a floor and four walls

When setting out to do something completely new, say, building a chicken coop for a little flock, I encounter many steps I’d not thought of, and don’t recognise until I’m upon them. I find the uncertainty of learning at once exhilarating and terrifying. Each day I’d face another challenge. With motivational chocolate, and my mentor – my dear father – on video-chat whenever necessary.

Here are the slow, steady steps I took to translate my chicken coop design into a chicken coop. First, the platform and stud walls.

platform

Early in the building process, in conversation with family and friends, I decided to work with pallets. I thought they’d be easier to work with than constructing a wall from scratch, but I assure you they’re not. They are reclaimed, they are free, these ones are heat, not chemical, treated, and if you luck out, they will fit together neatly. They also come in extraordinarily varied sizes, may not be square, are physically challenging to take apart (see the how-to, below) and generally have to be messed about with a good deal to fit:

To pull pallets apart, I highly recommend placing a very hard piece of wood in front of the piece you want to remove, setting a long pry bar (weight lifter’s bar) to leverage against it, then pushing down little by little. Start on one end of the board, then the other, and lastly the middle, repeating these very slowly if the nails are particularly stiff. I allocate a cup for collecting rusty nails and nail heads, and a safe spot for the nail-ridden wood. A crow bar might remove these, or you can hammer them in. Be sure to check where your hands will land if the wood gives suddenly! I learned this lesson the bruised knuckles way.

I cut the pallets to size, and trimmed the ends to line up. I pre-drilled and deck-screwed three pallets together, then bolted them with carriage bolts, knocking through a larger predrilled hole with a hammer. To get the dimensions I needed, I attached a ¾” piece down one side, and pried off some of the flat boards and added others to make a sturdy surface at all edges. Finally I flipped the structure over, and framed around the whole thing with 2 x 6 pieces, to make a strong 5′ x 8′ platform floor. Whew!

nestbox-wall

This is the beginning of the north, nestbox wall, with room for four little pop-holes for the hens to slip through to a lidded, external nest. We’ll run round the path beside the coop and collect our eggs from the box. One day!

pop-door-wall

The west side wall, facing into the run, which will have two windows, a a pop-hole door and ladder.

windowbox-wall

The east side wall, with room for three windows. I went back and pried off several of the pallet boards and reattached to support a row of 13″ x 13″ windows, with a strong stud down the center of each.

visualising

My experience in accurate measurement is second to my ability to visualise, so I like to set things up and see if I’m on the right path. The south, front gable wall, with human-doors to access for cleaning, to be framed up after the three walls are set in place. These cupboard doors were reclaimed from a 1950’s Oak Bay house.

platform-on-feet

Strong young cousins were visiting one day, and they carried the beast of a platform from my worksurface on the deck, to the site in a high, dry corner of the garden.

There you are – a floor and four walls! A whole month of my life. Experienced carpenters might do all this in a wink, particularly if they aren’t also raising chicks in the kitchen and pasturing them in the garden. Perhaps. Finding bits of time here and there is how I achieve anything, while keeping other things in balance as best I can. Next, raising the platform up onto its little legs.

coop design

Knowing our hatching eggs would arrive at the end of April, hatching out in May, and ready for their coop end of June, in the winter I began searching for plans for a chicken coop. Searching and searching. In conversation with my father, who designed and built the family home, renovating it from a 1950’s house, I soon decided to draw up my own. You probably knew I would do that before I did, didn’t you?

coop-front-and-back-drawing

I based my design on images of old coops and Arts & Crafts houses. As long as I’m learning to design and build something, I might as well get my nose into how simple buildings are actually constructed, actually designed. Yes? I read a lot and I talked with my father even more. Good to have an experienced mentor on the other end of the phone when setting out into entirely new territory, though a consulting engineer may be overdoing it.

coop-side-drawing

While typical construction would use studs (vertical wall members) at 16″ on center, I designed mine at 2′ on center instead, as it is just a wee thing. I set out to make a square coop, but realised I needed a lot more space for nearly a dozen chickens, so I scaled the whole thing up and pulled it out long like this, working back and forth between paper and a 3D drawing program. Somehow the paper clarifies everything for me, and the act of drawing with pencils and drafting instruments is a grounded sort of pleasure. Considerations for ventilation, enough depth to contain deep litter, adequate space for roosting, external nesting boxes, security from mink, hawks, raccoons and rats, good natural light, and simplicity of construction for a total amateur – these are the thing I have been thinking through.

coop-floor-drawing

I planned to frame this all up, joists and rafters and plates and lintels, but then I veered off in a different direction to make the same thing. Not unlike my parents, renovating an old house to make a new one, I decided to build with almost exclusively with found and reclaimed materials. I’ll show you my process of designing a building to meet the needs of a flock very soon – though I confess I am so busy with carpentry and the ten three-week-old chickens in my kitchen, I haven’t much time to write just now!

newly hatched chicks

Everyone gathered round the incubator to watch the hatch.
observers

Around the 21st day of incubating, the pipping began. Having spent a lifetime with eggs that do not move or cheep, an egg that does is transfixing!

zipping-egg

From pipping, the chicks began to zip – to peck holes all round the flatter end of the egg, and to push with strong little feet. Some took hours; others were so quick we missed their hatch entirely!

hatching-chick

We were amazed at how they begin so delicate, so awkward, yet they get control of their movements so rapidly. One can read about this, be told about it, see pictures, videos, but witnessing it is entirely different.

hatched-chick

Little darlings. They liked to lie over the other eggs, and often bowled them right over, peeping away.

One little chick pipped, but never progressed further. This is one of those heartbreaks of life. Quite a number of the eggs weren’t fertile or were possibly so addled in the post that they had never begun to develop – we saw this when candling. The moment when you truly understand the meaning of not counting your chickens before they are hatched! Yet another did hatch, but had not yet absorbed its yolk sac and needed lots of time in an incubator. I found this process incredibly emotional, precarious somehow, and intensely joyful, not unlike my own children’s births. Responsibility for life is an enormous thing!

brooder-chicks

Within twenty-four hours, we had a flock of ten tiny chicks, cuddled under the heat lamp in the brooder, sleeping intermittently like any newborn. We gently dipped each tiny beak into water as we moved them from incubator to brooder; after that they know to drink.

fluffy-chick

In just a little while they have fluffed up into such beauties, such characters. After a day or so they’re eating, and drinking, and doing all their entertaining chicken things. We are smitten.

a hatching egg movie

Watching our incubating eggs pipping, then zipping, then hatching, was such an extraordinary thing. I thought you might like to see a time-lapse of our firstborn chick.

Sped up, the rhythm is quite amazing, we didn’t notice this at the time. From pipping it took the chick about twenty minutes to peck round in a circle at the round end of the egg. This pretty blue egg is from an Easter Egger hen paired with an Ameraucana rooster.

hatchedegg

More about hatching out our little flock here.