opening. Since we had 2 additional mats, we put them in the barn also, but the coop dimensions will be the 4 mats wide by one mat in depth or about 16x6'--more than enough room for 14 adult chickens with access to the outdoors during the day.
Then we went to Lowes to buy a dog run panel with a gate. The 8' long by 6' high panels with a gate they had in January were gone. Instead they sold a set of four 10' wide x 6' high dog run panels and one panel has a gate.
Okay, this was more than we bargained for, but change is good. We will eventually need the other three panels for their portable outdoor run, so might as well get it all now. This photo shows the one panel with a gate leaning against the back wall. This panel is also longer than the original plan--good because now we'll need only 1 post and have plenty of room for nests on the left side.
Good thing the chicks will be bigger before they use this coop--right now they can easily get through the chain link mesh!
The Brooder - February 23, 2008
The chicks quickly out-flew the smaller water tank they started in. This deeper tank also has a little larger floor space so they have more room to practice liftoff. I'm tempted to give them even more room, but the book says keep it small so they stay warm.
The wire top is a requirement now because they try to fly up to the rim every time I remove the wire--they know not to when the cover is on--future rocket scientists! The white cones on the food and water keep them from sitting on top and pooping in the water--okay, maybe rocket science won't be in their future...
The oldest chicks are 2 weeks old today. The plan is to move them to the coop when they are 4 weeks old, but keep them corraled in a small area with the heat light till they are completely feathered out--6 to 8 weeks of age.
According to the books, up to 4 weeks of age each chick only needs 1/2 square foot of space--seems very tight, but I'm the newbie here. In this tank they each have a little over 1/2 sq.ft.
The Brooder - February 10, 2008
Here's the brooder, warming up awaiting the call from the Post Office tomorrow morning to pickup the chicks.
I'm maintaining the temperature under the light at between 90 and 95 degrees using a hanging red heat light. They can cool off or warm up as they choose by moving about the tub.
No progress on the coop except a completed plan and list of parts to get at Lowes. All that can wait till the babies are at least a month or more old. Till then, this tub or this room will be their temporary, cozy, safe home.
Housing Before - January 5, 2008
Here's the brooder! I'm planning to raise the babies in the tack room of our little barn. It's currently being used for storage for furniture and boxes we wanted out of the way while the house was for sale. This space has a concrete floor, door and 2 windows. They will start out in a water tub without water, of course!
A brooder kit is coming from the hatchery with a heat light and everything I'll need to get the babies past their first 6 weeks.
After 6 weeks or so, they will move into the permanent coop we plan to build for them in the stall area of the barn (see photo below). This stall, complete with sturdy 3/4 inch plywood walls painted white, was used for the birth of a baby horse in 1999. It's a roomy 16x16 feet.
The floor of the barn is decomposed granite--good for horses, but may be too moist for chickens.
We are planning to pour concrete around the perimeter walls to help prevent digging animals from getting in. Then we plan to lay very heavy rubber stall mats (horse surplus) over the DG to make a better floor for cleaning. Pine shavings over that.
The coop dimensions will be the width of one stall mat (6 ft.) wide by 16 feet long. We found ready-made dog run panels at Lowes that we'll use to close off the area.
Stay tuned for the finished product.
The outdoor yard will use an existing fence line along the back of our house from the red barn to the former horse shelter. Most of the fence posts have rotted at the bottom due to irrigation water and dirt that got piled up around the posts. Since we will have to replace the posts anyway, we decided to omit the white fence rails and pipe gate. The new fence will just be posts and wire. See the completed pen above on this page.
I've learned that chickens will try to fly up to something horizontal they think is a perch. Leaving the rails off the new fence and using only wire will hopefully keep them in and away from our dogs and preditors. An added benefit of no rails will be a less distracting view out the back windows.
In time, the hens will need an alternate outdoor pen with fresh ground to dig in. Future plans include adding an additional pen beyond this area so one pen can be replanted and refreshed while the other is in use.
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