Sunday, January 8, 2012

Free Insulated Chicken Coop Plans

My big project of the year, actually of my lifetime (at least in the building category so far), was to build a chicken coop. Alexia talked about wanting chickens last year; I wasn't as thrilled. But, eventually I realized she really wanted them, and so I got on board. She called our borough, and they said we could have 5 animals. So, now we have one dog and four chickens.

Our first step was designing the project. I suggested we design it on the computer before putting it together in real life. Honestly, I wouldn't have a clue where to start otherwise. I also wanted to put together a design we could share with others, since most of the designs we found online weren't free. Alexia started working in Google SketchUp and got the frame together. Since I'd be doing most of the building, I took it from there. She was the one who had checked out and read several chicken raising books from the library, so she served as my advisor for the project. I'd tell her what I was planning, and she would tell me about insulation, ventilation, height of roosts, etc. Designing the project took a while since we had to learn SketchUp, but I was happy with it. It is based on a popular design called the playhouse coop, which has plans available online. Making our own plans allowed us to customize the design. Our plans appear to result in a more costly and complicated coop, but the coop includes insulation, gives the chickens more room in the actual coop itself, and is customized for our automated feeding, door opening, and watering. We designed the coop to house 4 chickens comfortably. Besides those two plans, there are several other plans available online if you look in the right places. There are also plenty of pictures of chicken coops on to at least give you some idea of the possibilities out there.

Alexia did some scrounging online and found some free wood. We borrowed a truck, broke the wood down enough to fit it in the bed, and brought it home. It saved us quite a bit of money since plywood is expensive, but we still needed to buy a lot of 2x4s. Then Alexia spent a lot of time sanding the wood to prepare it for sealing. Eventually I had a 3 week break from school and started to hit this project full time. It wasn't long before I got the frame together. That was the easy part.

After putting the frame together, I sealed it with a natural sealer. We wanted to go non-toxic since chickens have the tendency to peck indiscriminately and we'd be eating their eggs, however, in the end I'm not so certain this was necessary. All the surfaces available to the chickens (all 2x4s and the inside of the plywood when I put them on) were sealed with AFM Naturals Clear Penetrating Oil. The rest of the plywood surfaces I coated with generic clear sealer from Lowe's. I like the non-toxic sealer, but it required a lot, and it was rather expensive (over $70 a gallon). I think I used over 2 gallons.

Then I started to cut the plywood and screw it on. This part was tricky since I had to do two of the walls in parts because my plywood pieces were not big enough. It was also a lot trickier because we were double-walling the sides and insulating. Some say this isn't necessary, but since we weren't planning on having a heat lamp out there and it gets pretty cold here, we wanted to play it safe. Alexia found some free insulation on Freecycle that did the job nicely.

After the plywood and insulation was placed (I sealed the plywood as I put it up) and the removable plywood floor was installed (works better in theory, as it's a little difficult to get it to slide out without scraping it clean first), I installed the roof. Our landlady had some corrugated fiberglass material that worked wonderfully. I secured it with screws that included rubber washers and caulked the seams. Then I improvised and made a roof cap.

As for the enclosure, everyone up to snuff on chicken keeping seems to advise against poultry fencing and recommend hardware cloth. The problem is that poultry fencing doesn't keep predators out, hardware cloth does. Unfortunately, it is expensive. However, I designed the coop dimensions just right so I was able to get it done with one 50' roll. I then placed a larger mesh apron around the coop that I stapled down to stop digging predators.

That's basically the bulk of the coop. As for the chickens' amenities, here's how they are living. They've got plenty of roosting area in the coop. The feeder is designed to hold a lot of food and is filled from a hatch on the outside. Once we gave away the rest of the chickens we raised from chicks to get down to the 4 we kept, I only needed to refill it once a month. The side of the feeder has a clear plastic window to indicate the level. The waterer is a 6 gallon bucket with nipples screwed in to the bottom (used some teflon tape). For the winter I dropped a thermostatically controlled birdbath deicer. So far, it's been working beautifully. I also only need to refill this once a month. The chickens have two nesting boxes accessible from the outside for egg collecting. Oddly enough, I've noticed

that they are segregating themselves by color of eggs. Blue egg layers on the left, brown egg layers on the right. We've got latches on all the accesses, two windows that are secured with hardware cloth put have plexiglass windows you can slide in for winter. The coop has plenty of ventilation that comes out underneath the sides of the roof. We also have a solar panel which charges a marine battery. This powers a timer that opens a plexiglass door every morning closes it every night. The panel, timer, and battery are available here, and the motor is available here. Finally, I installed a hanging CFL on a timer to extend the days in the winter by coming on at 3AM to keep the chickens laying through the winter. Unfortunately the solar panel and battery only have enough power to run the automatic door, while the CFL and birdbath deicer run off an extension cord. I couldn't find any suitable solar solutions to prevent water from freezing. Solar powered lighting was a bit more feasible, but since we ended up running an extension cord out to the coop for the light during the winter, I figured there was no point in investing in a solar powered lighting which would only be necessary in the winter.

This project took about 10 times longer than I thought it would. However, getting our first eggs was so rewarding. I think a lot of that had to do with all the work I put into it. Which is probably why I am the one that collects the eggs each day out of excitement (sometimes checking multiple times a day). We get 3-4 eggs a day, and the chickens seem happy.

You can download the model from Google SketchUp's 3D warehouse. You will need SketchUp to view it. Let me know if you end up building it or have any comments, questions, or suggestions. Thanks!