My dad, a retired engineer, is meticulous about his yard. So, when I heard he was letting Mom get a few chickens for their suburban backyard, I was curious about how he was going to make it “look good” and landscaped. I was not disappointed.
For a coop, he had one custom made by Idaho Wood Sheds (IWS). He could have made it himself, but they do good work at IWS. Plus, it is my sister and brother-in-law’s business. They, the owners of IWS, have had their own chickens for a few years, so they have some experience behind their design.
Since most backyard chicken owners will not have very many birds (Mom got five adult hens), the coop is a nice compact size. The completely enclosed section has some roosting spots and about three nesting boxes up off of the ground. Mom put pieces of carpet inside the nesting boxes, at a slight slant to help the eggs roll toward the collection area. She puts in a little bit of straw for the egg to land on, as was all suggested to her by the friendly folks who raise chickens (and sell organic eggs) at Vogel Farms.
There is a human sized back door that can be used for cleaning the coop or collecting eggs. There is also a small side “service” window on each side of the shelter; eggs could also be collected via it. With it’s outer, but roof covered area, it could be coop and pen all in one.
My parents have also watched my family’s chicken escapades over the last 12 years, so that gave them some other ideas about what they wanted and needed. They only live 1/2 mile away from our acre. They have heard the stories of foxes, hawks, and skunks eating our birds. We’ve also spotted a raccoon hanging out in one of our trees near our chicken pen. It is not a safe neighborhood!
For safety features, my dad, the engineer, did the following:
- He used ranch panels and posts for the sturdy fencing around an extended yard area, but covered that with 14 gauge wire fencing, which has smaller openings that predators shouldn’t be able to get through.
- He bent that same wire fencing out just below ground level to create a wire barricade covering about 18 inches out from the obvious fence. This was covered with a little dirt.
- In some places the ground level wire is held in place with stones, in other places he will be giving the pen some foundational landscaping with his recycled tire planters.
- The extended pen area was covered with an arched ranch panel, covered by wire mesh and some plastic. These chickens are not going to be suffering much from the weather either!
- The 14 gauge wire fencing over the ranch panel was bent to sit partly over the slant of the roof nearest there. Right now, it is just held there by several 2×4 pieces of lumber. This should reinforce against critters looking for access points.
- He made a double door. Well, kind of double – double. That is, the very first opening into the pen has two gates that swing in opposite directions. The idea here was to block off any openings left by just one door. Then there is another, separate door into the coop proper.
The floor of the nesting box area is a vinyl lumber planks covered in bark, but all the outside, or scratching, areas are being left as dirt. This is per advice from my latest chicken read, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. It is actually supposed to be healthier to let the chicken manure and debris compost, and not clean it out more than about once a year. This is, of course, assuming that you have adequate space for your birds.
One of my favorite things that Dad did was the pulley for the chicken door from the nesting/night time roosting area. The rope is threaded through the pulley on the ceiling, then is tied to the little door. The end kept out side the pen is tied to the fence between uses. It is a thick enough rope that it won’t knot too tightly. It will be convenient that Mom doesn’t have to go inside the pen every morning and evening to operate that little door.
When my youngest daughter helped them get their five hens out of the transport box, the hens were right at home. They started laying that very same day and haven’t stopped, which means they felt right at home! It also became clear that if the chickens don’t work out, the set up has potential as a way to keep aging parents under control.