When the editors at Storey Publishing asked me to review Reinventing the Chicken Coop, written by authors Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe, I was slightly concerned that I might be agreeing to review a technical manual that was a little out of my league, not because I’m unfamiliar with coops, but because I’m not a builder.
I never took shop class in high school and my father wasn’t exactly a handyman, so I never had the opportunity as a kid to learn the concepts and skills necessary to build stuff. Later in life, I was occupied with college and law school, courtroom litigation, and raising children, which left no time for picking up new hobbies. I have often wished that I knew my way around a builder’s workshop, never more so than when I became a chicken keeper. I was concerned about this book’s relevance to someone like me, the non-builder. But, despite my technical limitations, I’m always up for a challenge and I agreed to review the book.
From reading the preface of the book, the authors’ objectives were clear: to create useful coops that were beautiful and would make a design statement. They hoped their designs would provoke dialogue about local food and self-sufficiency. They joked to each other that their mission was to bring the chicken coop from the backyard to the front, without alienating the neighbors. Funky and fantastic coops that generate buzz about important social issues are fantastic, but owning a book about them would be better if I could actually build one, which brings me to the highlight of this book for me: the authors assume nothing about the technical ability of the reader; it was not written for the Weekend Workshop Warrior, it was written for me!
|My husband built these two coops of ours, but it would've been nice to have had the skill and knowledge to have helped.|
Kevin and Matt break down the process of building chicken coops into the most basic elements. They specify the tools required, accompanied by pictures of those tools and instructions for their safe use. They succinctly describe different types of building materials from wood to hardware along with why, when and how to use them. I learned that a 2”x4” does not actually measure two inches thick by four inches wide, that stamps on pallet wood indicate the manner in which it was treated to keep it disease and insect free, and that square-drive screws are better than Phillips head screws. That may all sound pedestrian to those possessing experience with shop tools and supplies, but to the uninitiated, it is essential to making this book relevant.
While this book, with its pretty pictures of beautiful coops, is a practical building resource for the novice, it also offers design challenges to the advanced builder. The fourteen coop designs contained within it are categorized by skill and difficulty level. Imagine a chicken coop shaped like a Popsicle, with one central supporting stick and the good stuff on top, and you have the Coopsicle, which is not a project for a rookie. There are add-ons and features to inspire even the most seasoned builder, including: living roofs, compost bins, a raised green house, and a rainwater collection system.
The authors, not being chicken keepers at the start of this book project, obviously researched coop essentials thoroughly and incorporated them into their coop designs in novel ways. Best of all, in my view as a backyard chicken-keeping advocate, Matt became a chicken keeper as this book was being written, giving him first-hand perspective on how those unique design elements actually perform. Hey, someone had to test-drive the Coopsicle, right?
There are some elements about these coops that I like immensely from a design and style perspective, but can envision being problematic in practice. One such example is the sliding barn door on the Modern Log Cabin Coop. This door is mounted on rollers which slide on a track. I imagine bedding material and droppings clogging up the track, preventing the rollers from sliding on it.
However, what’s more important than the practical implications of any one design element in the book is that the authors have described the basic skills and techniques necessary for the novice builder to fashion necessary modifications. And, they have provided the inspiration to the advanced builder to elevate coop construction to an art form. The strength of this book is its delightful mix of instruction and innovation, presented in an engaging, conversational way. It is not merely a collection of blueprints, but rather a story of design concepts that serve as a springboard for the imagination, inviting the reader to think outside the
|Lola, photo-bombing my photo-shoot of the book!|
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