Updated: Mar 20, 2022
The first official project we set out to for our homestead was chickens, because chickens are the gateway drug in the homesteading world. I picked a spot close enough to our house so that we would not have a long distance to walk to go check for eggs, but far enough that any crowing or clucking wouldn't be keeping us awake at night. First, I ordered chicks from an online hatchery. I ordered them ahead of time because I had a large order of an assortment of breeds, so I knew it would be several months before they would be able to hatch and ship the order. The spot I had chosen was completely covered in yaupon and thorny vines. Konrad had been telling me for a while that he would clear it with a chainsaw for me, but I was getting impatient. One day while he was taking a nap I found his machete and went to town. After several hours of hacking away and pulling down vines I had finally cleared the spot. I gotta be honest, I was (and still am) proud of the work I had put into it. I felt legit, and it was very empowering. - I don't need a man to clear brush, I can do it myself! My arms were so sore for the next few days but it was the kind of soreness where it feels good because you know you gave it your best. I wish I had taken a before picture but the clearing process was a spur of the moment type thing and one doesn't think about pictures in a time like that.
Now that we had a space cleared, we could start building. The only time we had available to build the coop was at nights when we were both home from work. We strung up some Christmas lights so that we could see what we were doing, which made the whole project more fun and more like a date night than a work project! Konrad used a post hole digger to make holes to put the corner columns in and we poured some quick-crete around them to hold them in place.
We then built the floor joists and flooring, framed the walls, and built trusses. We were given free metal roofing from a friend that had excess. Almost all of our materials for the project were found laying around on our property. We had recycled some good beams and siding from an old shed on our property that we were tearing down. I even spent some time pulling old rusty nails out of wood and hammering them straight to use. We added the siding, built doors and framed out some windows. Konrad brought home some doorknobs that had been thrown out from one of his job sites. I wish I could give an accurate price list for the
cost to build a coop like this, but we were blessed to not have to buy much besides some screws, chicken wire, pressure treated wood for the chicken run, and plumbing for the feeding systems. After the exterior was completed and painted we built 8 nesting boxes using off-cuts of plywood, and some roosts out of branches that I gathered from the property.
*Side note: the dogs had learned the "fetch" and "give" commands, so they followed me, I pointed to which branch I wanted and told them to "fetch". Then they carried it to Konrad so he could install them. It was awesome.
I did a lot of research on chicken feeding and watering systems and came to the conclusion that I wanted to build a gravity fed feed station and a rainwater catchment system complete with pecking cups. Chickens are known for dirtying up their feed and water and tipping it over. I also didn't want to have to go out multiple times a day to fill their water. I drew up a rainwater catchment design that had a rain gutter off one side of the roof that poured out into a large trash can. We have a screen covering the trash can to filter out debris. From the trash can, Konrad added plumbing that goes into the chicken run and feeds into little individual cups that fill with water when the chickens peck at it. These have worked great and only were popped off by the chickens a few times at the beginning. Our gravity fed feed system is very simple, it's a trash can that has 3 pvc elbows glued into it at the bottom. This system holds 100lbs of feed and requires the chickens to stick their necks in and down into the hole to get feed (which prevents them from wasting or spilling).
Our chickens really enjoy the coop. We always open it up in the afternoons so they can free range. They always go to the coop to lay and they all file in on their own at night. We have found that we get the most egg production when we have a clean and well ventilated coop, so we clean it out twice a week. Our chickens have never learned to roost only on the roosting bars we have provided, and a couple of them perch themselves above the nesting boxes at night. Since chickens poop when they roost, our nesting boxes get filthy quick. At the beginning we would go out every night and pick up these chickens and set them properly on a roost, hoping they would get the picture but it never registered and
we got lazy. I have read that some people place chicken wire over the nesting boxes in the late afternoon to prevent them from roosting there and then uncover them after all the chickens are properly roosted. Knowing us, we would forget to cover or uncover the nesting boxes and all of that seems like more of a hassle to me than cleaning the coop regularly. I guess that goes to show that sometimes homesteading is just figuring out what works best for your family.