My daughter's 4th grade class hatched chicks from eggs. Over the course of the 2016/2017 school year, they studied the various aspects of the anatomy of the egg, the fertilization process, and the hatching process. They tended to their needs like food, water, and warmth. At the end of the school year she and a few others got to take one home. My wife decided to add another baby chick for a total of two. They were in my daughter's room for a few weeks. It became apparent that they would need an outdoor coop soon. Everybody and their dog seem to be building their own personalized coop. I figured, how hard would it be to build my own, really.
It took me over a week of on and off searching for coop plans. There are hundreds out there, some free, some at a price, some palatial, some shanti, some permanent, and some mobile. I settled on one from SSL Family Dad. It wasn't too large for the location I had in mind, and it would allows us to add more chickens if we wanted. From the outset, his plan was pretty good. With a couple of trips to the hardware store, I had what I thought was most of the frame material. The cost for this was probably shy of $200. As I started the build, the dimensions outlined in the plan didn't match up with my actual physical frame. It turned out that my 2x4's were larger than his. In addition, the plan didn't state the thickness of the OSB nor the length of the screws (I don't have a nailer). Apparently exterior screws are not cheap. I also didn't realize until much later that the base frame probably should have been built with pressure treated wood. All of these little twists and turns weren't really bothersome if it wasn't for the weather. The coop frame took close to 1.5 months of weeknight and weekend work in 90° to 100° temps. At the end of these build days I was totally exhausted, grumpy, and hungry and questioning why we have chicks in the first place.
After maybe 3 or 4 more trips to the store and hundreds of dollars later, I finally had raised a frame and laid the roof and attached the wall exterior. I tried to take the cheap way out and use fence boards for the wall exterior. Who knew after a few days they would dry out and shrink up to 1/2". Because big gaps are an issue the internal temperature, rain, and predators, I re-positioned all the boards. For the roof, I used Ondura. I learned that an accidental hammer miss can put a pretty good hole in it. This meant another trip to the hardware store for a tube of silicon.
I got to the point where I could actually start creating doors. One large door. One clean-out door. One pop door. One nesting lid. And one nesting box drop wall for easy cleaning. I guess hinges are pretty finicky. They need to aligned nearly dead on lest it torque when the door opens. Screws truly need to be flushed if the door is to close fully. And they need to be screwed into pretty solid wood otherwise the screw will just tear right out. Screwing into cheap fence boards just doesn't cut it.
After nice snug fitting doors, it was time to stain with something that will protect the coop for years. I didn't realize that the stain would swell all of the wood, particularly the fence boards. I had to readjust and refit the doors so that I could open and close them again.
I finally get to the point where I could start building the chicken run. Searching for "chicken run" was no help. And after weeks of laboriously building the coop, I wasn't looking forward to digging post holes. After searching for the easiest and cheapest way to build a fence, I found T-posts. This time, instead of heading to the hardware store, I made my way to the tractor and farm supply store. Fortunately, T-posts and poultry wire are common farm items. Their prices were the cheapest around, though it still was shy of $100. After ear piercing pounding of the T-post driver and meticulous wire winding to hold up the poultry wire, I found that I now needed a gate. But because I didn't use typical 4x4 wooden posts, I had to find a way to get a gate to work with T-posts. Luckily, somebody makes a T-post gate hinge! And, I was able to find it on a whim at another hardware store. The only hiccup is that the hinge needed a hinge strap that fit the hinge bolt. I was able to find one that just barely too small. I figured I'd buy them and drill out a bigger hole. Big mistake. The hinge strap hole where the bolt fits into was not perfectly round. When I tried boring a bigger hole with my drill press, the drill bit caught in hole and snapped the entire chuck off the press. I then tried to bore out the hole with my hand drill, but the bit caught again twisting the drill nearly breaking my wrist. I just gave up and created a hinge strap out of a length of 2"x2" wood.
It has been a few weeks now since I finished the build, and I'm not really finished. Although the structure is complete, there are many other smaller things that need to be built to make life easier when raising chickens. I've recently added a window, I guess because it is an important that light be available for egg laying. I built an automated water system using chicken nipples. Unfortunately, they never saw them so they never got used. Just last night I changed them to chicken cups. We'll see if that'll work instead. Chickens like to roost, so I added some round stock where they could do this. Because I want the perches to be removable during cleaning, I didn't nail them down. But because they are round, when they got on them they looked like lumberjacks spinning on a log in the river. I found a way to put stops in place to keep them from spinning while still allowing it to be removable. Some of the other things I still need to build is an automated pop door, because we keep forgetting to let the chickens out and put them back in. I also need to complete the nesting boxes, which is the whole point of having the chickens in the first place.
I learned so much going through this entire process. It was financially expensive and physically exhausting and mentally challenging and frustrating. In the end, though, it has been very rewarding. Building something that is completely foreign to what I'm used to for reasons that are just as foreign, chicken raising, and completing it and seeing the chickens enjoy it and my family enjoy the chickens, was all worth the effort.