We've been raising meat chickens for a few years now and each year we've learned a few things to add to our list of disasters and a few to add to our triumphs.
Let me explain how we started. A few years ago when we lived in the city we built the worlds most expensive chicken coop. You can read about it here. In many ways it was fabulous - for 6 chickens. When you get a few more - like 50 meat birds - it won't do at all.
Every summer that we've had chickens at the farm they've been in different pens. We would solve one problem by making a change the next year only to create more problems we didn't anticipate. The first year we used the only pen we had available in the barn but it was a little small for the 60 chickens that lived in it. We figured they would be outside most of the time anyway and it WOULD BE FINE. Leaving the feed in their pen at all times was also a mistake as it caused them to grow too fast. We didn't get the chicks until September which meant they needed 8 weeks to grow to full size which also meant we were getting into wintery weather by the time they left. Oh dear - can you say chicken poop? They were the laziest chickens you ever saw. They hated going outside even though we chased them outside every day. They just sat and got fat and pooped. End of story. By the time they were ready for the butcher we were REALLY happy to get rid of them because the coop was impossible to keep clean. Without enough exercise and with too much food they got so big they had leg problems too so we lost a few birds in the process.
Fast forward to the next spring when we had the great idea to build them a huge pen. You can read about that here. It was such a good idea except now we couldn't get them to gain weight because they got TOO MUCH exercise. They didn't have any leg problems though!. After a few extra weeks of feed before we brought them to the butcher we ended up with really yummy but rather scrawny birds. Sigh* I don't think we got close to breaking even when we sold them that year.
So - lets try that again!!! We recently purchased an old dog kennel through Kijiji - it's 5x15 feet and made of chain link with a good sturdy door. We know from our past coops that Overkilled Fort Knox is the way to go. There can be NO WAY for animals to get in or reach in.
We started by wiring the chain link fencing on far more securely than it was originally - we wanted to keep a dog (and others) OUT! We used two 4 foot pieces of hardware cloth on the ground and zip ties to connect them together - slightly overlapping the pieces. This provides a strong bottom so predator animals can't dig under the coop.
Then we wrapped the top edge of the kennel with 3 foot wide hardware cloth - attaching it with zip ties as well. The bottom section is a full sheet of lattice. It covers the hardware cloth on the top and is connected with zip ties again to the frame and the hardware cloth that makes up the floor. The roof is plywood sheets cut to fit so there is a 6 inch overhang ( 4 sheets cut to 6 feet each - the roof is 6 feet wide and 16 feet long) We cut an old tarp to size and stapled it on top. We were going to have the tarp overhang and peg it to the ground but it made the interior too dark. It took some creative cutting to fill in all the little spaces around the door to create a tight fit but with enough space that we could still open the door.
After adding shavings and a waterer we had to solve the problem of feeding 50 starving chickens at once without them killing each other in the process. They get pretty excited when they're hungry. We have multiple feeders but they never seemed enough. I solved the problem by purchasing a new 10 foot eaves trough with ends and screwed some 1 foot pieces of an old 2x4 across the bottom to act as feet - I used four pieces. When it's situated in the middle of the coop the chickens can access it from both sides and finally there is room for everyone to eat.
The coop is bright and airy and doesn't smell bad at all...of course I am not really an expert on that subject! There is great air flow, plenty of space but not too much space and it's a safe place for them to spend the night. We also built the coop within sight of the kitchen window so I can keep an eye on them.
In past years we let them free range as far as they wanted to - but sometimes they didn't come back. Our losses were just too great so this year they are kept in a large fenced area. They still have access to plants and bugs and sunshine but they don't disappear as someones lunch! So far this year we haven't lost any birds to predators.
We also situated the coop in the shade of several large trees. Meatie birds are not that smart and sometimes when it's really hot they will lay in the sun and die of dehydration before they get up and get a drink.
|The rake in the picture is my Chicken Encourager - I use it to gently encourage the chickens to leave the coop!|
The fencing we used is something we've also used to fence our vegetable garden. The material is a plastic mesh that comes in 50 foot rolls for less than $15.00. The posts are a little pricey but since they can be easily moved and re-used we thought it was worth it. You may be wondering why the fence is so short - it's only two feet tall. The fencing comes in three foot height as well but the due to a problem in the pricing for the fence posts it was more economical to buy the two foot fencing instead. We've found that our meat birds grow so fast that they don't fly very well. Occasionally one gets out but they never go far and the fence is more to contain them than to keep them safe from predators.
This coop is not going to be used in the winter - it's a little too airy for subzero temperatures but it could be modified in a pinch. Necessity is the Mother of Invention they say! If you can get a good deal on a kennel and shop around or use what you have already have you can make a similar coop and have the fencing like this for under $450.00. If all goes well it should pay for itself this summer and last for many years.
The chickens seem to like their new digs and are growing well! Three tries and I think we got it right!!