Colorado Backyard Chicken Coop

backyard chicken coopAfter months of planning and thoughtful research, I designed and built my own chicken coop from scratch. I could have bought one of the prefab kits online, but after looking them over and reading reviews, they simply wouldn’t withstand the weather on the Colorado plains. I needed something a lot more sturdy and heavy so it wouldn’t blow away in the 40 mph winds we are frequently subjected to out east.

A lot of thought went into the design. I had to take many things into consideration such as location, orientation, roof pitch, building materials, windows, doors, sunlight and cost. I’ll step through each one of my thoughts and why I implemented the ideas.

From what folks have told me, chicken poop stinks, therefore the coop was placed deep in the backyard away from the house (we have 1/2 acre). The orientation of the coop faces south so that I could get as much of the winter sun as possible shining directly through the windows, which are also on the south facing side. I designed a mono-pitch roof with the low side facing north so the northerly winds would have less surface area as opposed to the less frequently southerly winds. This will hopefully stop it from blowing away, however I don’t think this will be a problem since it weighs a lot.

backyard chicken coopThe chicken door was a pretty easy decision. I couldn’t put it in the southern facing wall, because it would have interfered with the nesting box location. I couldn’t put it on the north side of the coop, because the winter wind would blow straight into the coop. The backside also wouldn’t have worked because that’s where I put the service door to clean the coop. So rather quickly, I decided to put it in the floor of the coop with a small ramp. This way, there would be minimal wind blowing into the coop. In addition, the underside of the coop is caged in with welded wire and serves as a small chicken run.

I tried to keep my costs down, but in reality the coop probably ran over $900. This is more than I wanted to spend, but I know it will last a long time since I built it out of 2×4’s, exterior siding and rolled roofing. The floor of the coop is made of 5/8″ pressure treated plywood. This will give it good strength and prevent it from warping. The coop sits about 3 feet off the ground, supported by 4×6 pressure treated posts. I used regular pine for the studs and the trusses. I used external siding for the walls, as it will last a lot longer than just regular old plywood. It also looks nicer. I put in a roof vent so the humid air can escape out the top. Humidity in the coop is really bad for the chickens. It can actually kill them, so I sacrificed a little warmth for good ventilation. I may add insulation, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. The chickens should remain warm enough as long as they are out of the wind and can huddle together during the cold nights. If we have a really cold night, I can always put a heat lamp in.

backyard chicken coopWe bought baby pullets from Big-R, which come with a 99% chance that they’ll be hens rather than roosters. I do not want a rooster. Too much noise. We had them living in the house for the first 3 weeks under a heat lamp, starting with a 90°F temperature which we reduced by 5°F per week. On the fourth week, we moved them into the coop and they have been there ever since. They are now 7 weeks old. The temperature at night gets down around 55°F but they seem to be doing just fine.

Winter is fast approaching and I’m still mulling over ideas on how to stop the water from freezing. I could simply buy a heated dog bowl, but I’m not too fond of this idea. I could also bring new water out every morning before work, but I’d rather not do that either. I think I’m going to design a heat tape solution, but I need to find PVC piping that is safe for drinking water. I’ve seen a lot of folks use the PCV pipe from Home Depot and Lowes, but that is NOT meant for potable water. Chemicals leach from the plastic and it’s not good for the chickens, or you. Those chemicals will be passed on into the eggs. If you do want to use PVC pipe, you have to make sure it has the markings “NSF pw-G” or “NSF-61”. This will indicate the pipe is safe for potable water, but this stuff is hard to come by. I’ll probably end up buying an emergency water storage tank that is NSF-61 certified, PEX piping and some sort of hamster-type watering dispenser. I’ll then wrap the heat tape around the tank and along the PEX, which should stop it from freezing. I will however use PVC for the food dispenser. I was thinking about 6″ PVC pipe, then reducing it to 2″ pipe that will gravity feed inside the coop and also below to the chicken run. Since the food is dry, I won’t have to worry about leaching issues. I figure the PVC pipe will hold about 1 weeks worth of food. Longer than that during the non-winter months when they can free-range feed throughout our backyard.

backyard chicken coopOur trusty ‘ol Australian Cattle Dog and Shepperd mix hasn’t caused us any issues. We let her sniff the chicks form the very beginning when they were very young and always lets her be around them (supervised). I was very nervous at first because the chicks were tiny and our dog would lick her chops just staring at them. In short time, she learned these are not food and not to be tormented. I now trust her enough to be left alone with the chicks. At times, I think her instincts to herd kicks in, although she just kind of moves them around with no purpose. When she gets bored with that and lays down, the chicks have no problem coming up to her, and she seems to enjoy it (tail starts wagging). I’m hoping her presence will be enough to ward off any predators, likes hawks and foxes, which do live in the area. We also had a pack of coyotes a couple years back, but we haven’t seen them since.

Over the last couple months, I’ve added onto the chicken coop. I built an 8×8 foot (64 square feet) chicken run on the south side in addition to the existing 8×4 foot (32 square feet) run under the coop. The smaller run wasn’t going to be enough when the chickens got bigger (as they are now) and additional space was needed. I read online that each chicken needs to have about 10 square feet of “space”. I don’t exactly know how that number is derived, but they now have plenty of room to run around. This is where I have hung the feeder and the waterer.

The feeder holds about 20 lbs of food, which is enough to last a couple weeks. The waterer hold about 5 gallons and also lasts about 2 weeks. I added 6 feet of heat tape to the waterer, which prevents the water from freezing, but only when it’s greater than 20°F outside. Colder than that, and the bottom freezes.

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