Golden eggs in coops

Sean C. Morgan

Chickens need homes too, and Tristan Nichols has discovered that if he builds them, he can sell them.

He has been constructing and selling chicken coops for about three years after deciding to raise his own chickens and building them a coop. He has sold coops from Washington state to Texas.

Nichols’ first coop sits next to a run on the edge of his backyard off North River Drive.

“We wanted to have chickens,” said Nichols, who manages Lebanon’s sewer system. “Alicia (his wife) said as long as it looked nice, I could build a chicken coop.”

He built it, including a small window at the bottom so his 2-year-old son could see the chickens. He has 10 chickens, although he is going to get rid of six, four of which are too old to lay eggs.

“I have the worst chicken coop of them all,” Nichols said. It was the first one. Since then, he’s continued to improve them.

“I got all the kinks worked out to where all of the measurements are in my head,” Nichols said.

One of the main reasons he got into chickens was for his three boys, including Gavin, 9; Brady 6; and Bode, 4, Nichols said. “It’s hard to give kids responsibility these days.”

Parents can’t let them go looking for odd jobs and assume they’ll be safe, he said. “It gives you a tool to teach your kids how to take care of something, how to keep it alive, and it teaches them responsibility.”

They must feed, clean and water the chickens, he said, and it’s a short chore each day with instant gratification as they find eggs in the nest boxes. It can feed long-term goals and provide delayed gratification too as they sell extra eggs.

His oldest son has saved money to buy a Foy Cochrane knife and a 7-mm rifle since he’s old enough to hunt now.

It’s been good for friendships too – or at least winning a barbecue. He exchanged a coop for his first chickens, but more importantly, a joke turned it into a thriving business.

A few people had stopped by and seen Nichols’ coop. A friend challenged him to build and sell a coop. The stakes were a barbecue. If Nichols sold a coop, his friend would throw a barbecue. If he couldn’t sell a coop, Nichols would have to throw a barbecue.

Nichols sold his first coop, won a barbecue and started a side business – all at the same time.

“It certainly is worth doing,” Nichols said. It’s definitely a good side job, and it keeps him extremely busy. He’s expanded into other products too, including greenhouses and bus shelters, with a back open toward the home, so parents can observe their children.

He could probably turn it into an even larger business, he said. He had a good outing at the Spring Home and Garden Show in Eugene recently. He thinks that if he traveled to all of the shows, he could turn it into a full-time job.

“A regular-sized coop, for me, I’d say takes a day’s work,” Nichols said. If he doesn’t get distracted, it can take less time. That includes construction of three nest boxes, which is good for up to about eight chickens.

“One thing I want people to know, if someone calls me, I don’t try to sell them a bigger coop,” Nichols said. “If they’re only going to have six chickens, I’m only going make them a 4×6.”

Chickens require about 4 square feet each, Nichols said. “If you have a run, a 5×8 coop like this realistically will hold 20 chickens.”

The coops make taking care of the chickens easy, he said. “The practicality and simplicity of keeping it clean means happy chickens.”

Happy chickens, with light and fresh food, means they’re more likely to lay year round, he said, and cleaning the coop takes about five minutes with a shovel and cedar shavings every other weekend.

Three chickens will provide nearly two dozen eggs per week, Nichols said, and “you know where your eggs are coming from.”

The coops are solid wood, he said. They have no manmade wood in them, no particle board or plywood. The frame is pressure treated, and the siding is red cedar, which deters bugs and maintains well.

They are guaranteed predator-proof, Nichols said. He will replace any loss, fix the damage and reinforce the problem area; and he stresses that customers should call him if they do lose a chicken to a predator. So far, he hasn’t had anyone report a loss.

They are sturdy too, “I-84 crash tested and approved,” he said. Delivering a coop to The Dalles, winds were gusting up to 65 and 70 mph in the Columbia Gorge. The straps holding the coop broke and it bounced down Interstate 84. It sustained minor damage to the trim only. He repaired it quickly and delivered it, telling the customer what had happened.

The business is seasonal, Nichols said. He is busiest in the spring when people are getting chickens and then after the summer when people who bought chickens planning to build a coop realize they didn’t build the coop and need one fast.

This is a slower time, and demand is lower, which means Nichols isn’t as busy and prices are lower, he said.

For more information, call Nichols at (541) 223-2900 or visit his website at