Chicken Waterer with Gallon Milk Jugs and Nipples

Flew the Roo enjoying the newly set up watering jug.

I originally watered my chickens with a $30-something metal hanging waterer I got at the feed store (which you can see at this post about the Mama Heating Pad Brooder).  In under a year of use, the metal has already started to deteriorate from the constant water exposure.  Due to leaving it on a cinderblock, it doesn’t usually get dirty unless someone goes crazy and decides it’s time to overturn everything in the coop, but generally speaking the water quality has definitely gone down with time and so has cleanliness.

Enter the chicken waterer nipples.  My bestie at Shady Side Farm deserves full credit for this post, since after she very kindly brooded two Black Jersey Giants for me and decided I should take her Cuckoo Maran rooster too since roos aren’t allowed where she lives, she set me up with a milk jug chicken waterer and left me with extra nipples to make more.  Making more so was stupidly easy, I regretted not doing it sooner!

To get the birds used to it is pretty easy if you have a few birds who already were raised using the nipples, and that’s how they got water to begin with.  The other birds will watch and copy.  If you’re starting fresh like with my older birds, I gradually had the waterer run low with the only water being from the jugs.  If they’re particularly slow, you can dip their beaks into it like you sometimes do when you take chicks home so they know where water is, but mine have always been pretty quick on the uptake.

Materials:

  • Chicken waterer nipples (25 pack found here or 5 pack found here for about half the cost of 25 – my friend got 25)
  • Thoroughly cleaned out milk jug
  • Something to poke a hole with (drill bit, I used a tiny knife – just careful not to cut it too wide!  5/16″ is recommended)
  • Something to hang the jug with – I used leftover hay bail ties

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Mycology 101: Growing Oyster Mushrooms on Cardboard

So I’m sure you’ve noticed that aside from my initial post, most of my posting hasn’t been related to renovation whatsoever.  You know why?  My roof is leaking again in the same spot we’ve tried repairing multiple times!  Sneaky leaky.  Fortunately, we noticed it right before I painted over the area!  Ah, my ever stalled kitchen, when will I find a roofer I trust?  If you’re in the Seattle area and know someone who likes working with over sized skylights and their flashing, hit me up!

 

If I’m not renovating, I’m homesteading!  Back in the fall, I found some beautiful chanterelles growing outside in my front yard, and since then my mycological interest was peaked.  Maybe it was picking up over $100 worth of mushrooms in a week across multiple weeks as the rains were agreeable just by walking into my front yard, or the fact that local, foraged mushroom prices at the grocery store are ever-growing, or perhaps even that the freshest mushroom I’ll ever get from the market is still far older than the mushroom I picked before cooking.  While I’m sure there are more mushrooms in my yard I can grow given they sprout up all over my lawn and fallen stumps, the only ones I’ve been able to consistently identify are chanterelles.  Knowing I couldn’t clone the mycorrhizal relationship the chanterelle mycelium has with my giant evergreens inside my house, I decided to look for mushrooms I could cultivate and grow at home.

 

After some “light” reading of Paul Stamets’s books Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms and the backbreaking The Mushroom Cultivator, I decided all the techniques and options listed were probably fantastic, and found them as a good reference guide for the basics, but realistically they suffered from two main problems.  That is, the idea is you need a substrate such as straw or wood chips to be completely clean from contamination.  Easy enough.  Boil things!  Or pressure cook them.  Both are good.

The problem is, I live in the Pacific Northwest.  Short of a lab environment, trichoderma infests everything it can.  In fact, I even had a bag of mushrooms from a lab that was infested with trichoderma.  So I needed an alternative.

 

After having purchased my mom and friend bags of oysters for their Christmas gifts, and growing some shiitake and lion’s mane myself, I tried to figure out some alternatives.  I found something about growing oysters on coffee grounds from various sources, including someone trying to sell you the information that could be conveyed in 30 minute videos.  The idea is that the coffee is already pasteurized, so as long as you use it the same day, it should be fine.  Maybe.  Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest and need to use more science than that.  During my multiple attempts that ended in moldy glory using the mushroom butts from my mom’s oysters to start colonizing some coffee grounds, I did realize they seemed to be doing just fine on the cardboard I started them on.  I’m sure it’s less nutritious than using coffee grounds, but what I can say for certainty is it didn’t grow mold.  That alone made it a winner in my eyes.

 

So, how to grow oyster mushrooms on cardboard?

 

  1. Get oyster mushroom stem butts (the very base of the mushroom, sometimes has some of its substrate on it still – note, grocery store mushrooms aren’t always the best source here.  If you know someone who grows them, found some in the wild, or have some left overs from a mushroom growing kit, that’s probably the best way to go)
  2. Boil cardboard.  I did it for like an hour after all my previous mold woes, but honestly the mold isn’t going to go hang out on the cardboard, so don’t fret that much.
  3. Tear the cardboard into single layers after cardboard cools enough to touch (don’t have to do this step, but mushrooms grow much more quickly if you do)
  4. Place cardboard in a container – such as a plastic bag or tupperware
  5. Snuggle oyster mushroom butts between two layers

 

While the mycelium is moving into its new home, it does better in slightly dimmer locations, but honestly, oysters are pretty hard to kill unless you invite trichoderma over for a party, so don’t fret it too much!  Photos below!

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There Ain’t No Party Like a Seed Starting Party!

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Homemade kombucha, potstickers, and seeds!  My kind of party.

You know how you get an unreasonable amount of seeds in each little packet?  And you look at the packet and think, “Hmm, yeah, I could have 30 early tomato plants since supposedly you little seeds are only good for a year, but I really want a bunch of different varieties to grow in succession so I can be rolling in tomatoes in their prime…”  And then you end up with seeds saved for next year, which is fine, but the germination rate is a bit lower, and you still really didn’t want 30 of one variety.

This is where the seed starting party comes in.  My mom, my bestie, my sister, and myself all collaborated this year with our seeds and our niece to have a wider variety of tomatoes, peppers, and mystery vegetables.  While I’m sure I could have had the 150 ground cherry plants all to myself, with deciding to share our seeds we could have 4xs the variety of plants without having to spend 4xs as much on seeds and wasting what we didn’t use.  For my friend who is allergic to cooked tomatoes and thus storing them is very unlikely to go well, this was a particularly good idea.

This week (and, well, the last couple weeks) are when it’s time to start your tomatoes and peppers in the Pacific Northwest indoors.  I’ve never actually started from seed before, though the idea of spending $3 for a packet of seeds instead of $3-5 per tomato plant seemed pretty appealing.  Of course, given I live in the Pacific Northwest and all my windows and skylights in my house face the north (great planning, home designers!  Then again, I guess there’s nothing but giant trees on the south side…), seed starting is a little more complicated than throwing some seeds in the dirt and calling it good.

TL;DR Version: Fungus fuzz sucks, line light better than square light, online had better prices for seed starter trays, plant trays without holes, grow lights and such for starters, local hardware stores (Lowes, Home Depot, McDaniel’s Do-It-Center, etc) had better prices for seed starter mix.

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Time to Prune Apple Trees – Winter Workup!

Late winter is generally the best time to prune apple and pear trees since they’re dormant.  This has two benefits.  The one that benefits you is the fact that there are no leafs in the way, so it’s easier to see where your branches are and get in there to chop things up.  The one that benefits the tree is that it’s stored sugars for spring growth won’t have to spread throughout the tree and instead will focus on smaller areas that haven’t been pruned off for growth and fruiting.  As far as a general how-to, Wiki-How has a pretty good article on pruning apple trees in particular, but it neglects to mention the suckers that grow along the root base.

Pruning itself is important, particularly if you have severely overgrown trees such as mine on my lovely inherited foreclosure home.  The reasons I have to prune include 1) downward branches growing into the ground (though I’m sure the deer, bunnies, and my goats have enjoyed the bark), and 2) a windy day broke one of the main scaffold branches, and the other one looked pretty well on its way to being the next candidate, so I needed to chop it up to avoid disease.

I won’t go into the details of how to shape up your tree (especially since while I know the theory behind it, the practice definitely escapes me, aha), but I have noticed a lack of photos of actual trees as you go through the steps.  So!  For all my fellow human beings who don’t quite get what those vague drawings are referring to…

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How to Get Dried Joint Compound / Mud / Limestone Out of Your Sink

Recently, I made a terrible mistake. I asked my husband to clean our mudding supplies. In part of our unending quest to remove the excessive texture on our walls, we regularly slap joint compound on a few walls and call it a day. Sometimes, that slapping happens when it’s nearly lunch time, so while I go to whip up a nice meal, I hope everything will be cleaned properly with lots of water by my dear husband.  “Properly” means most of the mud goes in the junk bucket and only trace amounts have to be wiped off our tools or rinsed off our paint roller. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and the next day when I next used the upstairs bathroom I found it to be rather clogged, dried, and next to impossible for me to do anything about. It wasn’t visible on the top, but as I ran the water to wash my hands, the sink was quickly overflowing.

I had tried a few different things. Vinegar, baking soda and vinegar, boiling hot water, and my bathroom plunger. None of those quite did the trick, though since mild acids such as vinegar dissolve limestone it was definitely a step in the right direction.  Short of having to buy a snake to go down the drain, I decided to try out a small sink plunger. The ones I had found at the local home improvement store didn’t offer great suction (which, like the crazy person I am, I had tested on every single wall I came across while I was there), so I decided to order this questionable looking thing from Uncle Amazon instead.

…Yeah, doesn’t remind me of anything inappropriate at all.

Okay, creepiness aside, it’s a suction machine.  I tried cleaning out my sink again today since I really didn’t want to have to replace a P-trap I had just swapped out when I moved in, adding a bit of vinegar into the sink to erode the limestone, and I used the hand plunger.

Ta-da!  Fixed!  For slightly unpleasant photos and steps, click read more!

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Self-Propagating Onions – Egyptian Walking Onions Planting Time! …Sort of.

My buddy at Shady Side Farm and I were discussing my onion woes.  Mainly, every seed packet I saw convinced me I’d need to buy multiple packets of seeds each year, and then hope they store well, because I eat a lot of onions.  Hundreds.  They are the backbone of cuisine.  I eat a lot of shallots too, but fortunately I can buy some of those from a fancy grocery store and then drop them off in the dirt like I do garlic to make baby food.  Onions, however, I’ve only found ones I need to wait to flower then collect the seeds, which leaves me with nothing to eat since the stalks are stiff as tree bark, the seeds are, well, seeds, and the bulbs are mush.

Fortunately, however, my dear friend suggested Egyptian Walking Onions.  They self-propagate, have lots of edible little bulbs on top, bunch at the bottom, and have tasty onion greens.  Not only that, but I’ve heard they spread like wild fire.

After trying to find a place to buy them and getting lots of complaint reviews about the bulblets being dried out, mushy, or otherwise not fertile and full of life, I finally found a source online.

They arrived just a few days after I ordered them and in great shape.  I actually ordered two separate sets!  One of ten and one of twenty because I thought they were different varieties, but I can’t tell at all if that’s the case by looking at them.  I was really grateful the place I ordered them from sent me an extra 10, since I paid for shipping twice and I greatly suspect that perhaps they are actually all the same.  This works out, since I plan on giving some to my mom for her garden, though I’ve been warned to be careful with these guys since they spread rapidly.

Since they can be planted in the winter, I tried to dig some holes out of my excitement, but unfortunately my ground is still frozen from Friday’s snow!  Ahh, I’m so excited though.  Please let me know if any of you have had any luck with these plants!  My excitement photos are below!

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Boiling Maple Sap to Syrup with a Thermometer – Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere – Part 2

This is a continuation of Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere – Part 1 where we covered the surprisingly simple process of how to collect sap from just about any maple tree.  Now, it’s naturally time to make that sap into syrup!  Sure, you could drink it straight, but who wants to read about maple watering when you could be maple sugaring?

The way I’ve decided to do this involves boiling inside a kitchen and using a thermometer to check the temperature.  I personally use a digital meat thermometer that I find works really well, but really I’m sure any kitchen thermometer is fine.  Sure, the kitchen is my mom’s instead of mine since I don’t have a hood or downdraft at the moment in my under construction kitchen to take care of the steam problems, but a kitchen is a kitchen!

Maple sap becomes maple syrup after boiling it to about 7 degrees over the temperature water boils in your area.  Since I’m about sea level, I boil the sap until it reaches 219 degrees since water boils at 212, though this can vary depending on where you are.  If you accidentally over boil it very slightly, say to 220 degrees, all is well, just know it’s likely not going to pour out through a filter, and it will have the consistency of thin honey.  Delicious, delicious honey.  It takes roughly 3 hours to boil 1 gallon of sap down in a giant pot.  It’s a great activity to do while making complicated or extravagant dinners.  There will be humidity as a result of the boiling, but processing in smaller batches doesn’t make this much of an issue even in the Pacific Northwest, though some people prefer to process their syrup in large batches or to boil their sap down enough to put it in containers until they’re ready to boil it down to syrup with more at a time for the final processing.  I personally do it in smaller batches until they’re completed since I like eating waffles with some freshly made maple syrup.

Now, I’ve read about a number of ways to do this, and most involved expensive equipment.  Namely, a refractometer.   While this probably works amazingly well, as someone who only recently started, I wanted to make sure I liked it and that it went well before I got involved in buying any materials I can’t use for anything else.  So!  Kitchen thermometer it was!

Too long; didn’t read version:

  1. Collect sap into a boil-friendly container
  2. Boil on stove or outdoor burner (for hours) until the temperature reaches 7 degrees above the boiling point of water
  3. Skim foam off while boiling whenever you notice it getting frothy
  4. Filter (if you didn’t over boil) through a coffee filter into a container.  If over boiled, just pour in and embrace the woody flavor.

Alright, now down to the details.

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Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere

I recently started making my own maple syrup at home in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s surprisingly easy to do and is one of the few hobby farming activities I’ve done that should pay for itself within a couple months.

I love maple flavored anything.  I always have, and I always will.  Since I was a small kid, when others had brown sugar in their oatmeal, I wanted maple syrup.  When I made snickerdoodles in college, the coating was always maple sugar.  When I decided to make my own sugar, the answer was naturally maple.

Previously, I had mistakenly believed you had to have a sugar maple and likely be in Vermont to have much luck in this adventure, but thanks to ignoring everything I read initially on the internet, I realized it wasn’t really that hard.  If you had any maple trees that weren’t dainty little dwarfs, you were probably fine.  I believe the tree I’m currently tapping is a Pacific Northwest native, the vine maple.  The tree is quite large compared to most vine maples in the area, and I suspect it’s quite old.  It also fortunately is directly next to my parent’s pond.  I’m not sure if it’s the amount of water it has access to, the fact it’s an old tree, or what, but despite everything I’ve read it typically gives 1-2 gallons of sap a day depending on weather conditions.  Keep in mind, boiled down to syrup, 1 gallon is only about 4 ounces of syrup or half a cup.  2 gallons is about 1 cup or 8 ounces.  This varies, of course, depending on the tree you’re using.

This post aims to go over how simple it is to start collecting sap.  All you really need is a spile, a bucket, a maple tree, and weather that’s below freezing at night and over freezing during the day.  The next will cover processing the sap without buying expensive equipment to measure sugar content. While I think this maple syrup package is probably the most economical option I’ve found if you’re interested in 3 spiles and stainless steel setups, for those wondering if it’s right for you, I personally purchased a single bucket, lid, and spile (links below in read more – though know I have no love for the included book) from the same company for starting out.  That said, it works great, and hasn’t even blown out in our recent terrible winds!

Too long; didn’t read version

  1. Find a maple tree, the wider the trunk the better
  2. Wait for the weather to be freezing at night, above freezing during the day (PNW winter weather!)
  3. Drill a slightly upward aimed hole to fit your spile in the tree
  4. Tap your spile into the tree gently with a hammer
  5. Hang bucket on spile
  6. Check to see if bucket is full as frequently as you like,  but at least daily
  7. Boil sap until it’s syrup, skimming off foam if you don’t want it to taste woody
  8. Pour into container and refrigerate – or consume immediately if you have no self control like yours truly!

Materials for Maple Sugaring – The Economics

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Mama Heating Pad Brooder – Brooding Chicks Without A Heat Lamp

Aussie and Blue heating in to nap under mama heating pad.

My first year of raising chicks, I naturally didn’t have a broody hen to take care of raising chicks. Instead, I raised them indoors. Since it’s almost chick days at the local feed store, I thought I’d share what I did for their heating needs instead of using a heat lamp.

My original brooder box set up in an old water heater box.

After reading a number horror stories about heat lamp fires, heat lamps falling and killing the chicks, seeing the chicks trample each other under the heat lamps in feed stores, and hearing them chirp relentlessly since they didn’t have darkness to sleep comfortably, I decided I wanted to see if there was something else I could do. After searching around backyard chickens, I heard of something called an ecoglow brooder from brinsea.  It seemed like a great product that used radiant heat to warm up chicks hiding underneath like they would their mamas, but it was so expensive for such a small one!  I would likely need the $150 version for my chicks since I had 9 chickens and 4 ducks at the time, not to mention later when I needed to swap to another heating method for the ducks when their trampling ways became a problem I would have suffered the expense again.

So I decided I needed an alternative.  After searching the net, I eventually heard rumblings of people who used heating pads as brooders.  It seemed fairly simple.  People found a heating pad worked really well as long as it didn’t have the auto off function.  I personally purchased this sunbeam extra large heating pad because it was 1 ft x 2ft, making it plenty large to brood my chicks, it was under $20, and it didn’t have an auto-off function.  It also worked well using the highest setting for the first week, then medium.  On top of that, during the winter when my chicks were chickens, I used the same heating pad to help keep my water unfrozen when weather was under 20 degrees F in my barn.

Chicks run around until cold, then go under mama heating pad!

Making the brooder was quite easy.

  1. Cover the heating pad with either a puppy piddle pad or an old towel you don’t mind bleaching rigorously
  2. Make a cave shape using a solid material that will allow the chicks to feel the heat still (I used hardware cloth scraps, but I’ve seen other people using fencing left overs as well – the important thing is it needs to be stable enough to stand up even with some chicks sleeping on top of it)
  3. Make sure sharp edges are dulled or cover sharp edges with electrical tape or something similar
  4. Tuck the towel edges down so that chickens can have darkness like being under a hen when sleeping below
  5. Make sure cave has two exits for younger birds in case fatty birds take up all the space

Hardware cloth worked well to adjust the shape of the brooder as the chicks grew so it could be taller.  Since I raised bantams with fatty dual purpose birds, I was also able to keep the back of the brooder lower than the front like a cave so smaller birds could go further back for heat.  One thing I learned was to make sure none of the edges are against a wall.  Chicks leaping out wasn’t so much an issue was the fact sometimes they’d pile up and one would slide into a weird spot against the wall.  There were no casualties, but it freaked me out enough that I made sure it wasn’t an option in the future.

Hardware cloth frame with electrical tape over edges covered by heating pad then towel.

Sturdy enough for chicks to sleep on top while others sleep underneath.

Exits on both sides in case fatty ducks are blocking the way!

 

Large pad size makes the shape changeable as the chicks grow.

 

Brooder moved outside when the chicks did, though they mainly just huddled together on the floor to sleep until they learned about roosts.

I hope this helps anyone looking into using a method other than a heating lamp for brooding their chicks in the upcoming months!  Please let me know if anyone has any questions about it, since I was really glad this is how I chose to brood my chicks.  It was inexpensive, allowed chicks to have a fairly normal sleep pattern and to get away from heat when they didn’t need it on their own, and transitioned easily with them as they grew.  I definitely recommend it to anyone who would consider brooding chicks.

Converting an Empty Barn Stall into a Chicken Coop

Since chick days are nearly here again, I’ve started thinking about how we built our chicken coop by converting a barn stall.  I know when I was originally planning my coop, I really wish I had seen more pictures of people who had larger coops and other converted stalls since I needed more inspiration, so I decided to share the love.  When we bought our house, we were fortunate enough to buy a property that had an old barn.  While it was unkept, mice were definitely living in the insulation around the roofing, only a single gutter that was half way down, and there was rot around a number of areas with a completely covered, leaky roof, it had good bones.  On top of that, there was also a spot near the garage where the former owners had cut a giant hole through the siding and placed a dog run.  Given that our dog is spoiled with walks, the run wasn’t really necessary, but it did provide us with free chicken fencing.

After weeks of research, purchasing a likely excessive number of chicken books and reading adamantly, having my husband beg and plead for me to wait longer despite my gluttony for fresh, organic, free range and pasture raised chicken eggs, I finally got chicks at the local feed store near the end of March.  Saving for the fact my Ameraucana actually lays brown eggs instead of blue, they were all good egg layers, healthy (with the exception of some very sickly silkie chicks I bought from a store I won’t go to again), and docile.  They were definitely more expensive than ordering from a hatchery online, but less expensive than going to the seemingly snooty hatchery in our area.  While I hope to find breeders locally for when I attempt raising meat birds, there weren’t any that I could find originally.

To be clear, I was aware buying chickens wasn’t going to save me oodles of money.  Just the start up costs alone (~$100 for chicks, feed, feeding containers, heating pads, etc, with roughly an additional $15-20 per chick to get it to the age of laying thanks to organic feed costs), was spending the equivalent of nearly a year’s worth of eggs at $5 a dozen, and since one happened to be a rooster he turned into a slightly expensive (albeit the most delicious broth I’ve ever made) dinner when he kept attacking the hens for sweet loving and me when I entered the coop.

So why did I drag my poor husband through the joys of poultry ownership?  I had tasted the best eggs ever, and I had to drive 30-45 minutes to a farmer’s market in Redmond to get them.  Even then, they were only available in the spring.  The yolk was a deep yellow, almost orange like a duck’s yolk.  The egg white’s were firm, holding their shape and the yolk not breaking even when you were a clumsy mess.  I had eaten these eggs of perfection costing me $8 a dozen plus drive time plus only being seasonally available (since otherwise they sold all their winter eggs to a fancy restaurant nearby), and the gourmet snob in me couldn’t go back to the “free-range” (access to outdoors somehow maybe), organic eggs that were far too old to hold their yolks at the grocery store.  No, I needed my eggs to have been laid that week, and I needed the chickens to have eaten the bugs they found in the grass and lazed around in the sun getting some high quality vitamin D while getting a dust bath, and I needed that year round.  In summary,  I’m spoiled.

Don’t get me wrong – I also appreciate the wellbeing of the animals that feed me, but given it was my first time owning birds that weren’t parrots and my first time raising anything to live in a barn, I wasn’t so arrogant to think I would do it better than farmers who had dedicated their lives to caring for animals.  Then again, given what I’ve read about commercial poultry practices, maybe I should have been a little bit more arrogant…

So these poopy guys happened!

You’ll notice there are ducks here.  That is a story for another day, but know they very shortly were moved into a separate brooding box because they got very big very fast while the chickens did not.  This would have been fine if they also didn’t have a tendency to stampede everywhere they went and swim in their waterer.

I’m going to confess straight up – this was another project that my bum shoulder resulted in my husband and father having to help me / do a vast majority of the work on the project.  I had the idea down, but the physical capabilities were drastically lacking.  I realized this at one point when my dad was standing on top of rafters he had built with scrap wood on top of the barn stall and using a power nailer to get everything secured.

That said, I did at least make the plans, so hooray.  First, as I mentioned before, we were renovating our kitchen and had removed a wall and heightened the ceiling.  This left us with a lot of scrap wood.  I strongly recommend that if you have any leftover wood from projects that you save it for moments like these, because aside from nails and hardware cloth, building our giant chicken coop didn’t cost anything.  In fact, I didn’t even have to build their roost since we already had a giant ladder-shaped object assembled from removing it from our ceiling!

Materials needed:

Roughly 4 ft x 50 ft of 1/4″ hardware cloth (I ended up using a little of 2 ft tall stuff my dad had lying around as well)

2 door hinges

A lock

More 2×4, 4x4s, 2x6s, and 2×8 scraps than I can count.  Get for free from people doing renovations!

Nails

Tin snips (to cut hardware cloth)

Nail gun and fun (if you want to be cool like my dad and bust that stuff out fast)

I ended up purchasing the hardware cloth at Amazon, since for 1/4″ cloth that was 4 ft tall and 50 ft long, it ended up being less than half the cost of local stores, though that likely varies depending on where you live.  Getting the tallest hardware cloth possible for the price is definitely helpful since it leads to a lot less cutting in general.  If you’ve ever slowly cut through 1/4″ hardware cloth, you know it’s not a particularly fun task.

This is a difficult thing to give plans for, since everyone’s coop will vary.  That said, I can tell you at least the basics.  The predators I was dealing with include raccoons, otters, cats, dogs, coyotes, rats and potentially bears.  I conceded that if a bear comes into my barn, they can eat everyone.  I will not defeat the mighty bear short of setting up a lot of electric fencing, and given my neighbor’s dogs wander into my yard all the time I didn’t want to subjugate them to a pain barrier.    For everyone else, hardware cloth was the answer.

I got 1/4″ hardware cloth to handle my rodent problem, but in hindsight they were dedicated enough to dig underneath my foot deep covers in some areas, and my trailing bottoms in others.  My present solution to the rodent problem is a metal bucket to store feed and encouraging the barn owls in my area to set up nests.  The rodents also dig underneath the concrete foundation, so I’m not sure that’s a battle I’m going to win.  Back when my white silkie liked to sleep on the floor, despite the chainlink over the run that is on top of concrete, when I left the barn door out to the run open one night, something came in and ran off with her.  For people not able to be home, some sort of automatic opening and closing method for the coop would be good, but I typically just shut the door earlier and have my automatic timer take care of the lights if I ever have to be gone at dusk.

Things to consider:

  1. Metal bucket to store feed and keep out rodents
  2. A roost – my chickens only really sleep at the top of it, though, so doesn’t have to be too fancy
  3. Nesting boxes don’t have to be complicated.  Mine are a plastic storage tub filled with bedding that’s next to the entryway, one next to the bottom of the roosts inside a cardboard box, and two birds still decide to lay behind the feed bin outside of a nesting box entirely.  The plastic tub is nice for easily moving broody hens and her eggs.
  4. Dirt floor unless using a smaller coop, then wood is fine, but dirt floors allow you to do deep litter without rotting wood
  5. Concrete ground exterior keeps neighbor dogs and coyotes from being able to get into the coop – it’s very nice!
  6. Hardware cloth covering holes that murderers might get in through
  7. An elevated place to have chicken water (mine’s on top of a cinderblock I found in my yard)
  8. A locking door raccoons can’t easily open.

Technically to be considered “organic”, chickens are supposed to have access to feed at all times.  My chickens sleep at night, so I personally put my feed away in a metal bucket where rats can’t irritate me at night, and then take it out when they wake up in the morning.

Front of the coop – the human entrance

Side of the coop with another empty barn stall and a leaky roof!

Roof – only need beams to have hardware cloth cover them, so ours is a little over constructed.

Elevated waterer, under-door region covered in, and metal bucket!

Do I really need a coop that’s over 12 ft x 12 ft?  Probably not, but I will say the birds like having the large coop during rainy days.  While they love their outdoor run when it’s nice out, they also have plenty of space to scratch and peck indoors when weather isn’t agreeable, and if an emergency comes up where I won’t be able to lock them in at night, it’s nice knowing I can tuck them in early but not feel like I’m holding them captive in a tiny box.  Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, weather is rarely agreeable.  It’s definitely not necessary, but it allows me to use deep litter unlike the small store bought coops.

Wish list for future improvements:

  1. Painted interior and roost so I can wash off the poos more easily
  2. Expand chicken run so they have more room outside when they aren’t running wild and free in my yard

Pullets dog piling on an old pallet.  So many easy roost options!

I hope all these photos can help someone get inspiration for their own coops!  If anyone has managed to keep rodents from digging feet deep to get in their coop, please let me know how!