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Chicken Coop 2.0

The new chicken coop and garden.

The new chicken coop and garden.


After living with our starter coop for a little too long, I finally have a chicken coop that meets all of my, and the chickens’, needs.

I purchased some basic chicken coop plans online and asked my friend, who builds things for a living, to construct it for me. (Thanks, Andreas!) After discussing the design plans, we made some modifications to suit our needs better, such as adding the henhouse windows, the small, external chicken door, and the large, henhouse door that opens fully for cleaning purposes.

The main reason I decided to build a new chicken coop was because I wanted to be free from having to be awake every sunrise and at home every sunset. The new coop is completely predator proof so the hens can come and go from their henhouse to their enclosed yard at will. The human-sized door, external egg door, and automated watering system are just bonuses to the freedom and flexibility this coop offers, schedule-wise.

The old henhouse and yard. They've definitely upgraded.

The old henhouse and yard. They’ve definitely upgraded.

I sited the new coop in a spot in the yard where the swimming pool used to be. This was a good location because it was already level, in need of soil remediation, close to the shed that stores the hens’ food, and close to electricity if it’s needed in extremely cold weather. This spot also met the city ordinance requirement of being at least 50 feet from neighboring residences.

I oriented the coop itself north-south lengthwise in order to take advantage of the southern, summer winds. The henhouse is on the northern end of the coop to let the winter sun into the enclosed yard and, hopefully, act as a windbreak, protecting the hens from the cold, northern winter winds. I also plan on planting a couple of evergreen shrubs on the northern side of the coop to help protect the hens from the cold winds.

Yellow flags mark the site of the new coop.

Yellow flags mark the site of the new coop.

Here in Austin, keeping the hens cool is a much higher priority than keeping them warm in the winter and so I designed the coop with cooling in mind. The windows are on the north and south sides of the henhouse in order to channel the summer southern breeze through the henhouse, across the roosting perch. The ceiling of the coop is open hardware cloth to release heat. The trusses of the roof are spaced such that, when it gets cold, I can slide a piece of plywood between the metal roof and the hardware cloth ceiling of the henhouse, closing it in for winter.

An annual garden was placed right next to the coop, making it convenient to shovel the shavings out of the coop and into the garden for mulch and fertilizer. I can also easily let the chickens out to weed and till the garden prior to re-planting.

My favorite feature of this system though, has to be that the coop roof catches all of the chickens’ drinking water and dispenses it, on demand, via a a PVC and poultry nipple automatic watering system. The 125 gallon raintank fills in one, 3″ rain event and held more than enough water to keep my seven hens hydrated all summer long.

Welcome to my home.

Welcome to my home. Let me show you around.

The roof catches rainwater that is then piped into coop for the chickens' drinking water.  The windows are on the north and south sides to take advantage of prevailing breezes.

The roof catches rainwater that is then piped into the coop for the chickens’ drinking water. The windows are on the north and south sides to take advantage of prevailing breezes and keep the henhouse cool.

Hens drinking from the PVC, nipple watering system that is connecting to the rainwater tank.  The hanging feeder keeps the food clean and holds enough food for days.

Drinking from the watering system that is connected to the rainwater tank. The hanging feeder keeps the food clean and holds enough for about a week.

The Hen's entrance.  Entrance door closes and locks when necessary.

The hens’ entrance. Entrance door closes and locks when necessary.

Half of the henhouse opens for easier cleaning.  Shavings from the henhouse are swept onto the floor of the coop and then eventually shoveled into the garden.

Half of the henhouse opens for easier cleaning. Shavings from the henhouse are swept onto the floor of the coop and eventually shoveled into the garden.

The inside of the coop: Roosting perch, two nest bozes and the open-air ceiling.

The inside of the coop: Roosting perch, two nest boxes and the open-air ceiling.

The external door for collecting eggs.

External door for collecting eggs.

Plenty of perches, inside and out.

Plenty of perches, inside and out.

Passionflower <em>(Passiflora incarnata x cincinnata 'Incense')</em> planted at the base of the coop.  Will grow over the southern wall of the coop and catch the couple of inches of roof water that the gutter doesn't catch.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata x cincinnata ‘Incense’) planted at the base of the coop. It will grow up the southern wall of the coop, providing shade for the hens, medicinal yields for the people, pollen and nectar for the honeybees, and will catch the couple of inches of roof water that the gutter misses.

A big thanks to Bock for being such a great spokes-model for her new home. Totally unprompted.

New Chicks

It’s time to add to my flock and so I decided to take my chicken knowledge up a level and raise hens from chicks for the first time. Since I eventually want to get a rooster and hatch my own chicks, I figure I better learn how to handle them.

I picked up three Easter Eggers. They’re supposedly very heat and cold tolerant, have sweet personalities, and will (fingers-crossed) lay blue eggs. I intended on only getting two but, after thinking about it, I decided three would be better, in case something happens to one.

Welcome to the flock, girls!

Chicks

It Snowed! Sorta.

Icy precipitation is more like it.

Icy precipitation is more like it.

Ah…winter in Austin. One day you’re planting fruit trees in a tank top then less than forty-eight hours later, a snow day! (Yes, that was enough to cancel school today.) But, don’t worry, it’ll be tank top weather again by this weekend.

As you might guess, winterization is not something that tends to be a big concern around here with our mild but wacky winters. Our average first frost is around the beginning of December, the last frost is towards the end of February. We tend to have twelve to twenty-four hours of really cold weather once or twice a month during that time.

So far we’ve had two significant cold weather events this season — last month it got down into the mid-20s for two nights, staying below freezing during day, but there wasn’t any precipitation. Then last night it was 24 degrees with icy precipitation. Otherwise, it’s been sunny and warm.

This pattern tends to be confusing for my fruit trees and I was welcoming this cold front. I noticed a couple of days ago that my peach and plum trees were thinking about blooming. Hopefully this will remind them that it’s winter still.

Blooming peach tree, February 23, 2010 -- The last time it snowed.

Blooming peach tree, February 23, 2010 — The last time it snowed.

Since our cold snaps are so short, I’m kind of a hardass when it comes to protecting plants. I’m not interested in coddling, so anything in the ground gets mulched and watered and that’s it. The mulch acts as a blanket for the soil and the moisture moderates the temperature extremes around the roots.

Right now pretty much everything is dormant with the exception of my artichoke and pineapple guava. They were relatively unaffected by the longer exposure to cold temperatures last month, but the exposure to ice and snow seems to have hit them a little harder. We’ll see what happens.

There are some areas in my yard that get a little more attention when it gets cold though and those are:

  • The hens – I chose cold hardy breeds so I don’t worry about them too much. I did have to thaw their water this morning though which was a first. Their coop is positioned such that it’s protected from the sun more than the cold winds, so I board up the windows and cover them with a tarp when necessary. More for my peace-of-mind than anything, I think.
  • Outdoor faucets — I detach any and all hoses and put faucet covers on. Some of the pipes are exposed and those are insulated with foam year round for convenience.
  • Citrus trees — In past years I’ve brought the citrus trees inside. This was the first year I’ve left them outside, for a couple of reasons. Last year when I brought them in, my orange tree was blossoming by Christmas and, as a result, I didn’t get any oranges this year. Also, I eventually want to plant them in the ground so I need to see how cold-tolerant they really are.

    In addition to thick mulch and watering, I tried to place them in, what I thought was, a warmer and more protected microclimate — hugged up to the south side of the house, by the warm dryer vent and protected by the fence. I put my weather station out there with them so I could test and see if it really was any warmer. Turns out it wasn’t. The ‘Meyer’ lemon took the first freeze pretty hard but the satsuma did great. Knowing that snow was likely overnight, I chose to cover them with a sheet last night.

    I brought the lime tree inside both times since it’s small and has fruit on it right now.

  • Potted plants — I water everything and mulch all of my potted plants with leaves from the yard.

    I have a pop-up greenhouse for the first time this year and while it heats up nicely during the day, it doesn’t really protect my plants from the cold. With the exception of the greens that are planted in there, the fate of everything else remains to be seen.

That's about right.

That’s about right.