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Today was coop cleaning day. It’s not my favorite thing ever, but it needs doing. I figured while I was at it I’d show you all around our coop. We have 25 chickens (we currently have fourteen different breeds). My faves are my Easter Eggers, New Hampshire Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and Red Stars (more on why below). Our coop is set up to handle between thirty and forty chickens. We know we’ll never have more than 25 at any given time since that’s the max we’re allowed per our HOA. However, we wanted to have extra room for our flock and so “rounded up” in our preparations.
(If you know me you know that I LOATHE HOAs – they’re typically evil incarnate. However, we have an HOA of four owners, ourselves included. The bylaws limit a few things that keep our properties from becoming CAFO-style farms or junk yards, etc. I can live with those few rules.)
We bought a shed to use as our coop. We got it with the pop door already cut out, though I installed the door itself. For the foundation we built a wooden box and filled it with crushed stone to both provide a solid base and to keep burrowing predators out. There’s also hardware cloth screwed to the box and the coop itself for an extra layer of protection.
The run is a 16′ diameter geodesic dome. We went with a geodesic dome after our hoop coop style run was destroyed during a wind storm in 2014. When Mr. WPW suggested it, I have to admit I wrinkled my nose. A dome? How weird. But it’s AWESOME! Mr. WPW did all the research and we built it together. It’s 10′ tall, so covering the whole run was a real challenge, but we managed it.
The great thing about the geodesic dome is that it has great wind load capacity. The winter winds here are crazy strong, with sustained winds over 60 miles an hour! The dome survived the winter last year, so it’s a keeper. It’s covered in chicken wire, and one of these days I’m going to wrap the base of it with hardware cloth for more protection. The camo netting across the top is an experiment. I wanted to see how much shade it would provide and whether it will help keep out any snow. So far, I’m very pleased with the shade. If it handles snow at all, without causing any wind issues, I’m going to add more across the top and the south side. We get very hot in the summer and shade is super important for my chickies.
This picture shows a panorama of the inside. (That’s why the angles look a little weird.) We have five nest boxes. I may add a sixth, but the hens like to nest on the floor under the single box, so I’ve left it empty for them. I do have an automatic door opener, but I have yet to set it up so I still open and close it manually. That reminds me that I really need to get that working. We have three removable roost posts and a station for free-feed oyster shell and grit. Before we moved the chickens in, I insulated the coop and put up the walls. I installed the nest boxes and the roost hangers myself, too.
Some of the newer girls like to lay eggs right under the roost posts, which means the eggs get covered in poop. Yuck! Plus I had to move the roost posts every day to get to the eggs. So I installed this chicken wire and I’m interested to see how well it works. It’s attached to the wall at the top, but is only secured at the bottom with the grit and oyster shell buckets holding down the wire. That lets me fold the wire up when it’s time to clean the coop. I’ll have to let you know how this works out!
The posts themselves are one of Mr. WPW’s great ideas. Construction folks use these metal cups for hanging joists when they build houses. Mr. WPW suggested the hangers to hold the roost posts. They’re the best thing since sliced bread because I can pull out the posts to clean under them. Reinstalling the posts is as simple as dropping them back in the hangers. I used two by fours with the broader side flat. This makes it so the chickens basically sit on their feet, which helps keep their feet warm during the winter.
The nest boxes are Little Giants. I quite like them. I can pop them off the walls and dump out the straw if someone makes a mess in the box. That happens more often than I’d like – either someone poops in the box or I get the occasional “paper-egg” (where the shell is very thin and breaks easily) that gets egg yolk all over the nest box. Despite having five boxes, the hens fight to get the corner spot on the floor. You should hear some of the fowl language (haha!) in the mornings when laying starts and they’re all angling for that spot!
I get our feed from a farmer up in Shippensburg. He grows non-GMO grains and mixes custom feeds for chickens, cows, etc. We get the soy-free blend. I once ran out of this feed and got commercial feed from Tractor Supply and my chickens actually wouldn’t eat it! I’ve never seen them turn up their beaks at any food before.
I keep the feed in metal trash cans. I did have to duct tape inside the lid where the handle attaches as water was dripping into the food. But other than that these have been great! The two cans hold about five 80-pound bags of feed. I put the cans on concrete blocks to keep them from sinking into the ground when it gets muddy.
I used to use the red and white plastic bell feeders. They were awful – the chickens would bill out feed onto the ground. It wasted so much feed, attracted tons of mice and wild birds, and the feed on the ground would spoil and ferment when it got wet. For my birthday last year Mr. WPW got me new feeders. (Yes, I asked for and was thrilled to receive chicken feeders for my birthday.) I absolutely adore our Grandpa’s Feeders! They keep the chickens from billing out the feed, keep it dry, and keep unwanted feeders like sparrows or mice away from the food. We have two of the 40-pound feeders. One I have to fill about once every three to four days and the other every seven or eight days. (For some reason Flock prefers one feeder over the other. No idea why.)
For water I just use a big dog bowl. I got the kind that plugs and keeps the water from freezing. In summer I fill it twice a day. Cooler days I only have to fill once a day. I only plug it in once temps drop to freezing on a regular basis. (I’ve already got the cord out there because I’m trying to be prepared this year and not have to install it during a freak early snowstorm.)
Fun and Games
I do my best to keep Flock entertained since I don’t let them free-range anymore. I have a swing hanging from the run. Sam, one of my Easter Eggers, is very fond of the swing. I also have two spots that I can hang food from – cabbages are perfect for it. I thread a cord through the top of a cabbage and hang it on the rope. The chickens have to chase it around to peck at it. This works for all sorts of fruits and veggies, though cabbages are my favorite because of how easy they are – and Flock loves ’em, too.
You can also see in the picture in the paragraph above (the one with the waterer), that I have a big branch in the run. The chickies love to hang out on it and watch me when I’m in the yard, or when I’m putzing around in the run filling feeders or water.
We used to free-range our Flock. There were pluses and minuses to it. Pluses: I loved how my gals would hang out on the patio outside my office window and I had daytime tv every day. They spread their own manure all over our land. Eating bugs and grasses and worms made their eggs SUPERDUPER yummy with vibrantly orange yolks. Minuses: They used my flower beds for dust baths. Their poop was everywhere – including on our grill, porch, bench, etc. I had to do a head count every night and on the rare occasion everyone wasn’t home I had to search in the dark for the missing hen.
Then there was the minus that broke the camel’s back, to coin a phrase. The hawks found my girls. I lost four hens in two months and I said “enough is enough”. Fun fact: digging into a frozen compost heap to bury two hens is not my favorite thing ever. So now they stay in the run most of the time with only occasional, randomly-timed (so the hawks don’t learn when the girls get let out) field trips.
My Favorite Breeds
As I mentioned above, my current favorite breeds are Easter Egger, New Hampshire Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and Red Star. The reason I like these breeds is the same for each of them – they’re reliable layers and they have steady personalities. (OK, except the Easter Eggers – they’re very reliable layers, but they’re flighty as all get out. But they lay blue eggs and that’s just cool.)
We’ve tried a total of eighteen different breeds, if you include the Cornish Cross (a meat bird, not a layer). The above are going to be my main breeds going forward, though I’m still experimenting with meat breeds since I am not comfortable with the Cornish Crosses. I think a better name for that breed is Franken-chickens. But I digress.
Everyone has their own favorite breeds and they get their chickens for different reasons. I look for good-sized birds who are calm and friendly, and who lay reliably for two years or more. There are some breeds I won’t get again for one reason or another. For example, though my Silver Spangled Hamburg is a very reliable layer, she’s tiny and so are her eggs! (I didn’t realize she was almost bantam in size when I ordered her.) But, she’s gorgeous!
Chickens are awesome
I love keeping chickens. They’re funny and fascinating to watch. They give us delicious eggs to eat and share with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. They’re good for meat, too. Chicken manure makes great compost, or you can use a chicken tractor (a small, moveable coop) and the chickens will spread the manure for you.
What are your favorite breeds? What does your coop look like?