Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Better Hoop Coop

     Randy, the mason who worked through the basement repair project with me, also happens to be a fellow flockster (That means chicken keeper in Harvey Ussery speak).  When he saw our hoop coops he liked the concept and decided to build one of his own.  I have to say that he made some impressive improvements to the design.  For those that missed it, pics and plans of our hoop coop can be found here.  Below is a series of pictures showing some of the finer points of Randy's coop.

     He used a slightly shorter frame giving an overhang to the structure.  It's a nice look and offers some shade and protection for the front wall though it also makes the interior slightly smaller.  On the front are two brown barn steel panels that he had laying around, complete with j channel and bottom trim pieces.  Makes for a sturdy and attractive front wall.

     On the front of the plywood person door is a guillotine style chicken door.  I can see the advantage of this type of door, as our chickens sometimes push their hinged door shut and lock themselves out of the coop.  The ones inside are not smart enough to push it back open when that happens.

     Both screen and hardware cloth cover the vents in the front.  On the roof  are a couple of small solar cells powering led lighting inside the coop.   Randy and his family really love this feature so far, the fixtures stay on low all the time to give some ambient light all night.  They can be switched to high when someone is working in the coop. 

     The Led fixture, seen above, has a photocell to turn it off in the daytime.

     One of my favorite innovations about this build is the curved 1x4 on the edge of the cattle panels.  This gives some framework to the corners and makes attaching tarps and screen much easier.  In order to flex the 1x into place, Randy first cut a bunch of shallow kerfs into one side of the bord.  Then, after thoroughly soaking the wood, slowly pushed it into place against the cattle panel and secured it with a 2x4 in the center.  Tricky stuff, but it adds a great finished look to this project.

     The frame is covered by two tarps; a large canvas one and a smaller plastic one.  The ends of the tarps are held in place by lengths of shock cord that he happened to have a spool of.  For the canvas one he threaded the cord through the grommets but the plastic tarp is folded over creating continuous pocket for the cord to run through.

     The cords are tied to an eye bolt in the base of the coop.

      The sides are secured with bungee cords. 

     Inside the coop, straw bales give some structure to the corners and support a 2x4 perch.  A row of feed bins serve as nest boxes and clear plastic panels let in some natural light across the back. 
     With so many options, truly this is a building that is unique to each builder.  Thank you Randy for allowing me to publish pics of this fine example.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Some Forest Garden Wins

     Despite a sparse germination and our almost total neglect of the baby forest garden, there were some things that worked quite well.

The mammoth sunflowers came up strong; providing shade, structure, and food for wild birds.  There is still plenty of seed standing, so I occasionally break off a head and drop it for the chickens, supplementing their food supply in this time of limited forage.  The plant also provides some nice, semi-woody, rough mulch that can capture blowing leaves where we need them.

     The millet has worked in a similar way, coming up in scattered clumps from the seed balls.  The wild birds don't leave very much standing, but I am guessing the chickens find some dropped seed in their foraging as well as what we drop for them. 

     With all the construction and other craziness going on this Summer, we only managed to work on two paddocks this year, keeping the birds concentrated on each area in the turf killing phase way longer than I originally envisioned.  We were able to add enough high carbon mulch to keep things smelling and looking ok, basically doing the deep litter method over a large area.  The above shot shows the first paddock, which was seeded in June, and had about a month to rest and germinate before housing 2 broody hens and 6 chicks for the rest of summer.  Since the the other birds have very little respect for our (non-electrified) premier net fencing, they would find their way in as well, to help themselves to a sampling of the fine insects, fruit, greens, and seed that this paddock already offered.  The netting did discourage them enough to allow some plant growth.  We don't have total control of the flock at this point, but if we drop the fences they will roam much farther throughout the day.  With the netting up, about 1/2 the birds stay in the paddock, and the rest don't wander as far, and hopefully stay out of the neighbor's yard.  Hooking up the charger I'm sure would help, but I really don't want to zap our neighbor's dog, who is a total sweetheart and patrols the gardens daily for us.  Also it seems like such an encumbrance to us in our daily chicken chores.  I think we will only resort to the zapper if we run into a bad predator situation. 

     The second paddock is plenty killed and mulched at this point.  I am planning to get seed and make new seed balls over winter for the new section.   It will end up getting planted in early Spring.


    The harlequin marigolds germinated and grew quite well in place, though I can see many of them lost the distinctive striped pattern that makes pop.  I am going to have to be very aggressive with rouging out non conforming blooms if I want to keep the genetics on this heirloom true.  The good news is that I still have a ton of saved seed and at least 1/2 a clue which batches came in better.

     Daikon radishes and zinnias dot the area.  Arugula coming up in patches, surrounded by clumps of millet.  The green snow fence helps to restrict the flow of chickens through the paddock allowing the plants a chance to thrive. 


     The hatch-lings loved living in the shade of the pear tree and helped clean up the bumper crop of pears that we never got around to harvesting.  Mayo Indian Amaranth on the right just in front of a clump of Comfrey.


     The Daikon Radishes shown above can be a tasty crop for people, though we only managed to harvest one, just to sample it, this year.  More importantly though, the large taproot is able to break through hard pan and loosen compacted soil.  The arm sized roots will be left in the ground to rot providing pathways of organic matter that earthworms and other composting critters can follow down along with moisture and oxygen.  Eventually the organic matter will get mixed into the soil in an orchestra of precision micro-tillage that goes many feet deeper than our mechanical tillers could ever reach. 

     Plantains, Dandelions, and Pig weed dominated earlier in the summer.  The pig weed I pulled and dropped as rough mulch, hopefully before it formed seed.  The dandelions and plantains were left in as forage and dynamic accumulators.  Garlic cloves sprout randomly throughout the paddock.  Various lettuce and strawberry spinach plants are scattered in the mix.  Four clumps of comfrey grow on the drip line of the pear.    The chickens pecked at them a little throughout the warm season, then ate them to the ground when things got cold and forage became scarce.

     The legumes showed poorly despite my attempt to add a dried packet of nitrogen fixing bacteria starter to the seed balls.  The occasional pea or bean thrived in the middle of the paddock.  The hairy vetch got off to a wispy start and then vanished.  There has been no sign of the white clover, Siberian pea shrub or black locust so far.  I am thinking this is due to high Nitrogen from the chicken waste, but that is just a guess.

     An unknown squash climbs it's way through a mass of cherry tomatoes and tangles itself in the fencing.  The Gardener's Delight cherry tomatoes that were in the seed mix came up in abundance and ripened just in time to give the chickens a quick snack before the frosts hit.  There were also some oddball volunteers that I am guessing were planted by the chipmunks from the hybrid Roma tomatoes I grew two years ago.  I wonder if there are quicker to ripen varieties which would work better growing from seed like this. 

     Overall I feel pretty good about what we have done so far.  However, my vision for the layout of the back yard and my ideas about how to incorporate the birds into a working forest garden are all  changing quite a bit.  One of my goals for this winter is to produce and publish some better drawings of the evolving permaculture design for this property. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Complacency Kills

We forgot to close up the birds last night and ended up losing two of them.  We think it was a hawk or owl.  We found one of the leghorns in the neighbors yard with the head and organs missing.  The other was one of the Reds.  She was still alive, but had a bad gash in her side that was not fixable.  We decided to put her down.  I guess I'm a little amazed that this is the first predation we have suffered out here.  Hopefully it will keep us more vigilant in the future.  :(

Friday, September 27, 2013

Random Updates 9/27/13

"I'm fixing a hole, where the rain gets in.  And stops my mind from wandering....."

     We started a little project back in the beginning of July, replacing two failing cinder block foundation walls on the house.  Ahhh... the joys of owning a 161 year old house.  Every project turns out to be about 10 times more difficult than I anticipate.

The funny part here is that the original field stone walls are still ok.  It is the addition, which I'm guessing is between 50 and 100 years old, that is failing.  It's been a difficult couple of months.  Right after work I meet up with the mason; who is a friend of a friend and also happens to be a great guy and a master of his trade.  The two of us have been working on the wall most evenings from 4:30 till dark, as Nikki works her two jobs.  Meanwhile the gardens and chickens only get a basic level of maintenance and we are living with giant dirt piles, and a lawn reduced to mud as our household gradually descends into a state of chaos.  

     I wish we could have come up with a more environmentally and energy responsible solution than concrete block, but economics and local building codes don't leave us with a lot of choices, so I take some comfort in the idea that we are rescuing a very old house from despair.  At least that's what I tell myself while laying in bed listening to the mice in the walls.  Still, rehabbing this old place was the way we could get out in the county, where we have space for chickens and gardens.  As I look out at the sunrise in the morning, or when the humming birds come up to my face and say hi while I'm strolling through the gardens munching on berries and fresh greens, I know that it is worth the constant effort to live here.

Despite the numerous challenges we have encountered, I have to say that I am very happy with the results so far.  It is wonderful to see our creepy, dungeon like, basement slowly transformed into a livable space.  

Now that I can see some light at the end of the tunnel, I am finally ready to say "Thank you Brian".  Thank you for talking me into this insanity.  Thank you for bringing your expertise and heavy equipment as well as all the hours spent digging a giant hole in heavy clay.  I also want to extend a special thanks to my brother in law, Randy.  Thank you for bringing some muscle to the job just when I need it the most, and for hauling away all that waste concrete.  It's times like these that the importance of community really shows itself 

     As far as the rest of the homestead is going, I have about a dozen things a day that I wish I had the time and energy to record here.  Some surprising successes and plenty of failures to discuss, just never enough time in the day.  I have been taking pics when I get the chance, so I will try to do some reflective articles over winter, when I have a little more time on my hands.  

     The whole chicken paddock/forest garden concept has been stuck on hold for a while now.  The birds are still in the second paddock location, where they have been living since early June.  This is way longer than I intended for the grass kill phase, but I have yet to even finalize the layout of this section, so I can't really plant it or do earthworks yet.  We have been able to add enough high carbon material (mostly straw) to keep things reasonably healthy and smelling nice.  However, the chickens have gradually lost respect for the short (still not electrified) fence and are getting more and more out of control.  When we can't manage to keep them entertained with fresh loads of compost or enough fresh treats, they simply hop the fence and go off to forage.  This isn't a huge problem for the number of birds we have, but I know that being able to control them will be very important for forage and manure management for what we are trying to do here.

     Of the leghorn chicks that we got from a grade school teacher this Spring, 11 turned out to be cockerels.  We separated them out when they started getting aggressive and kept them in the mobile hoop coop on pasture until they were big enough to harvest.  Without any hens to fight over, they seemed to get along well enough.  Keeping them confined in a smaller area helps prevent the meat from becoming tough and stringy.  

     Harvest day went a lot smoother than last time we tried it.  Largely due to the home made killing cone we constructed out of some old traffic cones that we found on the property.  An idea we got from reading the Walden effect blog.  Nikki has processed a lot more birds than I have, but with the wonderful step by step pictures and instructions found in Harvey Ussery's book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, I managed to help her get the job done.  

     I don't know if it was having a little more experience with such things now, or the fact that we froze the birds instead of cooking them the same day, but there was a profound difference in how much I enjoyed eating the meat.  The first time around I felt a little queasy about the whole affair and ate very little.  When Nikki cooked one of these on our little rotisserie the other day, I have to say it was the most delicious chicken I have ever eaten.  That first bite was a neat moment when I finally felt like I understand what people are talking about when they ramble on about being connected to the source of their food.      Baby steps...

     One exciting development this year is the hatching out of 6 baby chicks, three each from two broody hens.  We are keeping them in the first paddock, which has been seeded with some success and is starting to fill in with various plants.  The mom of the older three birds has lost interest and rejoined the larger flock.  Her babies moved in with the other mom and the seven of them sleep in an old dog kennel with a tarp over it that they seem to really prefer over the fancy brooder that I built for them. 

A variety of different plants have germinated, and the chickens nibble at many of them in between scratching for bugs.  They love to hang out in or under the pear tree.  The tree produced a rediculus number of delicious pears this year, but we haven't managed to harvest very many of them.  The chickens are certainly enjoying them, along with the insects they attract.  

     I am not totally happy with our management of this system so far, but it is working out for the most part.  I am looking forward to having enough established paddocks to allow a better recovery of both plants and insects between visits from the chickens.  But considering how busy we have been this summer, I am mostly just happy that it is working at all.

     In spite of our near total neglect of the gardens this Summer, we did surprisingly well on some things, along with a few notable failures.  Despite the presence of blossom end rot, early blight, and horn worms we harvested a pretty respectable number of perfect Amish Paste tomatoes.  Even though our rogue chickens ate more than 1/2 of them, we still had plenty to give away over the last moth or so.  The biggest and most perfect were set aside for seed saving.

The orange bell peppers that were inter planted between the tomatoes, on the other hand, were stunted for some reason.  The few peppers we picked tasted good, but were tiny little things on tiny little plants.  Not at all sure why, maybe just the weird wet, cool, start to Summer we had this year.  Overall, though, the zone 1 kitchen garden area performed pretty well for first year hugel mounds.  We even got to try our first goji berries.

     The lasagna beds in the back are suffering a bit more.  The chickens have done considerable damage.  I am not too concerned, as that area will eventually be incorporated as part of the forest garden / chicken paddocks.  The fact that we are getting anything at all back there, in spite of not watering at all after initial planting, I think is a testament to how effective sheet mulching is at producing great soil conditions.  We have harvested numerous cucumbers and garlic.  The tomatoes and ground cherries are doing great.  The raspberries even produced a second flush of giant sweet berries, even better than the ones we harvested back in June.  They have never done that before!

    There is much more to say, but I should probably wrap this up now.  As nice as it has been to take a morning off work and give myself a break from the grind to ruminate on gardens and such, I still have to cut the grass before the mason comes this afternoon to set some more block.  The fun never stops, I tell ya.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Garden Musings

     We no longer have vegetable gardens, or flower gardens, or herb gardens.  That, I think, is an outdated way of looking at things; rooted in the arrogance of the concept that we are in control.  More and more these days I think of the entire property as one big garden.  Intrinsically connected to all the other gardens out there to form the environment that we must live in and are an important part of.  I am an essential element of this garden but, without the efforts of the birds and the bees, the bacteria, the fungi, the plants and the actinomycetes along with countless other actors, my part wouldn't mean squat.  Our involvement in this scheme is mostly limited to moving genetic material around.  It is a simple service which we are supremely well adapted to, and for which we are rewarded with abundant food and pleasure.

Our Amish paste tomatoes are just beginning to ripen

     We do get to make a lot of choices, which is really cool.  The difficult part there is understanding the choices we make.  There have been numerous times in just the last three years of gardening here that new information has lead me to regret my choices.  Usually this involves an attempt to eradicate a "weed" that I later learn is edible, useful, or supporting the useful plants nearby.  More and more I am starting to feel like a clumsy fool.  A backyard mechanic "improving" the design of the Ferrari that I was lucky enough to work on.  Nature is perfect.  She always cleans up her messes and produces wonders of beauty and abundance.  This does not mean that she is always kind, but with a little humility and effort we can receive her gifts, which can be truly amazing.

Our front hugel beet is doing quite well

     Neat, orderly gardens full of weak plants that depend on regular care no longer hold any appeal for me.  The sight of exposed soil is an ugly wound on the landscape, lacking the skin of humus and mulch that protects and keeps it from drying out.  The insects and birds buzzing around this time of year that used to seem like a threat, now bring a smile to my face.  Why should I care if they eat some?  There will still be food that goes into the compost simply because we didn't find time to prepare it.  It is well worth the slight losses we experience considering all the benefits they bring.  They fertilize, till and manage pests and disease for me, so that I can relax and simply enjoy the abundance.

These guys make me think of the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland

     The tomato horn worm (above) happily munches on our Gardener's Delight cherry Tomatoes.  Not that long ago such a sight would have sent me into a panic, searching for a "solution" to this "problem".  Now I have faith that the problem will solve it self.  Ironically, we used to get excited when we would see hummingbird moths in our garden pollinating the flowers.  Now we know that they are the same animal, the horn worm is the larvae of the hummingbird moth.  The leaves and stems that the caterpillars eat don't seem to slow our indeterminate tomatoes down at all.  On the contrary, I suspect that the damage actually triggers more fruit production.  Many of the abundant birds in our yard will make a meal out of this guy, and leave phosphorus rich droppings behind as payment.  Pesticides are clearly the wrong answer.  They cause way more problems than they solve.  I don't believe that I would get any more tomatoes, quite the opposite.  I would damage the soil ecology, leading to less abundant growth.  The birds would shun our land and let the pests multiply out of control.  The mantises, spiders, and other predatory insects would be killed and, as in all predator prey relationships, the predators would take much longer to recover than the prey.  The beneficial bacteria and other soil life would be damaged, meaning that the bird droppings and other detritus hitting the ground would be much more likely to turn toxic or diseased instead of becoming healthy, wonderful smelling humus.  This is just one small example of how the attitude of control causes more problems than it solves.

Our first zucchini after two years of failed crops.

     Sometimes this approach takes patience and persistence.  For the past two years all of our squash plants have been decimated by squash bugs and squash vine borers  The only fruit we have gotten was a handful of delicata squash, which seem to be naturally resistant.  This year we tried just a few plants in straw bales with some mushroom compost on top.  It was a shot in the dark experiment.  I wouldn't go so far as to call it the straw bale method, since we really haven't looked after it like you're supposed to.  We haven't added any fertilizers, and have only watered it a half a dozen times, when the weather was hot and dry, but it is working wonderfully.  For the first time in three years of trying we are eating our own homegrown zucchini!  Is it the new location?  Is it the method?  Or has our diverse ecosystem  recently achieved a balance that keeps the pests in check?  I don't know the answer to why this is working, perhaps it is a combination of factors.  What I do know it that the zucchini I steamed for dinner last night with some garden fresh garlic and basil in the water for flavor was absolutely delicious and probably the healthiest thing I have consumed all week.

         Our gardens are not tidy.  They are all mixed plantings also known as polycultures.  Vegetables, herbs, flowers, and herbs along with various support species.  Even some shrubs and trees in the mix.  Diversity is critical for stability.  Diversity is what attracts and houses the predators that we count on to keep pests in check.  Diversity prevents diseases from spreading easily.  Having a variety of plants is also the way to build healthy soil.  The trade off here is that having an orderly garden makes it easier to harvest and implement what management is necessary.  Our management mostly consists of pulling out or chopping down some plants to make room for their less aggressive neighbors, along with planting, the occasional watering, and harvesting.

      The traditional gardening methods I grew up with, I think, have an understandable history.  When the second world war was raging, people in this country were urged to grow food in whatever yard they had.  Naturally they sought to mimic the way farmers grew and ended up with rectangles of tilled land and orderly rows of spaced out crops.  The thing is, this arrangement is not what is best for the plants.  It makes a lot of sense if you are producing on a large scale and plan to harvest using tractors and other fossil fuel driven equipment, but it also causes a lot of problems that then require additional effort to deal with.  For the small scale back yard grower that plans to harvest by hand anyway, it really is a misguided setup.  Here, in the information age, we can do so much better.  The tricky part is finding that balance, allowing the plants to have as much of the jungle mess that they love as possible, while still being able to comfortably access them. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Building a Hoop Coop, How to construct an inexpensive open bottom poultry pen.

Click images to view larger

     We have built two hoop coops so far.  I like the concept due to it's low cost and mobility, though we do need to add protection for the winter months.  Last winter we used straw bale walls and a large tarp to get through the winter.  Eventually we plan to build a permanent coop, but having a totally mobile setup allows us to figure out the best location for that coop.  It also gives us some more time to learn what we are doing and what we want in a fixed coop.  The chickens seem to like them quite well, and so far they have been sufficient to protect our flock.  I prefer the open bottom design to any type of floor, not only is it cheaper and easier to make; it allows for pasturing or deep litter method use.

     The basic concept is pretty simple, two cattle panels arched over a 2x4 frame.  There are, however, a ton of options in the details of how to put them together.  Our first hoop coop (above right), was built to be light and movable.  We used untreated lumber and sealed it with a homemade paste of beeswax and mineral oil.  The front and back panels are hog panels and it features flip down wheels and a trailer hitch allowing one person to easily move it.  Our second hoop coop (above left) is built for durability.  It is made from treated lumber and has no wheels, so it takes at least three people to move.  The front and back panels are cattle panels, which are taller and require less additional support.  The only downside of this is that due to the curve in the top, the front panels ended up spaced farther apart requiring a slightly wider door. 

     There are many other differences, but this post will be mainly focused on how to build the second version. It is not intended to be the "end all be all" of hoop coop construction, as there are numerous design options and many other great versions out on the web.  My hope is that this post can serve as a guide that allows a beginner to get the job done.

Tools Needed:

Cross cut saw
Metal saw
Heavy duty pliers  
Hog ring pliers
Framing square


(2) 10' 2x4
(3) 8' 2x4
(2) 8' 1x4
(4) 8' 2x2
(3) Cattle panels
80' of 36" Poultry netting
48" x 5'   ¼" hardware cloth
U shaped fence nails
2" wood screws
2 1/2" wood screws
Hog rings
Baling wire
1 set medium hinges
1 set small hinges
2 latches
Tarps (16' x 12' & 8' x 10' or close sizes)

Step 1:  Build the Base

Cut 2 of the 2x4s at 8' 3" and 2 at 10'.  Screw together into a rectangle with the 10' sides overlapping the shorter ones as shown below.  Use 2 of the 2½" screws per connection.

Be sure that the base is square before step 2.  Check for squareness by measuring the diagonals, when both diagonals match, you will have a perfect square.

Step 2:  Add the corner braces

Cut the 1x4 into 4 corner braces with 45° angels measuring 18" on the long side. 

Trace the outline of the brace on the 4 corners.  Cut 3/4" deep along the two lines, then make several more cuts inside them.  Use a sharp chisel to remove the rest of the material creating an angled recess to receive the brace flush with the top of the 2x4.

     Install the corner braces with 3 of the 2" screws on each connection.  Pre-drill to avoid splitting the brace.

Step 3:  Install the cattle panels

     Lay the two cattle panels side by side with the short side of the panels on the short side of the frame.  center on the 2x4 and attach one side using u shaped fence staples.

U shaped fence staple

Attach the panels on one side, let the other side hang over.

center the panel on both 2x4's and attach using u shaped staples.

      Bend the panels one at a time up into an arch and attach the other side the same way.  (it is a good idea to have someone to help hold the panel in place for this step)

     Once both panels are up, use the hog rings to tie them together.  Alternately you can use baling wire. 

Hog ring and pliers

Step 4:  Attach the back panel

     Lay the third panel across the back 2x4 with one corner lined up with the arched panels and attach to the base using fence staples.

     One the bottom is securely attached, stand the panel up and use hog rings or wire to hold it in place.  Use a metal saw to cut the excess off, leaving a few inches of panel wire overhanging the arch.  Where a corner meets the arch, simply cut it off flush.

Using heavy duty pliers or channel locks, fold over the excess wire creating a secure connection.  Be careful not to pull in on the arch while doing this and change it's shape.  It takes considerable hand strength for this part.

     Take care that the sharp ends are tucked back were they can't catch you or your chickens.

Step 5:  Attach the front panels

Use the remaining cutoff from the back panel for the two front panels.  Count the spaces to determine where the center will be and create to equal length panels with straight ends toward the middle where your door will be.  Attach in the same way as the back panel.

Step 6:  Build door frame

put a 2x4 vertically along the inside of one front panel and mark the top at an angle where it meets the arch.  Cut along the mark so the 2x4 fits under the arch.  Do this for both sides.  Be sure to keep the 2x4 square with the frame, if you are on a level surface then a level works well, otherwise use a framing square.

Attach the bottom of the door frame by "toe nailing" or driving screws at an angle into the bottom 2x4.  Use 2 of the 2 ½" wood screws.  Then check for squareness and attach the top to the arch using the fence staples.

     Do this on both sides, making sure that the width at the bottom of the frame is consistent with the top of the frame.  Then cut the frame top to fit and "toe screw" into place.  I don't give exact measurements for these steps.  As long as it is square it will be fine, you can build the door to fit the opening you end up with.  

     The last step of the door frame is to install the stop.  Cut a 1x4 to fit from the bottom 2x4 to the top of the door frame and install ½ way over the inside on one side of the door frame.  I did this on the right side of the frame, but it needs to be opposite of the hinge side, which ever side you want that to be.  Attach the stop using 2" wood screws.

Frame top in place

Door stop in place

Inside view of the door stop.

 Step 7: Build the door

     The images below shows the dimensions of our door and are for example only.  Be sure to make your door fit the opening you end up with.  Measure the inside dimensions of your door frame, then subtract ½" from each direction to allow for door operation.  This should be the outside dimensions of your finished door.  

     Door Step 1:  cut 2 2x2s to the height of door frame opening minus ½"

     Door Step 2:  Cut 3 2x2s to the width of the door frame minus 3½"  Attach one to the top, one to the bottom, and one 12" above the bottom as shown below.  All of the connections for this frame are made using 1 2½" wood screw.  Pre drill to avoid splitting the 2x2s.

     Door Step 3:  Cut 2 2x2s at 12" and attach them 8" apart in the center of the bottom opening in the door frame.  (Note: This creates an 8" wide by 12" tall chicken door frame in the middle of the big door.  Perfect for chickens or ducks.  If you plan to keep geese or turkeys, you need to make a bigger door.)

     Door Step 4:  Cut a 2x2 for diagonal brace.  This will have an angle on both ends and extend from the hinge side down to keep the door from sagging.  Be sure the door frame is square, lay the 2x2 on top in position, and you can trace the angle cuts needed.

     Door Step 5:  Create the small chicken door.  The door should measure 11 3/4" x 7 3/4" to fit in the small frame.  I made mine by ripping left over pieces of 1x4 in half and screwing them together into a rectangle.  Alternately a solid board or piece of plywood could serve as a chicken door. 

     Door Step 6:  Cover door with 1/4" hardware cloth.  Attach using staples or pan head screws.  Leave the 12" x 8" chicken door frame open.  

     Door Step 7:  Attach chicken door using small hinges and install latch.

I use hook and eye latches with a spring clip to prevent easy opening by raccoons or other predators.  (The above pic is actually from our brooder build, so don't expect it to make sense for this project)

     Door Step 8:  Hang door in frame using Medium hinges and install latch.

Use the remaining hardware cloth to close the space between the door frame and the top of the arch.

Step 8:  Cover the outside with poultry netting

     Cover the front and back walls with poultry netting, folding the excess over the sides and around the cattle panels.  Then cover the arch by stapling the end to the side 2x4 and unrolling over the arch.  It will take three courses of 36" netting to cover the top.  Use lots of small loops of baling wire to attach the netting to the cattle panels.  Take care not to leave sharp points of wire exposed.

Step 9:  Add the Tarps

     This part requires a bit of creativity as there does not seem to be a "best way"  We used a combination of small bungee cords, screws, rope to get the job done.  Remember that chickens need a lot of ventilation, so don't close it up too tight, but make sure they will have shade throughout the day.  Be careful not to create pocket that will trap water, or loose flaps that will catch the wind.


Back Brace: Often people put a vertical brace on the back wall of a hoop coop to help support the arch.  With the panels securely wired together, I didn't feel this was necessary but may be needed in areas with significant snowfall.

Roost: Chickens need some kind of roost.  We used a 10' 2x4 with one side rounded off with a belt sander.  It was cut to fit just longer than the coop so it would sit snugly in the corner of the squares on the front and back cattle panels and secured with baling wire.  This provides enough space for about 20 birds to roost. (This is way too many birds to be stuck in such a small space, but works alright if they have daily yard access.)

This pic is from our first hoop coop, but you get the idea.

Nest boxes:  We use homemade wooden nest boxes.  They could be attached to the back panel for a mobile setup.

Predator Skirt:  To prevent protect the coop from predators that can dig under the sides, put 2' hardware cloth around the outside.  Fold it in half with a 90° bend so that it extends 1' up the side and 1' out around the coop.  The predators will tend to try to dig in the corner and get discouraged, not being smart enough to back up a foot and get under it.  We did this on our first (mobile) coop but not the new one that we keep inside fencing.  So far we have not had an issue either way. (knock on wood)

Wheels and Hitch:  For our first hoop coop, I came up with this pop up wheel assembly and a custom hitch for the front.  We use a trailer dolly which allows one person to easily move it through short grass. 

The wheel assemblies go on the front of the hoop coop and can be levered upright and pinned in place for moving or lay down so the frame sits flat on the ground.

I am really proud of this custom hitch.  It is the first functional thing I have made with a welder.

     So that's it.  I hope you find this useful, but please remember that there are a lot of other designs out there and a lot of options and room to get creative on your build.  If you do use this guide, please leave a comment or drop me an email at to let me know how it goes, especially if you find any errors or omissions in this post.

Update 11/27/13:

Click here to see a post about a different take on the hoop coop that a friend of ours built.