Thursday, September 19, 2013

Alaskan Insulated Chicken Coop Design and Construction

Alaska's weather is often extreme and this brings some extra challenges to designing and building a proper chicken coop.

While Fairbanks is known for -50 deg temps, and Anchorage can get almost as cold (-20 deg) most winters, Southeast Alaska isn't immune to weather extremes. Located between Canada and the main landmass of Alaska along the Gulf of Alaska, SE Alaska is comprised mostly of temperate rain forests and glacial fjords.

This mix of warm moisture from the Pacific Ocean colliding with cold air from the glacial ice-fields creates rain, massive amounts of rain. With this nearly constant precipitation comes high humidity and the perfect environment for fungi, specifically black mold.

This high humidity also posses problems for chickens. They are fairly well suited for cold weather as along as they have a place to get out of the snow and wind. When you add in a lot of rain, they don't fair so well. Once their feathers get wet, it's hard fro them to dry out and resist hypothermia. Unlike ducks, they don't have nearly the waterproof-ness in their feathers.

My design requirements for my chicken coop included insulation to keep heating costs down, weather tightness to keep drafts and wind driven rain out and an easy to maintain layout. I wanted it to be well built and have features specific to the harsh environment in SE Alaska.

With my basic requirements in hand, I hopped on Google SketchUp and started drawing.

Here was my working design. It's a 4' x 5'4" structure with nesting boxes on the end and relight windows that would catch the southern winter sun. I wanted some eves to protect the siding and when with 1' on all sides.

The door is just over 3' tall and is large enough for me to enter when necessary but I usually just reach in to feed, water and clean out bedding.

Here's Part 1 of the construction:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Chicks Arrive and Brooder Build

The Chicks Arrived!
After following their progress online, the chicks finally arrived at our local post office in early May 2012. I got up Sunday morning and saw that the tracking number said they were in, but I hadn't received a call so I decided to head down and get them anyway. I’m glad I did because the postal employees didn't seem to know what to do with them. I had been proactive and called the post office to let them know of the order and they said they would call as soon as they arrived. Everyone could hear them cheeping, but it hadn't dawned on anyone that they were supposed to call me. This is something the people of Juneau should know. The valley post office doesn't handle live animal shipments very often so they don’t seem to know the standard procedure.

The chicks weren't any worse for the trip, so home with me they went, all 26 of them.

As I mentioned before, we accepted a free exotic chick from Murray McMurray Hatchery, so we were excited to see this little yellow fluff ball mixed in with the Brown Partridge Rocks, Orange Buff Orpingtons, Black Barred Rocks and White and Black Silver Laced Wyandottes.

The kids were really excited to see the new chicks. It became a daily reward to get a few out to handle them.

Easy Rubbermaid Brooder

I put together a quick brooder using a Rubbermaid tote, scrap wood, hardware cloth and a piece of cardboard. It worked fine for the 26 chicks and then the 7 we kept. I hung a light with a 100 watt infrared bulb to keep them warm. I used some 1x3’s to form a lid that fit over the tote. One side had hardware cloth and the light sat on top of it. The other side was a flap of cardboard that was stapled down and served as the door. I kept a can of chick starter on it in case they tried to jump out, but was never an issue.

Here’s a video of the brooder:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Chicken Breed Selection

The Plan
I grew up raising chickens and other poultry and showing them in 4H, so I was excited when I convinced my wife that we should raise some chickens in Juneau. We wanted the eggs and we knew our children would enjoy them as well.

The weather in Juneau tends to be mild with summers averaging  64°F and the winters hover right around 32°F with some dips into the minus teens. This is no problem for chickens. The one issue we have is the high humidity. People say Fairbanks is cold, but it’s a dry cold. Well, Juneau is a WET cold. Typical winter weather is an inch or two of snow overnight, when the temp drops below freezing, then it warms up to 34°F and turns to rain during the day. A break from the rain and clouds comes when cold arctic air moves in and we drop in temperature, but get to see the sun.

All this rain and snow means that a chicken living in Juneau needs to put on a good layer of fat and have adequate feathers to resist being damp a lot of the time. A heated coop is nice, but chickens will still want to venture out and need to be able to cope with the wet stuff.

With this in mind we started looking at heavy breads because of their good laying abilities but also for their cold weather resistance, smaller comb and good feathering. A leghorn would be miserable in Juneau and likely suffer frost bite on its large comb and wattles.

Selecting Breeds
I've raised Barred Rocks in the past and found them to be good layers and friendly chickens, but I wanted to try something a little different so we looked at the Partridge Rock. Only different in its coloring it was just what I was looking for. This bird will lay brown eggs.

Partridge Rock Hen - Courtesy of Murray McMurray Hatchery

My wife liked the looks of the Silver Laced Wyandottes. These are also known to be docile and lay brown eggs.

Silver Laced Wyandottes - Courtesy of Murray McMurray Hatchery
Juneau’s city ordinances allow for 3-6 chickens but no roosters, based on your zoning (more on this later) so we could have 6 chickens where we live in the heart of the Mendenhall Valley. We decided to order 3 Partridge Rocks and 3 Silver Laced Wyandottes. Murray McMurray Hatchery has a great selection of birds so we started looking at our options. They’re known for breeding strong, healthy birds and they don’t flinch at shipping to Alaska, so they were the natural choice. The only hurtle was the minimum shipping quantity of 25 chicks. Ordering 4 times as many birds as we were allowed to keep meant we had to spread the word around town to find homes for the extras.

We posted notices on Facebook and Craigslist and were excited to see that we had more than enough interest. Other folks wanted Buff Orpingtons and Barred Rocks so we placed the order for 25 pullets (female chicks). MMH offers an additional surprise chick if you order 25 or more, so we took them up on their offer. We were excited to see what we’d receive. We also had them vaccinated for Marek’s disease and Coccidiosis just in case. MMH hatches chicks early in the morning and rush them to the post office so they make it to you before they reach 3 days old.