Friday, May 11, 2012

Dream Coop

We finally did it! We built our dream coop. One of the first things we wanted to do when we started our urban homestead was to start a min-flock of backyard hens. Chickens not only provide a great, healthy protein source, but they also eat pest insects, create new garden beds, and provide nitrogen for the compost pile.

We chose to use plans from The Garden Coop. They are clear and easy to follow, and there are plenty of ways to adapt them to fit your own personality (we added the tree that looks like it's growing through the door and used barn wood salvaged from local tobacco barns and a barn from my childhood home).

The best thing about this design is that it is very easy to maintain, and many problems that could arise with backyard hens can be completely avoided by using solid coop design. The egg door is in front, allowing eggs to be gathered without entering the coop. Hardware cloth is buried around the perimeter to prevent predators from entering, and we use the deep litter method (layering carbon material like wood shavings) to create compost in the coop and run.

One of our favorite adaptations was the addition of hinged doors on each side of the coop. This allows the hens access to a large daytime run area, where they eat all the vegetation and compost in place (more deep litter, and added compost materials for them to scratch around in). We will rotate these daytime grazing areas seasonally, so that the area currently planted in cool season brassicas will be cleared out by the hens in midsummer, and the area they are currently grazing will become the fall garden for leafy greens and cabbages (and will be nice and fertile!).

We have also included dwarf fruit trees in the run areas, so that in the long run, the hens can eat any dropped fruit and deter pests in our mini-orchard. Of course, we don't expect much fruit to spoil-- fruit doesn't last long in the garden when there's a little one around.

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