This is Part Three in my series on getting chickens. Here are links to previous installments:
As I’d mentioned earlier, level space on this property is nearly non-existent, and so we chose the only ideal place that would not have required a major tree-felling venture. It is a spot a bit north of our shop that is flat, not too out-of-level, and had only one sapling and the usual ferns, holly, and underbrush growing in it. After the rookie clearing and grading attempt I made with the borrowed tractor, we were ready to figure out the plan.
The layout is what I’ll call a rough “delta” shape. It is bound on its three sides by: our second driveway, the property line with the neighbors, and the bottom of the small slope by the shop. I’ve not measured it but in using the old ”shipwright eye” I’m saying that each side is roughly thirty five to forty feet long. For simplicity, at thirty-five feet sides a triangle of that size equals about 612-square-feet.
We decided we’d call this outer perimeter the “free range area”, though one of my usual ‘well actually’ trolls pointed out that if I plan on fencing it, how can I call it that? What evz, dude. And since this little compound now resembles Stalag 17 from the movie “Chicken Run”, I’ll call it the yard for the purpose of this article.
The yard is fenced with wood posts and welded wire fencing. This is a theme I’d started on the backyard project years ago. As mentioned in Post One, the chickens were originally going in that area; but I’d acquired a hundred of these posts for a good price, and had many to use. It is a straight shot to the shop door up that little slope. Rather than put in traditional framed and filled steps on that little hill, I will go back later in summer and carve in a small set of steps with scraps of the 4” posts, similar to what one would find here and there on a hiking trail.
But it gets wet and slick here in the three gray seasons, so we opted for the expense of two gates in this project. The other comes off the driveway, which is a longer walk from the shop area due to its curve. I keep referencing the shop, as this is where we’ll supply water and electricity from, and where we will be storing feed and shavings. The hill-shop gate is also offset into the yard about four feet, to allow a little bit of level ground to get footing before needing to open a gate.
We planned on building the main hub right in the middle, so when we’d buried some old chain-link fence under the center, we marked the corners with some yellow tape to make it easy to find. But we’ve heard from many (or read their Facebook posts) folks in this area who have lost chickens to coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, and even hawks and eagles. My wife and I decided we were going to give predator proofing our very best shot.
It’s no secret that I work at that big, red, farm-supply chain a couple of days a week. And with all due respect, those little flimsy huts they sell as coops and hutches won’t stand up to one good winter here. They’re garbage, and more importantly, they’re garbage that can’t be easily repaired once something has landed on them. We’re just a few miles from Hood Canal and get snow in dumps, unlike most of Western Washington. Our coop and run are positioned as “in-the-middle” of the area as we can. It is a trade off choice: take volumes of snow on top? Or build it under some branches, which will break and fall on it? We chose the open area.
I plan on detailing the coop build in the next article, so I’ll just gloss over it here. We’ve made it easy for ergonomic cleaning, and our nesting boxes “roll” the eggs out of reach of the chickens. It is made of lumber and plywood with a metal roof, and will be getting gutters and rain collection in the coming week or two. It uses an automatic door to let the girls and boys out into an abutted cage, called a “poultry pen”. With my employee discount, the pre-fabbed cage was less than 600 bucks.
We call this pen the run. It, too, will be getting a metal roof this week. The idea is to give them an outside area that is still resistant to our lighter drizzle. I’ve added some legs to it, not just for roosts, but for load bearing—but I’ll detail that a bit more two articles down the road. The coop is four-by-eight-feet, and the run is twice that. We’ve also been adding hardware cloth all over and gaps and at the bottoms where critters will try to dig. This certainly won’t rat-proof anything, but again, anything larger will have to bring in a box of Acme T-N-T to get to the kids.
I’ll be spreading this series out along with some others over the course of summer. You can expect Part Four (The Coop Build) on July 14th. Thanks for coming along!