flying the coop

When it was time to take our leave of the cottage on the lake and go to live in the old farmhouse at Ravenhill, moving house was quite literally what we needed to do. Our sturdy little henhouse had a journey to undertake.

We made a date with a crane to pluck it from under the trees, fly it through the air, drive it through winding narrow forest country, and lift it over the herb farm fence to a spot we’d levelled and set with stones.

In the midst of packing up, we were struck with news that a tumour had returned, and I would face another major surgery in a couple of weeks time. When it rains, it pours! Which is precisely what it did – happily not until after we’d set the henhouse in place, and brought our eleven sweet hens to it, nestled in boxes of pine shavings, to settle in and wonder what just happened.

Deconstructing, then reconstructing the mink-proof run was an enormous challenge, for which I am so grateful to my father and his methodical approach. Now we are all settled in (and wondering what just happened). I am recovering well, having been carefully tended by my sweetheart and children through my convalescence, and we are beginning some new and exciting things over at Ravenhill Herb Farm! Yes, Noël Richardson wrote such exquisite books about this place. I loved In a Country Garden, and read it when I was convalescing the first time, back in March. How strange life can be. The new landowners here are wonderful, you must come and visit their farmstand if you’re ever on Vancouver Island.

coop rafters

Let me show you how I got the rafters framed up on the coop. This bit of the design required plenty of telephone conversations, wrestling with hypotenuse and getting my head around the concept of the rise and the run.

framed-roof

To design the coop roof I pictured what I wanted the slope of the roof to look like. I knew the width of the coop and the height of its walls, so I drew it all on paper. Then, I drew it all in SketchUp, which let me measure things out after, so I could play with information I had, incorporating what I’d drawn, til I had answers. I sent the 3D drawing to my father to confirm that it all worked out mathematically. I can tell you the following bit of information that he sent back was intimidating, but for those of you who like trigonometry, here you are:

Based on the roof angle (40 deg) and the width of the coop (60"), 
one can calculate the rise as follows:

Tangent (slope angle) = y/x
Y is unknown (Rise)
X is 60" / 2  = 30" (Run)

Formula is:

Y = Tan (40) * x

Tan 40 deg is equal to:  0.83909963117728

Substituting values and solving for Y:

Y = (0.83909963117728) * 30

Y = 25.17298835318394

Make Rise Y = 25"

Quite. 25″ rise and a 40º slope is what my original paper drawing expressed, but it’s best to double-check with a trusted mentor.

peak

I decided not to build trusses (triangles) flat on the floor of the coop, before putting the walls up. Instead I framed in a ridgeboard which rests on one 2×4 with two more sandwiching it, supported by the front and back walls. Critical to have a good level to hand, I have a tiny one and a standard large one, both very old but trusty. That sandwich piece, including the height of the ridgeboard, would be the rise. The children figure it looks like a lunchbox at this point.

side-view-rafters

Then I cut rafters (thanks to the kindly loan of a neighbour’s mitre saw, no more handsaws for all this cutting!) and notched them with a birdbeak which sits on the top of the wall. Simple strength.

rafters

Once the rafters were secure (I drill pilot holes and use deck-screws) I built the verge, the overhang, on each end. Rainy winters on the Pacific require it. You can see that the verge is anchored by a couple of flat pieces that attach to the main rafters, see? I laid one rafter flat to support these pieces. I love finding out how things work.

overhang

I’d planned the ridgeboard’s length to allow for 12″ of overhang on each end. Now it looks like a little house.

roosting-bars

The roosting bar design was a little bit inspired (see below). Now, there are cross-ties and there are chords, they complete that triangle from wall-to-wall or up higher. These give the structure of roof and walls strength, integrity. I decided to use these pieces first structurally, then practically, as roosts, and finally, socially, by staggering the height of the crosspiece, to give the flock a framework to express their social order. Each night we see who roosts at which height, and in which direction, based on pecking order. Yes, those are railings from the 1950’s house demolition.

Or, for another way to look at it all, a peek at my journals from that week:


30 june
the girls helped to mind the chicks, they love the playground under the maples, though i must enclose the area outside my potatoes. i fixed my problems after some tears – broke a drill bit, things were wonky. i managed to get things levelled, plumb, and my tall girl helped me to pop the ridgeboard in – yay! how grand! it looks pretty funny, but then i sorted through a couple of videos and worked through plain old fear, and i got the rafters worked out, one of them is up! not attached, but just there — and that was a moment of huge satisfaction. hypotenuse, kiss my -! i am so happy to have pushed through, i really thought it was going to fail. well, i’ve got it now, and i’ll cut from my template and then work out the supports for the verges.
i actually threw up my hands and closed up my writing desk, it is right beside the brooder and getting so dusty! i threw a dust cover over it. i give in! when the chicks move out i’ll return to it.

2 july
i made a mistake, and needed to raise the ridgeboard ¾” and cut the birdbeaks to my original plan. that worked, and i’ve cut 6 pieces for the support for the overhang gable. it has been mad, as it is all being done with small children visiting. the lawn needs mowing, and the thistles need to be pulled, and a front bed cleared of flowers before a tree felling.

3 july
cool and a bit windy today, but i was glad for it. i made great progress with the coop. i attached the middle rafters and with a chat with my dad and some more mad calculations i figured out the overhang. the verge. when a friend came we got it put together on the front! i am so relieved! very pleased. it will need the same again at the back. my friend was just brilliant, so practical and enthusiastic.

little birds were well and went to sleep easily. i have the heat lamp on, still. they’ve weeded the patch under the maple very well, and i think i’ll move them to a spot under another bush further on, tomorrow, where i can watch over them as i build.

i had a brilliant idea that came out of a conversation with my dad – to use the chords as roosting bars, yes, but to stagger the heights, descending toward one end of the coop like a ladder. i’ll end at wall height, and the highest must still have headroom. so that’s finally sorted. good. the next steps, then. i’ll be attaching the back gable verge next, and securing all of it, yes. i’ll need to add supports to the posts.

i’ll not be putting wire over soffits, instead i’ll just close them up and plan to keep the back gable screened.

i’m quite tired. and sore, from falling over on to a rock! slipped in the rain while carrying a couple of chickens, pippin and blue. i saved them, but not, literally, my own ass. ah well, more bruises.

6 july
i took on the north gable verge, banging my head repeatedly, in the rain, swearing. i did it alone, save two minutes from our tall girl. clamps ‘r’ us. the chicks were happy in their enclosure all day, and i’m glad to have had help to move them inside. now the framing is complete, topping out ceremony traded for an epsom salt bathe.

jigsawing doors & windows

Once the long walls of the coop were complete, they needed to be sheathed with 3/8″ plywood that I hand-sawed down to size, which was surprisingly quick and accurate. Then I clamped, predrilled and screwed the wood into place along each stud with deck screws, using my father’s trusty 1960’s drill.

sheathing-walls

Time for doors and windows!

jigsawing-windows

An equally old, equally trusty jigsaw did the trick for cutting out the windows and doors. First, measuring and marking, then drilling pilot holes for the blade to fit through. Working with 3/8″ plywood is terribly difficult, a thicker material is far easier to cut accurately. I prefer hand-tools for their gentle sounds across the lake, and the slow, simple, human speed, but I’m grateful for that jigsaw!

window-cutout

Little chicken coop windows! Tra-la!

drawing-arches

I’m sure there’s a proper way to mark an arch, but as I only know how to draw on paper with architectural tools, that’s what I did. Solving problems is good enough, sometimes. I’m not gifted with numbers, but triple-checking my measurements, and working visually to make sure that I got each nestbox pop-hole and little window to fall between the studs, and evenly, wasn’t so difficult. Don’t let them stop you, those numbers.

A project like this alters as needed, so the drawing evolves into the real object. So far, adjusting the number of windows to pallet sizes and that sort of thing is no problem.

nestbox-cutout

I can just picture little hens popping through these arches into their comfortable, straw-filled nestboxes, to lay.

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 cut out the doors and windows, next.

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!