My family and I have kept chickens off and on over the past decade. But in recent years, after moving off the family land where we worked as full-time poultry farmers, we didn’t think they’d work at our new home. Then came the pandemic and, like so many other people, we called up the hatchery and placed an order for six Australorps.
We hand-built our coop (hardly our first such project) from scrap wood I collected while editing for a woodworking magazine. Because we have a lot of hawks in our neighborhood, we constructed a spacious run out of old fencing wire and a decommissioned greenhouse frame.
We raised our little ladies in the basement bathroom, then, when they feathered out, proudly moved them to the coop.
I’m glad we made the decision to become poultry-keepers again. We really appreciate the companionship, amusement and delicious eggs they brought to recent summers. But I also enjoy the endless projects that chicken-keeping provides me.
This year, I added clear roofing to their run and built pop-out nesting boxes onto the coop. I installed an automatic coop door opener and video camera. I even made an auto-waterer out of a 5-gallon bucket and farm-store drinking cups.
But, of course, I can find more to do. (Thank goodness) So, looking ahead to 2022, here are four improvements around the chicken coop I’d like to make—both for my chickens and myself.
1. Increased Ventilation
Our tidy little coop is nothing fancy—just a raised box with a skillion roof. The structure is tucked next to our garage and opens up to their covered run. It’s all very adequate, and I watch the birds happily cavorting through the run all day long.
But I think they could use more ventilation. We had some hot days over the summer, and I know a few nights were very uncomfortable for our ladies.
My chickens’ favorite part of the coop experience is the large, clear-plastic window that they can look out of while cozy on their perch. (They also love to peck at it and make noise whenever my neighbor lets the dog out.) This plastic has grown dirty, though, and really heats things up in the coop during the day.
This year, one of the first chicken coop improvements I want to make is to replace this plastic window with something that can increase ventilation. So I’m keeping an eye out for a similarly sized old window or even metal screen that I can put in there come spring without impeding their view.
2. Dust Baths
My chickens love the dirt floor of their run. And, as the dirt stays dry under the plastic roof, they love to dig dust baths in the dirt to keep themselves “clean” of parasites.
But this year I’d like to make them a little sandbox to dust bathe in. It’ll be nicer for them in general and keep their run floor clear of all those holes. (Just kidding—they’ll still dig holes.)
I figure I’ll just get an untreated fence post and cut it into four pieces to form a rough box. I’ll loosen the dirt floor inside the box. Then I’ll mix some fine sand and dry dirt, with a generous dose of diatomaceous earth to ward off lice and mites. And in summer, when I empty the fire pit, I may put in a bit of ash to the mix (it adds vitamins).
I suspect this will be one of my hens’ favorite chicken coop improvements this year.
3. Herb Garden
My family is “that house” in the neighborhood, as we’ve torn up the front yard for more gardening space. We grow ornamental flowers there, as well as some of the more attractive produce plants. And we grow a lot of herbs.
This year, when choosing our kitchen herbs to grow, I want to be more intentional about growing some specifically for the chickens to enjoy.
We already grow poultry favorites such as sage, parsley and oregano. So it’s just a matter of making sure we plant enough to share.
4. Field Trips
Because we have hawks and owls in our neighborhood (not to mention opossums, raccoons and the occasional fox), our ladies spend their days in a covered run. They’re comfortable in there, with plenty of space to move. They even have a handful of toys to fend off boredom.
But we’ve always free-ranged our chickens, so it kind of bothers me that they don’t get to wander through the backyard gardens.
While I can’t really open the door and let them out every morning, I do sit out on the patio and watch them when the weather is nice. And I feel like, with a little effort, I can return some of the pleasure they give me during those times by letting them out on field trips.
I’ll probably need to put up some fencing to keep my dogs from messing with them. We have step-in movable fencing at our family farm, so it may be as easy as bringing that to our home. Or perhaps I’ll just usher them into the fenced–in vegetable garden and let them have some tasty treats.
Then, at dusk, I know they’ll head back to the run and coop.
I know my chickens helped us through the difficulties of recent years, so I’m excited to make their 2022 just a little bit better. And chicken coop improvements mean more projects for me in 2022!