Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Chicken wire and cheap coops: don't do it.

Tl;dr:  Chicken coops aren't cheap.  You might try to make them cheap at first, but you're just going to end up with more headache/sick birds/pest problems/predator attacks later.  Spend the money to do it right the first time.

I recently received an email from a pet fencing company that advertises "Chicken fencing" and even sells an "Eglu"-like plastic coop on their site, asking me to consider purchasing their products for my clients and recommending them on my site.

Maybe for a chihuahua.  Or a cat.  But only between, like, 50 and 65 degrees F and definitely not in the sun.

Their description:
Our chicken wire fence is made of 20-gauge galvanized steel wire that is completely chew-proof and black PVC-coated for rust protection and a virtually invisible appearance in your landscape from as close as 15-20 feet. It features a 1-inch hexagonal design that is stronger than a traditional square mesh. We offer chicken fence rolls in heights of 6 and 7.5 feet to protect against climbers and jumpers, and with when properly secured to the ground with our ground stakes, digging predators will have a tough time getting to your coop. Also, our steel hex rolls for chicken enclosures offer a humane alternative to electric poultry fence options that can often cause more harm than good to your chickens.

Any of you who have been to one of my Backyard Chickens 101 classes or talked with me about coop and run design can probably imagine my response.  For those of you who haven't made it to a class yet, here is a brief version of my thoughts regarding "chicken wire" and "cheap alternatives"...

Hi there, and thanks for getting in touch! 

Unfortunately, a lot of the information you have on your website is exactly the sort that I spend hours of my time counteracting when I get called in to fix a backyard flock setup that wasn't designed well from the start, and contributes to people mistakenly thinking that backyard chicken housing can be cheap and also keep their girls healthy and happy.

For example, while I appreciate the coating feature, your chicken fencing isn't rodent-proof (which is a key point for most city permits) - anything larger than a dime and a mouse can get through, a quarter and a rat can get through - or predator proof in many cases given that a racoon can easily reach right through a 1" opening and smaller predators like fisher cats or weasels can sometimes scoot right on through.  Though, since you aren't recommending that the wire is buried at least 1.5' straight down, or 6" down and a foot+ out, then anything that digs (which is everything) will be under it, "secure ground stakes" or no, in less than an hour. 

Hardware cloth (1/2" openings) is the way to go!

Secondly, those tiny plastic on-the-ground coops aren't actually large enough for two full-size birds (minimum 2 sq ft per bird of inside space with 8" linear roosting space for each, and I recommend a minimum flock size of 3-4 anyway, for a number of reasons), encourage the excess moisture that is a chicken's kryptonite and are actually a huge hassle to take apart every time you need to clean them which leads to dirty coops and sick birds, and aren't winter-ready for at least 1/3rd of the country.

And she's not even quite full grown yet!  They need plenty of space, and a coop with good ventilation that's a breeze for you to keep clean and dry.

If your company truly is committed to helping provide products and resources for people to keep their own chickens as pets, I would be very happy to talk with whomever makes product decisions at your company about what my experiences have been over 9 years of managing more than 100 flocks and probably over 1000 backyard chickens in the New England region, and perhaps we can find a few more options to add to your product list that I *would* be glad to recommend on my site.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.  Chickens for all!  :)

(For more on what I *DO* recommend, check out my previous blog posts on bedding and winter and more winter, my website for upcoming classes in the Boston, MA area, and the following picture of the coop I built this fall at The Chickery when it was about 90% finished.)

10-12 sq ft/bird outside space, 2-3 sq ft/bird inside space, raised off the ground 2.5 ft, solid ramp, 1/2" HW cloth on all walls and windows plus across the top and buried all the way around, and a solid roof on the whole thing.  Now THAT's a coop that will make your chicken-keeping life SO much easier all year round!