Worker Town

Worker Town

Our chicken coop a.k.a. “Worker Town”

Named after a single line in an episode of “Firefly,” our chicken coop a.k.a. “Worker Town” was built in the summer of 2014. Although a lot of material used in the construction was salvaged from the house renovations, other projects and my constant yard saleing and dumpster diving, this still represented a fairly major expense. Fortunately, this expense has proven worthwhile with the design being both effective and flexible.

In designing the coop, there were three primary concerns that came into consideration:

Water

With our heavy clay, water is an issue. The last thing we wanted was water getting into the coop and soaking down the shavings we intended to use as bedding. In response, we settled fairly early on a raised design. The initial design called for four concrete pillars to be sunk below the frost line with metal struts being cast in place supporting two major beams. After putting those pillars in place, I found myself intuitively unsatisfied, despite what the math was saying. I subsequently sunk two more pillars so that each beam was supported at three points.

Security

Although our area is built up enough that we don’t have huge predator problems in our back yard, we weren’t particularly keen to test our luck. Coyotes, stray dogs, cats, raccoons, possums, mink, rats and raptors are all in evidence in our immediate vicinity. We also wanted to exclude varmints like mice or voles as much as is possible. The elevated design was a good start with this goal. Wire mesh was placed over all of the operable windows and ventilation flaps. We also put metal fence wire skirting the coop on three sides and dug down into the ground. On the fourth side with the doors for both humans and chickens we constructed a mesh hoop house with two doors — one leading out onto the property and the other leading into the fenced chicken pasture. With both doors closed, the chickens have access to an outside area that is protected from everything from stray dogs and coyotes through to hawks. Once in the coop and the doors closed, they should also be safe from things as small as mink or rats. To date, we haven’t had any losses due to predation. To be fair, though, we also haven’t seen any signs of failed attempts at infiltration.

Ventilation

Chickens in the coop

Chickens on the roost in the coop. The lay boxes are still under construction.

This is the big one when it comes to flock health. Inadequate ventilation and direct drafts both cause problems, particularly in seasonal climates like ours. In response to this, the coop has plenty of operable ventilation options. On the South side there are a series of large, operable double-glazed windows that were taken out of the house when we did our renovations there. On the North side there is a large operable flap located right at the bottom of the coop just below the access doors for the lay boxes. We remove the flap entirely during the summer months, seal it entirely in winter and prop it open to various degrees in between. There is also a strip of shutter-operable openings in a clearstory configuration on the North wall. On the West side of the coop is another large operable flap, located up high. The East side has a large door for people and a small operable pop door for the chickens that open into the enclosed chicken run.

In addition to closing flaps in the winter, we have cut pieces of a reflective foil insulation to fit into all but one of the clearstory openings and both reflective foil and rigid foam insulation to seal up the West opening. Using various configurations of open/closed/insulated, we have managed to keep the coop at a comfortable temperature for the chickens through the dead of winter and cool enough for them during the summer.

Worker Town in Snow

The chicken coop under its first snow load. Engineering meets reality.

With those three issues addressed, the specifics came down mostly to materials. Our neighbour had a contractor mismeasure when putting on his steel roofing and so had several panels of blue steel roofing lying in his back yard. He quoted a very reasonable price but ultimately chose to exchange them for some labour on one of his renovation projects. I picked up some other salvage/miscut steel roofing in grey to match our house roof at my favourite local scrap yard. Given the amount of space we knew we wanted for the chickens, the design we wanted for ventilation and the size of metal available as well as the salvaged windows, I drew up some plans and then built it. The walls, floor and roof are all 2×4 framing, insulated to roughly R12 with a vapour barrier. The exterior is clad with steel and the interior with wall panelling and plywood recovered from the house renovations. A fair bit of new material was used in the framing of the structure but some of the metal siding, plywood, wall panel, lumber, wire mesh, insulation and all of the windows were recovered from other projects, years of yard saleing and the odd dumpster dive. The floor of the coop, as well as the ramp to the run, is coated with Zavlar — a water-based roofing liquid rubber compound that we had originally bought with the intention of building a large plywood aquarium for the house. With those plans long-ago abandoned, a rubberized coating underneath the shaving seemed like a pretty good application.

The piers poured, framing begins

The last major design feature was a pop door to automatically open and close for the chickens. Unlike the rest of the coop, this proved a bit less successful. Thinking I was clever, I used an operable window for the door, with it being held closed by a cable during the night and opening during the day. While all of the control circuitry has worked, the actual mechanisms for opening/closing the “door” have proven unreliable — primarily due to trying to lift a fairly heavy window using small gear motors. Rather than move to more expensive or less easily salvaged components, I have opted to abandon the use of the window entirely and build instead a door that uses a lot less force to open/close and yet will still be secure. I will no doubt blog in length about the new system as well as details of the previous failures once I have completed that task.

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  • Composting – Opting Out :

    […] great source of nutrients is manure. The chickens in Worker Town have access to pasture, to an enclosed area outdoors and then the interior of the coop. Of those, […]

    11 months ago

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