NZ Lifestyle Block
- a coop straight out of the wild, wild west - a caravan coop with a spaceship vibe
- Sue answers your questions
Lynda Hallinan’s free-range chickens come home to roost in a coop inspired by the wild, wild west.
When my husband Jason and I exchanged wedding vows, neither of us promised to love, honour or obey each other's pets. But in the decade since, chickens have undermined our union more than any of our other animals. And that includes my demented (and incontinent) dearly departed cats.
Jason already had chooks when I met him, so I assumed he enjoyed their company.
I assumed wrong. He only enjoyed their eggs, and actually prefers to get them at the supermarket in nice clean cartons. Buying eggs is cheaper, he reckons, and causes fewer fights.
He's right. Keeping chooks, with their feast-or-famine laying habits is a costly conundrum. In winter, when our chooks are off the lay, we buy eggs and 20kg bags of Chook Chow. In summer, they effectively compost our kitchen scraps and most of my garden green waste, and we get a ridiculous 56 eggs a week.
I keep two flocks of chooks: one pretty, one productive. Although our half-dozen Hyline and Shaver hens are the best layers, each reliably producing an egg a day, they're not particularly photogenic. They're also hard to tell apart. Consequently, only three have names. There's Blonde Bertha, Friend Chicken (she's pals with our kunekune), and Pizza Malone, my son Lachie's former Ag Day pet. Her name is a mispronunciation of Hairy Maclary's mate, Bitzer Maloney.
Last spring, I decided to lift my poultry-keeping standards. I asked some friends who own heirloom breed hens to incubate a clutch of fertile eggs for me. I wanted some poseur pullets – mottled Anconas, silverspangled Araucanas, fluffy Orpingtons, and regal Sussexes – to populate my social media feeds.
Chickens have undermined our union more than any of our other animals.
My original intention was to name my new hens after my favourite omelette herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, fennel, coriander, chervil, oregano, tarragon, and thyme.
But before I'd settled on who was who in my herbes de provence, four of the nine chicks grew wobbly chins and started crowing.
One of those teenage cockerels – a supercilious silver fox with fluffy earmuffs and a cantankerous constitution – kept attacking my sons. They christened him Savage, then named another two, one called Mutant (he's an Araucana with sassy sideburns and freaky, six-toed feet), and the other Humpback (a busty Orpington).
Having learned the hard way that hawks are partial to organic poussin, we locked up our posh flock in a second-hand dog run on the lawn until they were large enough to safely liberate.
That's when the problems began. Free-range chickens are a nuisance at the best of times, but friendly hand-reared free-rangers are a nuisance at all times.
The biggest problem is they lack boundaries. They weren't content with nibbling the aphids off my roses and stuffing their beaks with organic escargot. Instead, they repaid my trust by obliterating my herb garden, uprooting my salad greens, breaking into our house to steal the dog biscuits, and defecating all over the new deck.
Things came to a head during lockdown when my husband was forced to work from home. The chooks took to roosting outside his office in the stables, leaving a pile of crap on his doormat every morning.
Take multiple landmines of chook manure, a global pandemic, and a grumbling husband with too much time on his hands, and what do you get? Sufficient motivation for my man to build me a plush poultry pied-à-terre.
If my husband had his way, our new henitentiary would have been modeled on Alcatraz or the Hanoi Hilton, with barbedwire perimeter fencing and zero tolerance for escapees.
Instead, we created a bougie boudoir with a frontier-town façade inspired by the likes of the Brian Boru Hotel in Thames, the Moutere Inn, the Whangamomona Hotel, or Big Nose Kate's Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona.
We love the wild, wild west. Just two years – and a lifetime – ago, we tikitoured around Arizona on a family holiday, reenacting the gunfight at the OK Corral. There was me dressed as a busty barmaid and the kids as gun-toting cowboys. We watched out for rattlesnakes in the Superstition Mountains and visited art exhibitions in Scottsdale, where legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright made his winter home.
Fun fact about the famous Fallingwater architect: he had a soft spot for chooks. On his family farm in Wisconsin, Wright built a three-storey barn complete with grain silos, stables, and a hen house cantilevered over the driveway.
Midway Barn is now designated a National Historic Landmark. Another of Wright's chicken coops on the same estate was converted into a slightly whiffy student dormitory.
Not only did Wright keep chooks, he famously told his architecture students they should regard it as just as desirable
To create the weathered finish, Lynda used a dry brushing technique with three different paints... then left it to the elements to finish the job.
to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral. What counts in art, he reckoned, was the quality of character – and “character may be large in the little or little in the large”.
Our coop is no Midway Barn. With hardware stores closed during lockdown, it was constructed almost entirely from scrounged recycled materials.
We repurposed a plywood pet-lamb shelter for the roof and walls, and pinched the door from the ground floor of our children's cobwebbed treehouse.
I dusted off a stained-glass window in the haybarn. The weight that holds down the nesting box lid (pictured at right, in front of the window) is a cast-iron rooster I found at a vintage market.
Jason salvaged the side door and native timber planks for the façade during the demolition of the Freemasons Lodge in Papakura.
I pimped the door with a cowboy-themed peel-and-stick décor transfer (‘Wild West' in the Redesign transfer range from zeldasdaughter.co.nz).
To create the weathered finish, I dry-brushed the reclaimed porch fretwork, fence pickets, and front door with three shades of Resene paint: rusty ‘Red Oxide,' ‘Brown Bramble,' and beige ‘Sour Dough.'
The only new feature is the 'Hen and Chick Inn' sign, laser-cut by Gary Bright (Bright Manufacturing, Patumahoe).
Finally, to make it look old, I left it out in the rain all winter to rust.