Saturday, August 25, 2007

Building a henhouse and chicken coop

I'm an enthusiastic but messy and impatient carpenter. I've built lots of things but they're never exactly straight. In this case, I had a deadline - sort of by accident, I committed myself to picking up three buckeye chicken pullets yesterday in Hurdle Mills, NC at 1:00 in the afternoon. I had also decided to use up all the wood under the house, which has been lying there getting moldy and twisted since 1996 when I built this house. Using miserable old lumber isn't easy. So the wild frenzy of sawing and screwing was worse than usual and my mantra had to be, "the hens won't mind."

Let's say you were me. Pick a spot for the hen house and lay it out. (First mistake: using an eeny weeny compass - the kind you used to get in the bottom of a cereal box - to locate a fully eastern front door. Lay out the four-foot square footprint. (Second mistake: I didn't hammer the stakes in well enough, and used yarn instead of smooth light nylon twine.)

Use your plumb line to locate five holes and dig. (Third mistake: my holes were not very deep because the ground is rocky and we're in the midst of the worst drought in 120 years of recorded history so the ground is very hard - and also, I have tremendous bloody blisters from digging postholes so it was hard to grasp the shovel). It took five forty-pound bags of concrete mix to make these five footings.

Use flowerpots with the bottoms cut off, upside down, to make little piers. You can see from this picture that despite my efforts the piers did not set plumb. Oh well. Chickens don't mind.

Do NOT forget to set bolts into the concrete before it sets! These are not the right post holders, but they're what I had and they worked ok, except I had to drill 1" holes in the bottoms of the 4x4s to accommodate the sticking-up bolt ends.

I designed one wall and built it, with a shed roof (18 degrees). I built the frame and the "clapboards" out of my old lumber cut 3/4" thick. I glued the clapboards to the frame. This is the north wall which I decided would have no windows, for more warmth in winter.

Then I built the south wall, where I intended to have the chicken entrance. However, I didn't know what size a chicken was (I've never really looked at them) so my door was much too small, as Menticia pointed out to me the minute she laid eyes on it. So this will have to be a ventilation window. At tgus point I decided to line the coop and scarfed up all the pieces of leftover linoleum etc. that I could find and hammered them inside my clapboards.

Then build the back (in my case, west) wall. This will be low and under the shed roof overhang to protect it from the blazing western sun in the summer. Hang "nesting boxes" on it. These are about 12' square.

At some point the scavenging, reusing-recycling fanatic has to admit there is something crucial which cannot be found and must be purchased. I needed to buy a piece of treated plywood for the floor. I'm afraid of lifting 4x8 sheets of plywood so made the worst mistake yet - I bought 1/2" plywood, thinking that two layers of it would be as good as one layer of 1" plywood. Maybe they would have been, but I should have glued/screwed them together or something. As it was, they've been a pain.

Menticia was here to help for the next step - screwing the 4x4s into the piers and screwing the floor plywood onto the 4x4s. Sadly but not surprisingly, one of my piers was quite "off" and had to be whacked a bit (?) out of plumb to fit under the house. "The hens won't mind."

I also consoled myself: the builder of my very own house had trouble with the piers and some of them are no more than half under the porch legs. My friend Bob recommends building on temporary, braced 2x4s and AFTERWARDS digging and pouring the piers. This way they are magically perfect. I pass this brand-new, never-been-used advice on to you in mint condition.

We bought a $5 gallon of paint (rejected by some fussy homeowner and therefore on severe discount) and Menticia started painting. She got 1-1/4 walls painted while I sanded the roosts (2 pieces of 1-1/4" yellow pine, the flooring of my house, cut to 2-1/4" wide and rounded off on the upper corners).

That was Friday. Yesterday, chicken pick-up day, I started on the eastern wall, screwing 2x6s into opening. (I also went around the whole bottom and screwed my floppy plywood up into the frame of the house.)

Make a template for your rafters at 18 degrees. Hopefully you have something better than a feeble old saber saw to use to cut the rafter ends. The other ends are simply cut off at 18 degree angle.

By the time I was screwing on the roofing plywood (cut incorrectly at Lowe's but I made do) I was far too desperate to take pictures. It was gratifying to be able to sit on the roof with my screwing project: it was SOLID even if crooked...

Menticia and I bought a cheap roll of vinyl flooring and used it to make a more easily cleanable surface. I plan to put vinyl on the roof too, after I've found the right size screws to finish screwing the roofing plywood together!!

As it turned out, I didn't have time to finish, which caused problems later and will cause problems in the future. To be continued...

... when I have time to post on the arrival of my three Buckeye pullets, chosen from the endangered list at American Livestock Breeds Conservancy based in Pittsboro NC. See a description of buckeye chickens.

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At 8:30 PM, Anonymous susanlynn said...

Wow, Melinama***As I've stated before, you are a true Rennaissance woman. Even though I grew up on a farm, I have never built a henhouse. The one we had was built long before I was born. That description made me tired and gave me a blister just reading it !! So , what's the latest on the donkey search ?

At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great fun reading your blog, we've only recently thought about ex bat hens and have no idea how to care for or house them so this was great and relevent for us. Hubby is no more a builder than i am but we'll 'ave a go! thanks...
love dede x

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous chicken coop hen house said...

The chickens will say home sweet home.


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