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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!