This winter has been a strange one for us, and I’m sure a few of you can relate.
It’s been bitterly cold with abnormal amounts of wintry precipitation, a mixture that is tough for those caring for animals. I have a lot of respect for you folks up north who deal with more extreme conditions regularly.
While I do love winter with it’s cozy fires, warm hearty meals and quality time spent indoors, I have found myself lately wishing it would pass and spring would hurry up and get here. With all the added work and worry of keeping water unfrozen, Vaseline on combs and wattles and trying (unsuccessfully) to ward off frostbite, I’m just down right tired.
Then yesterday, with more manageable temperatures upon us, I took a step back and realized how wonderful winter can be. Winter allows us the extra time to dream and plan for spring. Without a little down time, I think we’d be running on all cylinders with weekly tasks and never have the time or energy to sit back and contemplate what we want in life.
When I took a step back, I realized that I have been doing a lot of planning this winter. So, I thought it might be helpful to lay some of those ideas and dreams out in one blog post to see how productive this winter actually has been.
For those of you who have been following along, you probably know that we lost one of our sweet hens to a raccoon a couple weeks ago. We had previously allowed our flock complete range of the several hundred acres near our house. The attack happened while we were at work in a densely wooded area about 70 yards from our house.
It was a very tough loss on us emotionally and served as the realization that we probably cannot fully free ranging our flock without sustaining several more losses. That wasn’t something Drew or I wanted to endure over and over again, but after free ranging for their entire lives, our little flock becomes easily bored and discontent being confined to our (Awesome) 8 foot by 8 foot chicken tractor run. Here is a photo of our chicken tractor:
So, we decided that the best option was to build a large run and a permanent coop, then sell our beauty of a chicken tractor after the new coop is finished. Neither Drew or I are very skilled in building, so after we decided this, I went on Craigslist to try to find an old storage shed. There were no storage sheds for sale in our price range, but instead I found this playhouse for sale about an hour and half from our home, priced at $500.
It is 8.5 foot square with the tallest peak of the roof measuring in at 6 foot 10 inches. Perfect! I quickly contacted the seller and negotiated the price down to $450. Drew and his friend BJ were so sweet to drive up and pick it up and deliver it back for me. It is now sitting at the end of my driveway, awaiting us to have enough time to move it.
Drew and I decided the best spot to put it is next to our garage. There is the perfect little spot to sit the playhouse between two trees, and the run can attach to the garage. It’s within easy reach of the garage door if we ever need to run an extension cord outside for electric, and it’s still close enough that predators will be detered (I hope).
Here is the spot we’ve picked out:
And we’ve decided to add a 27 foot by 36 foot run around it. In this area:
In an attempt to save money, we plan on using 8 foot tall natural cedar tree posts for the run framing. The posts, not wire, will look something like this, just taller. We wanted the run to be at least 6 foot tall, that way we can easily stand up and walk around inside it.
We used a lot of half-inch hardware cloth on our current chicken tractor. It’s amazing stuff for keeping our predators, but it’s hard to work with and so expensive. We will use it to secure any openings on the coop, but there was no way we could afford to wire our entire 27 by 36 foot run with hardware cloth. It would take us broke. So in compromise, we decided we are going to run 2″ x4″ inch welded wire with a layer of chicken wire on the inside. It’ll look something like this, but the chicken wire will be ran all the way to the top:
To keep predators from digging under the run, we plan on extending the run into an 18″ skirt around the ground. I then hope to cover the skirt up with gravel, mulch or sand to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
To deter predators from the air, we decided we’d like to use poultry netting. However, we wanted it to look nice in our yard, and poultry netting is not the most eye appealing stuff. So, we hope to implement using one large 6×6 post in the middle of the run, and then using cables to help support it similar to this:
One reason why we liked the idea of the chicken tractor is that it keeps the chicken’s living area clean of a muddy, poop-filled mess. So, to combat those issues, we think we’re going to get a dump truck of sand to fill the run and the coop. It will serve as natural grit for them, and a perfect place for dust bathing. It’ll drain readily, and keep the bedding nice and dry. Then we can make a large kitty litter scoop to scoop out any droppings a few times a month.
If you would like to know more about using sand in the coop and run, this article by the Chicken Chick is a great resource.
We’re also planning on using poop boards, or dropping boards, inside the coop with sand or stall powder inside. Then you can just use a kitty litter scoop to clean out all the droppings from roost time. Something like this:
We’ll have to build a custom door and windows in the coop since there are none now, and they are not standard sizes. I’m leaning toward a pretty red door and some bright, sunny window boxes. I also want to create an artistic mosaic walkway from the coop to the driveway. These are my favorite inspirations so far:
We also hope to add some natural branch roosts in the run. I think they chickens will enjoy them:
We’re also considering this neat idea to help keep the feed and water clean:
There are all sorts of other ideas flying around in this brain of mine, but just jotting these down reassures me that my winter planning has not been wasted time. What have you been planning this winter?
I’m very open to suggestions on our new coop. I love hearing ideas and first-hand experience from you guys. So don’t be shy to tell me what you think about all these ideas or share your brilliant idea with me. 🙂