Our Low-budget Chicken Coop

 

After months of work and difficulty getting out to the land in the first place, we have a completed chicken coop for our fifty chickens.  I thought I’d show it off, and explain what we did to keep costs down.

First off, we don’t currently have anything built on our land, but my girlfriend’s family has a farm right next door, and after exploring a few options for putting a low cost coop up on our own land, we took up the offer to use some unused space in a barn they have.  The barn is about 100 years old, and needed a wall built to enclose the area we were being given, but there was an old barn on the property that had been torn down a while back, and the wood from that was used to create the new wall.  It cost a box of screws.  You can see it in the image to the right, behind the nesting boxes.

Next, we built our feeder and waterer, as shown in the pictures below.

The feeder was built out of a 55 gallon plastic drum that we picked up for ten bucks.  We cut a dozen holes around the bottom, and used some 2 inch PVC 90 degree bends to make this (mostly) waste-free feeder.  The total cost on the feeder was about $30 for the drum, pipe pieces, and glue.  It holds four 50 pound bags of chicken feed, which last our chickens a month.

The waterer was built similarly.  We got another 55 gallon plastic drum, washed it out thoroughly, cut the top off so we can use the top as a lid (we wanted an easy way to open it up to clean it when needed), and installed a dozen poultry nipples around the bottom.  One thing we learned is that the nipples are often poorly threaded, so we took them apart and used Teflon tape to better seal them so they don’t leak.  The waterer holds about a week’s worth of water, which we get from the well that sits right outside the door.  We put it on cinderblocks to mount it high enough that the chickens have to reach up for water, and minimizes spillage.

Next, we built some simple roosts.  For some, we took a pallet, cut it in half, and used that as the base for some 1 inch wide wooden bars that we cut out of scrap wood.  The total cost on that was the ten screws we used.  We then put together additional roosting bars around the coop using some more of those 1 inch bars, resting on cinderblocks that we had laying around.

Our chickens were ready, by this point, to head out to the coop.  We brought them in a couple of Rubbermaid totes, and as we pulled them out of the tote one-by-one, we showed them how to drink from the waterer by tapping their beak against it.  Most of them caught on that day, with the few holdouts catching on by the following day.

We still didn’t have a yard or nesting boxes for them yet, but that was okay, as they needed to be confined to the coop for a while anyways.  We started on the yard for the coop by fencing off an area 15 feet by 30 feet.  For this, we didn’t skimp.  We bought a fifty foot roll of chain link fence, and the posts to mount it on, and spent a day pounding posts and then mounting the chain link to it.  For the gate, we lucked out and my girlfriend’s uncle (the owner of the farm) had a spare gate he let us use, and it completed the yard.  The fence cost us about $100 total for the chain link and posts.

There was already a hole in the wall between the coop and the yard, and it had been boarded up to prevent animals from getting in.  We took those boards down and spent a few hours turning that old barn wood into a servicable door and ramp.  We purchased a pair of hinges for it, and a latch to keep the door closed.  The door cost us under $10 to build.

Finally, chickens need nesting boxes.  At this point, we’re only a few weeks away from their first eggs, so it was time to get those done.  For that, we went to a local grocery store and picked up a bunch of plastic vegetable crates, free of charge.  With those, and another pallet, I created the nesting box wall.  To do this, I simply cut the pallet in half, mounted a board on the wall at the same height as the top of pallet to support the nesting boxes, and screwed the veggie boxes to the wall and to the pallets.  The fronts of the veggie boxes were cut off, and filled with straw, and the chickens are happy.  The boxes are up off the floor, which keeps eggs away from smaller predators.  Total cost of nesting boxes was almost nothing, as all we paid for were the screws.

I wanted to post this today because I’ve seen a lot of people posting chicken coops that house a half a dozen chickens, and they buy them store-bought for several hundred dollars.  They give the impression that starting out with chickens costs a lot.  In fact, I see a lot of people talk about how their first egg cost them $500 or more, and I have to laugh because these people spend so much for their tiny backyard flock of 3-6 chickens.  We spent less than that for a coop that will happily handle fifty chickens or more.

I know that not everybody has a neighbor that can loan them space in a barn, but there are so many alternatives to buying a pre-fab coop that anyone can build.  Using pallets is my favorite way of repurposing and saving money.  One of the options we had looked at, for instance, was that a local trailer park was getting rid of an old mobile home that wasn’t fit for human habitation.  They were looking for someone to take it for free, and they’d even haul it to our farm for us at no charge.  If we hadn’t been offered barn space, we’d have used that route, though it would have taken a while to clean out the mobile home and make it fit for the chickens.  But the point it, if you look around, there are so many ways to repurpose things and save money that it boggles the mind.  You just have to look.

 

Raised Bed Garden That Cost Nothing

 

One of the many important things to do when you’re going off-grid is to learn to grow your own food.  I decided to tackle that this year, on top of the chickens we’re already raising, and will be working with a few different ideas here at the house.

First of all, we needed to have a raised garden bed, and it needed to be high enough to not bend over at all.  In our household, we have someone that is ridiculously tall, and has health issues that make it nearly impossible to bend over to do any kind of gardening.  Secondly, I wanted to follow the concept of square foot gardening, which I’ve been reading about in a great book by Mel Bartholomew.  I’ve posted a link below to it if you’d like to check it out.

My idea was to use pallets and build the raised bed with those.  First, I connected them all together in this 1 pallet by 3 pallet rectangle.  Yes, I know I should have found ones that match better, but these work.  Once I had the walls put together, I stapled old chicken feed bags to the inside.  This will hold the soil and compost material in.  I’m aware that they’ll break down over several years, but that’s okay for now.

With that work done, at a cost of absolutely nothing (free pallets, and we had the feed bags already from feeding our chickens), it is now time for me to fill the box.  It was suggested to me that I build a tray on top and fill that with soil to grow in, but I decided to fill the box from bottom to top with compostable material.  We have lots of it, after all.

I started with a pile of tree branches I had that was going to be headed to the dump.  Instead, it’ll be a slowly decaying base that will take several years to fully compost.  On top of that, I have my dead leaves.  We had a yard full of them, and they filled the box nicely to the halfway mark.

I have a lot of yard cleanup to do as well, so I’ve been taking all the weeds and vines I’ve been pulling out, and throwing those in as well.  They’ll compost well and give the soil a lot of nutrients.  By burying them deeply, I’ll ensure the weeds don’t pop through into my growing area.

This is where I am so far with this build.  From here, I’ll be topping up the bio-mass, and then adding soil that we’re going to pull from our land north of town.  It’ll cost a bit of gas and the time it takes to shovel into the back of the truck.  Within a few weeks, we should be able to start growing our first vegetables.

As I mentioned above, I plan on using the square foot gardening method.  While the book recommends using a 4 foot by 4 foot growing area, I decided to use a 2 foot by 12 foot area instead.  This gives me 8 extra square feet of growing space, but also allows for easy reach with this raised bed.  If we were using beds that were lower, I’d probably use the suggested area sizes.

The growing area will be divided up into one foot square sections, in which we’ll grow different vegetables in each.  As we harvest each plant, we’ll replant something else in that square immediately.  This will allow us to have a continuous supply of veggies throughout the rest of the growing season.

When I started thinking about setting up a garden, I originally planned on a much larger area, to grow lots of vegetables for the family, and I figured I’d learn canning and preservation methods.  The more I thought about it, though, the more overwhelming it seems to be.  So, I decided to follow through with the strongest recommendation I’ve been given: Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  So, I’m starting small.  One raised bed is a good start.  If and when I feel comfortable expanding, I’ll make a second raised bed.  If I need a third, I have room in the yard for it.  But this small garden will be good practice and it’ll give me the chance to make sure I am not over-extending myself.

In the meantime, I’ll keep you all updated on my progress.

This is the book I have been reading.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

Update on the Flow Hive

Hey there everyone!

This is just a quick update to let you know about the Flow Hive.  If you remember, about 18 months ago, they started looking for funding on IndieGoGo, and raised a ton of money.  Since then, they’ve sold 35,000 Flow Hives, and are now back on IndieGoGo, selling their beehives at a reduced cost.  It’s only for a few days though, so if you want yours, you need to go there now and place your order.

I love these hives, and I think they are much more cost effective than a traditional hive.  They may seem more expensive to start, but require much less work and other equipment, saving you time as well as money.

Head on over with this link —>> Flow Hives on IndieGoGo <<—

How to Keep your Chickens Cool

If you live pretty much anywhere in the US, you’ve probably noticed that summer is here.  It’s brain-meltingly hot here right now, and temperatures are in the 90s and 100s over the foreseeable future.

This can be dangerous for your chickens.  Overheating can cause your chickens to have heatstroke and die, just like people.  In the video below, I’ve shown you what I’ve done to keep my chickens cool in the summer, and as always, we tried to keep things low-budget.  None of these things cost much at all.

3 Cheap and Easy Ways To Build A Chicken Coop

When I first looked at the possibility of raising chickens, one of my main concerns was the cost of a coop.  I wanted to have something that didn’t cost a lot, but when I checked out the farm supply stores, I found coops that were anywhere between $200 and $500.  Those were way out of my price range, and I got discouraged.

With some research though, I found that there are ways to make your own coop that cost very little, or nothing at all.  I’ll explain the pros and cons of each option below.

Old Shed

Traditional_Metal_Shed

Do you have an old gardening shed in your backyard?  They make a great chicken coop with very little work, and a decently sized shed can easily house a dozen chickens.  You can convert the entire shed, or wall off a portion of the shed, and turn it into a perfect coop.  Remember to add roosts and nesting boxes, and your chickens will be living the high life.

If you don’t have a shed, check Craigslist or your local Buy and Sell pages on Facebook.  There are people giving away their old sheds all the time in my area.  All you need to do is drop by with a truck, load it up, and bring it home (safely).

The downside to a shed is that in the winter, your shed will need to be heated to keep your chickens happy, and the bigger the space, the more expensive it is to heat.

Doghouses

Castledaly_Manor_-_Doghouse_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1606827

Another great option, if you have only 3 or 4 chickens, is to use a dog house.  You can get some hinges, and make a door in the side of the dog house for easy access to the interior so you can clean it and collect eggs.  Again, nesting boxes and roosts are a necessity.I see old dog houses being

I see old dog houses being given away on Craigslist and Facebook constantly.  Most people just want to get rid of them or sell them for a few bucks, so scour your local buy and sells and pick up a good deal.

The downside to a doghouse is that they are small, so only house a few chickens, and require that you get down on your knees for cleaning.

Pallets

Chicken_coop_in_winter

If you want to get completely creative, you can always find pallets and build your own design.  You can get pallets for free from a lot of places.  Just drive around and you’ll find piles of them at many hardware stores, giant box stores, and even liquor stores.  Always go in and ask the manager if you can take some.

The cool part about pallets is that there are many designs and tutorials available online that show how to make a chicken coop out of spare pallets.  You can build as fancy or as plain as you’d like, and make it just about any size you need.

The cons of this are more varied than the other options, however.  First, you need to make sure the pallets you get are safe to use.  Check out this article to find out how to tell if you have safe pallets.  Secondly, this is the most time-consuming option, so if you’re in a hurry, this may not be the option for you.  Finally, while the pallets may be free, you’re going to need nails and screws, hinges, and other hardware, and that does add up in cost.

Conclusion

Take a look at your yard, and decide what will work best for the space you have.  Are you good with tools, or still new (and that’s okay)?  How many chickens do you plan on having?  These all come into consideration when you build your coop.  Regardless of what you choose to do, also remember that your chickens will need outdoor space, called a run, to live in as well, so take that into consideration.  Have fun, whatever you do!

Beekeeping the easier way

Beekeeping is, in my opinion, one of the most important things you can do as an off-gridder.  With the decline in bee populations, every new beekeeper is a necessity.  Without bees, humanity’s ability to produce food collapses.

So, on that cheery note, we’re going to take a quick look at beekeeping, and how to do it easily.  You’re going to notice that in this case, I haven’t said we’re going to do it “cheaply”.  This is because today, we’re not going to look at the cheapest, DIY option, but rather one that will save you time and money in the long run, as well as something that is easier on your bees.

First of all, you’re going to need a hive super, which the colony will live in and the queen will lay eggs in.  I recommend the following because it is cheap, well-made, and will work well for you.  It’s recommended you start with two of them, to give the colony enough room to grow.

Now, here is where things get interesting.  You *could* buy more of these, and build a perfectly good beehive, and the hive itself will be relatively low-cost, only a few hundred bucks.  However, then you have to take into account the cost of the tools you’re going to need to harvest the honey.  You’ll need a beekeeper suit, a comb knife, a hive tool, a frame grip, and a smoker.  You’ll need a centrifuge to get the honey out of the comb.  And you’ll need several hours worth of time and a lot of effort to get the honey out, killing many bees in the process.

This is where I suggest the more expensive option.  A hive has been developed that doesn’t require that you pull the honeycomb frames out, doesn’t require that you cut the comb open to get the honey out, doesn’t require that you spend hours and hours with lots of backbreaking labor to get the honey out.

The Flow Hive is a more expensive option, yes.  However, it requires basically turning a tap, and letting the honey pour out of the hive into a jar or bucket.  It takes minutes instead of hours, and doesn’t disrupt your bees.

Here is a video showing how the Flow Hive works.  It’s absolutely fantastic, and I think every beekeeper should invest in them.

Now, where a complete traditional hive costs somewhere around $200 to $300, and all the accessories are another $200 or so, the Flow Hive is priced higher, in the $700 range for a complete hive.  As you can see though, the ease of use makes this entirely worth it.

I have provided a link to their website, which is the only place you can currently purchase them.  I don’t have any business connection to them at this time.  I just really think they offer the best product for beekeepers.

Flow Hive website

Finally, I want to mention that when you keep bees, you’re doing a few things that are important.  First, you’re helping maintain a healthy bee population, which this world desperately needs.  Second, honey is something that everyone can use in their home, saving themselves the cost of sugar, and keeping things like high fructose corn syrup out of the house.  And finally, you can bottle that honey and sell it, making a very tidy profit.

The possibilities are amazing.

Our Chicken Coop and Run

I thought some of you might like to see what our chicken living conditions look like.  They’re pretty simple, and the chickens are quite happy.  They’re not quite big enough to be giving us eggs yet, but that’ll happen soon enough.

Earthships the Low-Budget Way

A few years ago, I came across the concept of a radically sustainable home design known as an Earthship.  These homes really caught my attention, because the designer of this concept, Michael Reynolds, addressed the need for a house that was completely self-sufficient.

In creating the Earthship, he created a home that powers itself, keeps a stable temperature thanks to the sun and solar mass, captures it’s own water, recycles its greywater, and grows food for you.  I have not found a design that handles all of these requirements so gracefully.

In building an Earthship, you use old tires, pounded full of dirt and stacked like bricks to form the back and side walls, which are then covered over with mud and plaster to give a beautiful adobe-style finish.  Those walls are a heatsink, and store heat from the sun that radiates out into the house through the night, keeping the house at a stable temperature day and night, year-round, without requiring a furnace or other heating system.

The water system is a work of art.  It starts by catching water from your roof, directing the water into storage tanks buried in the berm behind your home.  That water goes through a filtration system to ensure clean drinking and wash water, and comes out of your taps and for use in your shower.  Once it is used there, that greywater runs into a series of long planters, and the nutrient-rich water feeds the plants, which help grow food.  The remaining water, cleaned by the natural filtration of the plants, then waits in a tank to be used to flush your toilet, instead of flushing using clean drinking water.  After that, the black water from the toilet then goes into a septic system and a number of outdoor garden cells, where it nourishes non-food bearing plants.

Electrically, the design of an Earthship incorporates renewable, off-grid energy.  Traditionally, you’ll use a solar system to meet your electrical needs, and use a combination of ultra-efficient LED lights and other efficient appliances to lower your power consumption.

Many of the Earthships I’ve seen built over the past couple of decades are beautiful, unique structures, and can be built either by yourself or by having Michael Reynolds and his crew come and build part or all of it for you.

If money isn’t a concern, and you can afford it, it’s definitely easier to have it built for you.  This will bring the cost up into the range of a traditional home.  While this is still preferable to owning a home where you have to pay for water, electricity, and heat, this site knows that it can be done much more affordably.

To be more cost-effective, you can build it yourself.  This can be done by reading the books about Earthships, which I have provided links to below.  The books explain, in extreme detail, how to build the walls, how to set up the electrical and water systems, and every other thing you’d need to know about building your own Earthship.


Doing it yourself, your costs can be significantly lowered.  In fact, I recently came across information about a couple that built their own small Earthship for under $10,000.  I reached out to them to find out how they did it, and find out what their costs were in building their home, to see whether we can find a way to bring the cost even lower.  I’ll be posting an interview with them later this week to show you their incredible build.

An Earthship is not exactly a “cheap” option, but when you take into account that it incorporates your water system, power, heat, and food, it fits well with the Low-Budget Off-Grid ideology.

Our Chicken Coop Experience

IMG_4709At the end of March this year, we picked up half a dozen baby chicks.  I’ve never had chickens before, so this is new for me.  I did a lot of reading beforehand to know the basics, and one of the people in our house grew up raising chickens, so we have the experience required to keep them happy and healthy.

When we first brought them home, I had a large rat cage that wasn’t being used, so we filled it with wood shavings, put food and water in, put a heat lamp on it, and wrapped 3 sides and the top with a blanket to keep the heat in.  I kept them in my room to keep watch over them, and they flourished.

IMG_4739Now, we didn’t yet have a chicken coop set up in the yard but figured we had lots of time to set one up.  We were going to do this as cost-effectively as possible.  We had an old tin shed that wasn’t really being used, and it has some sturdy wooden shelves that had a lot of space for half a dozen chickens.  We built a door to cover the front of the shelf, filled it with straw, and when the chicks were old enough, they went out to their new home.  They were quite happy with all the room they suddenly had once they got used to it.

Our next step was to give them space to run and scratch and get fresh air.  We did this during the week that they got used to their new coop and made it their home.

IMG_4717We had a bunch of 8-foot posts that we recycled into french posts.  a couple of $25 rolls of chicken wire,
and we had our fence area.  We had the yard space, so our chickens have an area that’s about 12 feet wide, by 25 feet long.  We have a simple ramp up to the door of the coop and designed a sliding door that used our wood scraps.

Every day, we let the chickens out into the yard, and they enjoy the run.  They’re absolutely hilarious to watch, especially when one of them finds an earthworm and starts screaming in terror as 5 other chickens start chasing her for it.  They’re tame enough to pet and pick up when needed, but for the most part, we leave them alone and they work hard to clear the yard of insects.  At the end of the day, when it gets dark, they go back into their coop on their own, and we go out and close the door for the night.

It cost us roughly $100 inIMG_4773 materials total to build our coop, to buy the chicks, and to buy their food.  For six chickens, we buy an $8 bag of feed once a month, and that seems to be it so far for costs.  I’m sure that something will come up that’ll cost extra down the road, but so far, they’re doing quite well.

We’ll keep everyone updated as they grow and eventually start laying eggs.

Why You Want to Raise Chickens

Simply put, when it comes to a food source that you can raise yourself, chickens are your best option.  They are relatively inexpensive to start up and cost almost nothing to care for once you have their initial costs taken care of.

Chickens can be raised in most cities, so if you’re not quite ready to go off-grid, this is a good starting point if you have a yard.  The chicks themselves cost a few dollars each, and you will need to buy chick feed, which costs under $10 in most places for a twenty-pound bag.  You can buy a feeder and waterer, or you can make your own.

Your largest initial expense will be to build a coop and a yard for them, and you can cut a lot of expense here too.  Building a coop can cost hundreds of dollars if you want to create something fancy, or you can repurpose old pallets and it will cost you a bag of nails.  If you have a fenced-off yard, you could allow them the full use of that yard, or you could buy chicken wire and give them a smaller area.  The choice is yours.

Once you have your chicken coop, and a yard set up for them, and your chickens are fed and watered and happy, there’s almost nothing to taking care of them. You let them out every day, and close up their coop when it gets dark, and in return, they’ll give you eggs.  Six or eight chickens is more than enough to make sure that a couple has enough eggs to eat every day.

Chickens lay eggs for an average of two years.  After that, you can choose to keep them as pets, or you can use them for food.  Chickens are a very healthy meat and high in protein.

So, in your off-grid adventure, if you’re looking for something to eat that doesn’t cost very much, requires little in the way of continuous care, and gives a great return, it would be a great idea to invest in half a dozen chickens.  If you want to earn an income from chickens and have your private plot of land, you could scale up a chicken operation to a few hundred chickens over time, and earn a living from them.