Housing the girls in the Summer Palace was only ever intended to be a temporary thing. Having experienced how much easier things could be with a well designed chook house such as the Loft, we were looking forward to being able to build something pretty special as a permanent home for our girls in the orchard. So in February 2012, construction of The Chateau began!
We had a few constraints. We were limited on the northern side by a lovely old Cox apple tree, and to the south by the pit that remained from the previous owners’ trampoline setup. (While we had thought of filling the pit in completely, it was just too much fun to keep as a slow-composting area for the girls to fossick in.) We also knew we needed to come up with a fairly simple way of managing reintegration – ideally a way of dividing the house and run into two sections, so that all birds could get used to each other (and get the hand-bagging over) before actually being able to physically touch each other. Then there was the wishlist – big enough to house the whole flock (and for the flock to grow), plenty of space in the house, the run and the nestboxes, convenient height for mucking out, easy access to all areas for collecting eggs, removing broody hens, cleaning etc etc. It also needed to be strong, secure, and as gale and earthquake safe as possible. And look good. And not actually bankrupt us in the building costs.
In the end it took us about two months to build – largely because construction was mostly on weekends, and we weren’t in a hurry to get it finished (a nice change). There are a couple of features we’re particularly pleased with.
- The locker – when we decided to set the nestboxes into the low (western) wall of the house, we ended up with a huge amount of extra headspace. Hens usually prefer to feel snug in the nest, so we realised that we could do something quite nifty by putting a ceiling in about two thirds of the way up. This left us with a really useful space above the nests, which we blocked off from the house side (so the nestboxes and locker have one single vertical panel as their east wall – fewer crevices to clean!). The locker is accessed by two sliding doors just above the external doors to the nestboxes. We use it to store tubs of shellgrit, a spare screwdriver, the weighing stuff, lice powder, spare lengths of chain, the toenail clippers and other similar items. Seriously convenient.
- The divider – we framed up two panels for our dividers. One is a simple rectangular panel, covered in weldmesh, which is attached to the posts in the underside of the house, closest to the Cox. This divides the run roughly into one quarter to three quarters. The house divider is just a slightly more complex a shape, but does the same thing. It slips over the perches and attaches to the front wall and nestbox wall, leaving three nests on one side and one on the other. Easy to set up; easy to take down. There are popholes at both ends of the house, and each end has its own ramp.
One thing we didn’t get quite right was the doors. The north end only has the one door, set in to that north side of the run. It means you can’t put the bach house in as extra accommodation, as you end up with no way of getting in to the run yourself. And only having a single way in and out of the run means that birds can get cornered in there. But so far it’s only a minor inconvenience, and it’s something that should be fairly simple to fix when we eventually get around to it. But it is a lovely structure, and an extremely good chookhouse.
In other words – we like very much!