the coop platform

With the platform sited in a protected corner of the garden, I set about getting it level and standing up on legs. I designed the coop on four legs to provide an undercover area for chickens to hang out on rain days, and to keep rodents from easily gnawing through the floor.

Working one footing at a time, I dug out a square of turf, then a bit of earth, replaced it with gravel, and tamped it down well. I slid the concrete footing back, and worked with a level on my platform til the whole thing was level in every direction. This was unexpectedly easy. Quite unusual.

On the other hand, three pallets, bolted and framed, are quite heavy! I used whatever I could find around to raise the sides bit by bit, doing very little lifting. I tried supporting just the left and the right, and watched the whole thing fall over as I was clamping one leg. Oh dear. Best to support all four sides, not unlike the fellows who raised my parents home off the ground thirty-odd years ago, using stacked railway ties.

platform-raised

In preparation, I cut my reclaimed posts to size and set them soaking overnight in a bucket of preservative (an ecologically sound, locally made product that the good folks up at Eco-Sense recommended). I picked up metal pieces built to hold the base of each leg and has a bit of rebar that pokes through the hole in the footing and pins into the earth. The name escapes me. Each leg needed clamping into place against the platform, checking for level again, along each side, and across each corner. Such a relief to have that in place! Then I drilled holes through with a very large bit and knocked through and tightened two carriage bolts on each leg.

platform-covered

Everything must surely be easier after completing a step like this. I cut 5/8″ plywood and predrilled, then screwed it into place on top. A raised platform! A chicken coop floor!

I knew how to do little of this and needed to ask questions of mentors all the way through, I assure you. Let me show you how I raised the walls, next.

training chickens

When the chicks were quite small, some of our play with them looked a bit like training. We’d see if they’d come to our call of “Here, chickens!” and later, to their own name. We asked them to be gentle when pecking food from our hands, and later, in their own daily negotiations of social order. “Be gentle!” This is a little video of them responding when we asked them to jump up.

Aside from being delightful, the idea behind training chickens for us is to make it easier for us to keep them safe. We can give them more freedom in this predator-ridden area, when we know that “Here, chickens!!” works to round them up. We’re also learning their language of warnings and expressions of joy and worry and hunger and sleepiness. We wonder at their intelligence every day, they are fascinating creatures.

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!