Building a cat shelter: floor

Today I started construction on the outdoor cat shelter.

I went to Home Depot on Sunday to purchase a bunch of materials, but decided to get the larger items delivered, as there was too much for one load. Home Depot has a relatively inexpensive delivery fee, and next-day delivery, so it was totally worth it. I also took the opportunity to get additional materials for other projects, e.g. t-posts for the apple trees, extra treated 2x6s to make a second beehive stand, and extras of other stuff I commonly use, just because:

Then this morning I started work on the floor, building it in the workshop. The floor joists use treated 2×6 boards. Looking at the following photo, the shelter will be on the back-left, the feeding station on the back-right, and the deck in the front:

I added foam insulation under the floor of the shelter:

Here you can see the underside:

And added the shelter & feeder floor, using 1/2″ plywood:

Some supports for the deck:

And the deck boards, using 1x2s:

A closer view:

Tomorrow I’ll start on the walls!

Building a cat shelter: plans

As mentioned at the end of a recent blog post about the feral cats, the current shelter for the outdoor cats is a little too small, now that they’re getting bigger. Also, the current feeding station is a bit untidy (aka an ugly hack job).

I considered building a new feeding station that would look nicer. I also considered buying a second heated shelter like the current one. But I finally decided that a better solution would be to build one structure that would serve both needs: a wooden shelter plenty big enough for the cats, and an attached feeding station.

Doing research into existing examples, I thought about many different designs. Jenn had the idea of an old west theme, like a “cat house saloon”, which seemed fun. So I wrote up detailed notes on the design, and yesterday spent pretty much all day drawing some plans. I used The Iconfactory’s excellent Linea Sketch app for iOS, on my 12.9″ iPad Pro, drawing with the Apple Pencil.

Here’s what I came up with. Of course, I’ll probably continue to refine the design as I build it, but I’m pretty happy with this.

The overall size of the structure is 6′ wide (4′ for the shelter, 2′ for the feeding station), 3′ deep, and sloping from 3.5′ high in the front down to 2.5′ in the back.

The walls, floor, and roof of the shelter portion will be insulated, made of two layers of plywood sandwiching some foam. There will also be a couple of heating pads inside.

This is the front elevation, i.e. looking at the front wall. The basic outline is inspired by western buildings, with the roof façades. The left side is the shelter, and the right side is the feeding station; they will be styled as separate buildings, though joined. There are windows at the top, awnings, and doors at the bottom. Most of the shelter wall will open as a maintenance door:

Here’s the right elevation, showing the side view and inside the feeding station. You can see the sloping roof, awning, and a deck out front. Inside is divided into two levels: a cupboard at the top, where the food dispenser sits on a pull-out drawer (to make it easier to fill), with a large tube leading to a tray in the feeding area below, where the cats go in to eat:

Another elevation, this time through the middle of the shelter. Here you can see the cat doors at the front and back (important to have two entrances, so they can escape any threats). You can also see the maintenance door taking most of the front wall, and a vent at the back. The horizontal line across the middle is a sleeping platform:

Finally, the plan (top-down) view. Again, the shelter is on the left, and the feeding station on the right. In the shelter, you can see the two platforms (the darker rectangles), with an open space in the middle. The square in the feeding area is the tray where the food drops. You can also see the deck out front, that is covered by an awning (not shown in this view):

I’m pretty happy with this design. Like the chicken coop, it is perhaps over-designed, but hey, that’s my way. I have tried to keep it fairly simple, and appropriately scaled. I’m also trying to keep it fairly lightweight, since I will be building it in the workshop before moving it into place. I plan to build it in a few pieces to help with that; separate floor, walls, and roof, which will be screwed together when installing. Hopefully that works out.

I already have some of the materials needed, but I’ll go to Home Depot tomorrow for the rest, and will start building in the coming week.

Should be a fun project; I’m looking forward to starting! Of course, I will post about it on this blog. Stay tuned!

What do you think? Any ideas for improvements? Let me know in the comments!

Chicken sign & stamp

Jenn gave me a couple of chicken-themed gifts for Christmas: a sign for the coop, and a stamp for the egg cartons.

The sign is a fun custom one via Etsy, that says “Coopacabana, est. 2017”. That’s our name for the new coop, since it was painted in bright Caribbean-inspired colors:

The stamp was also via Etsy, and says “Farm Fresh Eggs, Yellow Cottage Homestead, Laid On: _______”, with a space for the date stamp I use to mark when the eggs were laid.

Today I made a wooden block to act as a brace for an egg carton while stamping the top. The cartons we use have a perforation down the middle, so they can be split into two six-packs, so I made the block with two parts, connected in the middle, to fit that carton style. (I actually made it out of a single 2×4, but in retrospect it would have been easier and tidier to make two separate blocks and connect them together via another bit of wood; oh well.)

Outdoor cat feeder adventures

I previously posted about the outdoor kitty condo I got as a feeding station for our outdoor feral cats. I since got a food dispenser, but that attracted the attention of raccoons and other wildlife, so I started putting it away overnight, which got old fast.

Next I tried getting an automatic feeder… but that didn’t fare too well; it was stolen and ripped open by the masked bandits; I found it elsewhere in the garden:

So time for a better solution: I repurposed one of our plastic deck table boxes to contain a different auto-feeder. I cut a hole in the bottom, and made a kind of funnel out of a pipe reducer (leftover from the chicken feeder), so the raccoons couldn’t get to the feeder. Even if they reach up the tube (and they’ve certainly tried!) they can’t get the food, as the feeder closes off the outlet after dispensing food:

The box also contains some sand bags for extra weight, and to help hold the feeder in place:

The box is also strapped to a couple of concrete blocks, to give it extra weight and raise the hole off the ground. The food dish from the feeder is also strapped to the blocks:

So far this has proved raccoon-proof, so I think this’ll work.

The kitty condo now just houses the water, which helps keep it cleaner:

Chicken oyster & grit dispenser and run enhancements

Yesterday I did a bunch of relatively small projects for the chicken coop and run, as the last building projects for it (for now, at least). Namely to make an oyster shell and grit dispenser for inside, moving and seeding the grazing frame, building outdoor roosts, making swings, and adding logs. With all that done, I was finally able to put away the tools that have been living around the coop for the last several months. A very satisfying feeling to be officially done at last.

Here’s the oyster & grit dispenser; oyster shell is good for chickens to help make strong egg shells, and they need grit to help digest treats and such (they can find sand and such in the run to serve that purpose, but convenient to have it on hand if they want it):

Installed, between the waterers and feed tube:

Outside, I moved the grazing frame, which exposed some grass that had started to regrow… this is almost all gone now, a day later:

The grazing frame is now in the opposite corner of the run. I added some soil and grass seed, so before long they’ll have more tasty grass to nibble on:

I next built some roosting bars in the corner where the grazing frame was before:

It was met with approval:

A couple of chicken swings, which they could perch on to keep them entertained (not sure how successful these will be):

And finally, I added some logs and branches as additional entertainment and perch opportunities:

Chicken run roof

Over the last several days, I finished off the new chicken run, fully enclosing it with a netting roof.

Firstly, I extended the fence between the two chicken runs, to be the same height as the rest of the new run fencing:

Then I installed poles and beams every 8 feet:

A beam over the roof of the coop:

One last escape by Camilla:

Poles and north-south beams done:

Started adding netting:

Buffy enjoying a perch on the ladder:

Adding east-west beams:

Foiled!

Done:

View from above (hard to see the netting; it covers the entire top):

Easier to see here:

Chicken poop tray & grazing frame

Today I crossed another couple of little chicken projects off my list.

Firstly, I built a poop tray — a nested tray to collect the poop chickens release overnight while roosting, to make it easier to keep the coop clean.

Here is the outer tray, which features an opening at the back (towards us) and a welded wire screen to keep the chickens out:

And the inner tray, with a small opening at one end to enable scooping out the waste:

They fit together like this within the coop, accessed via the poop door:

Both could be removed if I want to sweep out the entire coop. But typically just the inner tray will be pulled out to clean out, without exposing the whole doorway:

Here’s what it looks like inside:

Next up, I built a grazing frame — a structure with a hardware cloth screen on top. We can plant grass or other fodder inside the frame, which will grow up through the wire, so the chickens can eat the tops without destroying the entire plant. (Given an opportunity, chickens will turn any amount of foliage to barren dirt in time, by scratching and pecking plants into oblivion.)

The chickies are intrigued:

Chicken coop: finishing nesting boxes

Several of the new chickens are looking ever closer to being ready to start laying, so I took a little time this morning to finish off the nesting boxes.

Firstly I added shelf liner and plastic nesting pads to the sloping bottoms of the nesting boxes (see this previous post on the construction of the boxes), along with fake wooden eggs to test the rolling, and act as a guide to the girls:

Merida and Domino peeking out the front window from the roost above the nesting boxes:

Here’s the view from outside, showing the collection area. I used shelf liner for the screen too; not ideal, being semi-transparent, but it’ll do. There is also a foam bumper at the front edge, which isn’t visible in this picture:

I also added floral curtains that Jenn provided to the box entrances, mounted on curtain rods and tied open. In addition to looking nice, it’ll give the chickens a bit more privacy and dark, two things they like when laying:

Here are some closer looks inside a box:

Chicken coop: nesting boxes

One of the last steps on building the new chicken coop is making the nesting boxes. 

Rather than just buying plastic boxes like in the old coop, I wanted to make custom roll-out boxes, where the eggs roll down a gentle slope to a collection area after being laid. This will not only make gathering the eggs easier, it’ll also keep them cleaner, and reduce the risk of breakages (or chickens eating the eggs, which can happen if they get a taste for them).

When I built the coop, I allowed for this with double doors below the front window, but I didn’t bother to build the nesting boxes before the chicks moved in, since they wouldn’t be laying for a few months. But they’re not too far away from being old enough now — their first eggs will likely arrive sometime over the next few weeks. So it’s time to make the boxes.

First up, I removed the temporary panel in the internal wall:

Then built the side walls:

A floor:

Another floor:

A step in front of the middle floor (as modeled by Merida), and a roost in front of the window, so the chickens can look out:

Partitions:

Ramps in each nesting box, and fencing wire below the window roost, to keep them off the poop tray below the roost (and keep them from getting out the doors when opened):

The view from outside the coop, showing the egg collection area:

This concludes the construction of the nesting boxes, though they will have some finishing touches — nesting pads, liners, padding, and perhaps even curtains. Stay tuned for further adventures!

Chicken run: now open!

This morning I finished the new chicken run fencing, and installed the automatic pop door opener (with a little help from Domino), enabling the chickens to access the run:

The opener is mounted to a small door, so it can be accessed from inside the coop:

Here’s the pop door open for the first time, much to the chickies surprise:

Outside the coop, the opener is behind a window, so the light sensor can work:

Here’s inside:

And a close-up:

Chickies peeking out of the pop door:

Unsurprisingly, our bravest new chicken, imaginatively named Merida after the Pixar movie character, was the first to leave the coop to the newly fenced chicken run (YouTube video):

Followed by Domino:

And a few others:

But some weren’t yet brave enough:

Good thing it was a bit cloudy this morning; once the sun came out, they were all much more reluctant to leave the coop.