In a sunny woodland clearing with a backdrop of redwoods and ferns, the chicken coop that Chiquita and Bob Woodard built in their Mill Valley, California, garden for their feathered brood of four (and growing) has all the casual charm of their 1902 shingled farmhouse. A salvaged French door and window box painted chicken-comb red, “family” portraits on the walls, and stylish galvanized steel farm implements to hold feed and water. Beneath the homey touches, the coop is as sturdy and secure as they come.
Photography by Sylvia Linsteadt for Gardenista.
Above: The chicken coop is down the hill from the house along a winding garden path. The open-air walls and ceiling belie the marauder-proof construction.
“Your main job when you have backyard chickens is to be a good shepherd and make sure their shelter is as safe as possible from predators,” says Chiquita. Her husband Bob built the 7-foot-6-inch-wide by 13-foot-long coop on top of half-inch Hardwire Mesh Cloth ($66.97 a roll from Home Depot) to thwart raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and last but not least – dogs from digging under it to get in.
He laid out the wire mesh on level ground, then constructed a foundation of 4-by-6-inch redwood posts on top of it, bolted them together, and drove in rebar stakes at regular intervals to anchor the base to the ground. He framed the walls on top, making sure the spacing of the 2-by-4-inch studs matched the width of the wire mesh (a big time saver).
Above: The mesh walls and roof are secured with washers and screws spaced six inches apart along the studs. Bright red geraniums in the window box bloom almost year-round in the mild Northern California climate. A vintage tin “Fresh Eggs” sign hangs from the eave.
Above: Chiquita, who owns Manhattan’s Kingdom of Herbs in Chelsea Market in New York City, gathers a basket of wild greens (chickweed, miner’s lettuce, cleavers) on her morning walks through the woods, nasturtium from her garden, and yesterday’s lettuce from the kitchen to supplement the organic pellets she feeds the hens. The 6-foot-6-inch height of the coop makes it comfortable to walk in, which makes cleaning, feeding and gathering eggs easier.
Above: Thanks to daily handling, the four hens (an Araucana, a Golden Laced Wyandotte, a Rhode Island Red, and a Buff Orpington) greet Chiquita with gentle pecks and soft clucking. In return for the healthy diet, their eggs have strong shells and sunny golden yolks.
Above: To protect the chickens from the elements, Bob built solid walls and a roof (galvanized metal on top of plywood, painted green) over and around the dry feed and laying box area in the back of the coop. Perches are another coop essential, says Chiquita – the more the better. The hens hop up on them when alarmed, as well as for late-afternoon naps and sleeping at night. The framed vintage photo of a rooster is tongue-in-cheek; hens don’t need a male around to lay eggs.
Above: A coop with a view: a redbud tree blossoms a peck away from the airy walls.
Above: April, the Golden Laced Wyandotte (L), and May, the Araucana (R), hang out by the galvanized water and feed containers, which are suspended from metal chains attached to the ceiling so the hens can’t knock them over.
Above: The pale blue egg in the middle is a sandblasted glass decoy used to encourage the hens to lay eggs in the nest box. Chiquita gathers an average of two eggs a day from the 4-year-old chickens, down from four when they were a couple of years younger.
Above: This little beauty will start laying chocolate brown eggs when she’s around four months old.
Up at the house, the laundry room is doubling as a nursery for two five-day-old Cuckoo Maran chicks, fresh from Western Farm Center in Santa Rosa. Chiquita spread a 3-inch layer of pine shavings over the bottom of a cardboard box for soft bedding. A 250-watt infrared heat lamp suspended above the box keeps the temperature between 90 and 95 degrees. In a few weeks, the chicks will be slowly introduced to the hens in the coop, first in a cordoned-off area so they can get acquainted. After a couple of days to a week, the fence will be taken away at night when the hens are sleeping.
Above: The vintage egg scale dates from the 1940s.
Above: The woodland path leading down the hill from the house to the chicken coop is lined with the trunks of fallen trees from the property. Spring wildflowers and Santa Barbara daisies bloom on the hillside.
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