After being enamored of the idea, every would-be urban chicken owner has to face the reality of money, time they have to deal with making a coop, and size of their lawn in order to figure out what kind of future lifestyle the urban chickens can have.
If you are short on time, have some money, and have a smaller lawn, you may go the way we did. If you have more time and craftsmanship, and want to save money, there are multiple resources online for building your own coop.
Instructables have several examples from their community on how to build one – this one looks simplest/cheapest: http://www.instructables.com/id/how-to-build-a-cheap-chicken-coop/ and here’s one that took third prize in an Instructables contest: http://www.instructables.com/id/Easy-Chicken-Coop-for-the-City-Dweller/ . However, if you want swanky, check out the cedar condo also on Instructables : http://www.instructables.com/id/Cedar-chicken-coop-condo/
I managed to sell Jason on chicken raising with this thoroughly modern coop from the Omlet company in the UK ( see more at omlet.com). The recycled plastic meant we didn’t have to worry about keeping wood free of pests, and (like that hamster cage) it could be hosted out with regularity and not have to worry about wood rot.
However, he couldn’t completely stay away from the handyman thing – unlike the expensive coop (seen in photo below), the Omlet Eglu of that era did not come with wheels for moving the setup around to give the chickens fresh grass to scratch at. (These kinds of coops I have found are also called “chicken tractors.”
J did go to the hardware store, buy an axle, and rather than try to drill into the plastic (ruining the integrity of the Eglu) he affixed a big plank on top. He drags the coop onto the board, then uses that setup to help him wheel the coop around what can be very soggy Seattle lawn.
The basics of a chicken coop are as follows – you need an enclosed place with a door that shuts for them to sleep/roost, a concave space or nesting box (1 per 4 hens) to push out an egg in comfort ( some coops may have straw inside boxes, the Omlet Eglu has a nice egg bowl), means for ventilation, water and food bowls/bins. If you put the chicken run together with the coop as the Omlet Eglu does, then you will also need places to hang the water and feed inside the run, so that squirrels etc don’t consume the chickens’ nourishment out from under them. Rats remember are attracted to poop and the food the chickens eat – and in Seattle the rats can be very mean.
The coop also needs to be predator proof (hence shutting door, a run that flares outward so animals are unable to burrow underneath to get the chickens). If you want more specifics, check out the My Pet Chicken ebook chapter on coops.
The For Dummies series also has a good set of questions to ask yourself if you (like us) go the pre-fab coop route.
To save money, you can make your own – just think a bit about the need to clean them and the design before you begin, in order to save yourself work later. If you have money to blow, you can always get a coop similar to one our friend Eileen in the UK had – a brightly painted “wheelbarrow” sort of coop.
Where we live, Seattle Tilth actually sponsors a tour so that people can see the varieties of coops and other urban farming setups – it takes place in July this year. You can see photos of some sample coops from the tour last year.
And finally, sometimes people have to move, and they can’t take their chickens and/or their coop with them. Looking on Seattle’s version of Craigslist right now I’m seeing numerous listings for coops of various ages, sometimes with chickens included. You may inherit an urban chicken setup from a neighbor or friend who has to relocate for no work, no money down (just bring the truck over to the house to get it).
Just be sure to disinfect an old coop before putting new chickens in it – one blogger recommends vinegar rather than bleach – you can also get virus-smiting hardcore (very much need to wash yourself and the coop down afterward) stuff from McMurray Hatchery. Just remember, it makes no sense to give your chickens organic feed, free range, all that jazz just to leave toxic chemicals on their coop – hose that sucker down after the disinfecting ends. Read all labels and scrub hard.