Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Making Way For School Chickens

Over the years, we've learned a lot about being city farmers, urban homesteaders. We've housed chickens in everything from the trunk of our mini-van to a picnic table. We graduated to a beast we called the shark cage, and finally, last spring we completed a real wonder of a chicken coop and run, a Shangri-la, secure, pretty, practical, and built to match all the challenges we've faced in keeping backyard chickens. Now, we are happy to share some of what we've learned by helping to refurbish a chicken coop for a school farm. Most of the labor has come from William and Geoff, over three Sundays, with some initial help from Max, too. They figure they have another Sunday ahead of them for completion.


My job has been to redirect the design and details of the coop, so that it will function at its best for safe and happy hens. Our first couple of visits were mostly about making supply lists, and troubleshooting gaps, loose sections, chicken wire: its name is misleading, and for the health and safety of your flock, you're going to want something with smaller openings, and stronger. We pulled out all of the chicken wire, and I ordered 20' of 1" X 1/2" X 48" welded hardware cloth. It's going to keep out mice and weasels, and resist the strong and determined antics of raccoons.

Two more areas of concern were this roof, and gaps in the doors and eaves. When you are keeping birds, you can't tolerate any open spaces… rats can slip through an opening the size of a quarter. Mice, rats, weasels… those critters will ruin food, contaminate bedding, and kill birds. William and Geoff re-trimmed the doors to erase the gaps, and they built extensions on both ends of the roof, which closed gaps, and created overhangs for shade. I think the before photo shows, too, how weak chicken wire can be… it's easy to stretch and pull into place, but this means predators can stretch and pull the wire out of place, and they will do this easily for a taste of chicken.

After building the barn, and the chicken-goat-bunny run, William is not only a capable carpenter, but enthused, too. He looks forward to these work days, and enjoys improving his skills.

And we've enjoyed the company of really marvelous people, two church groups with great enthusiasm, friends Mim and Chaz and Camille, and Maria won't miss the chance to play with Adin and the neighborhood children who come by. It's inspiring to be around people who want to build something, who invest in communities. Their energy is tangible and feels uplifting, good.

Off with the old roof paper, and up go the roof extensions!

Besides pulling down chicken wire, and pulling up weeds, I am a good one to send on errands, like buying roof edging, procuring welded hardware cloth.

10' L-shaped, white painted roof edging… nice details, good finish.

Other details will include repainting outside, whitewashing inside, new hardware, and a lot of caulking. Caulking around the roof screws, and inside caulking for gaps and seams, where mites will otherwise hide. It's a good idea to seal nooks and crannies, and the whitewash helps when walls need a thorough scrubbing.

All inside will get a bright, clean coat of paint, and when the coop is in place, the floor wire will be buried with decomposed granite. And for bedding? Pine shavings would be my choice, and that comes from a favorite chicken help resource: HenCam.

The new roof is tin, and will face north. It looks adorable.

Securing the roof, so no Santa Ana winds whip it off.

Working on the hardware cloth installation, with great help from Thomas, his dad, and his sister. The coop looks better and better!

And while we work on the coop, more garden beds are being built, and a gorgeous wash station was installed. This is where I ate my first direct from the garden asparagus. Truly memorable, and delicious!

From the farm to the school lunch tables! It's an honor to be a part of this community.


Janece said...

This is so excellent! Nice work VanValks (and all the additional supportive volunteers)!!

cabinfeverkid said...

Wonderful! We kept chickens when we lived in the mountains, it was so rewarding. The eggs are delicious, and composted chicken manure is great for the garden. Good job.

judy in ky said...

All these marvelous people are just an inspiration to me. So often you have restored my faith in human nature by the things you post here.

warren said...

I need all the hints like this I can get! I am to start about building a coop in the next few days if it EVER STOPS SNOWING HERE! Sorry...anyhow, I have been looking at all sorts of cute coops that probably suck. I need functional because I want fresh eggs more than just pretty!