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From Chicken Coop to
Chicken Palace
@timoreilly
East Bay Mini Maker Faire
October 20, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 13

How many of you have backyard chickens? How many would like to?
This talk will show off my new chicken coop, and explore some of the things I learned in building it.
Our Old Coop

Saturday, October 26, 13

Let me start with our old coop.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here is our old coop. It was really quite adequate as long as we let the chickens roam the yard.
The enclosed wooden part is the coop proper. The enclosed wire area is referred to as the run.
Well trained chickens can be let out during the day, and whenever it gets to be dusk, they will go in like clockwork.
You can then lock them up to protect them from predators.
Jen’s chickens were not well-trained. When I first came to live with Jen, the chickens lived outside, and roosted in
the trees at night. We tried to get them to roost in the coop, but they just wouldn’t. Every once in a while, we’d
hear a death squall in the night as a raccoon got one.
Saturday, October 26, 13

You can see how there is a locking hasp on the door.
Saturday, October 26, 13

During the day, we’d just leave the door open so they could come in to lay eggs and get to their food and water.
The rest of the time they’d be out in the yard.
I should note that there are some downsides to free-range chickens. You have to fence off a lot of your garden especially any vegetables - or they will eat everything.
If we ever went away for a few days, we could generally get the chickens into the coop by waiting to put out their
food, and locking them all up when they went in for it.
The run (the wire enclosure outside the coop proper) is big enough for a few days, but it seemed awfully small if
we were gone for more than that, so we always felt bad leaving them locked up.
But what really convinced us we needed a bigger run, so that we could leave them inside all the time, was that
they started to go after the lawn. We couldn’t fence that off, and once it started to turn into a mud field, we
decided that we really had to build something bigger.
Our Chicken Palace

Saturday, October 26, 13

So we made a run so big that we called it our chicken palace.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here it is! Just kidding. This is the roof of the great room of the 10th century Norman keep, Ross Castle in
Killarney.
Saturday, October 26, 13

This is our chicken palace. The coop itself (the enclosed bit at the far right) is pretty much the same size as the
old one, but the run is now 250 square feet (10 by 25), and encloses an orange tree and a lime tree.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here’s a view of the old coop and the new coop. We moved the new one to the bottom of the garden because
there are some flies, and this put everything further from the house. And you can have problems with rats (more
on that later.) Also, that part of the yard was kind of scruffy, and this spiffed it up.
Saturday, October 26, 13

And through the magic of Craigslist, we were able to find someone who wanted the old coop, and was willing to
take it down and move it to his house, as a home for his kids’ new chickens.
Saturday, October 26, 13

We had one lucky break. A massive branch fell off our oak tree right where we planned to put the new coop. If it
had happened a few weeks later, it would have smashed everything. As it was, it knocked down the old fence
(without really breaking it), making it easier for us to do our new installation!
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here’s a closer view of the end of the coop facing the house. I love the yellow door we found at Urban Ore in
Berkeley.
Saturday, October 26, 13

The chickens always used to love to root in our compost bins. But we took the old bins down to make room for
the coop, so I reconstructed a slightly smaller one inside the run, so they could continue to have access.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here they are, looking for anything worth having.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here’s a closer view of the trees inside the run. I love the way it makes it feel like an aviary.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here are the two doors into the coop itself: a small one for the chickens, and a big one so we can get inside to
clean it out.
Saturday, October 26, 13

There’s also a cleanout door below. More on that later.
Saturday, October 26, 13

I put a storage shed next to the coop, which is great for bulk food storage, shavings for the nesting boxes, and all
my fertilizer and other garden supplements.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Chickens need ventilation when they are roosting at night, so it’s a good idea to have a window. (You can also
leave the door to the coop open as long as the run itself is enclosed and protected.
Saturday, October 26, 13

But you’ve got to have chicken wire behind the window, so varmints can’t get in.
You also need to line the bottom of the run with wire, so predators can’t dig underneath.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here’s the branch inside that the chickens roost on. The sleep standing on a branch like this.
They apparently don’t like smooth poles, but they are fine with 2x4s, as you’ll see in a moment.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Part of the run outside the coop is roofed with translucent roofing. You need a roof so that
the chickens have some dry dirt to roll their feathers in even during the winter. They need
to roll in the dirt to keep parasites under control. But you don’t want to limit the light, since the number of eggs
the produce is partly gated by the amount of light they get.
Saturday, October 26, 13

A hanging feeder like this works well.
Saturday, October 26, 13

And you want to get an automatic waterer with a float, so you don’t need to always check the water.
Saturday, October 26, 13

I just threw this in because I couldn’t believe how tall this sunflower grew. The high
side of the chicken run is 7 feet.
Saturday, October 26, 13
The compost hatch

Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13

As I mentioned above, I wanted to be able to toss in compost without having to open
up the door and risk letting the chickens out, so I made a little compost hatch.
Saturday, October 26, 13

right above the compost bin.
Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13

The chickens hang out there all day. It seems to be their favorite spot. And as you
can see, they are perfectly happy hanging out on a 2x4.
Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13

The lock is important. Raccoons can open a simple latch. I just put the key on a string so
we don’t lose it.
The Egg Box

Saturday, October 26, 13

Chickens like a dark, comfortable place to lay their eggs. So most coops include nesting
boxes where the chickens can lay their eggs, but that are also accessible from the outside
so that you can fetch the eggs without disturbing them. (They sleep roosting on a branch,
not in the boxes, which they just use for egg laying.)
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here’s how we got the eggs in the old coop - a hatch on the back of the coop.
Saturday, October 26, 13

And here’s a closer look at it with the door open.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here’s a look from the other side, inside the coop, with the door open. (You generally want the
door closed during the day so it will be dark and private, but open at night when they are
sleeping so it is well-ventilated.
Chicken Poop

Saturday, October 26, 13

There was one giant problem with the design of our old coop, and that had to do with
chicken poop.
Saturday, October 26, 13

When the chickens roost at night, they seem to defecate constantly. The nesting boxes
were below the roosting branch, so the nesting boxes were always getting poop in them.
We tried putting in a shelf to catch the poop, which was really gross, but better than
having to clean out the boxes every day.
Saturday, October 26, 13

I had just cleaned out the shavings that you use to catch the poop in this picture, but you can
still see what a mess it was. (If the boxes hadn’t been in the way, this would be ok. A lot of
people just toss in more shavings, and let the whole thing compost.
Saturday, October 26, 13

But for the new coop, I had a better idea, inspired by this mailbox on a fence at my
daughter’s house in San Francisco.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Duh. Put the nesting boxes on the outside.
Saturday, October 26, 13

And rather than having shavings on the bottom of the coop, put a wire mesh, so they
can poop right through it into a compost pile below.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Which we can get at through those doors below that I showed you earlier. When the
pile gets really deep, we can shovel it out and put it in the garden.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Of course, if there’s any area that has a surface under the poop zone, it will get covered...
Saturday, October 26, 13

But back to the nesting box ... I decided to put some storage cabinets underneath.
Saturday, October 26, 13

And the open doors provide a nice support for the outside door to the nesting boxes.
Note that I have three boxes, versus five in the old coop. Even three is plenty for our seven
chickens - you can get by with one or two, since the chickens rarely all want to lay at the same time.
Saturday, October 26, 13

And as you can see, the eggs are nice and clean inside.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here’s a view from inside the coop. As you can see, it is MUCH cleaner than the old coop.
Saturday, October 26, 13

A close up of the eggs. One of the eggs - the darker brown one - is actually wooden. I
used to see these at feed stores, and wondered about them. Then I learned that they
are a way to encourage the chickens to lay eggs in more than one box. They are creatures
of habit, and when they see an existing egg, they go there to add to it. Sometimes two chickens will try to
squeeze into the same box. Putting a wooden egg in each box
encourages them to spread the wealth.
Saturday, October 26, 13

And again, a reminder that any opening to the outside should be secured with
a lock, and not just a latch, to protect against raccoons.
Ratproofing
Hardware cloth across floor, covered by 4-6
inches of dirt
Trench 12-24 inches deep around perimeter,
with vertical hardware cloth
Don’t give the rats anything to get their
claws into at the top of the hardware cloth

Saturday, October 26, 13

Now, the next big topic: ratproofing. Our old coop was floored with hardware cloth, but the
rats just tunneled under it to get at anything the chickens dropped. You really need to
put a trench around the coop, and have hardware cloth go vertically down 12-24 inches so
they can’t tunnel under it.
Saturday, October 26, 13

Here you can see the hardware cloth under the dirt floor of the new coop and run.
Saturday, October 26, 13

On the lower right, you can still see the trenching left from construction. (We hadn’t
filled that side since we were also putting in some electrical conduit.)
Saturday, October 26, 13

And here you can see the rats trying to get under the coop. No luck. A foot deep seems
to have held them, but I’m wishing I’d gone deeper.
Saturday, October 26, 13

More rat tunnels.
Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13

Now here’s the really surprising thing: big fat rats can squeeze their way through chicken wire (but not hardware
cloth, with its much smaller holes.) (In our old coop, I once found a very fat rat who got stuck halfway through. I
had to whack him with a shovel...) They just need something to grab on with their claws or teeth. Here you can
see how they chewed an old piece of fence to pull themselves back out through the wire.
I put some additional hardware cloth higher up to keep them out, and that worked.
Saturday, October 26, 13

The problem was that I originally put this nice 2x4 rail to finish the interface between the underground hardware
cloth and the chicken wire. It looked really nice, but it defeated the purpose, since the rats could use my nice rail
to pull themselves through the chicken wire. Here, I retrofitted by putting additional hardware cloth higher up,
where there was nothing for them to grab onto.
Bonus

A Treehouse made with webbing

Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13

I just thought I’d throw this in while I was taking pictures. I made an impromptu treehouse by putting webbing
across the space between two oak limbs. I got a 12x12 cargo net from Amazon, and tied it on with nylon aircraft
cord. It makes a great temporary tree fort.
Saturday, October 26, 13

And it can be made more comfortable with cushions borrowed from the garden furniture!
Saturday, October 26, 13
Saturday, October 26, 13

I tried some smaller webbing too. You either want the webbing to be really big or really small. You don’t want
something in between that could choke kids if they slip. They could fall through the big openings (but generally
don’t), or could use smaller webbing like a hammock.
We ended up liking the big webbing best.
It’s not shown in the pictures, but I adapted a climbing rope net from a swing set (that I also bought on Amazon)
so the kids can climb up into the cargo net tree house.

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From chicken coop to chicken palace (pdf with notes)

  • 1. From Chicken Coop to Chicken Palace @timoreilly East Bay Mini Maker Faire October 20, 2013 Saturday, October 26, 13 How many of you have backyard chickens? How many would like to? This talk will show off my new chicken coop, and explore some of the things I learned in building it.
  • 2. Our Old Coop Saturday, October 26, 13 Let me start with our old coop.
  • 3. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here is our old coop. It was really quite adequate as long as we let the chickens roam the yard. The enclosed wooden part is the coop proper. The enclosed wire area is referred to as the run. Well trained chickens can be let out during the day, and whenever it gets to be dusk, they will go in like clockwork. You can then lock them up to protect them from predators. Jen’s chickens were not well-trained. When I first came to live with Jen, the chickens lived outside, and roosted in the trees at night. We tried to get them to roost in the coop, but they just wouldn’t. Every once in a while, we’d hear a death squall in the night as a raccoon got one.
  • 4. Saturday, October 26, 13 You can see how there is a locking hasp on the door.
  • 5. Saturday, October 26, 13 During the day, we’d just leave the door open so they could come in to lay eggs and get to their food and water. The rest of the time they’d be out in the yard. I should note that there are some downsides to free-range chickens. You have to fence off a lot of your garden especially any vegetables - or they will eat everything. If we ever went away for a few days, we could generally get the chickens into the coop by waiting to put out their food, and locking them all up when they went in for it. The run (the wire enclosure outside the coop proper) is big enough for a few days, but it seemed awfully small if we were gone for more than that, so we always felt bad leaving them locked up. But what really convinced us we needed a bigger run, so that we could leave them inside all the time, was that they started to go after the lawn. We couldn’t fence that off, and once it started to turn into a mud field, we decided that we really had to build something bigger.
  • 6. Our Chicken Palace Saturday, October 26, 13 So we made a run so big that we called it our chicken palace.
  • 7. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here it is! Just kidding. This is the roof of the great room of the 10th century Norman keep, Ross Castle in Killarney.
  • 8. Saturday, October 26, 13 This is our chicken palace. The coop itself (the enclosed bit at the far right) is pretty much the same size as the old one, but the run is now 250 square feet (10 by 25), and encloses an orange tree and a lime tree.
  • 9. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here’s a view of the old coop and the new coop. We moved the new one to the bottom of the garden because there are some flies, and this put everything further from the house. And you can have problems with rats (more on that later.) Also, that part of the yard was kind of scruffy, and this spiffed it up.
  • 10. Saturday, October 26, 13 And through the magic of Craigslist, we were able to find someone who wanted the old coop, and was willing to take it down and move it to his house, as a home for his kids’ new chickens.
  • 11. Saturday, October 26, 13 We had one lucky break. A massive branch fell off our oak tree right where we planned to put the new coop. If it had happened a few weeks later, it would have smashed everything. As it was, it knocked down the old fence (without really breaking it), making it easier for us to do our new installation!
  • 12. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here’s a closer view of the end of the coop facing the house. I love the yellow door we found at Urban Ore in Berkeley.
  • 13. Saturday, October 26, 13 The chickens always used to love to root in our compost bins. But we took the old bins down to make room for the coop, so I reconstructed a slightly smaller one inside the run, so they could continue to have access.
  • 14. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here they are, looking for anything worth having.
  • 15. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here’s a closer view of the trees inside the run. I love the way it makes it feel like an aviary.
  • 16. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here are the two doors into the coop itself: a small one for the chickens, and a big one so we can get inside to clean it out.
  • 17. Saturday, October 26, 13 There’s also a cleanout door below. More on that later.
  • 18. Saturday, October 26, 13 I put a storage shed next to the coop, which is great for bulk food storage, shavings for the nesting boxes, and all my fertilizer and other garden supplements.
  • 19. Saturday, October 26, 13 Chickens need ventilation when they are roosting at night, so it’s a good idea to have a window. (You can also leave the door to the coop open as long as the run itself is enclosed and protected.
  • 20. Saturday, October 26, 13 But you’ve got to have chicken wire behind the window, so varmints can’t get in. You also need to line the bottom of the run with wire, so predators can’t dig underneath.
  • 21. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here’s the branch inside that the chickens roost on. The sleep standing on a branch like this. They apparently don’t like smooth poles, but they are fine with 2x4s, as you’ll see in a moment.
  • 22. Saturday, October 26, 13 Part of the run outside the coop is roofed with translucent roofing. You need a roof so that the chickens have some dry dirt to roll their feathers in even during the winter. They need to roll in the dirt to keep parasites under control. But you don’t want to limit the light, since the number of eggs the produce is partly gated by the amount of light they get.
  • 23. Saturday, October 26, 13 A hanging feeder like this works well.
  • 24. Saturday, October 26, 13 And you want to get an automatic waterer with a float, so you don’t need to always check the water.
  • 25. Saturday, October 26, 13 I just threw this in because I couldn’t believe how tall this sunflower grew. The high side of the chicken run is 7 feet.
  • 27. The compost hatch Saturday, October 26, 13
  • 28. Saturday, October 26, 13 As I mentioned above, I wanted to be able to toss in compost without having to open up the door and risk letting the chickens out, so I made a little compost hatch.
  • 29. Saturday, October 26, 13 right above the compost bin.
  • 32. Saturday, October 26, 13 The chickens hang out there all day. It seems to be their favorite spot. And as you can see, they are perfectly happy hanging out on a 2x4.
  • 36. Saturday, October 26, 13 The lock is important. Raccoons can open a simple latch. I just put the key on a string so we don’t lose it.
  • 37. The Egg Box Saturday, October 26, 13 Chickens like a dark, comfortable place to lay their eggs. So most coops include nesting boxes where the chickens can lay their eggs, but that are also accessible from the outside so that you can fetch the eggs without disturbing them. (They sleep roosting on a branch, not in the boxes, which they just use for egg laying.)
  • 38. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here’s how we got the eggs in the old coop - a hatch on the back of the coop.
  • 39. Saturday, October 26, 13 And here’s a closer look at it with the door open.
  • 40. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here’s a look from the other side, inside the coop, with the door open. (You generally want the door closed during the day so it will be dark and private, but open at night when they are sleeping so it is well-ventilated.
  • 41. Chicken Poop Saturday, October 26, 13 There was one giant problem with the design of our old coop, and that had to do with chicken poop.
  • 42. Saturday, October 26, 13 When the chickens roost at night, they seem to defecate constantly. The nesting boxes were below the roosting branch, so the nesting boxes were always getting poop in them. We tried putting in a shelf to catch the poop, which was really gross, but better than having to clean out the boxes every day.
  • 43. Saturday, October 26, 13 I had just cleaned out the shavings that you use to catch the poop in this picture, but you can still see what a mess it was. (If the boxes hadn’t been in the way, this would be ok. A lot of people just toss in more shavings, and let the whole thing compost.
  • 44. Saturday, October 26, 13 But for the new coop, I had a better idea, inspired by this mailbox on a fence at my daughter’s house in San Francisco.
  • 45. Saturday, October 26, 13 Duh. Put the nesting boxes on the outside.
  • 46. Saturday, October 26, 13 And rather than having shavings on the bottom of the coop, put a wire mesh, so they can poop right through it into a compost pile below.
  • 47. Saturday, October 26, 13 Which we can get at through those doors below that I showed you earlier. When the pile gets really deep, we can shovel it out and put it in the garden.
  • 48. Saturday, October 26, 13 Of course, if there’s any area that has a surface under the poop zone, it will get covered...
  • 49. Saturday, October 26, 13 But back to the nesting box ... I decided to put some storage cabinets underneath.
  • 50. Saturday, October 26, 13 And the open doors provide a nice support for the outside door to the nesting boxes. Note that I have three boxes, versus five in the old coop. Even three is plenty for our seven chickens - you can get by with one or two, since the chickens rarely all want to lay at the same time.
  • 51. Saturday, October 26, 13 And as you can see, the eggs are nice and clean inside.
  • 52. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here’s a view from inside the coop. As you can see, it is MUCH cleaner than the old coop.
  • 53. Saturday, October 26, 13 A close up of the eggs. One of the eggs - the darker brown one - is actually wooden. I used to see these at feed stores, and wondered about them. Then I learned that they are a way to encourage the chickens to lay eggs in more than one box. They are creatures of habit, and when they see an existing egg, they go there to add to it. Sometimes two chickens will try to squeeze into the same box. Putting a wooden egg in each box encourages them to spread the wealth.
  • 54. Saturday, October 26, 13 And again, a reminder that any opening to the outside should be secured with a lock, and not just a latch, to protect against raccoons.
  • 55. Ratproofing Hardware cloth across floor, covered by 4-6 inches of dirt Trench 12-24 inches deep around perimeter, with vertical hardware cloth Don’t give the rats anything to get their claws into at the top of the hardware cloth Saturday, October 26, 13 Now, the next big topic: ratproofing. Our old coop was floored with hardware cloth, but the rats just tunneled under it to get at anything the chickens dropped. You really need to put a trench around the coop, and have hardware cloth go vertically down 12-24 inches so they can’t tunnel under it.
  • 56. Saturday, October 26, 13 Here you can see the hardware cloth under the dirt floor of the new coop and run.
  • 57. Saturday, October 26, 13 On the lower right, you can still see the trenching left from construction. (We hadn’t filled that side since we were also putting in some electrical conduit.)
  • 58. Saturday, October 26, 13 And here you can see the rats trying to get under the coop. No luck. A foot deep seems to have held them, but I’m wishing I’d gone deeper.
  • 59. Saturday, October 26, 13 More rat tunnels.
  • 61. Saturday, October 26, 13 Now here’s the really surprising thing: big fat rats can squeeze their way through chicken wire (but not hardware cloth, with its much smaller holes.) (In our old coop, I once found a very fat rat who got stuck halfway through. I had to whack him with a shovel...) They just need something to grab on with their claws or teeth. Here you can see how they chewed an old piece of fence to pull themselves back out through the wire. I put some additional hardware cloth higher up to keep them out, and that worked.
  • 62. Saturday, October 26, 13 The problem was that I originally put this nice 2x4 rail to finish the interface between the underground hardware cloth and the chicken wire. It looked really nice, but it defeated the purpose, since the rats could use my nice rail to pull themselves through the chicken wire. Here, I retrofitted by putting additional hardware cloth higher up, where there was nothing for them to grab onto.
  • 63. Bonus A Treehouse made with webbing Saturday, October 26, 13
  • 64. Saturday, October 26, 13 I just thought I’d throw this in while I was taking pictures. I made an impromptu treehouse by putting webbing across the space between two oak limbs. I got a 12x12 cargo net from Amazon, and tied it on with nylon aircraft cord. It makes a great temporary tree fort.
  • 65. Saturday, October 26, 13 And it can be made more comfortable with cushions borrowed from the garden furniture!
  • 67. Saturday, October 26, 13 I tried some smaller webbing too. You either want the webbing to be really big or really small. You don’t want something in between that could choke kids if they slip. They could fall through the big openings (but generally don’t), or could use smaller webbing like a hammock. We ended up liking the big webbing best. It’s not shown in the pictures, but I adapted a climbing rope net from a swing set (that I also bought on Amazon) so the kids can climb up into the cargo net tree house.