- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Raising backyard chickens doesn’t have to break the bank.

The rising popularity of urban poultry has Iowans searching for the best ways to house their feathered friends. While constructed coops ranging from basic abodes to elaborate chateaus are available, some chicken owners are turning to online ideas and their own scrap piles for inspiration.

Others, like Ted Scovel of Des Moines, are simply retrofitting structures already on their properties. He keeps his 20 chickens in a 12-by-18-foot garage outfitted with roosts.

“Housing for chickens can be as elaborate or simple as what you have available or can afford,” said Scovel, who has raised poultry for roughly 40 years. “It depends on what kind of time you have.”

The Des Moines Register reports (https://dmreg.co/RmlOoX ) rules regarding urban chickens vary from city to city. Some municipalities have banned the birds; others have created chicken-specific regulations in response to residents’ requests.

Most cities cap the number of chickens permitted, and roosters are usually not allowed. Some apply restrictions based on property size, require a coop to provide a minimum square footage per bird or mandate the structure be a certain distance inside the property line.

Once those criteria are met, the only limits to coop design come from the owner’s imagination or wallet.

Bill Callahan of Des Moines used scrap materials he found on Craigslist and inside his garage for the largest of his two coops. He estimates his out-of-pocket cost for the entire 5-by-9-foot structure was less than $100.

Callahan was hesitant at first when one of his daughters asked to raise chickens a few years ago. But the family had already started an organic garden and he came to see the link between that project and the chickens.

“I finally realized it went hand-in-hand with what I was already doing,” he said. “It’s great because they eat all of our compost, they fight over banana peels, things like that.” When the birds are let out of the run, “they just wander around the yard and pick up bugs.”

Callahan, who designs and builds furniture as a hobby, cut circles in discarded steel panels to provide light and ventilation for the coop’s outdoor run.

A windstorm-wrecked trampoline provided the curved supports for the top. Pickets from a former yard fence, also toppled in a storm, walled-in the coop. An aluminum panel left over from another project provided the coop’s roof and a partial canopy for the run.

The wire mesh that surrounds the run was probably the biggest purchase for the project, he said. A few cans of “oops” paint for about $10 were mixed together to create a dusty-red color to dress up the metal panels.

An old window sash from the family’s home provides light and air to the coop. Along with large doors on the run, there’s one on the back of the coop and also a smaller door behind the roosts to make egg-gathering easy.

A big challenge was using all the recycled materials efficiently as possible, Callahan said. “It makes the design process more difficult,” he said, but that’s part of the fun.

The three birds in the recycled-material coop are about 2 years old and are laying a few eggs. They’ll soon be off to the butcher, and four young chicks, now in a wood crate in the garage, will move in.

Callahan’s second, smaller coop was purchased when three more birds were added and the factions didn’t get along. He now hopes to recycle the materials from the found-material coop as part of a larger shed for the family’s flock.

Darren Fife of Windsor Heights combined his family’s love of gardening with a home for their two chickens. A greenhouse makes up just over half of the 8-by-16-foot shed they built in the backyard, with the chicken coop and run on the other end.

“We just kind of figured it out as we went along,” he said.

The building is insulated and features a rain-barrel system that collects water for the chickens as well as the family’s garden. The panels on the birds’ side can be adjusted as needed for Iowa’s weather swings. “We can completely seal it up and open it up.”

The Fifes got their first two chickens four years ago when eggs were hatched at the children’s school. They traded those birds to a farmer for two other chicks once the first duo’s egg-laying diminished. The current chickens provide about a dozen eggs a week.

“We really like the idea of knowing where our food comes from,” Fife said. “It doesn’t get more local than your backyard.”


Tips for your coop

- Chickens’ needs are basic - fresh water and feed, shelter inside, a run outside and protection from predators.

When deciding on the size of the coop, a good rule is at least 4 square feet of floor space per bird, Scovel said, with the outdoor run as least as large but preferably bigger.

- Enough interior space helps prevent squabbles among the chickens and halts the spread of disease, he said. Plan the size of the coop to be roomy enough for when the birds aren’t using their outdoor run in the winter. While the space can be insulated, Scovel said a heat lamp may be all that’s needed when the snow flies.

- Scovel suggested the outdoor run be at least 3 feet high. It must have a covering, such as sturdy wire mesh, he said. Hawks have been spotted in his neighborhood, and he’s not taking any chances.

- “Don’t worry about the chickens getting out. Be more worried about the predators getting in,” Scovel said, adding research is the key to successfully raising chickens in the city.

- “Study up and learn more about how to keep them in the wintertime. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. As long as they’re dry and draft-free and they have good ventilation, they’re fine.”


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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