If you’ve dipped into my series ‘When Art Meets Chickens’, profiles of artists, crafters and writers that feature chickens in their work then you know I love to share the spotlight with creative folks that celebrate the humble chicken.
This is the third post in a series featuring cool coop builds. I was happy to work with Billy Joe to share his vision, determination and ingenuity to provide a funky home for his wife’s flock. I hope that reading about his build might spark some ideas of your own.
I live with my wife and three children on 1½ acres surrounded by untouched forest. We rented this property for 10 years and weren’t allowed to have animals. When the Covid pandemic hit, our landlord put the house on the market and we were fortunate enough to buy the home we’ve lived in for a decade. Now there are no more animal rules so we have two dogs, one cat, two ducks, quail and around 21 chickens.
I spent the last decade learning all the plant, trees, and mushrooms growing on our property, which was a lot to master. 2020 put me into overdrive with sustainability.
I got the idea for my coop from watching YouTube videos of two guys in India building with earth. Then I went on a tangent watching bushcrafting videos for awhile. I also like gardening. One day I woke up and ran with it. I’ve just married my gardens with my wife’s chickens.
I sourced most of the materials from a giant dead ash tree that we had cut down last fall and scavenged through scrap piles of wood.
I have no heavy equipment and had to carry the logs manually so it was slow work, but I’m kind ripped now. It has consumed my life for the last six weeks. I’m still working on it and will probably always work on maintaining it. I’d guess I spent 200-300 hours for the initial build. Whenever I wasn’t at work as a tattoo artist, I was working on the coop.
I use all the wrong tools in the right way, but these were the tools I used to create it (plus a shovel and stapler). This is as pure as it gets for me: no electricity, just aggression with a hatchet, hammer and a little finesse with a chainsaw, two gallons of gas and one gallon of bar and chain oil. I spent about $700 on nails, hinges, locks and a pond liner and $340 on hardware cloth.
It would have been easier with a small crew of people. Now that I’ve made it once, it would probably take me half the time to make another. I spent hours staring at progress photos and thinking of my next move. I spent almost an entire day playing with sticks like a puzzle building the nesting box.
I’ve dubbed my coop ‘Hawksgrave’ because I got sick of my wife’s chickens getting killed by hawks. I didn’t build this to anger a bunch of husbands, but you’d be hard pressed to find a man who loves his wife more than me. The incubator was the best gift I’ve ever given her, she was absolutely giddy about it. If I had known her reaction was going to be as good as it was I would have bought it for her years ago. We’ve got quails hatching as I write.
I started by putting posts in the ground. Black locust wood is great. Ash is good because it gets harder as it ages. Definitely avoid aspen or poplar. Burn the ends of the logs before dropping them in ground, which helps to prevent fungi from growing on them.
The roof is made of logs, layered with the old carpet from our living room to give extra strength and a soft pad between the logs and the pond liner.
I installed a 1½’ -2′ apron of hardware cloth around the run secured by 1000 landscaping staples and buried it in debris from the build. There are three windows one with glass and two covered by hardware cloth.
Nothing is bent. It’s all angle cuts and notched out like Lincoln logs. A lot of it fit together well enough that I probably didn’t need to nail it together, but it is. All the beams and support structure is made so that the pressure of the weight pushes it together even more. It’s pretty solid – I could probably drive a car over it.
It’s 7′ tall x 12′ long x 8′ wide: big enough for me to walk through without hitting my head. The run is 12′ wide x 25′ long x 7′ tall with a door on the backside, so I can easily rake and walk through with a wheelbarrow.
I will eventually have to either use deck sealer or paint, maybe both, but will still keep the rustic look. We will spend the next year picking at the bark that I was too lazy to, or couldn’t, remove. I’d also like to add a pond feature run by a solar powered pump on one side that’s big enough to handle two ducks without having to clean it twice a day.
I’m going to plant the outside with lots of catmint, native sedge, violets, geraniums, sedum and speedwell. I’ll have it all planted out by the end of spring this year so I can watch it fill out like a chia pet. I have to plant for a zone below us since there’s only an 8” layer of soil and we get pretty harsh winters here. I’ll work on maintaining this area like its part of my garden for the rest of my life.
Among other things Billy Joe Meinke is a plant lover and West Michigan’s favorite tattoo artist of 2020. He’s also a creative soul that has built a spectacular coop that will be the envy of many chicken keepers. Thanks for sharing his story and photos, used with permission.
Billy Joe is an inspiration to all of us! Even before the chicken coops, his art work and gardening amazed me. He is able to take the crudest materials and transform them into one of a kind pieces. Will continue to follow him and his beautiful wife, can’t wait to see what their next project is.
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A well written article on one fine human and all around great guy. He truly is an Artist.
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I love everything about this. Thank you!
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