In the summer of 2017 I decided to expand my main coop’s 30’ x 40’ pen by adding a smaller coop and pen along the back side. I was given a 4’ x 4’ x 8’ structure which my friend Tracy and I converted into a chicken coop, then erected a 15’ x 30’ enclosure and finally covered most of the overhead area with a tarped 10’ x 20’ Shelterlogic frame. The most expensive items were the wooden posts and concrete for the fence (some of the metal T-posts and wire were free) and the commercial grade tarp. The coop and frame were free and the incidentals amounted to $40.
If you’ve read my posts you’ll know that I am a proud scrounger and avid freecycler. I can sniff out a bargain a mile away and am not above asking for help and the universe seems to provide. I am also pretty good about passing unwanted items along for free, so I guess it’s a ‘what comes around, goes around’ philosophy.
My main pen is covered overhead with plastic mesh deer fencing with 2” square holes to deter hawks, the main predators in my area. When I put the tarp over the shelter at the back it covered most of the pen, which I thought would be sufficient. Sadly a hawk killed two teenagers before I was able to close all the gaps.
Those tarps seem to last about three years before biting the dust. The sun’s UV rays and the rubbing on the metal frame weaken stress areas and after a snowfall it becomes even more vulnerable to tears.
Most years we only have a few intermittent inches of the white stuff and if I can get out there and knock it off before it accumulates the tarp is great. If not, the weight of the snow pulls the tarp into saggy pockets between the poles of the frame creating more tension on the top. In October of last year I had a volunteer helper with the WorkAway program attach foam protectors along the ridge beam in at attempt to extend the life of the tarp.
On Boxing Day we had a good amount of snow which I diligently removed from the tarp and netting several times a day. Then, a few days later we had a load of wet snow that froze overnight making it impossible to budge. For the first time, my structure actually bent and collapsed under the weight. It was a good thing I didn’t have any birds housed there because I had to wait for a couple weeks till the snow melted to get in there. Then the rains came, forming huge heavy pools in the bunched up tarp.
I let it sit until the end of January when I had some help pulling the wet and muddy tarp out of the pen and then putting the shelter bits back together. Unfortunately we didn’t have the optimal bits to work with and I wasn’t confident that it would hold up to future snowfalls.
Most of the coop, which has a metal roof, stayed dry although one nest box had water intrusion. The shavings made a great growing medium for fungi spores which must have floated in through the open window. I made sure to thoroughly clean and dry the area before housing any birds there.
By the spring I had freecycled several salvaged frames of different sizes and dimensions and asked Tracy and Keith to help me make a new, heavier grade shelter. I live on a small island and although we have two stores that sell tarps they didn’t have one the size or thickness I needed. I ended up taking the ferry and driving 40 minutes to find the appropriate size commercial grade tarp for the princely sum of $125! I hoped it would last the requisite three years.
Unfortunately those hopes were dashed when not four months after we installed it the ravens had discovered a fun new game of pecking a series of holes along the ridge beam. I have no idea what their motivation was since they don’t seem to be interested in my flock. I was up on a ladder, bad knees and all, duct taping the damage and crossing my fingers it will hold.
High on my to-do list was to reinforce the metal frame under the tarp. It nagged away at the back of my mind while I was busy with other tasks. We had an unseasonably hot and dry September and October which probably would have been the ideal time to tackle the job but I procrastinated, in part, while I played with ideas of how to strengthen the structure without adding a lot of weight and if possible, at no cost.
One of my original plans had been to use leftover poles and clamps from various other shelters to provide more horizontal supports, but none of them were the exact size. And then there was the issue of keeping them securely in place.
I finally came up with a plan and called on Tracy and Keith to help once again. They arrived with power tools in hand: a cordless sawzall and drill, but forgot the charged batteries at home. While Keith and I prepped the site, Tracy sped home to retrieve them.
I found some PVC waterline that was leftover from burying the pipe between our pump house and cottage and thought it might fit the bill. My shelter has four vertical supports: two ends and two in the middle, each 75” apart. The idea was to install two more vertical supports between each section, for a total of six. The pipe was flexible enough to feed it between the tarp and the ridgepole, then cut it to size and wire it to the horizontal poles.
Some of the waterline had been stored flat on the ground, while one longer piece was coiled. At first I thought this might present an issue, but it turned out to be an asset because once installed it arched upward, forcing the tarp out from the structure and hopefully will allow the snow to slide down more easily.
My birds who live in that enclosure – 14 young pullets – weren’t happy. They were on high alert for ‘stranger danger’ and spent the whole time huddled in the corner of the fence.
The whole task took less than 90 minutes, including the hiatus while awaiting the batteries. The pipe won’t shift or rot, is lightweight and best of all, it was free. We’ve already had a skiff of snow and a very thin layer of ice on the tarp, which was easily knocked off. I’ll have to wait and see what the winter brings and hope my patched tarp holds up to the elements. If not, I’ll be out there cursing and back to writing an update with a new plan.
And thanks again to Tracy and Keith who came out on a nippy day to make my flock safe.
I gave up tarps and plastic. For me, it’s worth the investment to make ‘real’ roofs on my structures…plywood and roofing material, or metal roofing. I am a fanactic freecycler…so what I save by scrounging and repurposing gets invested in other materials that hold up. Glad to read that you were able to protect you chicken friends! 💜
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My goal is to build a wooden frame and cover it with salvaged metal roofing. For now, my tarp with have to do.