The first shipments of chicks have just arrived in local farm stores, so it’s time to start building your new fuzzy friends a home. While a Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff might not fit the budget, what could be more Portland than building a chicken coop from upcycled materials? Upcycling, reusing old lumber and construction waste for better quality final products, is the perfect way to show our city’s love of recycling and sustainable farming at the same time.
Building plans and instructions are available from several local designers and builders, and substituting used wood, fasteners and roofing is encouraged. Just follow instructions and keep some basic recommendations in mind:
Start With a Solid Foundation
Keeping predators like rats and raccoons out of the henhouse is essential. Unwanted guests in the coop will eat eggs and occasionally hens themselves. John Carr, designer and builder at TheGardenCoop.com, sells designs for a coop with a solid floor. Recycled plywood works well, Carr says, and pieces can be patched together.
“I used a lot of little scraps and only had to pay for one sheet of plywood,” he says.
Don't Overbuild or Overspend
Remember, this is a house for chickens. Try not to overbuild or overspend. “The first one I had, it was too rickety,” says local architect and coop designer John Wright. “Raccoons would just break through it. The second one I overbuilt. I spent way too much money and made it way too sturdy.”
It is important to build with enough room for humans to gain access to the whole interior. Wright says his first attempt left little room for maintenance. “Make sure you’re not on hands and knees in droppings. If a bird gets sick, or something goes wrong, you want to be able to get in there.”
Build your coop with enough space for you or any cats you may own to get under the structure. Neil Montacre, co-owner of Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply, built his coop completely from upcycled wood, plastic and metal. He says his goats scare away raccoons, but his foundation is too low to allow cats under the coop. “If there’s one thing I would do different,” he says, “I would build it on full-size cinder blocks, so the cats could clean up unwanted visitors.” As a model of this kind of construction, John Carr’s Garden Ark is a portable design with the coop elevated a couple of feet off the ground and an enclosed run for the chickens’ exercise below.
“Leave lots of space inside for cleaning,” says Rodney Bender, who organized Growing Gardens’ 2010 Tour de Coops to present local chicken housing to the public, “and make sure there is plenty of space for your chickens.”
Use a Full-Size Door
“A full-size door is essential to entering the hen house,” says Jennifer Fox, who liked the coop she and her husband James built so much she started selling plans for The Urban Chicken Coop. “At first, our roof was too low, then the door made it impossible to get in there. It was ridiculous and so easy to avoid.”
New and Quality Parts are Worth the Investment
Upcycled materials are good, but new and quality parts are worth the investment. Select fasteners and hardware carefully. “Quality coated screws or stainless exterior screws are important to stay sturdy in Portland weather,” Carr says. Every builder says galvanized hardware cloth is essential to keep predators out and nearly impossible to find used in good condition.
Make Sure Materials are Solid
Many plans have a list of necessary building supplies. Carr compares gathering used materials for a coop to a scavenger hunt. “Have fun tracking down the stuff you can, especially if it’s free and in good shape, but make sure everything is solid. Probably most important is raccoon-proof latches." He encourages DIY coop construction, especially using recycled materials. He says as long as framing elements, like two-by-fours and beams, are structurally sound and straight, builders can get creative with “re-tasked” components.
Avoid Chicken Wire
“Do not use chicken wire,” Jennifer Fox says. “Those raccoons, with their little hands, just tear it open.” It was for security from predators that she and her husband designed their own coop, she says. To head to the coast for a few days and know the hens were fed and safe was the only way she could relax.
Close Holes or Gaps
When you get close to finishing, says John Wright, step back and look for little holes or tiny gaps. “Those rats can fit through almost anything,” he says. “You have to pull away to really see a place for them to sneak in.”
Look for Construction Materials Online
Websites like Craigslist are great for finding deals and even free construction supplies for you to upcycle. Wright says the best way to get recycled material is to check online first. “People who rebuild fences just post the wood online, and it’s great wood.” For his coops with cedar siding, he tries to find free or inexpensive fencing there first.
Neil Montacre says anyone can do what he did with scrap wood and a couple cinder blocks. “People get a little too worried about their chickens,” he says. “They get their food and sleep, then they lay eggs, and they seem pretty happy.”
If tracking down recycled wood and environmentally sustainable building supplies on websites seems like more work than you have time for, or if someone else grabbed your “free wood” pile first, here are some Portland businesses who offer what you are looking for:
The Rebuilding Center is part of Our United Villages and provides reliable, reusable and recycled building materials. Stock is supplied by donations and deconstruction crews, but if an item is unavailable, staff can guide you to a reliable source. Shane Endicott, the executive director, says they currently have plenty of lumber for coop projects.
Builders City in North Portland sells used and overstock building goods. According to a local builder, Builders City has "more vinyl windows than anyone and usually [has] plywood." The stock is similar to Rebuilding Center, and customers say great things.
Sustainable Northwest WOOD, located in the southeast industrial area, is part of the Healthy Forests Healthy Communities program. WOOD retails lumber and plywood only from harvesters using sustainable logging practices. Ryan Temple, company president, says he and his team fill the gap between environmentally responsible producers and consumers who want to do their part. Temple suggests coop-builders try WOOD's varieties of untreated lumber from species of tree that hold up to Portland's weather as long as 20 years without chemicals.
View the slideshow for images of upcycled chicken coops, or visit our Flickr gallery:
Photos © Neighborhood Notes