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.

 

Chickens, chickens everywhere

Hello faithful readers!  I haven’t had much to post this past few months, but today, I’m going to get you all caught up on what has been happening with our homestead.

First off all, I learned something important.  If you store your chicken feed in a plastic bin, you’re going to have issues with squirrels and other animals.  I woke up one morning, and found this lovely hole in the side of our feed bin.  I have since purchased a stainless steel feed container.  It holds a 50 pound bag of chicken feed easily, and has yet to be broken into.

I have to point out that I used the plastic bin because it was the cheapest option available.  And this is where I have to mention that “low budget” sometimes means paying a little more up-front in order to save money down the road.  Using a cheap or free plastic bin cost me more in the long run, as I had to buy the metal bin anyways, and lost some chicken feed in the process.

In other news, I have officially been raising chickens for over a year now.  I’ve learned a considerable amount, and decided that it was time to try to earn some more from chickens than I have been.  We checked with our local extension office, and learned that we can have up to fifty laying hens without needing to be licensed by the state, and can sell those eggs directly to consumers.  Any more than fifty chickens would mean that we’d have to have our eggs graded and sized, and the cost would become prohibitive.

Our chickens started out in a brooder for the first 6 weeks of their lives, on our dining room table, with a heat lamp keeping them warm.   We learned that we’re not fond of having the house smell like chicken poop, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.  Consistent cleaning keeps the smell down, though won’t eliminate it entirely.  We kept the chicks in a kiddie pool with mesh over it so they’d stay safe.  That’s the picture at the top of this article, with some of the chicks checking out their new temporary home.  It wasn’t a perfect solution, but we had the pool laying around and it only cost us a few bucks to put their brooder together.

Several weeks ago, we moved them out to their coop.  Since we’re working on staying low budget, we looked at a number of options for a chicken coop before we settled on our final solution.  We had thought of building a coop out of pallets, but couldn’t collect enough pallets to make something decent in time.  Then we came across someone giving away an old, falling apart mobile home.  It wasn’t something that anyone could live in without a great deal of work, but it could be turned into a chicken coop extremely easily.  We were going to use that option, and have the mobile home moved out to our land, when the family member that lives next door offered the use of his barn.  All we needed to do was clean it out, put up one wall, and move the chickens out.

We have a roof over their heads, and they’re quite happy.  We built a waterer out of a 55 gallon barrel and 12 poultry nipples.  The barrel cost us five bucks, but you can get them for free sometimes.  The poultry nipples are about four bucks per package of 4.  Our chickens took a bit of time to learn how to use the new waterer, but now that they know how it works, they’ve been happy to use it.

We built a simple feeder out of another barrel.  It holds several hundred pounds of feed, and there’s little wasted food.  I’ll show that feeder in my next post in the next few days, and teach you how to build it.  It can easily be adapted to smaller sizes as well, for those of you with just a backyard flock.

We have a few things still to do.  The barn we’ve got the chickens in is about 80 years old, and we have to level some ground and put up the fence for their run.  Following that, we’ll be building their nesting boxes so they have a safe place to lay eggs in a few months.  The chickens are staying inside until the fence is up, and they get used to their living space.  They’re happy, healthy, and will be a great source of income when we start getting eggs from them.

I suppose I should mention how we plan on selling those eggs.  There’s a farmer’s market in town, and we’ve already spoken to them about having a table there.  With only 50 chickens, our income from these chickens won’t be huge, but any money coming in will be better than nothing, and will help us work on our next project.

 

 

 

 

 

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.