Garden Follies and Cost Centers – Chicken Coop 2.0

Homebrew Husband and I try to make sensible economic decisions regarding the garden and the investment we make in it. We have a pretty good idea what our inputs and outputs are, and most years we take out more from the garden, financially speaking, than we put in.

That said, sometimes we get carried away. Sometimes the garden becomes more indulged-hobby and less nega-buck generator. To borrow from the corporate types, sometimes the garden is a cost-center.

I suppose you could say that is what has happened with Chicken Coop 2.0. 
Work in progress: Coop 2.0

We got these two adult hens, and in a whirlwind 3-day weekend we threw together a coop-run combo for them. We used gifted and repurposed and found materials and did it all ourselves. We didn’t sleep much, we ignored the kids for three days and we still spent $250 on the coop. The mesh hardware cloth is just really expensive and there is no getting around buying it.
We’re proud of our coop, it’s cute as hell, we learned a lot in the process of building it and we did do it all ourselves. But here’s the thing: that $250 investment has only had a few weeks to amortize and it’s about to be obsoleted. We have six rapidly growing chicks in a rubbermaid storage bin in the laundry room. There is no way we can squeeze them into a coop that is less than palatial for two hens. The whole thing would become a serious McNugget situation within minutes.
We spent $250 and six man-days (two people working full-time for 3 days) to determine that, as we suspected, we enjoy chicken-keeping and we are willing to up-scale the operation. I’ve paid more for less education, I guess. But it’s hard not to feel like we rushed in when we should have slowed down. Planning is always cheaper than do-overs.

But visions of omelette self-sufficiency danced in our heads and spring-project-mania clouded our vision, and Nick and I decided that Coop 2.0 wouldn’t be too much trouble and adopted those half-dozen chicks.

We had an eight-week-to-completion time frame in mind. That’s when the chicks would be big enough to go outside and would need a finished coop to move into. We searched the web for a coop design that would accomodate our growing flock, look good and keep all the girls secure from roving bands of punk raccoons and the neighborhood coyote.
We found a great design that we could modify to fit our space. We even paid $20 for the downloadable plans so we’d avoid that “winging it” feeling from Coop 1.0. The plans were detailed and Nick began compiling materials lists based on the slightly larger footprint we planned. We thought it would probably take about 4 weekends to build and about $1000 in materials (yes, that is a lot of eggs), assuming everything went ok and we weren’t delayed and didn’t screw anything up. Big assumption, all things considered.
The thought of a month of weekends gone hung in the air like Beijing smog. Neither Nick nor I wanted to admit it, but we didn’t really want to spend all our free time for the next month working on this one project. There was already the basic spring planting push to contend with, a lot of other projects to wrap up and some things, like not working all the time, that sounding pretty good too. 
Plus, we don’t love ignoring our kids. Our baby is 7 months old and is freakishly mobile and strong. He’s less content to be contained on my back for hours at a time than he was a month or two ago. Our 7 year old daughter is independent and totally capable of entertaining herself for a few hours, but there’s a big difference between “Mommy’s going to go plant peas now, find something to do,” and “Daddy and I will be done neglecting you in about a month. Here’s the number for CPS if you need anything.”
And so it was with some trepidation that Nick and I discussed the possibility of…ahem…not DIYing the larger coop. Would it be ok if we hired someone? Would it make us big Urban Homesteader frauds? Could we afford to delegate the project? What would NW Edible readers think? Was it a ridiculous expenditure of funds when we are pretty sure Nick will be laid off in a year?

Yes, we over-think these things.

Additional information rarely hurts, so we asked a friend of mine, a professional homebuilder who’s been side-lined by the down-turn in the economy, to bid the job. As soon as he started talking about how he’d build the coop we knew we were way out-classed. Professionals do have the advantage of knowing what the hell they are doing.

He offered to build the coop for $2000. That’s an unspeakable number of eggs. It was $1000 difference over our estimated materials cost. We did the math (told you we over-think these things): it would be $125 per person, per weekend we wouldn’t be working on this project…all told a cost of maybe $15 an hour to not build the coop. A well-timed tax rebate made the deal easier to swallow. We shook hands and turned the project over to a pro.

The chickens are now a cost-center. Six chickens each laying 200 eggs a year lay 1200 eggs in a year. At a fair market value of $4/dozen, the coop will break even in 5 years, if you ignore feed, water, bedding and chickens. Of course you really can’t ignore your recurring costs. So it’s entirely possible the coop will never pay off in any logical sense. But I do enjoy looking at it.

That’s why garden structures are called follies, I suppose.

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Comments

  1. Do I smell a YuppieHippie??? ;) heh.

    No. That $2k price tag IS pretty hefty… not something we would have ever invested. But most homesteaders aren't in it for the money. It's about a different kind of life. I'm sure you will enjoy your new coop when it's done. The hens too. :) It doesn't make you less of a homesteader because you didn't do it yourself.

    Out of curiosity, why are you using hardware cloth instead of chicken wire? I know a lot of homesteaders use it, but the cloth is SO much more expensive than old-fashioned chicken wire. We used the wire on our coop and no predators have ever gotten in, though they have tried, in the last four years.

  2. Another thought – can you sell the first coop to off-set the cost of the second coop a bit? And on that note, remember a lot of people buy pre-made coops all the time – so a custom one isn't much different. So don't feel bad, despite my YuppieHippie comment (mostly I just like using the term).

    Also, you're forgetting to factor in peak oil. When disaster strikes, the cost of eggs is going to skyrocket, so your ROI will be a lot sooner. ;)

  3. On the plus side, it's a doozy of a coop… I'll second Anisa's comment for other readers; we've never had anything breach the chicken wire fence, even mink. We have a net over the top rather than a roof or netting. It makes our yard look pretty farm-like, though. Very little style, kind of scruffy, more mud than landscaping. But we're putting a fortune into the greenhouse, so maybe that will start a revolution in the garden.

  4. Is that the Garden Coop modified? I was about to buy the plans and was also considering having someone build it for me. But living in Mexico my cost will be different. I agree with Anisa. One great thing about growing your own food is it can cost less. But your coop is not only going to be used it is going to be looked at a whole lot. Enjoy it! I am curious about the chicken-wire vs. hardware cloth. John from the Garden Coop gave me pointers on making the coop moveable should we have to change houses (renting) and he suggested wire in sections (vs. wrapping) and adding corner braces for extra support. I see you already did the hardware cloth but if someone were to go with small-mesh chicken wire I'd do the corner braces with this coop because it sounds like the hardware cloth wrapped around is part of the stability.

  5. Anisa – LOL, this is total YuppieHippie! You'll get no argument from me. :) We were assured that in our area the hardware cloth is the only thing that would keep out the raccoons. Honestly, if that's not true, I don't even want to know about it since probably 75% of the cost is that damn hardware cloth and it will make me start banging my head into a wall. ;) We are thinking about keeping the original coop through flock integration, just in case things go south, and then selling it on Craigslist. I think it's the only sensible thing to do.
    Seonaid – Thanks, it does look pretty good, I must say. Not that the chickens will really care. :) Your seconding the chicken wire comment is great for future coop builders. But now I must go find a nice wall to head-bash. Those greenhouses add up too. Good luck with your project!

  6. Me – I'll do another post showing how we modified the Garden Coop. My BEST advice is do NOT do the roof the way they did, by stapling the mesh directly to the overhead joists. Instead, build frames that the mesh or chicken wire is stapled to, then screw those frames to the joists. Much easier and faster, and makes it simpler to do the roofing too. I'll put up pictures in a bit as a blog post, or email me and I can send you a picture of what I mean if it's not clear.

  7. Smart choice on the hardware cloth. I have had a raccoon get right through chicken wire. Its worth the investment to not come out in the morning and find 12 hens dead.
    I think your overlooking the JOY of the chickens. Really, they are entertainment, couldn't you factor that in? ;)

  8. Thank you for the good morning laugh!!

  9. i love your new chicken coop and it is 'priceless' when you have your own chickens and eggs… as for hardware cloth vs chicken wire.. i'm with the hardware cloth side, if you can afford it, it will last a very long time is much more sturdy… if you can't afford it, chicken wire works well.. we never had a problem with critters but then the places we had chicken wire, we doubled it…

  10. I won't give you a hard time about hiring the work out but I do have to wonder about the cost. $2K seems like a lot of money. But I'm one of those people that uses whatever we can get for free or super cheap. Like our goat/chicken barn, which currently houses 5 goats, 28 chickens and still has a storage area probably only cost us about $300 in materials (new PTDF posts, doug fir framing, some plywood, metal sheeting roofing and chainlink fence for the yard). All the siding was free and even some of the wood we reused from our old coop. We're also planning to build onto it here soon to make the storage area open air and extend the chicken coop into the old storage area. But I don't foresee spending more than $100 to do that.
    That said we do have one major advantage here. The only predators we have are racoons (and the neighbor's dog) and they are scared of goats so we don't have to have a completely enclosed yard for them or even a floor in the coop.

  11. Nice! I've looked at the plans for the coop and it looks great! I too struggle with the DIY vs. life practicality vs. $. We purchased our 1st coop— because with the ladyfriend writing a dissertation all day every day and me with only nominal skills but with a 2 y/o there was no way it was going to get built by us.
    The coop expansion I did (or almost have….enough that they moved in) but we can't deal with fencing in for the large run so are likely hiring out for that.
    Sometimes the cost of paying others is worth the sanity=)

  12. We just spent about 12 man-days building this exact coop, with some modifications (cleanout door added to the back, door to ladder out the side instead of floor, etc.) The plans were well worth the $20, and since Kevin had a 2-week spring break to do it in, it worked out just fine. Still cost close to $1000 even using a bunch of re-purposed items we had on hand (damn that hardware cloth!) Of course the chickens won't need such a fancy house, but we love it. Can't wait to see how it works out in practice.

  13. Yes you absolutely needed your hardware cloth! Here are my suggestions:

    1) take the hardware cloth off the old coop to add to the new coop
    2) find a couple of highschool students looking to do volunteer hours to help with the manual labour
    3) hire a nanny before you hire a contractor. Having someone lovely looking after your children is cheaper than a contractor. Then do the work yourself (with your students)
    4) offer your friend a keg or two (or six) of beer to be delivered over the year if he can come in on the first day to get you started
    5) you may need to actually move your chicks into the new coop to aclimatize BEFORE moving the hens in with them. You need to protect them from the hens a little, and the shock of the new home AND the scary big hens may be too much all in one night.

  14. Saskia – hearing that it took you guys 12 man-days over a free 2-week stretch has really reassured me that we made the right decision hiring the job out. Thanks!

  15. Your coop is beautiful and I envy your ability to agree to pay someone else to build it :) My husband can build anything and he does it well, but he has a hard time seeing the value in the time savings of paying someone else. Granted $2,000 is a lot of money for a chicken coop, but you'll get so much pleasure out of looking at something that is aesthetically pleasing and functional. We spent close to $1,000 on our coop and we love looking at it. Did our chickens need such luxury? Of course not, but it's a major element in our backyard and we wanted it to look good. It took us months to finish it, but we're very happy with the results. I look forward to reading more about your chicken tending experiences.

  16. It really is a beautiful structure. And you have to remember–the time that you don't spend building the coop is worth more than the wages you'd "pay" yourself for it. If you're not building the coop you have time to do other things that may reduce costs elsewhere, or even make money. Chances are good that if you hire the work out you'll make something back on your time.

    And it really is a pretty coop.

  17. Think what you have sunk into your cats over the years, and you'll feel better about the chickens. :-)

  18. Ah, and I was really looking forward to comparing notes on the coop construciton. We've got 4 weeks to do it, and the first day of construction is up on my blog now. I totally agree that your cost benefit analysis is sound, but let's hope there are no cost over-runs, which there almost always are…

    As for a cost center, get used to it with chickens, every book I've read says you pay far more for extremely high quality fresh eggs than you do for even the farmers market ones when you own a flock, but if eggs were our only reason to have them, I'd just buy eggs.

    Are you going to sell your eggs? With 8 hens, you'll have far more than you can eat at times. We've got 4 and expect to give away eggs regularly.

    Lastly, I sure hope your modifications include making the coop part bigger, the rule of thumb of 4 SF of floor space and 10 SF of run space per bird means your coop should be 32 SF with an 80 SF run. That's big! And for $2k, that's a bargain. Just saying.

    Enjoy your chicks and the time off!

  19. Personally, I love the new coop, and although I suppose it is a bit pricey, I think there's a good deal of value in it above and beyond the hoped-for savings and breaking even, both in terms of the food itself and in the time savings for you (which, as a few people have pointed out, could also have benefits in terms of what you're able to do in the time that you've saved.

    I have to admit to being one of those people who jumps into trying something new and winds up spending some money on the endeavor, so someday I'm probably going to wind up with a chicken coop that's more than I want to spend.

  20. We get our eggs from friends who repurposed the (now teenage) kids playhouse/tree fort for their henhouse, which holds about 20 chickens. They, also, invested more money than they'll ever recoup. Besides the cost of the initial structure (which I envied every time I saw it) the remodel cost a lot, plus they had to run water and electrical out (they learned with the pigs that schlepping water down their property sucked, and that animals like heat in the winter) all of which cost more than planned. But then they built a bench nearby and now they hang out to watch the chicken show. Some things you're not going to ever be able to cost analyze.

  21. My coop and run didn't cost anywhere near that much but they were expensive enough. So long as you keep chickens for many years and don't have to do too much maintenance on the structures, your costs will be recouped. Farmers had to build outbuildings because they, well, had to build outbuildings.

  22. Yes, I think you definitely made the right decision! Without spring break this would have taken months of weekend work. Plus, two of our man-days were put in by my dad, who has contractor-level experience and knowledge, and flew up from San Diego to help.

  23. Well, we sure as hell didn't build our own, mostly because it wouldn't be a safe structure due to our lack of building skills. Plus, the coop is *very* visible from our neighbors on both sides and I didn't want some crazy jalopy eyesore to draw any more attention than necessary.

    I think you made the right decision given your other garden commitments.

  24. Sinfonian – 4×8 coop, 8×12 run.
    CrunchyChicken – yes, keeping up suburban appearances and keeping down complaints to the chicken police were very high on our list of "must haves" for this coop.

  25. It's looking great so far. We have had similiar dilemma… we'd love to make ours ourselves & have some supplies already, but we are not experienced in carpentry, we don't have time, and we want to make sure our chickens (when we get them) will be safe and happy. Plus we want it to look decent! Buying a coop makes sense for us… or perhaps having one made up.

    Having chickens goes beyond fresh eggs, poo and being scrap munchers… they are pets, entertainment, companions, and educators too!

  26. And good on you for helping out a friend… that is worth so much!

  27. This is just me, but I add in a lot of "benefit" in your cost by the fact that you added cash to a local builder's budget by having a friend with professional experience build it. You're not just investing in your chickens and your life/lifestyle. :-) You're investing in your friend's/their family as well as the community at large (because that money will go on to be spent by that person for their needs). Love it! And hope the integration goes well with the new arrivals!

  28. No head bashing! Our dog-sized raccoons around here would rip through chicken wire like nothin! Think of how your feel then…damaged coop, damaged birds…no fun. And my guess is that you're gonna wanna throw those newbies out before their 8 weeks is up, usually 5 weeks old is a good bet. :) Can't wait to see it…BTW you can always drop off your 7-year-old over here :)

  29. I think aviary wire would have been a workable alternative to the hardware cloth. It is just like chickenwire but the gaps are only 1/2" as opposed to 1". We buy rolls of it at one of the feed stores in town and use it to line the bottom of our new tree holes to keep the pocket gophers from eating the tender roots.

  30. Personally, I think all of it is done for the joy of the experience and the better product. We definitely have the most expensive eggs, honey, and vegetables around. It's been 6 years and counting so some of it does get amortized over time, but there is always something new you want to try. This year it was soil blocks … damn they are expensive! But, on the other hand our seedling are doing great and growing faster than ever before, so maybe it will pay off in healthier plants and better food. All I know is that I am still enjoying the process even if it is a lot of work and costs a lot!

  31. Just a word in for sustainable economy. Until all goes down we still live in a capitalist system and hiring a friend who knows what they are doing is a worthy investment.
    Obviously a biased perspective but a valid one I think.
    Thanks for the great post as always!

  32. Don't forget the money you saved not having to buy a big new TV, now that you have Chicken TV!

  33. The coop I want is about $1200. I get it. I'm not sure I'm a yuppy anything. My friend has 6 hens and gets more than 3 dozen eggs in a week.

  34. You might consider keeping your little coop so that one day in the future you have an instant brooder when it comes time for chicks. Also, if a hen needs to be separtated from the rest of the flock, it's nice to have a place to put her.
    I feel for you on the cost of your coop. We (my husband did the heavy lifting) built a 4×12 coop with a very large run, costing approx. $500 and taking SEVERAL weekends and early days off work to finish. I could hear my husbands dark thoughts, "Curse this woman and her 'Ladies Lounge'!" Don't fret about hiring the job out…. you got a coop and your friend got a job.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Nice job!

    I'm looking at building/having built a variation on the plans you used. Because it will be highly visible from the back patio and upstairs deck, it is important for it to look better than OK.

    I think a beautiful, functional building will add to the value of your property. My last house sold with a written clause in the contract stating the resident chickens were included in the sale! If you ever decide to sell, there are many people who will love your hen house. Even if they don't want to keep chickens, it would be simple to repurpose it.

  36. HA ha…we are just finishing our COOP 2.0 based on the purina model 4x4x4 with a skylight roof. We also went from 3 hens to 7 in a few short months….We re-purposed a few items and of course bought wire /hardware cloth…We used 1″ chicken wire for the run and doubled it over since the hardware cloth on coop 1.0 was over $150 bucks for a tiny roll. We have tons of racoons but we also have a good watch dog who does his best to keep them out of the yard. For those that had raccoon incidents are they tearing open the chicken wire or digging under? Anyway, love your coop and your overall garden plan. Thank you for sharing!

  37. Erica, hardware cloth is not a waste of money. So-called chicken wire or poultry netting is next to worthless, especially if it gives you a false sense of security. A raccoon can and will reach right in and pull out a chicken piece by piece. It ain’t a pretty sight. And depending on what other predators you have in your area, it’s simply not sturdy enough (won’t stop a mountain lion) or long-lasting. Hardware cloth is worth it if you ask me. After four hens were slaughtered by a raccoon, I hired a friend to shore up our chicken house, and among other improvements, I insisted that all poultry netting be replaced by hardware cloth. It cost me dearly but has been worth it.

    Poultry wire is OK for covering a run that is only used during the daytime, especially if it is doubled. We did that for a smaller “chick run” within our large chicken yard (which is open to the rest of the farm).

Trackbacks

  1. [...] feeders out there that aren’t very hard or expensive to make. But hey, this coop has been an exercise in outsourcing from the very beginning, so I just picked up a feeder at the grange last time I was buying layer [...]

  2. […] feasible though, so I went to my trusty source for most things Pacific Northwest homestead-y, Northwest Edible Life to see what they had done. That’s where I learned about the fancy and functional Garden Coop […]

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