Monday, August 18, 2014

My Gingerbread House Chicken Coop - Another Upcycling Project

My family had been renting the century-old farmhouse on a beautiful horse farm (partially pictured in the header) since June of 2012. We were able to live there for a song because the place was on the market and we could be asked to move at any time. Sadly it sold in the winter of 2014 and we were given until spring to move.

After hunting high and low, and learning my husband was being transferred to a different part of the state for his job, we found a beautiful little property with a very well maintained 1973 single wide trailer on it. We bought it just for the sexy single wide! OK - not really, but we do have PLANS, my friend!

Picture was taken in March '14 before there were leaves on the trees.

Let me give you a little background on my family. Yeah - go ahead and file this under the TMI heading, and feel free to skip ahead to the coop photos and info if you like. I won't mind one bit!

Back in 2006 we were living north of Dallas, TX in a nice subdivision by a lake. We had a nice 4 bedroom house, two kids born 8 years apart (because not all girls can just pop them out like gumballs), both my husband and I worked outside the home full-time and all that jazz. Just when everything was going like we thought it was supposed to go, we got a little bit of a surprise. After all we had to go through to get the first 2 kids, number 3 was on her way with no prior planning! At 37 I wouldn't have called myself "old" per se, but when it came to going broody, I was no spring chicken!

Our youngest came 10 weeks early and in possession of an extra chromosome... (Down syndrome). Her biggest health hurtles were related to her early arrival. Born at the beginning of August, 2006, she didn't come home until November of that year.

As a result of an underdeveloped esophagus, she was given a semi-permanent feeding tube (G-tube). Funny thing, but you can't just throw a kid like that into a daycare center, but to hire a nurse would have cost us $25 per hour... so basically keeping my day job was out. Well - those pesky medical bills can really stick it to a family - even a family with good medical insurance. Co-pays, out-of-network doctor expenses, a ride from one hospital to another in a fancy NICU equipped ambulance... it all added up to a price we just couldn't quite cover. We lost our cute suburban house and the life we knew.

But we had really wanted to move back to Virginia, so while it may have seemed like a bad thing at the time, it opened up some doors. AND we got the sweetest, most adorable kiddo in the world!

 Yeah - that's my girl today! SO worth it!!!

Since then we've been rebuilding. Needless to say our credit was shot, so we had been renting... until now! Our property may be small, but it may be the most beautiful 2.7 acres we've seen! And the house ain't much, but it's ours!

What all this means is that we aren't the kind of people who can just drop a couple thousand dollars on a new coop. But never fear! The property came with THIS!


Even more exciting, this aesthetically noxious, junky shed was filled to the gills with more junk! But if you know me, you know that every negative is really just a well-hidden positive. Among the junk we found lots of nice, usable wood.

We started by cleaning it out. Then the exterior really needed some help! The plan was to make the exterior perimeter of the building completely predator proof. We shored up rotted pieces of wood, put hardware cloth over all the openings in the eves and checked every inch for holes.  We went to our local home and garden store and found a 5 gallon bucket of poop-brown "oops" paint made specifically for rotted wood exteriors! Totally stole it for about $25! And you can see why someone else returned it! LOL!

The only drawback was that the finished product looked like... um... poop. So I did some brain storming to figure out how to de-poopify my future coop. I breed Swedish Flower Hens... soooooo... this is what I came up with:

(From yuck to Yum!)

Every chicken keeper has different interests, focuses and needs. For me, the ability to put breeding groups together and keep them separate from the other breeding groups for progeny testing is a biggie. The coop is 10' wide and 14' deep. You should have seem my husband's eyes roll when I drew out what I wanted. Picky much?

There has been some interest in my stacking nest boxes. These plastic storage containers are available at Walmart in the Home section (near all the Rubbermaid tubs and not too far from ironing boards). I got mine for $4.95 each. Only thing is that you do have to affix them to something for stability. I tied string through the mesh, but one could easily hang these on screws screwed into in a wood wall.

We had to build as money allowed. First we worked on the left side, constructing three 4'6"' deep x 4'9ish" wide. These are my primary pens so they have to be a bit larger. At 4'6" deep, they come almost to the center of the building.

We used cheap plastic mesh fencing  for the interior pens. As I stated before, the exterior of the building is predator proof. Once locked up at night, it's really secure! The pens only need to be strong enough to contain the chickens... and the plastic mesh does the trick nicely. It also allows for good airflow.

We used tons of scrap wood and purchased very little. The perches are natural branches we trimmed off some of the many pines on our property. The chicken doors are sliders - plywood doors (yes - scrap) with scrap pieces of wood as runners. Each door is raised and lowered by a pulley system and I can do this from the interior aisle outside each pen. (You can see the rope going up from the center of the two doors above.)

Scrap wood used for the runners on the chicken doors.

Next came the outdoor runs. We had to buy most of the wood for this part as we needed treated lumber so it won't rot too fast in the elements. It's hard to see them, but there are partitions between each of the 3 runs. We hope to put a roof on at some point, but for now it will have to wait.

The center run with some boredom busters added.

Now - because my birds are locked up inside the coop at night, the outdoor runs only have to be daytime-predator-proof. Our biggest daytime predators around here are neighborhood dogs and hawks. The 2" x 4" welded wire around the runs will keep dogs out (it's buried about 12" down in the dirt all around the perimeter.) No - it won't keep a weasel out, but I haven't seen any of those out during the day... and I'm at home most of the time. Hawks generally won't fly into a narrow space... but I've got my eyes out for threats!

 Next we used a shelf that was already in the structure and made a brooder on top and a grow-out pen on the bottom. That sexy wood paneling that helps keep the bedding in place came with the rest of the junk on the property. We have matching pieces on the walls of our living room.

Then came the 3 pens on the right side:

But we had a little bit of a conundrum. I'm only 5'0" tall and the brooder is kind of high up. We placed the door in the center so that when I am standing on a stool, I can reach into all corners of it... but that takes away space from another pen... or does it?

 Dual purpose build out of scrap wood - it is both a stool for me to stand on AND a nest box! We did have to buy a piano hinge for this.

You can see in the below picture that the scrap wood is warped... but the chickens haven't complained yet! This tiny pen is perfect for my 4 Silkies. It looks tiny, but considering they all pile into a single nest box each night, it seems to be just enough.

View of the new pens from the brooder:

Of course with limited space in the aisle, I needed a creative way to store my bedding fork and broom.

Luckily for us some folks who rented our property before we bought it had horses!

With the pens on the right side finished, we needed to create some runs... but unfortunately we were out of scraps and money. Such is life. Luckily the sale of some eggs yielded just enough to get a roll of chicken wire and a few T-posts. I also had one 12' section of 2" x 4" welded wire left over. It's a bit patchwork, but hey!

NO - I do NOT recommend this kind of setup for your runs. This is a temporary solution. It is not particularly dog or predator proof. Since I'm at home most of the time, I monitor what is going on in my yard, so for me this is enough for a short-term solution. Once we can afford it (it could be a while - LOL) we'll replace this setup with well-built runs.

As a big fan of upcycling, I couldn't resist these chick-friendly ramps with attached grips. (The fan these came from died a slow, noisy death at the age of 13... )

Yard sales are like Disney for me. I got these cute little accent pieces for .25¢ each!

 These little chalk boards are great for keeping track of who lives where! You can make your own by getting lightweight, unfinished wood sign at your local craft store and painting them with a few coats of chalk board paint!

So that's how the Swedish Gingerbread Coop came to be!
(Oh - do you see it? We scored a torn up marine tarp for free! It makes the perfect shade and hawk-deterrent for the larger pens!)

And if I can do it... you shouldn't be afraid to try!


Have you seen my last upcycled mobile coop project? If not, check it out HERE.


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  1. Leigh you guys did an AWESOME job. As a fellow lover of repurposing anything & everything I love all the ideas you came up with. And what a great way to turn a yucky brown into something beautiful !!!!

    1. Thank you, Jennifer! My husband thought I was nuts when I came up with the idea, but he agrees that it turned out really well. It really gives it some personality. :-)

  2. Lovely story, lovely family. You've done wonderful work with your coop and runs, it's amazing what hard work and ingenuity can achieve! Wishing you well with your future projects, looking forward to reading more about them in the future.

  3. Leigh, Wonderful! And I have to comment on how beautiful your daughter is! Thanks so much for your story on the chicken coop, too.. It's turn a problem into the solution, and you've done that in so many ways. I'm particularly interested in your Swedish Flower hens - as I'd like to raise some myself - and the luxurious accommodations you've managed to build for your chickens out of practically nothing. I am starting out for the first time with heritage white Chantecler and Icelandic chickens, after my original chickens have aged into retirement. I want to breed these rare birds and add a couple of other rare breeds, such as the Swedish Flower Hen, Cream Legbars, and American Bresse, and need to build them separate accommodations for breeding time. So your post is very inspiring. Thanks!

  4. Wow. What a great inspiring story. It's nice to see someone using what they have and turning it into something useful and cute to boot. Good luck with your future plans.

  5. Your girl is a cutie! I pray your little family is profoundly blessed.


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