Growing up, I remember going to the farm store and seeing all the cute little chicks in their metal tins. All of us kids would bug my Mom to death about letting us have one to bring home. Of course she would remind us that chickens are a lot of work and we would leave defeated, knowing she was right. So when I went to my local farm store a couple weeks back I decided to nurture my spontaneous side and bought a couple of adorable little yellow chicks, not having the slightest clue what I was in for.
I had skimmed a few books on raising poultry and figured I already pretty much everything I’d need on hand at the house. I found a good deal on a brooding lamp several years back that was still in the package. So we grabbed a bag of chicken feed, a feeder and watering bowl – and out the door we went with our happily chirping little chicks.
We set up a decent size box with the brooding lamp the night before in order to get the temperature consistent as they recommend in many of the books I’ve read. After setting them up it’s pretty much hands off other then making sure they always have plenty of food and fresh water. This was maybe a daily task at first but after about the third week it became more like 3 or 4 times a day which led us to start thinking of cheap ways to build a more efficient system. But we decided to wait until we were able to move them outside, since we would need a bigger feeder anyway and the brooding box wasn’t big enough to house it.
Week two we decided to add a couple more to our brood and picked up a traditional Rhode Island Red to hopefully be our main laying hen and a beautifully marked Araucana, which are known for laying blueish-green colored eggs. The other two are Sagitta chickens which can be used for either eggs or meat.
I’ve been treating them with buckets of worms I pull from the garden as I’m getting it ready for the season. They absolutely love the worms and I’ve discovered I need to make sure there are more then enough for everyone, otherwise the more aggressive ones will chase the babies around the box until they’ve stolen the prize.
After about 5 weeks in the brooding box, we decided it was time to move the babies into their permanent, outside home. We did not have a lot of money to invest in one of those fancy chicken coops from the farm store so we decided to improvise and use what we had on hand to make one ourselves.
We already had an old metal shed in the yard that was in pretty close proximity to a corner of the fence, making for a great run space of approximately 12×15 feet. We got a roll of chicken wire, picked up an old wood pallet and some wood scraps and off to work we went – building our first chicken coop.
First, we cut the hole in the back of the shed for the chicken door and smoothed down all the rough edges with duct tape. Then we used bamboo sticks we had left over from the garden fencing as support posts for the chicken wire fence that we ran from the wooden fence over to the metal shed and secured into place with wire supports.
We wedged one of the bamboo sticks between the two corners of the wood fence to be used as a perch. We ended up retrofitting the perch with textured cabinet paper for traction since we noticed the girls having a hard time staying on the perch due to the slippery texture of the bamboo. So far the grip paper seems to have resolved this problem and all four of the girls spend much of the evening preening their feathers on the perch before bedtime.
We originally started building the outside run with regular chicken wire fencing but ended up going with the more durable garden fencing which costs about the same but isn’t nearly as flimsy as the chicken wire can be with out strong supports. This has worked out rather nicely so far, it holds up great in windy conditions and it’s tall enough so that the chickens can’t get out and the dog can’t get in.
The inside of the coop was outfitted with plenty of straw and sawdust shavings for extra insulation. We also added a row of 2 liter bottles filled with water to the south side of the shed to encourage solar heat retention during the sunny days (few as they’ve been the past few weeks). This seems to have helped a lot, bringing our nighttime average temperature up about 5 degrees, which can make a big difference in the chicken world. Not too mention this has saved tremendously on the electricity bill, requiring no extra heating lamps during the day.
The plan was for the chickens to hang out on the south side where it was warm and sleep there during the nights. But we kept finding them all huddled near the door in the corner, where the draft comes in. To remedy this situation I covered the entire back side of the coop with a large piece of fabric to make them feel more safe. This worked like a charm and they’ve made a comfortable little home in the nesting area where they should be. Apparently chickens need to be covered from above in order to feel safe because the part of the coop that was a little too exposed from above seemed to be what they were avoiding.
So far the set up seems to be working out quite nicely, with more than enough space for the girls both inside the coop and outside in the run. We’ve also discovered that keeping the compost pile close by helps encourage bugs and critters to make their way into the pecking zone, which has reduced feed costs tremendously. I decided to go organic on the feed since it was only a couple bucks more then the regular stuff. I’m really hoping it will pay off with large, healthy eggs come laying time.
I have to admit when I initially decided to get chickens it was partly for food and learning purposes, but mostly for novelty. I never expected to be so entertained by these beautiful birds and their interesting ways. Nowadays I find myself sitting in the lounge chair out back just watching the chickens for hours on end. It’s almost as if their calm, simple lifestyle has bubbled over into mine and made things a little more peaceful in my world too – definitely worth the effort.
Here are some free chicken coop plans:
For more in depth reading, here are some great book recommendations:
***This article was contributed by Chrystle Poss a.k.a. “Survival Girl”, a Survival Spot Blog Guest Author and devoted Survivalist. She has been writing articles on survival and emergency preparedness since 2006. You can find her work on various websites and publications.***