The Chicken Cottage
I'm really happy with what we ended up with to house our chickens. It provides ample space, secure nest boxes, is easy to clean, and fits the landscape here in a functional way. Behold! The Chicken Cottage! However it took us a while to get here. Allow me to share the stages with you.
First off, the big (and costly) mistake. Buying a pre-fab hen house.
It was a typical commercial design- raised house box with a screened in run, and egg boxes hanging like wings off the sides.
Now I'm not saying it was an entirely bad house. It was easy to assemble, and could be an okay housing option if you have a few chickens. I think the biggest issue with things like this is they are advertised as being able to house more birds than they really should. I can not imagine this small amount of space working out long term for more than just a few birds.
The other things I didn't like included the pull out tray for cleaning. It seemed like a good idea, but the tracks kept getting clogged. Also the nesting boxes being at a raised height from the inside floor made them a tempting perch. Our birds ended up roosting in or sitting on the edge of the nest boxes. That resulted in a lot of poop falling along the edge of the tray, clogging the track, or in the nests making everything gross. We tried adding curtains to discourage them, temporarily blocking the nests off, and both moving then switching out the roosting perch that came with the setup to no avail. Maybe not everyone's birds get stubborn about roosting anywhere but the perch provided in the center. Maybe this could be your ideal hen house for a few chickens. It just turned out to be a valuable learning curve for us.
So we sold it.
And decided to build our own bigger, better coop!
One major advantage to building your own structure is you can make it as big as you like. The other thing that was a revelation for us was fitting it to work with our landscape. Flat land is scarce here so we made a platform. This creates not only a roomy footprint, but also an area underneath to set up a dust bath that stays dry. It also gave me enough height off the back end of the coop, that a wheelbarrow fits easily under the pop door, a very nice advantage for cleaning time.
Here's our floor. After we dug in foundation posts and made sure they were all level, we built a floor to span them. We used 2 x 6 boards to give the frame enough support without bowing. Covered that in heavy plyboard, and topped it off with linoleum stretched and stapled at the edges.
This linoleum is a touch I am especially glad we added, and I recommend it to anyone building a larger hen house. It allows me to clean easily- the messes have nothing to stick to and just sweep out with ease. *It is important to note that you never want to use linoleum near a heat source like a brooder lamp. It can release gases under heat that can be toxic for birds to breathe.
Not sure how well this photo demonstrates, but the wall framing covers that edge area of the floor where staples were put in to secure that floor covering. Helping to permanently anchor that linoleum and securing shiny staples away from curious beaks.
Another cool thing about building your own is getting to decide where windows and doors go. I was happy to design a large window overlooking the mountain view facing East so the birds can enjoy the morning sunrise. A coop with a view! We also added a perch bar that is in front of the window, of course.
To keep costs down, the outer walls are MDF. Once painted, it's a decent enough thing.
The inner walls are OSB. There an insulation gap between them that's the width of the 2 x 4 framing. I painted the inner walls with multiple heavy coats of latex paint to seal out moisture and dirt. I chose white to keep the inside nice and bright.
The roof framing was covered in OSB, tar paper, and then it was time to shingle. I have to confess the majority of the framing work was done by Stephen. So less heavy work was left to me. This hen house is when I learned how to shingle a roof. Not bad for a first go!
Here is the house mostly finished. Affectionately dubbed "The Chicken Cottage" It has next boxes inside the house along the floor of one wall, and multiple perches. This did eliminate all of the previous problems of birds sleeping on nest boxes. They are used for laying eggs only, and the higher up perches at window level are where everyone sleeps overnight.
We did end up adding a brooder wing onto this later on. That wing, seen in the first photo, does not have linoleum lining since it does have a red light for optional supplemental warmth. We use the wing for young birds that are mostly feathered out, but are still too small to safely join the cottage group. It would also make an ideal area for introducing new birds of any age. The wing has a fenced outdoor area that keeps older and newer birds separate, but lets them see and get used to each other. A very important step in introducing any new birds.