Friday, July 24, 2015

An Affordable Chicken Hoop House

This is a tale of woe and further woe, followed by a pretty sweet lesson that might save you some hardship if you're looking to keep your hens safe.

My 5 girls liked their little coop of white-trim love.


It was a gift, purchased through MyPetChicken and given to me as a goodbye present last year when I left my full time corporate job to pursue writing and homesteading and kid-raising. I painted the cute coop and kept it tidy, but alas, less than six months after being outside, the wood pulled up in places where it should lie flat and the joints cracked. It worked out in my favor, actually. Gandalf, my surprise rooster, grew to the size of a dog and was crowding my ladies in there like sardines. I knew it was time to look into alternative living arrangements.

I must've read about 50 articles and blog posts on hoop houses. Everyone did something a little different and I fell in love with the customization options for a DIY playpen for my girls.

And then, because apparently someone up there knows I am a procrastinator, I was given a huge, giant shove a little push of motivation to get this hoop house done.

We came home late from church on Sunday (that's right, I went to church, and no, I didn't ignite or anything....Hallelujah!) and as I was changing out of my nice clothes I was informed we had chickens in the front yard.

Now my entire backyard, where I let my flock free-range, is surrounded by an 8-foot privacy fence. These are huge, heavy breed birds, we're talking here. They typically don't fly higher than 4-5 feet, max. But no, somehow, our birds were in the front yard. My roo was actually across the street under a pine tree. Took some work getting him home, let me tell you.

Panicked, I ran from the front to the back yard, moving my overheated girls (did I mention it was almost 90 that day) as fast as I could, one by one. I counted, recounted. Four girls, one rooster. I see two barred rocks, one white rock, one silver-laced wyondotte, and a buff orpington. Where's my other buff?

I must've ran up and down the street 10 times. I yelled out to neighbors like a basket case. "HAVE YOU SEEN ANY CHICKENS!" I was sweaty, my dress was crooked from throwing it back on in haste, and I had that wild look in my eye that makes most people run the other direction. Goes without saying my neighbors didn't say anything back to me at all - just stared. Can't blame 'em.

I came back home defeated. No buff. No fifth hen. I began to worry I was never going to find her. And then I went in the backyard. And found the trail.


There were piles upon piles of feathers under a tree, then right in the middle of the lawn, and then finally a long, clear trail leading up to the tall prairie plants we have growing in the back of the yard. No blood. Just piles upon piles of feathers. And no bird.

I googled and read the surprisingly common answer to my question: fox. A fox leaves piles of feathers with no blood. I'd spied foxes in our hood before. I just never imagined they could get through my huge fence. No wonder my flock flew higher than they ever had before.

After bushwhacking the perimeter of my fence line with a machete, I finally discovered my little lady. Neck broken. Left under some bent plants. Right in front of a hole in my fence that I'd casually put some hardware cloth over earlier in the spring....except now the hardware cloth was swatted aside, lying in the mud. And my sweet little Sunset was dead, hidden for later, cut down only 3 weeks from when we expected her first egg, a symbol of what would come to the rest of my girls if I didn't get them protected.

The need to create a bigger, better living space became urgent.

I'd already purchased chicken wire. You know. To keep the chickens in their run and to keep hawks away and stuff. No need to plan for larger animals that could eat through chicken wire, such as opossums, raccoon, and foxes. No need. I have a ginormous fence. Riiiiight.

So aside from that huge flub in logic, what follows is a detailed description of how I (with help - you'll want at least 2 people on this job) constructed my somewhat-stable, affordable, and fun chicken hoop house.

I started by pricing my materials.

I wanted at least 8 "hoops" over my house to help distribute the weight of the snow we are no doubt going to get this winter. And yes, I am still disillusioned enough to think this might just hold up in the winter. I'll be sure to come back with an update once we get into the season. 

I also wanted it to be high enough for me to walk in comfortably. 2 10-foot pieces of PVC stuck together on top? That awwta do it. 16 x $1.41 = $23


And I wanted the base to be big...big enough for me to not feel guilty all winter when they are, quite literally, cooped up. I bought some treated pine (since this is not for my garden and the birds will not be consuming it, treated is perfectly fine by me, especially as this stuff will quite literally be touching dirt and prone to rot). 2 10-foot 2x4s = $12 and 2 12-foot 2x4 = $18


I wanted something strong to hold the PVC into place at the bottom of each "hoop." Rebar is cheap! 16 pieces of rebar = $18


I coulda built a door but I didn't wanna. New screen door = $22


I also purchased the chicken wire (mistake #1 - it was deceptively cheap at $36), corner brackets ($4), some baling twine ($4), two cheap-o tarps (mistake #2 - get better tarps as $10 2-fers already have holes), some nice bungee cords ($10), some really nice wood screws at 2" and 2 1/2" ($16), PVC fittings ($7) and some hinges for the screen door ($8). So right now we're looking at a total of $188.


You'll see I had some leftover, thinner boards found in my garage....they were maybe 1x4s? who even knows, not this girl....at about 8 feet each. I also had two old sliding closet doors, bricks, a cinder block, some old cabinets, a random piece of plywood, and tree branches galore.

The frame was first. I wanted framing along the back to help with stability and to secure the closet doors - those doors are to act as a makeshift windbreak at the rear of the hoop house (you'll see them in action later). We screwed metal corner brackets along all 4 corners of the frame. It wasn't enough to keep the wobbles at bay, however, so we added 2-foot wooden corner braces cut from scrap wood and fitted in at an angle. Can't see them yet. That's because I took this picture before I had to help cut wood on an angle. You know. Back when I was still happy.


Time to secure the PVC together. I used super cheap, 80-cent, 40-degree 1/2-inch fittings. So all I had to do was stick the two pieces of PVC into a fitting, hammer the rebar into the ground at equal intervals along each vertical side of the frame, and then shove the PVC over each piece of rebar. The setup was super easy and shockingly secure, even with the super-soggy soil we had at the time. Those fittings also created a bit of a pitch on top, which I hope will help with the snow and rain runoff. Here's a pic with the frame done, the doorframe getting all lined up and ready to cut, the PVC hooped and ready, and the closet doors prepped for attachment.


From there things got tricky and by tricky I mean, we had to get the door frame up, hang the screen door, wrap the bottom half of the hoop house in chicken wire (because why not, I had plenty...), and then get the tarps on. Too bad this happened:


Once things kinda dried out, we went back to work. We secured the tarps, tearing them on the baling wire in the process because I bought the super cheap kind. The door was secure. I even hung a cute lil' sign my mama got me.


You can see those closet doors along the back. Screwed 'em right into the frame. They also help hold the roost branches up there. Got my nipple waterer hanging for lots of fun water time. My electric waterer (unplugged for summertime) is chilling on an overturned, brick-filled plant pot. I took this pic and then realized the feeder was stupid high, so I replaced that overturned tupperware with some shorter bricks and put the tupperware under the old cabinets (far back corner there). Those cabinets were later filled with pine shavings and will (fingers crossed) become nests.


I became trapped in the hoop house so this stick did the trick of becoming an interior door handle :) Obviously one of my favorite parts.


The girls are over the moon about the structure. They happily roost, climb, eat, drink, and lounge in there comfortably with no hawk or raven threats. Ruby approves.


Now because of my fox issue, I re-wrapped the bottom layer of the hoop house and the screen door with some hardware cloth. I went and purchased 1/3 the amount hardware cloth as I did chicken wire....for $50. Yep. It's $14 more for 1/3 the amount of hardware cloth. You see why I was swayed into thinking it would all be alright if I just bought the super-cheap stuff? Right?

Also, I do not have an anti-digger mechanism in place for the hoop house. That frame is super easy to get under, especially in the uneven areas. My hope is to work on securing the perimeter of my fence line so my girls can still free-range. It's either that or employ some anti-digger methods in the fall when I can better afford getting myself into hardware cloth debt. Not sure which option is the better answer there. I'll also need to invest in some really nice tarps. Shoulda done all this to begin with, you know, but then this flaw-filled story would've never ended up on this blog now, would it? :)

When all is said and done, my $188 original total came closer to $250. Damn you Mr. Fox. Still better than the $450 total on the little website-bought coop, right? Right? That coop will become my chicken hospital for bruisers and babies :)

Lesson to be learned: know your predator threats and plan for all of them, even if it seems there's no way a sneaky fox could ever get into your yard. It'll save you time and money!


What do you guys think? Ever built anything like this before? And let's do a little poll for strictly my benefit....would you work on building security into the privacy fence perimeter or work on securing the crap out of the hoop house? Which one is the sounder investment in your opinion? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below.

Hope you all have a wonderful day and as always, thank you so very much for reading!

Jen


8 comments:

  1. OMG, poor Sunset. I mean, I eat chicken all the time, so it's weird how sad I was reading that she's gone. (sniff, sniff) Did you build that all by yourself??? Impressive friend!

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    1. I know, isn't it sad :( And NO - this is at least a 2-man job! Make sure you have a buddy to help you out!

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  2. Oh no! I'm so sorry you lost one of your chickens! During my childhood on the farm, we also had a fox-induced chicken tragedy, and I remember it being rather traumatic for us kids! Hopefully the new home will work out to keep them snug and safe!

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    1. Thanks Rach! It was awful - even though we didn't see it go down, I felt my heart sink! I am also hoping this new home does them some good, at least until we can find some additional cash for the perfect coop! Ha!

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  3. Sunset NOOO!!!! Sorry to hear love.. That must have just been awful for you and the girls. On a more hilarious note, I can definitely see you frantically running all over the neighborhood like a psycho looking for your chicken. Nice work building that chicken hoop house - I would never be able to build something like that without extensive directions and supervision. Lol. Hope it helps keep the fox out! What does the Fox say? Nothing! Tell it to shut the F UP! Bye lovely!!! -Iva

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    1. HAHAHA I knew you'd think that was funny! I was a banshee - it was awful. Pretty sure like 3 of my neighbors just kinda slowly turned around and went into their homes....or sped off down the street hahaha!

      AND YOUR FOX JOKE - it had me cracking up girl. You're so funny. Thank you for brightening my day :)

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  4. Oh no, sorry about the chicken!

    I like the house though!

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    1. Thanks! I suppose I better get used to chicken losses if I'm really going to keep up with this hobby farming thing. Still sucks tho.

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