52 Homesteading Skills in One Year: Project #15: Cow stall to chicken coop – Converting an existing structure into a home for our flock
Sundown. June. 2013.
I grabbed my flashlight in a panic and ran outside. It was dark and I had yet to do the nightly chicken round up.
I know what you’re thinking. Don’t chickens march all by themselves into their coop at night?
That is what they are supposed to do. Unfortunately, not all of our chickens could agree on this simple protocol. Some of our very special chickens decided one night that it would be much more fun to sleep high up in the trees and then have a good clucking laugh as they watched me try and capture them all in my pajamas. Oh the fun we had with our former chickens who refused to roost in their coop.
I don’t know if this stuff happens to real farmers who know better than to let chickens “free range” or who at least know to clip their chicken’s wings so they can’t get up to such silly antics, but at the time I thought this was a cruel practice.
Actually, I’d still have a hard time doing this, but at least now I understand why it is done. Chickens can fly – very high. So high that some nights I couldn’t reach my feathered friends who would then become raccoon dinner. Chickens don’t move when they’re sleeping – even if you pick them up – so they are easy prey for any predators who spot them.
Now you are probably wondering why I am recounting this story. A few weeks ago a family of farmers moved next door after their house suffered severe fire damage. They needed a temporary place to keep their donkeys and chickens and we have a barn.
Although our dairy barn (actually two barns spanning a length of 200 feet) is huge, it is not set up for any animals other than cows. So we had to come up with a quick and easy solution to convert an existing stall into a functional and safe home for both the chickens and their two, oh-so-very-cute miniature donkeys.
A million easy steps to convert an existing structure into a chicken coop
One important item that our stalls did not have were roosts. As I illustrated in the above story chickens like to sleep high off the ground.
Surprisingly, the chickens were not fazed by the lack of traditional sleeping arrangements. They took matters into their own chicken feet and roosted along the old feeding troughs. Bonus – the poop goes into the trough making clean-up a little easier.
But if your structure does not have a feeding trough, you can simply install 2x4s or tree branches which, as you may have guessed, are perfectly shaped for bird feet. It is recommended to allow a minimum of 8 inches roosting space per hen.
Our number one concern was not roosts, but predators. Our first attempt at chicken keeping was thwarted by a sneaky ferret who burrowed underneath our coop and squeezed in through a small opening – eventually killing all 30 of our birds. So it goes without saying – we don’t want this to ever happen again.
So the most important task was to extend the walls of our stalls to the ceiling with 2 inch dog pen fencing to deter large predators. We then wrapped the 2 inch wire with 1/4 inch welded wire mesh to prevent smaller predators like rats. Yes, even rats love chicken dinner. As an extra precaution, we also covered the vents with welded wire.
The stall floors are cement so we don’t have to worry about any hungry animals burrowing up through the ground. But if you have a dirt floor, it is suggested to bury wire mesh 12 to 18 inches under the ground.
A huge thank you to our neighbours for suppling the fencing and helping us complete this project. We also have to say sorry to the local raccoons. There won’t be any chicken for you.
Truth be told I don’t know if any animal would actually try to break into the converted coop thanks to the chicken’s BFFs – Rosie and Daisy, the two miniature donkeys who share the same space. Donkeys are natural guard animals who don’t take kindly to intruders – unless, of course, you are human and happen to be holding treats.
If you have ever kept chickens, you know they poop a lot and they will poop anywhere and everywhere. So we’ve covered the cement floor with absorbent pine shavings, which neutralize any nasty odors. Eventually the bedding and other matter will end up in the compost and a new layer added.
Our neighbours came up with a creative and inexpensive method for creating nesting boxes using plastic pails set on their side and filled with a cozy layer of pine shavings.
Traditionally, nesting boxes are built out of wood and secured to the wall in a row like the boxes you see in the picture below. They are 12 square inches and because we had 30 chickens, there are 9 of them. You will need roughly one nesting box per three or four hens.
The nesting boxes can be set wherever you like as long as they are lower than your roosts so the chickens don’t decide to sleep (and poop!) in their nesting boxes. It goes without saying that you want your eggs to be as clean as possible.
Waterers and feeders
Mount your feeders and waterers on the wall or hang them from the ceiling so the chickens don’t accidentally dirty their water and food with bedding.
And that’s it. Just a million easy steps and you will have a cozy home for your flock. Now that our space is all set up, we are so excited to welcome chickens of our own in just a couple months. Do you know what that means? Fresh eggs! And possibly chasing chickens at night in my pajamas.