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Feedback on chicken coop design

 
Rob Sigg
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Location: PA-Zone 6
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So we are getting 4 chickens in the spring, probably 2 RIR and 2 BR. I am designing and building the coop myself so I could use some feedback since I haven’t done this before. Im in zone 6 with the cold winds being blocked by our house, the coop would be south facing on the backside of our house. At this point it will be about 10ft off of our patio area. I plan on posting diagrams of the coop once I get it more finalized but I thought I would post general info about it for now to get feedback.

Overall coop size is 3ft x 6ft. At this point the ceiling might be 30 – 36’. I need advice on this. It will have a detachable run of equal size right next to it, so the overall footprint will be about 6ft x 6ft. I wanted it large enough if we decided to buy more chickens down the road. I figure I could get another one or two chickens in there. The detachable run could be used to move them around the garden for a day at a time. Im not sure if I will need a top of this run or not. If I do it will probably be a shorter height, if I don’t need a top I imagine it will need to be taller so they don’t fly out.

The coop itself would be elevated about 30 inches off the ground with the access door under the coop around the middle of the structure so it is protected from the elements, I would have a little ramp or something up to the coop floor.

Half of the coop floor would be made of chicken wire, maybe doubled up which would serve as the floor under the roosting area. The thought being that all the droppings would drop down to a compost area, and the floor itself would be able to be dropped down to really clean things out.

On the opposite end of the roosting area I would have two roosting boxes with a size of about 14” x 14” x 14”. There would be an automatic watering system in between them.

There will also be a bulk feed drop area above the roosts that will channel down into a feeding dish. The rest of the space above the 2 nest boxes and watering system would be used for bedding storage.

Both ends will have a door that will swing open. The roost end is for clean out, and the nesting box end is for egg collection and access to the storage area. I will need to put some kind of air vent up there too.

The watering system will be some kind of rectangular container like a garbage can, it will be pretty large so it will hold maybe 8  gallons of water at a time, and self metering into a little dish. I plan on hooking up a heat source under the floor of the watering system that can be removed and easily accessed for plugging in etc. At this point, I think a 60 watt lighbulb fixture in a metal casing should transfer enough heat to the watering dish to keep it from freezing.



Thoughts or criticisms? Thanks in advance!!
 
Rob Sigg
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Im going to assume that after 42 views no one can visualize what Im thinking So I will take the hint and get a picture when I get some free time.
 
                              
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Location: MO
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Rob S. aka Blitz wrote:
Im going to assume that after 42 views no one can visualize what Im thinking So I will take the hint and get a picture when I get some free time.


Exactly Rob. 

From what I understand your coop sounds fine. Experience is the best teacher. I will say that I have found 4 sq ft to be the minimum that I allow per laying hen in my chicken tractors but prefer 6 sq. ft. per laying hen.
 
Rob Sigg
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Thanks for the feedback. I think my main issue is how high the roosting poles should be, and how many laying boxes to have. I have been told that one laying box will be fine for 4 chickens but I have also heard that I should get two. If I really don’t need two it would help me with the design, and will make it more accessible and space efficient. The other smaller issue that I am unsure of is the “dump” zone under the roosting area. Since the floor will be open all the droppings will go to the ground where I plan on having a compost area. I am not planning on allowing the chickens into that area since it will most likely be concentrated with manure. I figured I would throw scraps etc into the chickens, let them beat it up and clean it and then mix it in with the manure area, I know its more work that way but I figured it would be more sanitary.

 
Brice Moss
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Rob S. aka Blitz wrote:

The watering system will be some kind of rectangular container like a garbage can, it will be pretty large so it will hold maybe 8  gallons of water at a time, and self metering into a little dish. I plan on hooking up a heat source under the floor of the watering system that can be removed and easily accessed for plugging in etc. At this point, I think a 60 watt lighbulb fixture in a metal casing should transfer enough heat to the watering dish to keep it from freezing.


save yourself trouble with this and get a 2-3 gallon double walled fount if you live in a cold area the feed store will also have heating pads for the waterer to sit on that will waste less energy than a light bulb
 
Rob Sigg
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I like the idea of using less energy, but Im afraid I don't want to be outside filling a 2-3 gallon container everyday. I want something that is closer to 8-10 gallons. Here is the floorplan for now. Maybe everyone can visualize it better.
CoopSite.jpg
[Thumbnail for CoopSite.jpg]
 
Rob Sigg
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Is this still not clear? Any suggestions for how to communicate this better?
 
                              
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Location: Zone 6a/b - London Ontario
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Rob S. aka Blitz wrote:
Is this still not clear? Any suggestions for how to communicate this better?

Really I see the many views and no comments as a good thing.... nobody has anything to add.  You seem to have everything covered.
 
Rob Sigg
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Well if you are right, then that would be a first for me My next plan is to do a 3D rendering of the design for everyone so we can get a better picture of the details. That is a bit of work so I was hoping to head off any obvious issues right of the bat since this is my first time with chicks. My biggest concern is the dimensions of everything and the issues that I mentioned above. Does anyone have any insight to any of those concerns? Thanks!
 
Rob Sigg
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Just to be clear on questions I would like advice on:

1. How high should the roosting poles should be? If my total ceiling height is 3 ft, will that be enough for roosting poles or should I just do without them?

2.  How many laying boxes should I have? I have been told that one laying box will be fine for 4 chickens but I have also heard that I should get two. If I really don’t need two it would help me with the design, and will make it more accessible and space efficient.

3. The other smaller issue that I am unsure of is the “dump” zone under the roosting area. Since the floor will be open all the droppings will go to the ground where I plan on having a compost area. I am not planning on allowing the chickens into that area since it will most likely be concentrated with manure. I figured I would throw scraps etc into the chickens, let them beat it up and clean it and then mix it in with the manure area, I know its more work that way but I figured it would be more sanitary.
 
tel jetson
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1. your gals will appreciate poles to roost on at any height, but I would go as high as your ceiling will allow.

2. we built five boxes for twenty hens.  there are frequently two hens in a box and occasionally three.  some of the hens prefer to lay on the floor.  if you decide to build just one, you might consider making it a bit larger to accommodate more than one bird at a time.

3. it isn't clear to me how this dump zone will be built and how you'll be keeping the hens out of it, so I don't have much to say about it just yet.


I'm curious how much space you've got outside the coop for these birds.  are you going to be moving them around a yard?  with good planning, chickens will thrive on small lots, but it's much more common to end up with bare dirt/shit/mud being the only place for them to hang out.  they will definitely not thrive in those conditions.  chickens seem to be most folks' default when they want to try out keeping livestock, but other options might be more appropriate in many situations.

a thought on water: there are automatic water bowls available at feed stores that work pretty well.  they need occasional cleaning and heat to keep them from freezing, but they're very easy and convenient in my experience.  storing 10 gallons of water that four chickens have access to doesn't sound like a workable option.  it will take a long time for four chickens to use up that much water, and in the mean time they'll be fouling it with food, poo, bedding, etc.  if your design addresses that issue, you'll be just fine.  if not, consider other options.

I hope that was helpful.  take my advice with a grain of salt: I've kept chickens for a while now, but I've not been terribly experimental about it and I've never done it with space limitations.
 
Rob Sigg
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Great feedback!

1. Since my ceiling height will be about 3 ft, I was thinking that the roosting poles should be at 1.5 to 2 ft so they have headroom. I guess the main goal would be to get them above the laying boxes and everything else so maybe the height isn’t as critical as I think.

2. I like your idea of 1 larger box, I didn’t realize that was acceptable as most things I have read recommend something more private for one bird. My design will be more efficient if I can do just one box.

3. The dump zone is basically just  the area under the floor of the coop where the roosting area is. The floor will be constructed of wire mesh to allow the poop to fall through to the ground. I don’t know if this is a good idea or not especially since I live in zone 6.  It might be too drafty for them. If that is the case I can put a solid floor on there and just have it on a hinge so it can be dumped onto the ground below. The chickens wont be in this area since it will be fenced off. When I get the 3d images it will be more clear how this will work.

4. The attached run will be 3 ft x 6ft with an additional 3ft x 3ft under the coop, so basically 27 square feet for 4 birds. This will be their primary spot in the beginning until we establish a schedule for them to be in a rotated paddock of some kind. Because we live in the country we have a lot of predators and fencing off our property is not a solution right now. My hope is to get them in a rotated area of the yard based on what is growing at the time. The attached run will also be designed to detach from the coop and allow the birds to be placed in our yard or garden during the day. But basically the ladies will be kept in the 27 square foot area most of the time, plus the coop space. I think Im going to plant alfalfa as a ground cover, and then I will have self foraging plants just outside of the fence that they can reach but not destroy. The coop and run will be covered mostly by an overhand on the garage so it generally stays really dry at that area, and if it has a ground cover I don’t anticipate mud.

5. As for the waterer, I was thinking that the water could get dirty really quick as well. I have to put some more thought into the design at this point, otherwise I will go with the suggestions put forth.


Thanks again, that was very helpful!

 
Brice Moss
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Rob S. aka Blitz wrote:

5. As for the waterer, I was thinking that the water could get dirty really quick as well. I have to put some more thought into the design at this point, otherwise I will go with the suggestions put forth.



take a trip to the feed store and check out how the various poultry waterer's work before you try and reinvent the wheel
also I still think you will find 8 gallons is just too much water my 11 birds get a three gallon bucket which I fill twice a week and clean once a week
 
Rob Sigg
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Oh that is perfect information for me! I also forgot that I can use rainwater for an exterior waterer or just hook it up to my system as well with an overflow. I guess I could get away with a 3 gallon, so thanks for the specifics on your birds. As for the feedstore, I don't really know of any in this area but I will find one.
 
Brice Moss
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check you're yellow pages under "feed dealers" there are more than you would expect but most of em dont advertise much

I'll also add that 3 gallons of water is easy to carry 8 gallons weighs over 60 pounds and becomes a chore
 
tel jetson
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to clarify: the waterer I use is plumbed to fill automatically.  it's about the size of a dinner bowl and gets cleaned maybe once a month.  the water does need to be fairly clean going into it, as there's a small needle valve involved that clogs easily.  I solved this problem with an inexpensive inline drip irrigation filter.  our water had a lot of sediment in it, though, and I can't imagine the filter wouldn't be necessary for most folks.  a waterer like this would be easy to mail order if you don't find a local feed store.
 
Rob Sigg
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Tel your design is similar to what I was thinking. I want to take the cleaning aspect out of it or put it to a minimum. I found about 8 stores today so I will take a visit to them over the next few weeks.

As for the weight of the water, this would be a fixed system and would be filled by rainwater from above or the hose if needed.
 
Rob Sigg
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Tel, do you have a link to an online store that sells the version of waterer that you use? Cheers.
 
tel jetson
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the one I've got is a Little Giant.  bought it at the local feed store.  looks like this place sells them, though I don't know anything else about that particular merchant.  I'm sure other places sell them as well.
 
Rob Sigg
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Thanks Tel. How would this be hooked up to a warmer for winter use? And you mentioned that you only clean it out once a month. Does the bowl part of it get filled up with just general debris or is it mostly one particular thing?
 
tel jetson
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warmer: we use a heat lamp plugged into a Thermo Cube.  that's a little outlet splitter with a thermostat in it.  keeps the bowl and exposed pipe from freezing and the birds probably don't mind a little extra warmth.  there are probably other and better ways to do it, but that way works.  the Thermo Cube isn't necessary if you aren't forgetful.  I am forgetful.

I installed the waterer too low initially, and it was fouled with bedding pretty quickly.  after raising it up a bit, it's mostly grit and little bits of crumbled feed that get cleaned out.
 
Rob Sigg
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Cheers.
 
Rob Sigg
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So I think I finally have a good design that will work for me. I have 2 options for the run.

1. I can do a detachable run that is about 3ft wide by 10ft long and 2ft high. This would hook up to the coop for most days, but have will have the option to detach and move around to different areas of the yard during warmer weather. This is probably the cheapest method for me currently, the only downside is it would be limited where I could put it since I have a lot of trees/bushes etc so it would not fit everywhere.

2. Instead of the detachable run I could do a paddock system that would route the chickens to different parts of my yard. This seems very flexible and efficient, however the challenges are making it look attractive, keeping hawks out from above and I have no clue what type of fencing to use. Does anyone know what options there are for mobile type fencing? I keep finding bird netting to keep birds off of trees etc, but I cant seem to find the right product for fencing.

Thoughts?

 
tel jetson
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it's spensive, but electronet from Premier 1 works pretty well.  I've heard plenty of stories of predators climbing over it, but haven't had that experience myself.  clipping wings is necessary, unless the paddock is real small.  only serious problem we had was an exceptionally silly hen getting stuck in it and perishing.
 
                            
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Before I got my girls, I did a lot of reading and looking at coop designs at http://backyardchickens.com
I would advise against using wire mesh for the floor of your coop, there's a greater danger of bird leg and foot injury that way.  Poo will still stick to it as well.  I like the deep litter method during the colder months.
I had two water cans, one inside the coop, one in the run, both are 5 gallon.  I dumped, cleaned and refilled once a week with 8 hens.  There was always plenty of water left in the inside one, so I finally took it out and just used the one in the run.  I use a heated dog water bowl in the winter, and just take a gallon jug of water out as needed for filling or rinsing out.  Raising it off the floor helps it to stay a bit cleaner.
A neighbor put a metal lean to roof over his run, put scrap guttering on the edge, a downspout that emptied into another piece of guttering he had set up in the run.  It made a rather long watering dish for his 25 birds.  Seems like he had it set up on some bricks.  Then he just put the garden hose to the end of it to rinse out or fill.  During the rainy season, he did nothing.  He wasn't into disinfecting, I guess, but it worked for him.
My coop is 8 x 12', and when the birds are locked in there in frigid weather, it's not any too big, for sure.  Crowded girls make for fights and pecking at each other.
Your girls will need at least two feet above the roost for headroom, IMO.  They have to 'fly'  or hop a bit to get up on the roost.
My girls favored one nesting box, but we have three.  I tacked landscape fabric, with wide spaced cuts in front and they seemed to like the privacy and started using all the boxes then.
60 watts might not be necessary for your winter water needs. My uncle made a heating platform for his hens water dish, and 25 watts was sufficient.
 
Rob Sigg
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Thanks for sharing, that is great info. I was questioning the wire mesh bottom as well. Im thinking I might just sit the coop on the ground at this point. And have an earth bottom.
 
                            
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Added thoughts....I let my hens free range most of the summer, so I don't clip wings.  If a predator comes 'round, I want them to have the advantage of being able to move as fast as they can, including flying.  But we still lost two this past summer.    I read that 6' fencing will keep most birds in.  My original hens woudn't even go over a 4' fence, but the ones that a neighbor 'gifted' me, were major flyers...and taught the others!
I was trying to figure out the paddock thing for my place, too.  Hawks are a predator here (amongst others).  I put plastic, bright colored twine zig zagged over my garden area when the hens were in there.  It was bright orange, so I could see it and didn't walk into it, so I thought that would work on moveable pens.  I considered that fencing that they use in concrete work, but it's so dang rusty.  Cattle panels w/ chicken wire over them, then zip tie the corners together, orange construction fencing...it goes on and on.  Overall, I think building a chicken tractor with wheels might be the best option for me.  Then I could hook on the lawn tractor and move it by myself.
 
                            
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We built our coop about a foot or more above the ground.  That way, they have an area that is always shaded to get under.  Of course, it's added fencing and lumber that's required, but plants growing on the outside help cool that space.  My coop has a totally enclosed back area, and then a fenced front yard, too.  Worked out well until we got the ones from the neighbors, dang it.
I have seen a couple designs that I loved, wish I could remember where!!  One had basically three sections of garden with the coop in the center section.  One section was for gardening, the middle for composting litter, etc and the third for the chicken run.  After harvesting your garden or the following year, you put the hens in the original garden and planted in that 3rd section.  It had a pretty slick gate system so you could herd the hens into the center section if you wanted to.
Oh, I missed it..how are you gathering eggs?  Small trap door or lifting the roof?  Our neighbor did a similar design to yours, but about 4' off the ground..really steeeeep ramp for the birds, and the roof ended up being so heavy after he shingled it that his wife couldn't lift it.
 
Rob Sigg
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I have changed my design quite a bit since my last drawing so ill get some new pics. I plan on leaving it on the ground and not elevated which solves the floor problem. For the run Im kinda torn on what to do, I thought I would make a moveable system that was lightweight made up of PVC pipe/fittings and netting. Although I can’t seem to find the right fittings for the corners. As for getting the eggs I plan on having a door that opens to just one laying box, since I figured this would be enough for 4 chickens…although if I get more this might be a problem.

 
Rob Sigg
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Do they really need roosting poles? I figure if my coop is only 3 ft tall there is no point in putting a roosting pole, wouldn’t they just sit on the ground? I know that in nature they do this to escape predators, but if there is no risk of predators and no roosting poles will they really be unhappy? Has anyone tried this?
 
                            
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Well, I don't know.  I just read that large breeds, like RIR, are content to roost on a 2x4 set barely above the floor, whereas banties want to be higher.  My one banty actually roosts on the cross beam on the rafters, about 7' up from the floor.  If you do the board on edge just above the floor, remember to fix it about a foot away from the wall.  And with the flat side up as they cover their feet when they roost so they're warmer.
The hens will also do their most pooping while they are roosting, so if they're just in the straw, they'll be sitting in poo all night long.  If they have damp poo sticking to their butt feathers, you could end up with dirty eggs (if they lay early in the morning).  If it was me, I'd plan on some kind of roost, even if it was really low. 
Even with a dirt floor, you're going to want something in there for litter, so you can clean it periodically.
I gotta ask... why are you planning on your coop being only 3' tall?  It sounds like you want to keep the overall footprint small.  I like the little A Frames they have in a lot of chicken tractors.  If it doesn't get so cold that they'd have to be locked up for days, that might be an option.
We built ours to hold 12 (with the 4 sq. ft. minimum per bird), but only started w/ 8.  Like I said, it's sure not too big.  If you think you might add birds in the future, you could build a little bigger, or plan on being able to add an addition (a west wing?  :lol
 
                            
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The more I think about this, the more I'm inclined that most hens would rather roost up on something.  My chicks started roosting on top of the feeder when they were tiny. I know there are hens that don't care about roosting.  I have one molting hen that recently started sleeping in the nesting box.  I think she got cold, she's half naked now.  AND of course, there's poo in the nest box now.
One nesting box would probably be fine for 4 hens.  I have a friend with 22 hens and she said it's not uncommon to find 12 to 14 eggs in one box.
 
                            
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Oops, forgot to add this - The neighbor that did the little coop on stilts that lifted up the roof section to get his eggs?  He had two areas, just 2x4's to hold straw for the nesting boxes on that side of the coop.  He has one hen that refuses to use the 'box' and she lays on the opposite side of the coop.  He has to kind of jump up and lay across the coop to reach for that one egg. 

They tend to do whatever they want. 
 
Rob Sigg
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Good feedback. A friend of mine who teaches Permaculture told me that in her experience it is better to give them what they naturally do which is roost, less behavioral problems that way. I think I will put one about 6 inches or so off the ground at this point. As for the deep litter, my plan is to move the entire coop and run down to another section so I can “clean” underneath the coop. I plan to do this every few weeks or sooner depending on how much they litter.

As for the small size, there are a few reasons.
1. I need to be able to move it by myself easily
2. we are in a windy area and I cant have it be top heavy, so lower center of gravity.
3. If I plan on getting more in the future I will add another system like this so I can introduce a new group of ladies without mixing them
4. cost is definitely a motivator as well, I want it to look nice so I have to spend more for the roofing and siding material. I don’t want to spend over $100 for this. I have 2 x4 and plywood already just need the additional supplies.

Nesting boxes will be tricky for me since I plan on having 4-6 birds in one coop, do you think 1 box would still be ok? If it is then I wont have any design issues, if I need 2 then I need to rethink things a bit. Ive heard the same thing from others who say that they only ever use one box, and if one of them decides to sit on the eggs all the time then production will go down.

 
                            
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Boy, I hear ya on the wind!  Currently 30 mph here, agh... So you're planning on something more like a chicken tractor?  I sure would consider a little A Frame then -  less materials.  I just tried to copy/paste an image and it didn't work.  I'm so technically challenged.  Anyway, if you go to Google Images and search for 'A Frame chicken tractors', you'll see some nifty ideas.  Lucky hens, fresh grass and bugs.  For 6 hens, you'll need a minimum of 24 sq. ft. besides the area needed for feed, water and nesting boxes.  Sorry to keep harping on that, but I'm sure you don't want them packed like sardines in the coop when it's cold.
You could do a hanging bucket type feeder in the run and then remove it before you move the tractor.  Or perhaps a narrow channel against the wall as long as they aren't going to bonk their heads trying to eat?  Keeping chow and water up off the floor a bit really helps - less waste and stays cleaner.

I love doing stuff on the cheap!  A good 3" round branch can be made into a roost.  Lots of things can be nesting boxes - milk crates, those yellow plastic cat litter buckets (just cut off the biggest part of the red lid), etc.  Just remember that they need a bit of a ledge to stand on in front of the box so they can walk into it.  You'll also want a bit of a ledge to help keep your straw, dry grass, whatever your nesting material is. For 6 hens, you probably better allow for 2 boxes, just in case.  Maybe stack them as some hens prefer nesting on the floor.
If you have one that is broody (sitting on the eggs wanting to hatch them) your best course of action is to remove her from the coop and put her in a different location.  I tried everything else, but this worked out the best.
 
Rob Sigg
Posts: 715
Location: PA-Zone 6
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Good feedback. Since I have 4x8 sheets of plywood maybe I will go ahead and make it 4ft high, 8 ft long and 4 ft wide. Ill shoot for 2 nesting boxes and a watering/feeding area. I got to thinking today and I think I can attach a “greenhouse” type facing to this so I can grow greens in the winter and have them be heated by the chickens, and at the same time keeping the sun coming through for chickens. The coop will be sitting under a 4 foot overhang with southern exposure and our house to the north side blocking the cold winds. East side is blocked by our sunroom and west side is blocked by woods and housing.


Im not necessarily looking to do a chicken tractor, but the run will be detachable to at least let them change locations daily if needed. It is a tractor in the sense that I plan on moving it down along the house to keep it clean and provide organic material. Hopefully my pictures will be helpful in visualizing it.
 
Karl Teceno
Posts: 91
Location: Portland Maine
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I live in the city of Portland Maine where you are allowed to keep a maximum of 6 hens (no roosters even though we ended up with one!) for the yearly fee of $25.
I have a chicken tractor of sorts with an arched roof of Sun Lite glazing material. I insulated it with 3/4" Thermax. It has removalable wheels so I can move it around. It has two laying boxes that they share. They have a perch running pretty much the length of the thing about 12" off the floor. Thers's a trap door with a ramp that goes down to the lower caged level.
With no heat but their body heat, the water inside stays unfrozen down to about 14-15 degrees. I think my wife has some pictures that I wiil post if not I will take a few and post them.

Karl


 
Karl Teceno
Posts: 91
Location: Portland Maine
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Rob

I did find some pictures of the coop/trator that my wife had taken. It is 6'6" long, 44' at the base, 34" at the upper floor and 24" at the top where the arch terminates. It was 18 degrees this morning and their water wasn't frozen.

Karl
coop3.JPG
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coop8.JPG
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Karl Teceno
Posts: 91
Location: Portland Maine
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more pics
coop.JPG
[Thumbnail for coop.JPG]
coop1.JPG
[Thumbnail for coop1.JPG]
 
Karl Teceno
Posts: 91
Location: Portland Maine
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some more
coop2.JPG
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coop4.JPG
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