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Our DIY Urban Backyard Chicken Coop

2016 December 2
by Becky

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Remember those chickens we “fostered” a while back. Yeah well…they never left.

We were coaxed into keeping them in an outdoor coop for a trial month, just to see how things went down. I was nervous about having time to properly care for them and very worried about the poop situation—how much would there be? So The Easy Chicken hooked us up with a temporary coop and we put the babies outside. We actually had to help them get up on the roosting perch each evening at dusk, as they were too little and fuzzy to do so on their own.

It was comical.

Me to Stu: “I’m going to put the chickens up.”
Stu: “I already did it.”

About a week after they became outside pets (which I’m quickly realizing are THE BEST kind of pets), we were sold. Even Mr. We Aren’t Keeping The Chickens was happily helping out with their care. And the kids were OVER THE MOON. The temporary chicken coop wasn’t going to cut it, especially since it was for warm-weather climates (no indoor roost), so I started drawing out coop plans, something I had absolutely no idea how to do, and we got to work.

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Before you get any ideas about this being a “family project”, one where we gave the kids little jobs and it turned out a be a great bonding experience…that was NOT the case. We worked on this projects around the kids. While they played, while Finn napped, trading off building/child entertaining duties. It involved me getting over my power tool anxiety and using a miter saw—still scary but doable. Dealing with the kids while trying to get this done on the two days per week Stu is home from work reminded us just why we don’t do all those home projects we used to love doing, it’s just too hard.

Luckily things went smoothly and quickly.

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Here is my attempt at a very rough and incomplete supply list:
-2x4s for the whole frame
-tongue and groove planks for the roost walls
-some 2×2’s for the doors, roof line, ladder steps, and perch
-deck screws in various lengths
-some smaller trim boards (1×2’s?) for covering construction mesh edges
-construction mesh
-while I originally wanted a piece of corrugated metal for the roof, we found this awesome plasticy version and fell in love
-brass hinges and a handle from Ikea, plus an extra hinge to attach the ladder
-a strip of 1/2″ plywood for the ladder base

Oh and better give you our plans!

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Gorgeous, aren’t they? Clear as mud? They changed a little during the process, but this was what we worked from.

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We somehow got this project done with only three trips to the hardware store…possibly a world record. Quickly realizing it wouldn’t fit through the garage side door, we decided build the coop right on site, right where it would stay. Plus, we were honestly scared it would be too heavy to move when finished. Size-wise we planned on four square feet per chicken, so 12 square feet in the run, and 10 SF in the roost. We let them free range for a few hours almost every day, so we weren’t concerned about them getting claustrophobic. We checked the level at every step but still had some fitting issues to deal with due to the uneven work surface and our severe lack of carpentry skills. Luckily it isn’t furniture, it’s place for chickens to eat and poop and sleep, so it didn’t have to be perfect!

It’s a wonder what a few shiny hinges and a little deck stain can do….

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The guy in the Home Depot paint department saved me about a million hours of brushing and wiping by suggesting I use this water based desk stain. This man is my hero. He tinted it in Slate and two coats gave us just the look we were going for.

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We didn’t totally know how we’d be using this chicken coop, so we gave it as many access points as possible. A hatch door on the slanted side part, two large front doors (which we use by far the most), and a large roost door for easy cleaning and egg retrieval. All I honestly cared about was making sure Finn couldn’t open the front doors…ever. All I need is him releasing the chickens every time we walk to and from the garage. These safety gate hooks work perfectly. Ethan can operate them but Finn can’t.

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Insert evil plan laugh here.

I’m tickled every time he makes these attempts. Really, these things are even a little tricky for me sometimes (although Ethan’s nimble fingers open them in a flash). 

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They are so little in that picture! What we have patrolling the property now are three huge, fluffy chickens. I’m still fine tuning our poop situation, but so far so good. We use paper grocery bags, torn into pieces, with a few handfuls of wood shavings on top. I toss the poop and shavings into our compost pile every few days, recycle the paper, easy. We’ve had no smell issues. We took down that lower perch though, quickly realizing they all want to be on one perch. We are adding a nesting box, a flexible plastic floor panel, and heated waterer this weekend to prepare our spoiled girls for winter, now that temps are dipping below freezing at night. We installed a light on a timer a couple weeks ago in hopes the cold weather won’t keep them from laying…they are closing in on 20 weeks so we’re anxiously awaiting that first egg!

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The girls were huge wimps about climbing up into the roost as first, but quickly figured things out. They seem really happy in the coop and are easily corralled in after an afternoon of roaming the yard.

Maybe we should have built a walk-in run, maybe it should be a little bigger. But overall we’re thrilled with the result and LOVE the look. While we originally assumed we’d want the coop out of sight, it became abundantly clear that if it looked good, it could be a center piece of the big open garage wall space. I can’t wait to plant some shrubs in the rest of the area next Spring.

I’m sure a few things will change in the coming months but I figured I should post this before I forget everything we did. I think we ended up spending around $300 on this project, which is worth every penny to get something that looks great and will hold up. It’s sturdy—hasn’t been destroyed by Ethan climbing on it or Finn hitting it with his bat, not sure why he does that—and keeps our “flock” safe. What more could we ask for?

Four Days in Chicago

2016 November 26
by Becky

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Instead of spending our whole Thanksgiving break hanging out around home, we decided to take a little trip somewhere we’ve spent far too little time: Chicago!

It’s just 4 hours away and we’ve only ever made quick trips for Ikea (before we had one in St. Louis), work, and waaaaay back in college (with Greek Affairs when Stu and I had just started dating). I was determined to fix this massive mistake, booked an Airbnb in Lincoln Park, and we hit the road early Monday morning.

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Not to jinx anything, but our kids are surprisingly amazing in the car. It may be because they never have iPad privileges unless we’re traveling, so unbridled scree time is like heaven. I grabbed two sheet pans at the dollar store, sprayed them with whatever paint I had around, and they made perfect lap desks for the trip. The boys used them to color, eat snacks, and play with toys while watching videos. Headphones are key to keep them interested in shows, we love these LilGadget ones that connect to each other, perfect for when the kids want to watch the same device. It was fairly blissful for three hours, which was the time it took to get us to Ethan’s dream: Legoland.

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Several months ago Ethan asked about this place. He kind of put it out there one day casually, like “hey would this be possible?” and it happened to work out well on this trip. Sure this one isn’t like the California amusement park version, it’s actually a “Legoland Discovery Center” located just outside the city in a gigantic shopping mall, but it’s indoor and the perfect size for ages six and under. We bought tickets online in advance (because the price doubles at the door), walked right in, and spent 2.5 hours doing everything. We watched a 4D movie, went on the two rides, checked out the incredible Lego replica of Chicago, built pirate ships to sail, learned how Legos are made, and did plenty of creating. It wasn’t overrun, being a Monday and all, which made the visit all the more enjoyable.

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We drove another 40 minutes to our adorable Lincoln Park apartment before walking a few blocks for Chicago style pizza at Lou Malnati’s. The pizza was solid and the kids had fun—my only suggestion would be to change out their sauce for some Black Thorn pizza sauce, add a little kick! The boys loved watching the El pass by across the street.

Once back “home”, Ethan couldn’t wait to sleep in his super cool bunk bed…

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We stuck with the pack n play for Finn, hoping for a good night sleep, but we were tempted to see how he’s do in a real bed. We might as well have experimented since they were up at the crack of dawn anyway, Ethan waking us at 4:30am because a part of his new Lego set broke off in bed, Finn yelping at 5:15am just because. (I almost cried. I don’t function well before 6 unless we’re doing something really exciting, like flying to Paris)

Stu turned on the babysitter (Netflix) and let me sleep…smart husband. Nonetheless, we got an early start to the day’s main event—the Shedd Aquarium.

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The Shedd is HUGE and gorgeous. They have everything, including Beluga whales!!! We spent several hours walking through every exhibit, the place went on forever. Favorite creatures: sharks, GIANT spider crabs, and whales. Favorite exhibit: The Reef. Crowds were a little thick due to school trips, but it was fun seeing all the kids having such a wonderful time screaming out creature names and asking questions of their teachers.

Post aquarium we had to make a very important lunch stop.

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Shake Shack, how do we live without you? For a family that doesn’t love fast food, we can put a hurt of some burgers, fries, and shakes at this joint. Do I feel disgusting after eating it? Sure! Worth it. Come Spring 2017 we’ll have one of our own in St. Louis and it will. be. a. problem.

To get the blood flowing again we popped across the street to Millennium Park with “The Bean” in our sights. Turns out Stu had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned this park, so when we rounded the corner he exclaimed, “Oh, it really IS a bean!” Turns out I’m not nuts.

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Mean old dad made Finn put his frozen fingers in some warm gloves. Torture! The weather wasn’t warm per se, but it was totally tolerable and we were prepared. Sometimes not all of us wanted to use those preparations to keep our bodies warm.

Cloud Gate is the actual name of this sculpture and it really is beautiful, reflecting the cityscape and visitors that constantly surround it. We had fun walking around and under it, watching the ice skaters on the other side. From there we headed into the park, past the phenomenal concert venue, across the highway on a fantastic bridge, and found ourselves in the middle of maybe the coolest playground I’ve ever seen.

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Maggie Daley Park is more like 10 playgrounds, all in the same vicinity, separated by winding paths and breathtaking views of the city. Ethan climbed up several REALLY tall slides with no fear and was like a hamster in a wheel…too bad baby bro was on a short fuse and made our visit sort of short. We need to spend lots of time in this exact spot next Spring.

That bridge picture was worth the whole trip.

We were supposed to go out the night, had a sitter lined up and everything, but what with our early wake up and busy day, we were pooped and cancelled. A night with take out on the comfy couch and a side of HBO GO sounded pretty darn good.

Day two was drizzly and grey so we started with breakfast at Batter and Berries, before we headed to the Navy Pier Children’s Museum. Our Magic House membership got us half price tickets to this kid haven. We dug for dinos, raced cars, put out fires, climbed towers, build skyscrapers, trying to get it all in.

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This museum is impeccably clean and well maintained, filled to the brim with super fun activities and toys, all managed by really friendly, helpful staff. The water table room was out of control. We couldn’t even take Finn in there, he would have been soaked, but Ethan had a blast. After lunch we headed up to the Navy Pier roof, Ethan had been eyeing the giant ferris wheel for two days and a ride seemed appropriate.

 

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When Finn looked like he was about to drop—going on day three of “casual nap” aka no nap—we had to make a decision. Where to go next? The obvious choice was the Field Museum, especially when we discovered our St. Louis Science Center membership got us in for FREE. We only had about 1.75 hours so we started in the most important spot…Sue.

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A docent filled us in on this giant T-rex while Ethan stood riveted, taking in her ever word. He answered all her questions to, showing off his intense dinosaur knowledge. We headed for the Evolution exhibit, where the rest of the dinosaurs lived, and I was shocked to see how many they had—this place trounces the Smithsonian. The full size Apatosaurus was probably my favorite. We walked too quickly through the Native American exhibit (I could have spent the whole day thereand dedicated our last few minutes to the Egypt exhibit, complete with mummies which kind of blew Ethan’s mind.

Lucky for us, Finn passed out two minutes after we arrived, so it was smooth sailing through the museum.

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We finally wore them out.

Grabbing dinner on our way home at Whole Foods (I know, not local but still so good), we spent one more night snuggled in our apartment before heading home the next morning. This trip was so ridiculously fun that we’ve decided to spend every Thanksgiving week exploring a new city. We had a fabulous albeit belated feast with friends on Friday and had the rest of the weekend to put up the tree and decorate.

Turns out family traditions don’t always have to be “traditional”.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Chicago with kids? What did we miss?