First time chicken coop builders, start here!

There’s a lot to consider in building your first chicken coop, and this infographic walks you through some major points. At the very end, I’ll discuss some of my major points for the best possible coop design.

Click To Enlarge


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These Chicken Coop Plan Must Haves Brought To

You By

ChickenCheckLists.com

There are some things I did right with my coop, and others I’d change if I did it all over again.

Things I did right on my coop:
1.) Lots of ventilation: in the summer when it’s hot, I have two doors on the front of the coop that can latch open, providing full coop ventilation. I also have a back window and roof vents with directional flaps to keep wind out of direct it in.
2.) Predator proof: my design was inspired by paranoia that something would get in and kill my chickens. I buried hardware cloth 2 ft underground and out, covered the edges of the run with heavy pavers to prevent digging, and covered the top of the run to protect from hawks.
3.) Covered run: I used polycarbonate sheeting to cover the run, which allows the chickens to run around in the rain without getting wet. Also, prevents mud, which combined with chicken poo produces a nasty, smelly, potentially dangerous mix.
4.) Nest box per bird: some people say it isn’t necessary, but I’ve seen all 3 hens pack into a box at the same time. I wouldn’t want them to have to queue up in line and wait.
5.) Easy to clean: this is the biggest one for me. I designed this so I wouldn’t have to stoop to clean, or climb inside, or shovel it out. Instead, I’m able to use a bucket and brush to sweep all the litter out, and I’ve used rubber liners for the floor that I can remove and hose down. All of this makes cleaning super quick and easy.

Things I’d change:
1.) Bigger: I’d make the run much, much bigger. Though chickens can take confinement very well, and they’ve got more space than some, I know they’d enjoy the extra room to roam.
2.) Elevation: I picked a low spot in my garden to place the coop, mainly because it was out of the way. Unfortunately, because it’s at a low spot, the run gets wet when snow melts in spring.
3.) Bad nesting box door: the nesting box door is heavy, has no way to stay up unless you’re holding it, and it collects water due to the design. That water then drains ever so slowly into the coop. I think this is a critical flaw and we’ll be changing it this year.

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Feather Pickin’ Chicken, Pt2

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The Jerk is at it again.  She’s even pecking me, hard, on the leg while I’m out in the run cleaning.

I’ve put cat toys out there; cabbages; low-energy treats like greens, squash, etc; a tennis ball; as well as letting them out more often, even though the Jerk doesn’t WANT to go out, because her feet get too cold.  None of that was stopping her from picking at BB and Dumptruck.

So, the Jerk is now isolated.  On the advice of other chicken owners, I’ve removed her from the flock and placed her in a dog crate in the basement- this’ll give the other two a little time to heal, and rearrange the pecking order a bit.  Hopefully by shaking things up I’ll get her to stop long enough to get them through winter; in spring, they’ll have much more outside time and be less likely to have this issue.

The heroes of the day are Ben, for helping me set up the isolation pen and restraining the ladies with injuries so that I could properly coat them with Blu-Kote; the other hero is Blu-Kote, which is amazing in it’s ability to mask the blood to stop the picking, as well as being antiseptic.

The full gallery of injuries can be viewed here on imgur- the picture file sizes were way too big for my poor blog to handle.

Have you experienced this?  What did you do to fix the problem? I’d love to add to my list of suggestions.

List of advice I’ve been given:

-picked up the Jerk and hold her while the others run around and have a good time, to shake up the pecking order a bit

-check their protein level in the food. When they don’t get adequate protein, they’ll eat feathers (saw this during their molt). This is definitely not a nutritional deficiency, since she wasn’t even eating the feathers- she was pulling them out and spitting them onto the ground.

-give them all low-calorie veggie treats to keep them occupied but not give them extra energy

-Let them free range (not possible in the city, and their outside time is limited due to the extremely cold weather anyway

-Provide entertainment. I’ve used an automatic laser pointer cat toy, tennis balls, a treat dispenser, dangling toys, a hanging cabbage, etc.  No change in behavior.

-isolate the Jerk to rearrange the pecking order and let the others heal.

Chickens of the Mist

misting chickens
Chickens of the Mist, or: How I Learned to Make an Evaporative Cooler on a Hot June Day

In Ferndale/Detroit, yesterday and today are hitting temperatures in the high 90’s with around 70% humidity.  The heat is oppressive, to say the least.  I’ve been staying indoors in the cool air conditioned climate as much as possible, but the chickens don’t have that luxury.  The temperature sensor in the coop read a whopping 100 degrees at noon yesterday, and the ladies were hanging out below it, panting hard and keeping their wings away from their bodies.  Buff orpingtons like these were bred in England, and are cold hardy- which means they’re absolutely not designed for this sort of stifling weather.  Luckily, this should be the last day like this for a while, but if we continue to encounter temps like this, I have a plan.

chicken mister setup
I’ve been filling large bottles with water and freezing them solid; we placed one in front of the box fan and angled my hose set to “mist” so that the water hits the frozen jug and the cooled vapor gets blown at the coop run.

We made a simple evaporative cooler for the girls that seems to have helped in a major way.  I’ve been filling large bottles and jugs with water and freezing them solid- it makes your freezer run more efficiently to have them in there, and I’ve got them on hand to place in the coop run for the chickens to hang out nearby (not that they do, but even having it in the vicinity seems to help).  To make it, we place a box fan a short distance away from the run, placed the frozen jug in front of it, and angled my hose set to ‘mist’ so that the water hits the frozen jug and gets blown toward the run.  The cooled vapor travels into the shadey area under the coop, where the chickens like to hang out- I can FEEL that it’s cooler down there than it is in the surrounding yard.

chicken mist setup
another shot showing the mist created by the evaporative cooler

Best of all, the chickens don’t seem to notice it too much, and just hang out under the coop as they usually do.  Yesterday, during intial setup, we discovered that they would NOT hang out in the shade under the coop with the fan directly against the runs fencing- it was just too new and scarey for them, and despite the heat they were standing in direct sunlight away from the fan.  Once we moved it away and behind some plant life, they went right back into the shade.   Care also needs to be taken to not spray too much water into the area you want them to hang out in- they’ll avoid having the water hit them.

In addition to the evaportive cooler, I added some “Sav-a-chick” to a giant metal waterer and placed it down in the run (rather than inside the coop itself).  It’s basically gatorade for chickens, helping to keep them hydrated while they’re panting and losing water through their heavy breathing (this is primarily how they cool down).  They each drink roughly .5 liters of water in the summer; you want to keep them stocked with water at all times, and keep the water cool (ie. not out in the sun).  Drinking cool water will decrease their core body temperature, and having the “chicken koolaid” mix in there will reduce their need to drink, avoiding any potential “water toxicity” issues (unlikely to happen, but possible).

I also put out a shallow dish of water that they could stomp around in, but they’re avoiding it like the plague.

We’re also being mindful of what they eat right now- greens and cool fruit are a better choice, and care should be taken to avoid cracked corn and corn products, as those will raise their core body temperature (so keep it handy for winter!).

In the event that they show signs of not being able to handle the heat even with these precautions, I’ve got a tent set up in my basement that I’ll move them into.  I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that, since I’m sure the change of scenery would stress them out only slightly less than the extreme heat.

Coverage of Ferndale’s First Legal Coop- Ferndale 115

Source:  http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/05/18/ferndales-first-legal-chicken-coop/

Ferndale’s First (Legal) Chicken Coop

(Crystal A. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, May 15th, 2012 edition)

Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl seem happy.  The six week old Buff Orpingtons strut around their sandy front yard, playing like sister chickens do: nudging, pecking, cuddling, running, rolling around in the sand and darting back up the wooden ramp to their luxury penthouse, aka Ferndale’s first legal chicken coop.

Laura Mikulski was the organizer of the Ferndale backyard chicken movement.  After meeting other suburban families that keep backyard chickens, Mikulski wanted to bring the option to Ferndale.  She researched backyard chickens and lobbied City Council to pass an ordinance allowing them.

After several months of research and consideration, theFerndale City Council approved an ordinance that allows individuals to have a chicken coop on their property as long as they follow certain rules.  Homeowners are limited to three hens. Roosters are not allowed.

The requirements of the ordinance are:

“As structured the ordinance would allow for the raising and keeping of three (3) hen chickens and no roosters. Residents would be required to receive an annual permit which would expire on December 31st of each year. Any applicant receiving a permit is required to schedule an inspection within 30 days of the permit issuance, if violations are noted at the inspection the applicant has 15 additional days to resolve the identified issues. Chickens are required to be kept in the rear yard, structures (coops) must be designed to prevent accessibility to vermin, feed must be secured in enclosed containers and compliance with the Michigan Department of Agriculture Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals (GAMPS) must be maintained.”

Mikulski believes in following the law, so she waited until the process was complete. She and boyfriend Ben Wojdyla then made the plans.  With approximately $500 plus many reclaimed items, the chicken family’s new home took about two months to build

The entire coop area is surrounded with wire mesh that is tight enough to keep out rats and other predators.  The coop is topped with polycarbonate sheeting reclaimed from another project.  There is a door so people can enter, but there is also access to tend the chickens from the outside: a lever allows them to open and close the door at the top of the ramp to the chicken’s house, and a long top-opening door lets them access any eggs that may have been laid in the nesting area.  The door has a magnetic top so it will stay open while they harvest the eggs.  To best utilize the space and help provide a layer of shade to the roof of the coop, Mikulski and Wojdyla created a strawberry bed on top.

The doors to the chicks’ house are stained glass cabinet doors, and the siding is made of slats reclaimed from pallets.  Everything is decorated to match the home and garage, an aesthetic fit with the rest of the backyard’s landscaped splendor.

On May 15th the couple had their inspection.  “Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound,” Mikulski said in her blog www.ferndalechickens.com.  “He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

“The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.”

Her advice to people who want to build a coop: “Draw the plan first, but be flexible in building. Consider drainage and ventilation- chickens need to be dry. Build everything at a height that is comfortable for you to work in/with. Be mindful of cleaning issues and form a plan that allows you to clean with ease.”

Finding the chickens wasn’t hard, Mikulski just looked on Craigslist.  When she got them back in February she kept them in inside the house until the coop was complete.  “When they’re done growing they’re going to be big birds,” she said, noting that she specifically sought out Buff Orpington chicks because of their mild-manner and their heftiness once grown.

“The ladies won’t lay eggs for a while, and when they start it might take a while before the eggs come out fully developed.  Sometimes they come out without a shell.  Sometimes they’re just tiny.  Sometimes there could be ‘fart eggs,’ which are eggs without a yolk inside.”  Once they girls do mature though, they will likely lay about one egg per day.

“I just love being able to come out here and watch them.  It’s so peaceful.  The littlest things make them so happy,” Mikulski said.  Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl enjoy eating seed and leafy veggies. They also love rolling around in the sand and dirt.  They even get along well with the family dog Hurley.  “He’s never seemed bothered by them in the least,” Mikulski said.

For much more information on backyard chickens, check out www.ferndalechickens.com.

For official City of Ferndale ordinance information and more, go to www.ferndale-mi.com.

   For stories of how this all came to be, check out:

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/04/20/chicken-coops-in-ferndale/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/05/12/the-chicken-petition/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/09/15/council-to-vote-on-chicken-coops

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/01/07/chicken-coop-ordinance-to-be-considered-by-council-monday/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/01/15/new-rules-allow-for-backyard-chickens/

Chicken Coop Site Map & Structural Plan

As part of our ordinance, we had to submit a site map and structural drawing for the chicken coop.  Ben put his engineering background to good use and put together these:

Site Map/ Site Plan

Click for full size version. Site map/site plan: shows property lines and positions of all permanent structures. Basically a copy of my “platt map”, which I received when I purchased my home- you can get a copy from the city offices. Obviously we had to add the location/dimensions of the coop.

Structural Drawing

Click for full size version. Structural drawing: shows the dimensions of the coop from overhead, the side, and the front. Also a detailed drawing of the footer we used, and materials listing. Everything must be drawing to scale.

Please be aware that everything must be to scale when submitting to the city of Ferndale, just like you’d have with a building plan for a home or garage.  It’s not too difficult, but is certainly intimidating if you’ve never done it before.

We’re legal!

Yesterday, the city inspector walked into the backyard saying “This should only take about 2 seconds, I’ve seen the paperwork you submitted”.

who wouldn’t approve this thing?

Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound.  He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.

The chickens aren’t very impressed with this latest turn of events, but they did run off with the building inspection sticker we received.

very exciting!
if it’s in my hands, it might be food, right?
see that beak? somebody snatched the approved sticker from my hand a second later.

After all is said and done, the chickens are happy, I’m happy, and my neighbors are happy.  Everyone seems to like the coop, and they get a kick out of the girls antics- or lack thereof, since the ladies have been lounging a lot in their beachy coop.

The 3 stooges.

The countdown begins.

Just over 24 hours until the coop gets inspected!  I’m nervous and excited.

We put some finishing touches on the coop over the weekend- lots of paint, installing the brackets for the polycarbonate roof, installing a door handle, etc.  There are still some more things I’d like to do, but I’ll wait until after we get approval from the city inspector.

The coop is ready for inspection!

The green roof is prepped with dirt, and waiting for strawberries to be planted.  Can you believe I haven’t been able to find strawberries at any of the nurseries this year?  I had to break down and order some online.

Nice mix of garden and potting soil

We also put a latch on the inside of the run door, after in incident where the chickens were spooked and bumped into the door.  The door only stayed open for a second, but that’s long enough that if there was a dog running around the coop, they might have the opportunity to race inside.  Obviously I can’t let that happen, so my failsafe is now installed, for use when I’m in the run.

latch on the inside of the run door

We put some hanging planters from Ikea in the run, just for a decorative touch.  I absolutely love it- the hint of extra greenery really adds to the overall appearance.

the chickens don’t really care about hanging planters

We painted everything to match the house and garage, so the coop seems to “belong” there.

the coop and the garage look good together
another view of the garage and coop

The lever for the chicken door is on the outside- in the future, we’re hoping to install an automated or remoted controlled door.

the rod sticking out with the black handle is the push/pull door control

Door hardware matches on the run door and the nesting box lid.  We also added a magnet to the window cover on the back of the coop, so that the window can stay open.

black handle and hinges on the door
black handle on the nesting box, magnet keeping the window cover open

All in all, it was a ton of work this weekend.  Painting the trim in the places where the 1/2 hardware cloth is attached was a pain, and took a long time to get all the nooks and cranies filled.  I also went over all the “vulnerable points” after hearing something walking around the garage one night when I went to close the girls in- we used horseshoe nails to ensure that the hardware cloth is attached in every place that a predator might seek access, mainly as reinforcement to the staples we had previously used.  The pavers seen around the coop are in their position temporaily, as I’ll be leveling them and making some paths through the garden in the future.  At the end of the day Sunday, we were exhausted and ready to just sit down and admire the finished product.

Hurley likes to think she helped.
Hurley helps by watching the chickens enjoy their pretty new coop. Good job Hurley!

To all the people who said they wouldn’t want to live next to someone with backyard hens- is this what you pictured?

What a hard life!

The girls are enjoying a nice warm day, perched on the edge of their coop window.  I’m pretty jealous of them.

Like big globs of honey.

Today is the big day- we’re turning in the building permit and fees associated for the coop license.  Keep you fingers crossed- I’m hoping the inspector will be able to come out in the next few days to check it out and give his blessing.

 

Chicks dig dirt.

The chicks are enjoying a nice dust bath in the shade on this steamy spring day.

These girls are the fat orange cats of the chicken world, and as such are already getting a little spoiled.  They come running at the sight of me in the backyard, not out of affection, but because I usually have a delicious treat.  Lately it’s been dandelion greens, broccoli leaves, strawberries, and a tiny piece of ham.  I think they nearly lost their little chicken minds over that piece of ham.

 

Curious.
Snagging a bite.
Once Big Bossy gets a bite, everyone moves in for some, now that they know it’s safe.

The girls are getting bigger every day, and looking more and more like real chickens.  I think I may have even heard a cluck last night as I was closing them into their coop.

Looking proper.
Big Bossy eyes the camera.
Green eyed dinosaurs.
Chickens have inscrutable faces- the only way to tell if they’re angry is body language, since their faces have a permanent frown.

Ferndale Chicken Coop Paperwork: where to get it, how to fill it out

The city has put together a nice bundle of paperwork for the backyard coop permitting/inspection process.  I’ve taken pics of the sheets from the bundle for any prospective chicken owner to peruse before putting together their coop:

The building permit needs to be filled out, much like you would if you were building a shed.

In addition to filling out the building permit and chicken coop application, they require a basic site plan indicating that the location of the coop meets the dimensional requirements and a plan for the coop’s construction demonstrating that the material requirements are being met.   The fee for the permit is $35 annually, and is paid when you submit your application to the city.  You can schedule your coop inspection at the same time.  The permit and application are available at City Hall, which is also where you turn in the completed paperwork.

Putting together my site plan tonight, and should be able to turn in the completed paperwork tomorrow.  Can’t wait to have everything done and legal!

 

 

Dogs living with chickens? It can work!

The only thing I was worried about with keeping backyard hens was my dog’s reaction.

Hurley is fast, and has the highest prey drive I’ve ever seen in a dog.  I’ve watched this dog snatch low flying birds out of the air, and found countless headless carcasses in my backyard.  I stopped feeding birds in the backyard for this very reason.

Before letting these chicks out into their run on a trial basis, Hurley managed to snatch a fledgling sparrow.  I yelled, she dropped it, and it hopped away while she looked ashamed.  With that fresh in my mind, I was incredibly nervous about the prospect of her reaction to seeing large, tasty looking birds hopping around on the ground right in front of her (albeit separated by a fence).

Looks like all my worrying was unfounded.

Hurley is very dignified.
Vigilant as always.
She still has to look at them from time to time- they make fascinating noises!
Satisfied that they're not up to anything worthwhile, Hurley goes back to watching the yard.
Hurley is way more interested in what I'm up to.
And now she's bored enough that she's just going to lay down in the dirt. Nice.

I’m counting myself lucky.  I think these birds spent enough time in the house and around me that they’re exempt from the normal backyard prey menu.

A whole pack of paperwork: getting things permitted.

Paperwork was picked up from the city offices this morning, and after a brief glance everything seems pretty straightforward.  We’re in compliance with all the rules, now we just need to draw up the dimensions and submit the application along with the $35 license fee.

The girls are strolling around their run during the daytime, and being brought inside like spoiled pets at night.  What?  it’s getting down into the low 30’s at night right now, and I’d be a hot mess if I inadvertently harmed them by leaving them out in the cold while they’re still so young.  The good news is that the chicks are learning that the cat carrier is their best friend, and they walk right in with a little shooing when I come out at dusk.

Little Girl still has some of her head fluff hanging on, despite looking like a mini adult everywhere else. So cute!  I love that she looks like a painting in this picture below.  Part of me will miss having these little girls in the house, despite being relieved that I won’t have to clean up the wood shavings they kick out of their brooder box.

Image

Chicks acquired, coop nearing completion!

Coop with attached pergola
Coop with attached pergola
Coop with attached pergola over the run

Lots of stuff happening in preparation for the permit and inspection!!

The chicks were acquired March 18th, and have been staying in my house in a brooder box.  I didn’t get them at the tiny fluffball stage- they had a few “big girl” feathers, and were likely about 3 weeks old.  They’re growing FAST, which means that I need to get them out of the brooder box and into the coop as soon as possible.  It’s been a madhouse trying to get everything built and installed, but the end is in sight and we should have it ready for the chicks this weekend.

Now, the difficult part: trying to figure out who I need to contact at the city for the permitting process, and what forms (if any) need to be filled out.

Per the ordinance that was passed, “Completed applications shall be submitted to the community and economic development department along with the fee which shall be determined by city council resolution. Application shall be made to the community and economic development department and shall include any drawings or other information required by the department.”.  I looked on the Ferndale city website, and couldn’t find any application.  I feel weird about filling out  a building permit application, or writing my own- but if it’s necessary, I will.  I’d also like to know what the exact requirements are for drawings/information that I need to submit- can I just list out the dimensions, or do I need to mock up a drawing of the coop?  So many questions, and no time to go down to city hall.  Hopefully they respond to my email today, so I can get started on any paperwork and drop it off this week.