This winter my husband I decided to start keeping a few laying hens again. My parents had chickens when I was a kid, and I’ve kept them off and on over the years. I think it’s been about 8 years since I’ve kept chickens. It was one of the many things I let go while I was establishing my business. On the list of things I chose to give up for a while were: My dairy goats, chickens, beekeeping, my small greenhouse, the HUGE vegetable garden which easily rivaled my Amish neighbors’, and my papermaking hobby. Now that the business is 9 years old and well established, I have begun to reclaim some of my old interests. About 3 years ago I began gardening again, but on a much smaller (and smarter) scale than before. Now I’m ready for chickens!
When Bart and I moved into this old farmhouse 20 years ago, there were a few outbuildings on the property. One of the buildings was a long, low barn which had been used for small-scale chicken farming. It hadn’t been used in decades and was full of trash and varmints. It took us several years to get it cleaned out, and eventually I converted it to keep my small dairy goat herd.This is a view from the side where there is going to be a large fenced area for the chickens to roam. In years past, I allowed the chickens to roam the property, but they could be a bit destructive in the herb and vegetable garden, so I’m confining them this time.
Around the corner to the right is this door going into the area of the goat barn where our chicken coop is under construction. Because the building is so old, Bart is having to replace some boards and fix a leaky roof. We also decided that, for less than a dozen chickens, we wanted to use a more confined space and make sure that it would be tight against predators. As you can see, I will have a small utility area outside of the coop where I can keep a couple of metal cans for storing feed and a few bales of straw and grass.
Because the coop is exposed to the northeast prevailing winds and weather, we have chosen to add some insulation to the walls. We also decided to create a raised floor with some old pallets, as this end of the barn can become quite wet during the spring and fall rainy seasons. We put down a remnant piece of linoleum to protect the wood floor from decomposition, and to make cleaning a little easier (I found this idea while looking at coop designs at backyardchickens.com). Bart had an old screen door lying around, which he cut down to fit the space. For the sake of summer time ventilation we have decided to enclose the coop with 1/2″ mesh hardware cloth. A determined raccoon can make a mess of chicken wire, so it’s not an option.
I also have plans to hang a shop light fixture with UV bulbs. During the winter months when daylight hours are fewer, the light will be on a timer to provide a few extra hours of light for more consistent egg production. Bart built the nest boxes with a hinged lid for easy access.
He built the door to the pasture so that it can be closed at night against predators, and also during inclement weather. When this room was last used for chickens, the door to the outside was hinged in such a way that high winds would cause it to flap, and snow would drift into the coop.
I’ve chosen to keep Delaware chickens, a heritage breed on the critical endangered list. I found a local breeder who will have some young chickens ready for me within the next couple of weeks. I’ve also located a local source for organic, non-GMO chicken feed, and will supplement the birds’ winter diet with vegetable scraps from my kitchen, whey from cheesemaking, and some sprouted grains. Once the coop is finished and the birds are settled into their new home, I’ll be sure to post an update.