Chicken Scratch Fever

The paperwork


After all of the worry, the paperwork ended up much easier than I thought.

I picked up the official chicken coop building permit application last week at Ferndale City Hall. Right away, I decided the most challenging part of the proposal would be drawing up the actual site plan. But when it came down to it, that was a piece of cake.

Matt had a friend draw up our yard dimensions in CAD, so all I had to do was sketch in our existing shed and the proposed chicken coop. It looks really professional. I also printed out various views of the coop from the plans I bought, along with a list of materials.

I plan on turning in the paperwork tomorrow, along with the $35 permit fee. A city hall employee told me it should take two to four weeks to have my site plan approved. At that point, I will be issued a building permit, and I’ll have six months to complete the coop.

If all goes well, Matt, Eric and I will be constructing the coop by mid-October.

The location of our proposed chicken coop.

The location of our proposed chicken coop.

Coop design

We have chosen to build Wichita Cabin Coop. It will look super cute in the back of the yard!

We have chosen to build Wichita Cabin Coop. It will look super cute in the back of the yard!

We’re just unpacking from a weekend trip to Kalamazoo to see our friends Eric and Char.

We had a wonderful time, eating, and hiking … and talking all things chicken.

The great news is that Eric agreed to help us build our coop. After looking at a photo of one that Matt and I like, Eric confidently said we could do it in a weekend. I’m not so sure about that, but two weekends might do the trick between the three of us.

Matt surveys the new shipment of rocks. There's always room for more.

Matt surveys the new shipment of rocks. There’s always room for more.

We also picked up our first shipment of rocks for the garden. It ends up we got about half of what we need, so just one more trip finish the border. We plan to order top soil and start landscaping in the next week or two.

The best news of all is that we finally decided upon a coop design. After scanning books and countless websites, I chose the Wichita Cabin Coop. It’s a great starter coop, and comfortable holds 3-5 hens. The couple who designed this coop offer access to 3-D computer models, online tutorials and a list of materials for $5. What a deal!

Timeline-wise, were hoping to get the coop finished sometime in September or October, with hopes for an inspection sometime in December.

Money-wise, it’s hard to tell how much this project is going to cost us. We’ve seen estimates for the Wichita ranging from $700-$1,400. We’re aiming for the smaller number, of course. I plan on keeping close tabs on the receipts and will report what we discover.

Chickens on the brain (full planning mode)

Charlie investigates a spot in front of the shed where we hope to build our chicken coop.

Charlie investigates a spot in front of the shed where we hope to build our chicken coop.

I’ve got the lyrics to “Chickenman” by the Indigo Girls rolling through my mind. “Chickenman, hold my hand.”

But really the song has nothing to do with chickens at all.

Goes to show I’ve definitely got chickens on the brain.

Since we’ve decided to raise hens, we’ve been trapped in a whirlwind of ideas. Our immediate goal is to build the coop this fall, have it inspected in December and get three chicks in late February/early March.

We want to add boxwood to our garden.

We want to add boxwood to our garden.

A couple days ago, Matt and I finally chose a location for the coop. It will be deep in the yard in front of the shed, between two large yucca plants. We went back and forth, debating the merits of various locations. Then we both landed on the same space, agreeing that was the spot. We marked the space with four stones large enough to see from the kitchen window. Very scientific!

A couple weeks ago we had more than a dozen scrub trees removed from our yard. So now, half the yard is lined with mulberrry trees (a chicken favorite) and the other side is largely barren and tore up, save for a large oak tree. We have a lot of work ahead of us to get our yard in shape. Our goal is to have a yard that is largely edible, by the chickens, by us, or both.

Today we visited a nursery in Canton, Mich., to investigate chicken-friendly trees, shrubs and plants. We both decided that we like boxwood shrubs, and thought apple trees will be just too much work. I love ornamental grass; Matt despises it. We’ll see who wins that battle. I have a feeling it won’t be me.

Good reads.

Good reads.

Last night I finished reading “Free-Range Chicken Gardens” by Jessi Bloom. It was a great first book, filled with helpful information raging from various coop styles to a list of plants toxic to chickens. A friend  lent me two books: “Raising Chickens for Dummies” and “Building Chicken Coops for Dummies.” I also have a handful of websites bookmarked. I’m soaking up whatever information I can gather at this point. The more I read, the more I discover. This is just the beginning.

This weekend we are going to meet up with a dear friend of ours, Eric, who offered to help us construct the coop. We have a style picked out, and plan on showing him the blueprints. If all goes well, we hope to start hammering in September.

Eric used to live on a farm, and raised chickens. He also has experience building coops. It’s seriously great to have friends like this.

We’re going to have chickens!!!

Laura directs her hens into a tractor, a mobile pen.

Laura directs her hens into a tractor, a mobile pen.

When I was a cub reporter in Cheboygan, I had a neighbor who kept a dozen hens. Every day I would  walk over and watch as Weyona sang Methodist hymns. Then, one by one, the hens came running. The songs seemed to make the chickens happy, and they laid countless eggs in return.

The incredible, edible egg.

The incredible, edible egg.

A couple years ago, I thought about having chickens of my own. In my yard. In a relatively urban setting.

I didn’t tell anyone. Especially my boyfriend Matt. Still, I harbored fantasies of converting my sizable city lot into a mini farm.

When I looked into it, the ordinance in Ferndale was restrictive, so much so that just a handful of city residents would qualify to raise hens.

I thought this was the end of the road. I kept quiet about it.

Until a couple weeks ago, when Matt and I visited a friend with a farm in Belleville. Erik Wordhouse was kind enough to show me around his 20-acre farm, which includes a dairy cow, pigs, ducks, quail, turkey and chickens. Yes chickens.

Somehow seeing someone I knew building a homestead made me realize I could achieve my mini farm, as well.

So I went home and Googled “Fernale chickens” again. I was pleased to discover that last year the ordinance had been changed, and now it is much easier to obtain a permit to raise hens.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. I finally confided my dream in Matt. And he surprised me by saying he thought it was a cool idea.

In my research, I found the Ferndale Chickens website, run by Laura Mikulski. She is the woman who challenged the old chicken ordinance and became the first person in Ferndale to obtain a permit for backyard hens.

Hen house: Laura said she found the three nesting boxes at iKEA (!!!). Sweet.

Hen house: Laura said she found the three nesting boxes at IKEA (!!!). Sweet.

Today Matt and I visited Laura’s yard, and met her three hens. She was kind enough to show off the coop, explain how she built it and tell us what she would do differently if she had another chance. We learned about how to keep water from freezing in the winter, the kind of floor cover that works well in a coop and saw the hens take a dust bath. We plucked tart cherries from a tree and giggled as the hens scrambled for a treat.

We also asked tons of questions, and took a gazillion photos.

In the end, our visit cemented in us that we could do this. We could raise chickens in our backyard.

We went home and picked a bag full of mulberries, a favorite treat of chickens. Later in the evening, we drove back, and offered them to Laura as a gift for the feathered “ladies.”

Laura smiled then quickly disappeared in her house. She returned with a bag of tart cherries.

This was definitely the start of something great.

Now that Matt and I have officially decided to get chickens, a lot of work waits before us. We need to investigate the permitting process, decide what kind of coop to build, the breed of chicken we want. Needless to say, the work has just begun. Join us as we walk this new road. We plan to share our victories, defeats and discoveries along the way.

Laura's coop sits near the back of her yard, surrounded by native plants and trees.

Laura’s coop sits near the back of her yard, surrounded by native plants and trees.