coop building : part 5 : Finished! With dragons!

My dream coop is finished! And it far exceeds my dreams… of course, because my Dad built it! We made a few finishing touches the last couple of days, but it was close enough to move Alberta and Frances in on Friday night. As much time as they’ve been hanging out in there during the building process, I think they were a bit surprised to have a sleep over. I was curious where they would sleep, since they haven’t been roosting to sleep yet inside, just cuddled up in a corner, so I assumed they would do the same in the coop. I purposely didn’t put any pine shavings in the nesting boxes yet, so they wouldn’t get into the habit of sleeping in those. I went out to check on them when it got dark, and they were curled up in the corner by the front door. They were a little freaked out, so I cuddled them a bit and sang them a song, which seemed to settle them down. I’m sure the many night noises were disturbing, and they were probably visited by curious cats peeking in. My husband also spotted a whole family of raccoons strolling through in the middle of the night, but he said they seemed more interested in Gloria’s little coop. (poor Gloria! But at least she is used to their visits).

Without further ado…. here are photos of the finished coop (& courtyard):


And from the front with my other silly kids:


From the side, with all the girls (I had to bribe them with corn to get them all in the photo):


And here’s how it will look wide open on our favorite pleasant free-ranging days:


I thought it needed some decoration, to give it a bit of chicken personality, and to match the white paint on the window. I was thinking of little chickens, but when I told my husband about it, he said (jokingly, I think) “Why not a dragon?” I laughed, but after trying my sketches in paint on wood and not being happy with them, I started playing with the paint the way it seemed to want to be applied on the wood, and my chicken became very dragon-like. So now we have 3 guardian chicken-dragon sigils on the doors and windows. May they scare away away all predators of evil intent! Long live House Fluffy! (named after our sweet pullet that got killed by a raccoon, and the reason we’ve become so vigilant about predator proofing.)

Closeups of the chicken dragons:

chicken coop decoration painting

chicken coop painted decoration

chicken coop painted decoration

Mae wanted to try painting on wood also… of course the local art critics had to look on:


The kids tried the coop out first by eating dinner in there. Mae thought it would be fun to have a sleepover with the chickens sometime… until she laid down and looked up to see what was right over her head… maybe not. :-)


The next morning, the little girls hopped up on their roosts to have a look around:


Yes, Alberta, you can get up now!


Gloria didn’t mind hopping up there for a bit when there was food to tempt her:


Hanging Feeders at last! No more poop in the water! (I hope.)


Lots of lovely dirt to scratch around and bathe in (come on up and join the party, worms!)


Extra clips on the closed latches (simple, but effective) also double as a way to keep the door open while free-ranging.


The ramp, with the door closed. (the handle matches the slide-in coop window) We thought about installing a pulley system for this door, as in the original design, but it will probably remain open most of the time, so we didn’t bother with it. It just slides up, and we put in a pin to hold it there. The ramp and the coop floor are both made from boards that my Dad made himself from hemlock trees on his property. (cool, huh?)


Now, our biggest challenge ahead of us will be how to move Gloria in. I’m fine with them living separately right now, at least for the next few weeks as the little girls finish their growing up. I don’t want them to free-range unattended during the day as they are still small enough to be stalked by cats, and Gloria needs to have access to her nesting box. But the bigger issue is that Frances and Alberta are still incredibly scared of Gloria, and freak out whenever she gets close. They have good reason to be, since she can act totally nonchalant most of the time, then “attack” them out of nowhere. I’m trying to understand her perspective. I don’t think she means to hurt them, and mostly I think she wants to just hang out with them (besides making sure they don’t receive better treats). But she is a bit of a tyrant, perhaps because they are smaller, and they still seem like intruders, only coming into the yard periodically. I’m hoping that as they reach their full size, and start free-ranging all day with her, this dynamic will change, but what if it doesn’t? I keep trying to tell her that all of this effort and intrusion started as a gift to her… so she can have friends and a nicer place to live, but I don’t think she believes me.

If things don’t change naturally, is there a point when I should just move her over there during the night, and close up the other coop? I shudder to think of doing that right now, the little ones might have a heart attack. Are they ever going to feel less threatened by her? Any advice about this transition is welcome. :-)



coop building : part 4 : doors, windows, roosts and nesting boxes

“We” are making great progress on the coop! According to my Dad, we are 1 week ahead of schedule!

Here’s my Dad building the courtyard door:


And here’s the nesting box framed in:


We followed Willow Creek Farm’s idea of opening it from the side instead of the top, to make it less heavy and easier for the kids to gather eggs:


Here it is with it’s roof base and latches on:


We’re going to use composite roofing material on top instead of metal panels, (also like Willow Creek Farm) since my Dad has leftover roofing materials from building his house. And we’re using 3 latches, 2 that turn on the sides, and a simple one in the middle where we can attach a raccoon-proof clip or lock. Jonah wants a combination lock, but I think that’s over-doing it just a bit. The raccoons around here are clever, but I don’t think they know their numbers.

And after much deliberation about how to divide up the box, we decided to experiment by making one bigger section, the size Gloria’s is now, since that’s what she’s used to, and one smaller cozier section, and we’ll see which they prefer. We can always move the divider later if we want.


Also, in these photos, you can see the window has been framed in, with hardware cloth, and we’re planning to repurpose an old window from our basement remodel on the outside that we’ll keep propped open in warmer weather and closed when it gets cold and/or rainy.

Additionally in these photos, you may have noticed that the girls are “slightly” excited about moving in, and still taking their supervisory roles quite seriously.

Gloria is also supervising, but still keeping her distance… or more accurately, the little girls are keeping their distance from her (What’s that look like now? Are we possibly down to 3 feet? No, probably still 4 with the elevation factor):


They really love to roost on their floor beams, but the rest of us are much more excited about their future roosts: natural maple branches just installed today! Aren’t they gorgeous?


They are wary of them, but they have been eyeing them quite a bit, so we’re guessing that once the floor boards get installed, it won’t take them long to hop up there and try them out. You can see in the background that their coop/ramp door has been framed in as well.

And, saving the best for last… our beautiful coop and courtyard doors:


I love the black hardware my Dad picked out. I think it’s very classy, and it will match the black roofs. We’re going to use extra clips on these latches as well, to foil racoons. And the coop window has a slot to slide in a piece of wood when it gets cold. The overlapping cedar siding on the coop door is the same as what’s going around the coop walls. We are not staining it, so eventually it will turn grey (like the fence behind it) but I think this will look nice in contrast with the stained trim and framing.

In other exciting news, Frances is out of her dress! She is still getting tail feathers plucked occasionally by Alberta, but it doesn’t seem as regular or bloody, and her new, sturdier feathers have grown out enough to provide as much coverage as she’s going to get:


Tail feather envy. So unfair:


But, I think she looks very sweet from the front:


And Alberta in action, always gorgeous of course:



Another girl joins the roosting party:


Never seen green chicken feet before?


Mae recently decided to take over one of her Grandpa’s work benches to start her own restaurant.


Her dishes are very creative. Who knew that sawdust could be so delicious?


coop building : part 3 : courtyard walls and house floor beams

We decided that the run of this coop is way too nice to be called a run, so we are calling it a courtyard. Here is this weekend’s progress report:


All of the hardware cloth has been installed around the “courtyard”. The roof framing is complete, and the main house framing is complete as well. Frances and Alberta are getting more and more excited about living here. They spent a great deal of time in the courtyard this weekend. Once the hardware cloth started going up, I think it made them feel safe. And they discovered that the house floor frames make an excellent roost. This is where the nesting box opening will be:


Trying too choose a bedroom, perhaps?


I’m sure they will be sleeping in the same one, regardless:


This is where the ramp will be… but maybe it should also be the powder room?


Mae also had some very sweet cuddle time with the girls in the hammock today:

mae-frances2 mae-frances mae-frances-sleeping

Frances’s lazy feet while she’s lounging always crack me up:


coop building : part 2 : framing

My sweet Papa has been working hard all week on building our coop, and it’s continuing to look amazing and progress quickly. The base was finished on Wednesday. And here’s the exterior framing work (basically finished) from the last 2 days:





All I’ve really done (after working all day) has been some staining. But that’s about my skill level when it comes to building anyway: painting, staining, maybe an occasional nail hammering or screw drilling. I have to put in a plug here for the stain we’ve been using. It’s called Vermont Natural Coatings Exterior Penetrating Wood Stain and it’s a Top Green Building product, non-toxic, no odor, dries super fast, and it looks and works great! We are using the “Lakeside Cedar” color and I think it makes the white wood studs match the cedar base fairly well:


We’re trying to pre-stain the lumber as much as possible, both to get all of the edges, and because it’s easier than doing the tall areas once it’s built. The kids have even helped with some staining:


The girls definitely still want to be involved too, and don’t mind walking on the hardware cloth now.


I’m hoping this is becoming a bonding experience between the new girls and Gloria. It seems like she wants to be with them, but she’s still quite bossy, so they don’t let her get very close…. but maybe at little closer each day? I think their down to about 4′ of comfortable personal space. Perhaps this photo is a good sign of peaceful days to come?


coop building : part 1: foundation

My Dad has returned from a successful harvest season, so our coop building has begun in earnest!

I started the process by moving that shrub (my Mom thinks it’s a Euonymus Fortunei)... with help from the kids. It took a good part of last Saturday, but I think it worked.


I had my doubts the whole time (soaking the dry earth, then digging, soaking more, digging more) about our ability to move it… so it was a great relief when I finally felt the roots pull away from the earth. So much so that the kids and I had a big water fight to clean off afterwards… and then the lure of the muddy hole we created to dig out the bush was too much for the kids to resist, so they had a mud fight too.


Alberta & Frances actually like the bush much better in it’s new location. They have been hanging out underneath it quite a bit.

With the space finally cleared, we staked out the measurements for the coop, 126″ x 64″ (just over 5’x10′).


We’re going to follow this well-loved coop design: (and Willow Creek Farm’s version: but we’re using concrete blocks instead of paving stones for the foundation (22 16″x8″x8″ blocks) and we plan to lay down hardware cloth to deter digging bandits (rats? weasels?).


You can’t really tell from these pics, but the ground slopes quite a bit toward the fence and the back of the yard, so we had to dig down much farther in the front to make the foundation level, and the back will be raised up a bit, which should help it stay drier in the rainy season. The girls are already quite impressed with our progress. Especially with the number of worms that have been turned over in the process. They are most definitely enamored with my Dad for tossing them over whenever he spotted one. Here they are surveying their new domain and playing queen of the mountain:


The next day we (and whenever I say we from now on, you can assume I mean mostly my Dad) made incredible progress on the foundation… not to mention replacing those old fence boards that were rotting behind that bush. (better to do it now before the coop covers them up again!) Here are all of the blocks in, and the fence boards replaced:



And our supervisors making their rounds to check our progress, and play more “queen of the mountain”:


And then they had to make way for the real queen of the mountain:


We decided to use cedar base boards, instead of the recommended pressure-treated boards to combat rot. Just the idea of my girls pecking at the chemicals they use in those boards turned my stomach a bit. My Dad had some 8″ cedar planks on hand, and we were just going to use those on end, as the plans suggest, but in trying to wrap our heads around how to lay the hardware cloth, fill or cover the concrete block holes, and provide additional stability, we decided to spring for another round of 6″ cedar boards screwed flat on the inside of these to meet all of these needs. (This modified base idea was inspired by this similar coop design, which is also very cool: This will also have the added benefit of prolonging the life of the 2×4 framing lumber we plan to use, since it will be resting on the cedar, instead of on the ground.

Here is the outer frame in place and the dirt leveled out (still an attractive playground!):


More playing:


Gloria’s turn:


And now the hardware cloth goes down:


And now the foundation is finished! (or close enough to call it a day). Not nearly as much fun to play on right now, though. The girls have to find other items of interest close at hand:


What an incredible day’s work from my sweet Papa! (OK, not to pat myself on the back, but maybe I held a few things and stained a few boards ;-))

We kept telling each other what an awful shame it is that all this beautiful cedar is going to be shortly covered in dirt and chicken poop… but what can I say? Nothing but the best for my spoiled girls. I mean, hey, they already wear dresses and listen to Mozart!


I just had time to relax on the hammock a bit with the girls before it got dark:


Alberta wanted to be the fashion star tonight:





flourishing feathers

Look how much can happen in a week!


Frances’s back feathers are looking great! Unfortunately, she is getting so big that her dress is shorter now, thus Alberta has been able to get to her tail feathers again. She had 7 long ones left yesterday:


Now she is down to 4, with 3 bloody ends. :-( I was hoping to let her be rid of the dress soon! Now it looks like I may need to make a new, longer one until she grows her tail feathers in again too.

Things seem to be getting calmer and calmer with Gloria, but they are still not kindred spirits. And I can’t let the girls out alone at all yet anyway, as we keep getting neighborhood cats coming around to stalk them, even with me in the yard! I just chased one away not 2 seconds ago. I wonder if it’s because they still chirp like baby birds… and still look like a catchable dinner… way too tempting!

fragile feathers

It’s working! Frances’s dress is doing it’s job to protect her back and her feathers are growing back in!


I did my homework, and learned that young chickens are in a constant state of molt until they reach adulthood, so their feathers will start growing back immediately when they get pulled out, and should be fully grown in a few weeks (if they don’t keep getting pulled!) Adult chickens whose feathers are completely pulled out will also start growing in immediately, but if they are merely broken off, they won’t grow back until their next molt.


But I’ve learned that I can’t leave the chicks together unattended and confined when Frances’s dress is off (even for a few minutes!), or Alberta will start pulling at them again. Here she is enjoying a bit of freedom from it… during our daily free-ranging time:


I’ve also found some tricks to keep them occupied during the day they have to spend in their cage in the laundry room. I pick fresh grass and put it in clumps on the top of their cage, as well as scattering it in the straw, and I also throw in some meal worms for them to find. But the very best trick is a hanging bird feeder with a bell on it. I put in 1/4 fresh corn on the cob, and they go nuts pecking at it. With the swinging challenge, it can take them a couple of hours to peck it clean. And… I’ve been playing music for them. I noticed that they love it when we sing or hum to them, and they are very interested in all the sounds outside, so I thought I would try music during the day in the laundry room. I know, I know… I am such a softy. But they love it! I can tell which they prefer, because they calm down and start purring. I started with Mozart, and they like the serenades, but the more active movements make them a little crazy. They also like instrumental piano music, boys choirs, and mellow female vocals like the Wailing Jennies. So crazy that I’m talking about this! But my son reminded me that chickens are very smart, even smarter than dogs, so it’s no wonder they get bored so easily. I can especially tell they are smart because Frances now knows her blue-kote medicine bottle by sight. She is not a fan of it, I imagine it stings since it is an antiseptic. As soon as I dip a Q-tip in it to apply some, she grabs the Q-tip out of my hand and tosses it across the room. So naughty! And messy! But very clever.

Gloria seems to be liking Frances and Alberta more and more, and they are getting braver running around the yard with her, but they are definitely not peers yet, and Gloria chases them quite a bit still (no pecking, she just scatters them or herds them).


They don’t like this game, and will quickly seek shelter behind me, or jump in my lap if I’m sitting down… help us Mama!


And we’ve started clearing an area for our new coop. The kids had a great time digging up an old brick border, and then creating a sort of ruins out of it.


They also found some old chalk and drew a made up language on the fence, so our yard now looks like an an alternate civilization.


We still need to figure out what to do with that bush. It’s kind of pretty, actually, but I don’t know what kind it is, or if it can be transplanted. Anyone know? Here’s a close up of the leaves:


I started digging around it to see how deep the roots were, and I found all of these little bulbs. (At least I think they are bulbs) The chicks really wanted to eat them, but I don’t know if they are poisonous. (see what a terrible gardener I am!)


I think they may actually be from these little white flowers that come up in the spring and smell like onions. If so, I want to keep them, so I’ll need to move these somewhere else as well. Next up… staking out and starting a foundation for the coop! These girls can’t wait!