Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From the archives: make a chicken coop from farm junk

A couple of years ago I made my first foray into raising chicks. With a borrowed incubator we started incubating our first batch of eggs just before our chickens got broody themselves. After three weeks, we had eight chicks being raised by their mother hens (the country chicks) and seven chicks raised by us in a brooder (the city chicks). We set up a skype account and camera to keep an eye on the city chicks while we were working away from home.

They grew up quickly and it soon came time to relocate the city chicks to the chicken run outside, but we didn't expect the country chicks and their mothers to be too happy about sharing their coop. It was decided, then to let them get to know each other slowly across the chicken wire and construct a new coop in the 'forage zone', where I'd planted amaranth, oats, and some sunflowers and sorghum that had come up from a handful of chicken grain I'd scattered around. Having just come across the work of Patrick Dougherty, I decided to put my fibre craft skills to work and weave them a new coop out of whatever materials I could find on the farm. Finding some fencing mesh attached to galvanised posts on the scrap metal pile, I wired it into a semi-circular shape, weaving wisteria prunings in and out of the grids. The plan was to make a wattle and daub structure, an earth building technique in which a mixture of clay and straw is daubed onto a woven wooden lattice, called the wattle.

We mixed straw with mud dug out of the dam until it felt about the right consistency, roughly a 50/50 mix of mud and straw. Then a team made it into patties to be daubed onto the wall by builders.

Stick perches were put in place before the daubing began, and the clay and straw layer was slowly built up onto the wattle.

The big people help the small people work in tight corners

As some of the branches were thick, it was difficult to get a tight weave in the wattle, which resulted in troubles getting the daub to stick in places. As it dried, we kept an eye on any clay that dropped off and fixed up small gaps with more daub.

 After the clay had dried the coop was roofed with the lid of an old water tank, which sat on the top of the posts, allowing some cross ventilation at the top of the wall. This proved to be a much better coop than the corrugated iron coop the country chicks grew up in, staying cooler in the heat and providing a lot of choice in sticks for the chooks to perch upon. Two roosters lived in comparative harmony in their separate coops, sharing the same forage zone by day and retiring to their different coops by night. Contained in a fenced in enclosure, this open structure worked well. However, I'd love to build a fox-proof elevated chicken coop for our orchard like this one from the Planet Repair Institute.

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