Tag Archives: diy

Photo tour of my DIY chicken coop

Photographic tour of my chicken coop in case useful to others. It has a sunflower theme because I used an old mural for the exterior.

Sunflower-themed chicken coop built from scrap lumber

The primary feature is a large, south-facing window on the front that provides solar gain during the winter, but hinged to provide ventilation, too. Opening is covered with heavy wire (to exclude raccoons) and screening (to exclude mosquitoes).

Chicken coop window for ventilation

Additional ventilation is provided by a hinged panel at the top. This will be open even during the winter unless temperatures get shockingly low. Opening is covered with hardware cloth and mosquito screening.

Chicken coop ventilation panel

Pop door for chickens is equipped with a platform so that they can better navigate their entries and exits. A ramp isn’t needed because the door is so close to the ground.

Chicken coop pop door

Pop door is currently opened and closed via a pulley system that uses ball-bearing and block and tackle pulleys. The string is snaked through a window in my kitchen so I can let them out in the morning without leaving my house. I’ll likely add an automatic door at some point.

Chicken coop pop door with pulley system

Nesting boxes are accessible on the outside of the coop so that I don’t need to disturb the flock to do an egg check. Lid can be hooked to chain above if there are a lot of eggs to collect. The hinged side is protected from rain with a rubber gasket made out of an old bicycle tire. Lid and nesting boxes are all insulated so that frozen eggs are less of a concern.

Nesting box on exterior of chicken coop

Here’s the view inside the coop. The chickens get to the nesting boxes and perch via a ramp with cleats spaced every 3″. Then there’s a short hop (or optional ramp trip) to the perch. Underneath the perch is a droppings pit that gets filled with granulated clinoptilolite (“PDZ”) to absorb ammonia. Floor of coop is covered in pine shavings. Wood is left unpainted mainly because I’m lazy, but also because if I went with the traditional white it would always look dirty. I did, however, treat the perch with linseed oil, then sprayed it with permethrin (to kill mites).

Layout of walk-in chicken coop

This photograph shows the small ramp that comes up from the nesting box landing. It’s likely unnecessary but the chickens do use it, so it will stay. It’s screwed down but can be easily repositioned if needed.

Ramps inside DIY chicken coop

Close-up of the nesting boxes. Positioned below the level of the perch so that they don’t hang out in nesting boxes.

Nesting boxes inside chicken coop

Underneath the ramp is a wood box filled with moss, sand, and dried mint. The chickens will likely never use this but it was fun to provide. It’s large enough for four chickens at once, I think.

Dust bath inside chicken coop

Lighting inside the coop is provided by smartphone-controlled LEDs (Philips hue shape light). Lights come on automatically (but slowly, over 30 minutes) in the morning for several hours, then again in the evening to provide 15-hour days. I’ve set mine to red to minimize aggression among hens and to increase egg production (per research). Red lighting is also less polluting for humans due to our reduced reliance on that part of the spectrum.

The LEDs are a tad bright so I’ve nested the strip inside a piece of white molding attached to the wall at 45°. The resulting illumination is bounced off the ceiling.

LED strip light inside chicken coop

To spy on my chickens I’ve installed a Wyze (v2) video camera equipped with a 64Gb microSD card. Here’s a still showing birds on perch. I have a second cam trained on the dust bath in the unlikely event they use it.

Wyze camera inside chicken coop

To monitor the temperature and humidity in the coop I’ve added a SensorPush, configured to send me phone alerts if temperature gets too low or too high. I can also set humidity alarms. I purchased the SensorPush G1 Gateway, too, so that I could access the data even when I’m away from home (normal version is Bluetooth-only). Overkill, surely, but fun.

SensorPush temperature/humidity probe on north wall of chicken coop

I was worried about condensation (from moist air hitting a cold ceiling) so I added reflective bubble insulation. The walls are filled with fiberglass insulation so I don’t think the winter will be a problem, especially in Philadelphia and especially given global warming. Plus the chicken breeds I currently have (Golden Laced Wyandotte, Blue Easter Egger) are large and cold-tolerant. With my current setup I could likely raise Silkies.

Reflective bubble insulation on ceiling of chicken coop

The insulation seems to work. During the December 15-17 nor’easter (pic below), outside temperature fell to 24 °F; inside dipped to only 31.8 °F. It’s not just the insulation, of course — the chickens generate heat (10 W each, I think), plus the thermal gain during the day is retained in the pure mass of the structure (wood, nails, screws, etc.). If I felt the cold would be a problem I’d also attach plastic film to the window.

For all the lights and gadgets, power is delivered via an extension cord fitted with a GFCI splitter. I decided on getting one of these after a near-death experience with a faulty router.

GFCI power supply for chicken coop

The coop is situated inside my former berry garden that featured chicken wire to protect fruit from birds and squirrels. To convert it for chickens I added a layer of 2×3″ fencing to all surfaces, plus buried hardware cloth along the perimeter. I also added approximately 15″ of hardware cloth on the lower part of the structure to prevent raccoons from reaching in and grabbing a chicken, which apparently they like to do. Something could, conceivably, tunnel into the coop from several feet away, avoiding the buried screening, so I still patrol it daily in case a hole has been started. Small birds (wrens) still come in to steal food, though, and if I’d had to build a run from scratch I would have opted for 100% hardware cloth.

Chicken run covered with wire

For dust baths and sunning I made an A-frame out of two windows, then threw in a bunch of peat moss and sand.

Dust bath for chickens protected by two windows joined with hinges

Construction photographs

Tips for building a chicken coop

  1. Tour local chicken coops for inspiration before you do anything else. You can’t do this online … pinning hundreds of ideas to your Pinterest boards simply poisons the brain and you really need to see actual coops and talk to actual chicken people who, surprise, know things.
  2. Join or create a local Facebook or Nextdoor group that traffics in free things. I got window, door, and almost all the lumber free. People have things sitting around and you really just need to ask. There’s absolutely no reason why chickens will care if things don’t match or are broken in some way.
  3. Start collecting materials months in advance so you can plan your coop before you start building. E.g., don’t finalize your framing plans until you know the dimensions of your windows and doors.
  4. If you can find a cheap or free shed, do it. Moving a shed and converting it to a chicken coop is infinitely easier and cheaper than building your own. I enjoyed building mine from scratch but it took a long time given I didn’t know what I was doing.
  5. Equip the inside with removable ramps and perches so that you can fix your building mistakes. Similarly, opt for screws instead of nails. Then you can watch the chickens on a security camera for a week or so and then reconfigure items. I.e., perhaps your ramp needs more cleats — easier to just pull it out and take it to the shop for that mod.
  6. Finish your coop before ordering chickens. It’s going to take longer to build than you think.

Wine bottle drip irrigator

Instructions for making a drip irrigator out of a wine bottle. In case you’re bored out of your mind during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Wine bottle drip irrigator

Instructions

  1. Cut the bottom off the bottle. The above shows a 750-mL bottle but a 1.5-L works, too. I own a Creator’s bottle cutter kit (it’s fantastic) but there are videos showing other techniques.
  2. Drill a hole through the cork to accommodate 1/4″ tubing.
  3. Cut a length of 1/4″ drip irrigation tubing so that it is 1/2″ longer than the cork. Put a small piece of tape over the opening of one end.
  4. Put a few drops of outdoor glue into the hole. Gorilla Glue is nice because it tends to expand, filling gaps in the cork.
  5. Insert the taped-up end of tubing into hole, pushing until untaped part is flush. Take off tape (that was there to make sure it didn’t get filled with glue).
  6. Once glue is dry, insert cork into bottle so that the 1/2″ overhang is sticking out.
  7. Attach an adjustable valve to the tubing.
  8. Attach a 12″ (or so) length of 1/4″ tubing to the valve.
  9. Attach bottle to a 36″ stake (1×1″ wood, 1/2″ bamboo, or plastic-coated metal) using wire. Make it extremely snug so that when filled with water it won’t drift down.
  10. Crumple up some tulle (or flexible screening) to form a filter plug near cork. Tamp down using a long rod. This prevents hole and valve from clogging.
  11. Attach tulle (or flexible screening) to top with two rubbers bands. One rubber band is fine but the second is backup in case sunlight degrades one. The screening keeps out debris, but also prevents mosquitoes from ovipositing when valve is closed (and bottle is filled).

Here are some closeups:

Once done, situate the irrigator in your garden so that you can easily see the drip and adjust the valve without fighting foliage or stooping. This is why the instructions above call for a short length of tubing rather than something that fully extends into the soil near the plant (where you couldn’t see it). Evaporation from a falling drop of water is probably non-zero but I think the ability to see the drip rate is worth it.

When you water drop by drop, slowly, the soil has time to fully absorb the moisture. Drip irrigated plants thus need far less water, sometimes dramatically less. Another benefit is that water isn’t constantly splashed onto leaves, something that can distribute as well as activate pathogens. Some plants simply don’t like wet leaves (don’t judge). And many plants (such as tomatoes) also benefit from being constantly hydrated, something that is hard to accomplish with normal irrigation. Finally, plants tend to take up fertilizer better when it is slowly delivered.

DIY mosquito trap using a plastic soda bottle

Here are instructions for building an indoor mosquito trap using a 2-liter plastic soda bottle. All you do is add some bait (honey, fruit, juice, sugar water, or some nectar-containing flowers) and place in a dark corner of the room. It works because mosquitoes seek out sugar, which they require to fuel themselves. Once inside the bottle they can’t get out.

The above instructions are a modification of a Taiwanese science-fair project that eventually went viral. The differences between the original instructions and mine are that (1) I don’t recommend adding dry active yeast, (2) I suggest sugar sources other than granulated sugar, and (3) I don’t wrap trap in black paper. The omission of yeast is because I don’t think the generation of carbon dioxide is necessary to attract mosquitoes to sugar. In fact, adding yeast likely reduces the attractiveness and causes the trap to fail faster.

The critical part of the original instructions is to deploy the device on the floor in a corner of a room. This is because mosquitoes love to hang out in corners — they are dark and relatively free of desiccating drafts.

Tips

  1. The original instructions suggest 50 g (~1/2 cup) sugar and 200 mL (~1 cup) water but the ratio probably doesn’t matter at all. Brown sugar is likely better than granulated (white) sugar because it has more impurities (some of which are volatile). A drop of rose water might make the sugar mixture more attractive.
  2. Make traps with different types of bait to see which ones are most attractive to the species that are local. Anopheles coluzzii, for example, seems to prefer papaya and banana juice over mango juice (Nignan et al. 2020). Other species might prefer oranges. Or, perhaps, durian.
  3. Replace your bait when it stops attracting mosquitoes. Perhaps every four days if you use fruit (Meza et al. 2020).
  4. If you use flowers, opt for ones that have nectar (if you know) and are light-colored. Or stick a small potted orchid inside the bottle — their blooms last for weeks.
  5. If you happen to have a plant with extrafloral nectaries, that’s a great bait that will likely last for a long time (when you’re on vacation, for example). Try a bunch of wild cherry leaves, for example.

Why it works

Mosquitoes are famous for sucking blood, but like many insects they spend most of their lives quietly ingesting sugar from flowers and rotting fruit. For example, here are some mosquitoes nectaring in the middle of the day:

So when mosquitoes find themselves trapped inside, they will zero in on whatever you have on the countertops — fruit, puddles of syrup, cut flowers, or even a dirty sponge. I don’t have photographs of mosquitoes eating fruit inside but Justin Yoshida (Thailand) does: on jackfruit, on apple slices, and on eggplant. Mosquitoes indoors are likely not especially picky about fruit type because the option is starving to death. Mosquitoes even fall into juice containers and die, apparently, as one restaurant discovered.

In case you’re skeptical that these traps can actually work, here’s a video by somebody who followed the original (science fair) directions and killed 9-10 mosquitoes in 24 hours:

Why it won’t work outside

Don’t bother using these traps outside (the recommendation of the viral versions). Mosquitoes prefer natural sources of sugar so they will likely ignore anything inside a bottle, regardless of how delectable you think the concoction is. The exception would be if you live in a desert and there are no plants near your house.

The traps will also not work in rooms full of flowering plants or decomposing fruit. Similarly, if your kids spill juice and soda everywhere, the traps won’t work.

Adding toxins to the mix

If you have a house free of small kids and meddlesome pets, you can add bit of boric acid to the solution to create an attractive toxic sugar bait (ATSB) station. Then, when mosquitoes ingest the fluid they will die even if they manage to escape the trap (it can happen). In fact, once you have a toxin in the fluid you can and should just get rid of the funnel part of the trap — its presence is likely a barrier to some mosquitoes even though it’s relatively wide (~2 cm). Instead, cut a 3 cm hole in the side and keep the cap on the bottle. Note that because these devices are indoors you don’t need to worry about the boric acid (or whatever) poisoning the pollinators in your yard.

The above is nicely explained by Andy Lee Graham:

One perk of adding boric acid is that fermentation will likely be slowed down, extending the life of your fruit juice. Note that fermentation will occur even though you haven’t added any yeast. Fungal spores are present everywhere.

© 2020 COLIN PURRINGTON