Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Designing the perfect chicken coop

Deep bedding doorEven though our raccoon problem probably stemmed from lax management, the issue still started us thinking about designing the perfect chicken coop.  Mark built both of our coops from odds and ends we had lying around, which means the materials dictated the design.  I highly recommend that method for your first experiments, but after a while you start to see flaws that could be corrected with a more carefully designed coop.  Here are some of the features I envision in an optimal chicken coop:

  • Large door.  Especially if you're using deep bedding, it's handy to have an ultra-wide door, at least large enough for a wheelbarrow with weeds sticking out to fit through, and at least seven feet tall so Mark won't bump his head when the bedding is deep.  I think a barn-type door (two doors that hinge together) would expedite bedding filling and cleanout even more, and a removable lip might be handy to keep bedding from spilling out while still allowing you to run a wheelbarrow all the way inside when bedding is low.
  • External nest boxExternal nest box.  It never really seemed worth our while to provide more than a milk crate on the ground filled with straw for our girls to lay in.  But I suspect Mark (who collects the eggs) would be thrilled to have a raised nest box with a flap opening to the outside so he wouldn't have to enter the coop to harvest the eggs.  This arrangement might also tempt our hens to go broody more, and would probably result in cleaner eggs for incubation.
  • Well-closing popholes.  The little openings that let chickens out into each pasture never quite ended up getting solid doors in our coops.  I tend to lean this and that up against the unused popholes to block them off, but a chicken can get through if she really wants to.  If we were going high-tech, we could put an automatic chicken door on each pophole, but I don't think that's necessary with our usually low predator pressure.
  • Side vent on chicken coopPredator-proof construction.  This would probably entail a concrete footer, solid walls, then windows around the upper edges (since ventilation is essential) screened with hardware cloth.  (It would be pretty funny to provide a foundation for our chicken coop, though, when we live in a trailer that doesn't even have skirting yet.  You can see where my priorities are....)
  • Insulated roof.  In the summer, I think the heat pounding down on the roof of the coop is too extreme, and some insulation would also help our chickens stay warm during winter nights.
  • Other infrastructure.  Of course, we'd include all the usual --- quality perches, a light for winter (which we only use some years), our chicken waterer, and a trough for daily rations.  I'd probably also like to add an automatic feeder for when we go out of town, or to fill with grain to see if Salatin's right that auto-feeding grain lowers the overall feed bill if your chickens are on pasture.

Meanwhile, the perfect coop could use some add-ons outside as well.  A storage area for deep bedding materials would make it much more likely that I'd top off the bedding every day or two rather than waiting a couple of weeks.  An isolation chamber would come in handy to allow a troubled hen to keep away from pecking beaks without really being in solitary confinement (and we could put chickens there the night before butchering days).  I might also like to move food scrap delivery into an attached compost run, so that any ornery raccoons end up there instead of inside the coop.
Chicken coop
Our summer farm chores keep us far too busy to build anything right now, but we're slowly letting coop ideas percolate for whenever coop-replacement day finally comes.  What other innovations do you recommend in the perfect coop?

(As a side note, all of the photos in this post come from other websites.  Click on each one to find more information about the owner's coop.)

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I found your ideas interesting. I had not raised chickens in many years when I built a new hen house on the foundation we had poured 35 years ago and never used. The foundation is at least 12 inches deep. No predators have dug under. It is a three room building. Two rooms for the hens are 10x10 with one room being screened. I don't have a major problem with dogs, coons or other predators that would destroy chicken wire. The room is screened with 2" wire. Had I thought about house sparrows bringing in parasites I would have used 1/2 inch hardware cloth. They get through one inch easily.

I have a feed room where hens are put in isolation when brooding is not desired. It is serves as the brooding area and chick raising area, they free range. If for any reason they can't free range from day one I put them in a children's swimming pool with 8" sides in my garage. A storage building would work. The feed room is only 4 feet wide with a concrete floor. If I were building it for the uses I use it for I would make it 6 feet wide. It has a "hall" (2'x2') running the width to allow the hens to go from one room to the other. I have a board I use to block the hall if I don't want the hens using both rooms. I would recommend some form of this idea as it has worked out extremely well with shelves at different levels on one side and the end above the hall to store unused equipment and tools. I do have electricity to the building with lights in all three rooms. The control center is an extension reset thing used with computers (can't remember the name)which allows me to turn everything off or just turn them off at the lights, use power tools or extension cords to other places in the poultry barns area (duck and goose pen and houses).

I put 4' doors to the outside in all three rooms. It makes it easy to carry in feed, move wheel barrow, etc. I have hung open mesh fabric over all the doors to keep the sparrows from entering when the doors are open. 6" high slits in the bottom of the curtains works wonderfully. The chickens, ducks and geese all learned to use the curtains quickly. The ducks were the hardest to accept they were safe using them. Thankfully one little Welsh Harlequin hen understood and lead the others in and out until they accepted the curtain. Now everyone heads for the hen house to raid their lay crumbles even though they have their own.

The walls and doors of the feed room and enclosed room are made of slabs (the outside bark cut off of logs) which are sturdy and have 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch cracks between them. The enclose room has two always open windows on the south side one at the bottom that the chickens can see out of from the floor and one that the bottom of it is 4 feet up the wall. Both are 4'x2'. The east and west walls have 2'x2' windows with closeable wooden covers which have never been closed. In the early 1900's they found chickens do much better in buildings with lots of fresh air. Mine did very well last winter with them open all the time. We had several nights of 20 degrees below 0 F with a lot of below 0 temperatures. Cold temperatures are not a problem for chickens as they have a very good coat of feathers they raise and lower to create air pockets to hold their body heat as needed. Heat in hot weather is the biggest problem for chickens. You have to keep plenty of water for them and shade so they can stay cool.

Hope my experience has given you information that will help you make the best chicken house for your needs you can manage.

Comment by Mary Thursday evening, August 23rd, 2012

Mary --- Thanks for such a thoughtful rundown on your coop! I think you're right that a multi-room coop makes a lot of sense given brooding/chicks/sick hens/etc.

I'm also very interested in your curtain doors --- any chance you'd take some photos of them in action and email them to me at info@avianaquamiser.com? I suspect a lot of our readers would like to see more!

Comment by anna Tuesday afternoon, August 28th, 2012

The perfect chicken coop is different for everybody. For me, I agree with much of what you want. With my first coop, I made the mistake of making the door too narrow. Otherwise, I really liked it- about 6 feet deep, 7 feet wide, and 7 feet tall. It had a dirt floor, but a pressure treated wooden foundation of 2x12's that I dug into the ground. I never had any problems with animals digging in. I had 1 pop door, and an egg box with 3 nests, and an exterior hatch. No insulation, but the North, East, and West walls were partially made with 1" chicken wire for plenty of ventilation. In Texas, my primary concern is summertime heat, so the wall to the South was solid, to prevent sun shining in. It had 2 rows of roosts, and easily accomodated 16 chickens on a full time basis, and occasionally shared with some meat chickens as well. I sold it last year. When I build a new one, it will be larger, and either on skids, or on wheels, so that it can be moved around our property. Also will be taller, so that I can get in it more easily, and a wider door, for wheel barrow access. Chickens easily handle cold to the lows we get here (down to the teens occasionally), so I have not messed with electricity. When it got cold, I would either change out the waterer every day, to get the ice out, or run an extension cord and put a lamp above it to keep it warm.

My impression,from the several years I had chickens, and the things I have read, is that they want a few things: Safety- secure enclosure, roosts. Privacy- a nice box to lay eggs in, Shelter- wind and rain really hurt them, so a good roof and proper walls. Access- they love to get outside. Clean food and water- that is your bailiwick! How you configure those parameters to meet the demands of your location and your environment is really up to you!

James c

Comment by James C in the wee hours of Wednesday night, August 22nd, 2013

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