Rebuilding the coop February 13, 2016

We spent the first three years in our new house looking out our kitchen window at an abandoned old coop, which must have been sitting empty for at least a decade before we were here. Structurally solid, but inching its way down the hill with each freeze and thaw of winter. Covered in cracked rolled roofing and tree sap. Its potential was obvious to anyone wearing rose-colored glasses.

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The view from our house. Note the stray guinea hen crossing our yard.

I spent those first three years hatching a plan to fill that coop with pretty, feathered inhabitants. First, it had to be emptied. It was full of the fun things you might expect to find in the abandoned outbuilding of a man who built and maintained his own home and property. Once we scavenged the place for its neat old gardening equipment and its eclectic collection of rusted springs, squeaky hinges, and random metal objects, it was time for a good cleaning.

No room for eggs in these nesting boxes.

Ew. No room for eggs in these nesting boxes.

Years spent as nothing more than a spare tool shed had left the place free for use by the most conspicuous inhabitants on the property: squirrels. All four nesting boxes, and every corner of the building, were packed full of hickory nut shells emptied of their seeds, nuts that had been carried in from the stately hickory just a dozen yards away.

We also cleared the debris and spider webs, then poked around to see what would need to be repaired or replaced. The thin panels on the ceiling had to be removed, revealing additional rodent habitation and an impressive bumblebee nest. We carefully relocated the hive to a far corner of the property so that we could work without fear of reprisal.

Then, respirators donned, we scrubbed the interior of the coop with wire brushes and cleaned up our new mess. The ceiling panels were replaced, insulation added, and all holes were patched with new boards. We found and removed or covered all sharp wires and nail heads.

We found a chicken coop under all those hickory nut shells!

We found a chicken coop under all those hickory nut shells!

Back outside, we knew that the entire building needed a new foundation, if we were going to keep it stationary. We jacked it up corner by corner, pulled out old blocks and stones and poured new concrete slabs. Fresh blocks (found on-site) were placed beneath each corner and the building was leveled to the best of our ability.

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Here we are in the process of digging out the foundation. You can see the support that was attempting to hold the coop failing on the bottom corner.

Once we did that, it was immediately clear that the back two feet of the building’s extension would have to be removed. It had sunken into the dirt as the building drifted downhill and was now rotted beyond repair. We pried off the affected planks, then lopped off the supporting boards with a hand saw, leaving a gaping hole in need of reconstruction. The area was framed out with lumber, leaving space for a large new window.

 

Rebuilding the coop: removing the rotted wood

The hideous gaping hole left behind after removal of rotted wood.

Rebuilding a coop in this condition is not to be undertaken by the faint-hearted–and it’s not a process that is quick and easy to do.

Rebuilding the coop: framed in

Rebuilding the coop: cleaned up and framed in.

Countless roofing nails dotted the rolled roofing and we tried our best to catch every single one as we peeled off the old siding. As we were rebuilding the coop, we revealed colonies of ants, earwigs, millipedes, and spiders. More than once, we took a break to give the poor, panicked nurse ants a chance to relocate their tiny young.

When the walls and roof were finally free of their tarry wrap, we stepped back from rebuilding the coop to look at the skeleton of wood that was revealed.

Rebuilding the coop: starting to look strong and solid!

We were making a significant mess in rebuilding the coop this way, but we could finally see what we were working with.

The other two windows on the building were in poor condition, so we remade every one: three new windows. Two were simple plywood planks cut to fit and hung from the top by hinges so that they could be tilted out for air flow. For the east-facing window, we framed a piece of Plexiglas so that the future inhabitants could watch the sun rise over the back of the property. For the most part, as we were rebuilding the coop, we used found things as hinges, handles, and other necessary hardware, as the whole project was being handled on a very strict budget.

Rebuilding the coop: windows added!

Cleaned up and framed in.

One part of rebuilding the coop where we did not skimp was fencing and hardware cloth. Research on safety from predators led us to cover all coop windows with 1/2″ hardware cloth, which was then framed on the inside to hold the cloth tight to the structure and to cover any sharp edges.

Rebuilding the coop: interior is secure

Holes patched and windows covered. No predators getting in here!

But even then, we had more to do in rebuilding the coop properly. We also had to make some changes to the layout of the interior, so that the proposed run could be accessed from the coop. A new chicken door was cut from the back of the coop and the hand-built nesting boxes were moved to the opposite end. We built ladder-style roosts, which were mounted over the chicken door.

The coop itself was now fit for habitation! This was especially important as, by this point, we had a brooder full of baby chicks that were looking forward to their new home. A feeder was hung and a nipple-based watering system was installed in the coop.

We were lucky enough to come across a supply of surplus siding to cover the outside of the building. The pieces were of two different textures and colors, but we have found that poultry care very little about mismatched siding. Some new felt paper and a couple old rolls of roofing, again non-matching, covered the roof of the main building and the extension.

We knew that we didn’t want to keep our babies cooped up forever, so rebuilding the coop itself wasn’t the end of the project. We also needed a secure run! We got to work on securing an attached run, which was designed to skirt the maple tree that provided shade. We wanted to do as little damage as possible when rebuilding the coop and creating a run.

We framed the new run with 2 x 4 lumber that had been primed and painted with donated exterior grade paint. The run is level at the top, but it runs uphill. That means we can walk through the door easily, but have to duck to access the area nearest the coop.

The run was starting to come together. Note the green grass. You won't see it again.

Note the green grass inside the run. You won’t see it again–the chickens will eat it down quickly.

To deter digging predators, we strung 6 foot high 2 x 4 welded wire fencing from a level horizontal support on the sides and skirted the bottom edge. (In other words, the fencing also laid on top of the ground outside the run in what is called a “skirt” or an “apron” fence. Digging predators will dig that the edge of a barrier, and when they do, they find they can’t get through the wire, leaving the chickens safe.) We attached another horizontal support board along the bottom of the run, with the front and back framing pieces covered with skirted fencing, as well, and made sure to secure the corners with more skirting.

Finally, we used chicken wire to cover the run roof, draping to cover the top two feet of the run walls.  Then we built and installed a ramp from the chicken door, and attached a handful of apple branches in the run to provide outside roosting space.

We moved our first babies into the coop when they were about 6 weeks and kept them on lock down inside for their first week or so. This helps them learn where home is.  At last, they were allowed outside to destroy all the beautiful grass in the run. They made amazingly quick work of it.

Soon after move-in and the chicks have been working their little patch of lawn.

Soon after move-in and the chicks have been working their little patch of lawn.

Overall, rebuilding the coop has worked extremely well for our flock, though we have occasionally discovered new ways to improve upon the design. I’ll be detailing some of the changes we’ve made in another post.

The new view from our house.

The new view from our house.

What was once an eyesore has become the centerpiece of our yard. I am so glad that the dilapidated old building was simply abandoned, rather than torn down and hauled away. I’m not sure that chickens would have even crossed my mind if not for that ugly old thing catching my eye day after day. But there it was—my inspiration.

Not everyone has an old chicken coop staring them down from the backyard, so I’m curious about where you found your spark. Did you build a chicken coop from scratch, buy a chicken coop, or refurbish an old structure like we did? Let us know what inspired you in the comments!

 

7 Comments
Suzanne February 17th, 2016

I like it! Thanks for sharing 🙂

Christina March 8th, 2016

Thank you, Suzanne. It has taken some effort, but it’s been well worth it to see the coop full of happy chickens.

Karl Atkins February 21st, 2016

Very nice! Did you paint the interior of the coop?

Christina March 8th, 2016

Thank you, Karl. We did not paint the interior, we simply brushed it clean. It is a possibility in the future, though, as I am sure it could brighten up their space.

Ann February 22nd, 2016

We are using an old playhouse my dad built for his grandchildren who are now all grown. We just moved it to our house Saturday and I’m anxious to get started on it.

Christina March 8th, 2016

Hi Ann, what a neat idea! I’m sure that your dad will love to know that his efforts will be appreciated by a whole new flock. Have fun with your project!

Brad Miller July 31st, 2016

This story reminded me of how building our own chicken coop was one of the best decisions we have ever made.

We now have daily fresh organic eggs for breakfast every day. We can recycle our food scraps and get high quality fertilizer for our garden.

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