My new coop looks old? Why thank you!

July 22, 2010

Yes, it’s Martha Stewart’s fault.

But it’s true: I’ve really wanted chickens  ever since I saw hers, all those pretty, friendly birds and all those gorgeous fresh eggs.

I wasn’t zoned for them in the city, but in my neighborhood they were pretty common anyway, since my neighbors included families fairly new to this country, both from Asia and Latin America. For them, keeping chickens was no big deal. The animals weren’t pets: They provided food in the form of eggs and meat, just as they always had.

My neighbor Sue was the first to get “pet” chickens, two little chicks  she brought home with her after visiting family in Sonoma County. Sue grew up rural outside of Sebastopol, and 4H was part of her life. She raised lifestock, she gardened, she canned and she made her own clothes when she felt like it.  (And she still does design and make some of her own clothes.) On our little city block she soon had us growing veggies and flowers both. Her little chicks grew up to be two quiet friendly hens  and just looked right in her yard.

Not legal, but not a big deal.

About that time, I wanted a little more space then my own tiny city lot, so I moved a couple miles just outside of the city limits, where backyard hens are A-OK on lots of a quarter-acre or more. A  couple years went by, and then I figured it was time for my own chickens. Here’s the original set-up, from two years ago. The area had been a garden,  and I missed having a garden, so this year I had a landscape contractor hack another big part of the lawn out, put up a fence to keep dogs and chickens out and apart from one another and built raised beds with drip irrigation.

In the meantime, my flock sort of accidentally grew to about a dozen, not including Bernadette The Weather Duck, who has her own following on Facebook.

Things were a little crowded in the plastic storage unit that serves as a coop, along with the old cat carriers that work as laying nests.  And then there was the land-use problem: Part of the chicken yard was too sunny, and part of the garden was too shady.

Solution: Reconfigure the yards. Where once the yards were both rectangular, side by side, the chicken yard and the garden are now both L-shaped, one fitting into the other with a fence keeping the yards separate from each other and from the rest of the yard.

As part of all that moving around, I finally got a real  chicken coop, which I’d been looking for for a long time. I wanted something large enough for a dozen chickens, comfortable for them and easy to keep clean. And I wanted it for not a lot of money, and made from re-purposed wood. I wanted it to look nice, too, since now it would be in the middle of the yard where I could see it.

I just kept my eye on Craigslist, and suddenly, there it was: My coop.

Or rather, one just like I wanted.

A man named Michael, a part-time driver for FedEx, wasn’t getting as many hours as he had been, what with the economy and all. He was looking around for some opportunities, and found a stash of old lumber. Michael likes to build things, but he wasn’t sure what would sell. He tried a few things and finally realized that he knew how to build something that a lot of people wanted.

Chicken coops.

He builds so many of them now that he has to take down the ad for a month at a time just to keep up with the orders, and he is constantly on the search for new old wood. He had put the ad up not an hour before I saw it, and I immediately knew that what he was building was exactly what I wanted. We traded some sketches and phone calls, and he set to work.

Since he was taking his daughters to Tahoe — he lives near where Sue grew up, in Sonoma County — he’d even throw in delivery for free.

Right price, right look, right now. Deal.

The coop is in here now, and it’s exactly what I wanted.  The chickens will get used to it, and then they’ll like it, too, I’m sure.

I am sure this is a lot like the old coop my grandparents had pulled out of their Sacramento back yard and sent to the dump after America left Victory Gardens and chicken coops behind and roared into the modern, post-War America of the 1950s. I have an old snapshot where you can see the coop behind my mom, circa 1946, and I gotta tell you:  They’re pretty close.

Isn’t life funny?

Here the front view. with ex-pens standing in for fencing right now:


Here’s the back view from outside the garden. I’ll be looking for something arty to rust on two visible walls:

Here’s the slideshow, with poultry music!

For those of you who have been keeping track, I’ve been working on a book — No. 13 that Dr. Becker and I have done together. I asked for an extension, and we got it. It’s all due Monday, and I’ll make it.

After that, we hit the road: Dr. Becker to NYC for another “Good Morning America” segment; me to the AVMA convention in Atlanta, and Christie and Kim to D.C., for the No-Kill Conference.

After that, my summer really begins.

Note: Anyone in NorCal who wants a custom coop from Michael Mancuso, drop me a line and I’ll share his contact info. He makes them sized for two-three chickens up to a dozen or more.  All from re-purposed wood with new wood for the framing.  Very reasonably priced, as well. And a nicer guy you’ll never meet.

And thanks to Patrick Burns of Terrierman for sharing that poster!

Filed under: pets, connected — Gina Spadafori @ 7:01 pm


  1. Fantastic! I am jealous. :)

    Comment by Joani Schofield — July 22, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

  2. What a great find! Good job.

    Comment by Nancy — July 22, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  3. Beautiful!

    Comment by Janeen — July 22, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  4. Lucky chickens! Don’t let them talk to my turtles; I’ll be in trouble!

    Comment by Liz Palika — July 22, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

  5. Excellent! It looks terrific, and I love the sign idea; this is going to be ART. Nice.


    Comment by PBurns — July 23, 2010 @ 2:57 am

  6. Lucky you to find such a talented man…This coop looks eggs-actly like it has been there for many years…Love it!

    Comment by Carol V — July 23, 2010 @ 3:54 am

  7. Fabulous coop & fabulous story!

    Re: Garden Art that rusts – check out A pottery I pass by to and from work each day has several pieces – it’s fantastic!

    Comment by Miki — July 23, 2010 @ 5:50 am

  8. Miki, that site rocks! I always treat myself to something at the end of a book project. Now I know what that something will be!

    I’m thinking this one, without the base, for the side of the coop.

    Although this one has a certain resonance.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — July 23, 2010 @ 6:59 am

  9. Both.

    Comment by David S. Greene — July 23, 2010 @ 7:25 am

  10. Love it! And I *really* love the artsy chicken for adornment! We are almost finished building a mobile coop that looks quite similar to yours. After 3 years with chickens, I’ve decided that a raised coop is the only way to go. We’ve dubbed ours ‘Fort Chickenderoga’ due to the fortress-like quality of the engineering standards my husband uses whenever he builds something. Centuries from now, our house may be an archeological ruin but I’ll bet that The Goatel and Fort Chickenderoga are still standing.

    Comment by Melinda — July 23, 2010 @ 8:18 am

  11. Gina – Love the coop, the yard, and the art.

    Melinda – Still chuckling to myself over “Goatel”.

    Terrierman – I always read the fine print, and usually it’s hiding the devil. But not on that poster, where it’s a gem. “Make saving, not spending, your social standard.” Genius.

    Comment by Rori — July 23, 2010 @ 9:43 am

  12. Melinda … I love The Goatel and Fort Chickenderoga. And isn’t it funny that it does take a while to figure out what you want to do with your chickens/garden/goats and property?

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — July 23, 2010 @ 9:59 am

  13. hat tip to Christie and to Dr. Becker and his Almost Heaven Ranch … The new name for my urban mini-farm …

    The Almost Ranch Heaven

    I think I’m going to get it made into piece of iron for hanging on the gate, where it can rust to a lovely patina.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — July 23, 2010 @ 11:13 am

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