Monday, March 21, 2011

The Chicken Condo

I'm not sure what it is about this fresh country air that makes me want to go outside and build something.  Last fall I got it in my head that we were going to have chickens so that we could go outside and get some fresh eggs whenever we wanted.  I didn't know the first thing about chickens and have never raised a chicken in my life.  My wife had at least seen them processed for dinner while growing up in Morocco.  She was one step ahead of me.

So I took the first logical step and headed to the internet.  It is amazing the amount of information that you can find about raising chickens on the internet.  The two best websites I found that have the most information and the friendliest people on the internet are East Coast Chickens and Backyard Chickens.  East Coast Chickens is just a forum, but it is a lot of local people in the greater Richmond, VA area, so they are raising chickens in the same conditions that I would be taking on.  Backyard Chickens has the most general information, about all things fowl, not just chickens.  They also have a great forum with an amazing number of participants all across the country.  If you can't find something there, then it doesn't exist!

The one theme that came across on all the websites I visited was that I should have their permanent home built before I bought chicks, because it always takes longer than you think, and the chicks grow up quicker than you think.  Apparently once you buy chicks, your time estimation skills are ruined.  Taking this to heart, I decided that was a project I should start.

After going online and finding all sorts of websites trying to sell plans, forums showing sketches and pictures, I had a general idea of what I wanted.  I even went onto Google SketchUp to see if anyone had posted any plans.  After printing out a bunch of ideas from SketchUp and various other websites, I sketched out some rough plans for my coop.  The next step?  Home Depot!  You can only plan so long before starting to build.

A nice 4'x4' base seemed like a good place to start.  A nice foundation to build up from.  And build I did.  (I apologize for not having a full set of pictures and plans, but I built this before I started my blog, so I didn't have this process in mind.)

My youngest son decided to join in the fun, and told me that if the whole chicken thing didn't work out, could he use it as a fort.  This gave me an out of the chickens didn't work out, which at one point, I was glad I had!  I continued to read on the internet when I had the chance and build the coop at night and on weekends.  I'm glad I listened to the advice of all the random people on the internet, because it took me about 6-8 weeks to build my coop, but it was finally done!

I know, the red and white are a farm cliche, but it was my first new building on my property and it seemed fitting.  My wife even picked out the red color for me.  

It even has electricity and a built in light for the winter when the chickens need more light to keep laying eggs.  Another tidbit gleaned from the internet.  I also put an electrical outlet inside in case I need to plug in a water warmer for winter or a heat lamp if I use it as a brooder in the future.  It has two front windows that open with screens, a rear vent, three nesting boxes with a lid that opens from the outside for easy egg access, a side chicken door to let the chickens out and a side human door for easy access to feed and water.  But the one thing I am most proud of is the poop door.

The poop door provides quick and easy access to the poop tray.  Everyone on the internet said that cleaning the coop was the most difficult task, and anything that could be done to make it easier would let you enjoy your chickens, and eggs, that much more.  So I built a tray with walls on three sides to hold the pine shavings, and covered it in linoleum.  That way, when it is time to clean the coop, I can pull my garden trailer or wheel barrow up to the side of the coop, slide out the poop tray and scrape all the used pine shavings into the trailer.  Then slide the tray back into the coop, close the poop door, and put down a new layer of nice clean pine shavings.  I am assuming that once the chickens see the luxury condo that I built for them, they will be happy chickens and gladly produce nice large brown eggs for my family.  In theory, this all makes sense.  Once I put the chickens in there, it may all go out the window.

So now I had a beautiful chicken coop in my garage.  My friend Dave from Phoenix stopped by to visit in early November, and after admiring my coop, asked why it was in the garage.  With him there and willing, it seemed like an appropriate time to move the coop from the garage to the yard.  After scooting the coop to the edge of the garage, and I say scoot because that is about all we could do, we needed a new way to move it.  I hadn't just built a chicken coop, I built an anchor.  That coop weighed 400 pounds, at least that is what it felt like!

We decided that we would jack it up, back up the truck, put on the motorcycle hitch carrier and then lower the coop onto the carrier for the ride down to where it would sit in the yard.  After about an hour of jacking up the coop and getting the hitch carrier under it, we were ready to lower the coop.  We started to lower it down, waiting for the carrier to hold it.  We kept lowering it, kept lowering it, kept lowering it, and finally when the coop touched the ground, figured that even though the hitch carrier is rated at a distributed 400 pounds, it wasn't going to be strong enough to hold the coop.  How much does this thing weigh?!  Maybe my first estimate was accurate.  I didn't have the chicks yet, so apparently my estimating skills were still intact.  We needed a plan B, aka, the neighbor.

My neighbor isn't just your average neighbor, he owns an excavating company.  And what do excavating companies use?  Heavy machinery!

He just happened to have a large tracked diesel bobcat at his house that weekend.  And not just any bobcat, but one with forks!  He gladly came right over, lifted up the coop with ease and motored it down into the yard.  Thanks Clay!

It sure seemed bigger and heavier in the garage than down in the corner of the yard.  But there it sat, in all it's red and white farm glory, waiting for the chickens.  Ready to be the centerpiece of my urban farming adventure.

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