Need Help Building Your Coop? Don’t Have Carpentry Skills?

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I get emails pretty often from folks who want to build a chicken coop of their own but just don’t have the skills or the time or even the ability due to age or disabilities. To them, I generally give one big suggestion that I am going to share now: time banking.

If people have even heard of time banking at all they generally think that they couldn’t possibly have anything to contribute or that they just don’t have the time to participate. 99.99% of the time you’re dead wrong to think this and it’s just feeding yourself negativity. Think positive!

hands after working

First I should backtrack and address what a time bank is and how to find one. Wikipedia defines a time bank as: the practice of reciprocal service exchange which uses units of time as currency.

So a time bank in practical terms is a group of neighbors who get together to exchange labor with each other for credits in the form of hours. So let’s say I go and build a coop for a local dentist who is part of the time bank exchange and I spend 10 hours of time building that fancy coop for him, then I have a credit of 10 hours in my time bank account that I can ‘spend’ with anyone. In that instance, I used those credit hours to get some dental work done at a big discount (only charged for materials) and I got my wife a well-deserved massage with just enough left over to have free babysitting for our anniversary. See how it works? Most people don’t earn big chunks like I did that time – it’s usually in drips and drabs – but they add up!

To find a time bank in your area that is already established, or for information about starting one locally, go to If you’re outside of the US, I believe there are links to the international organizations on that website but you can also google time banking in your country for more information.

Back when my wife and I first started getting into time banking, perhaps 3-4 years ago, my wife didn’t want to even bother with it because she didn’t want to just be a ‘taker’. In her mind, she had no skills or anything of value to contribute. After the first meeting she sat down and started thinking of all the things she could do as “just as a housewife”:

    1. She could drive using our van. People just needing a ride from point A to point B gave her a call or sent an email if they needed to use her ‘time’. She even picked up the local time bank coordinator’s kids from day camp for a week and earned 15 hours of time banking time for it!
    2. She can cook. Some folks worked 60 or more hours a week and didn’t want to eat out every night so she offered to make them nutritious freezer meals. They bought the materials and she supplied the time. It worked out great!
    3. One single mother in our group needed babysitting one day a week for a month while her mother was in the hospital. My wife kept an eye on that little one as playmate to our own very easily and happily and earned time while doing it.
    4. Someone in the group wanted to learn how to knit and sew so she taught them.
    5. Another person wanted to know how to can vegetables and make jam. Again, she taught them.
    6. Our kids came along one day and earned family hours by helping decorate for a bar mitzvah. Then they were invited to stay and take part which wound up being a cool bonus and a learning experience for everyone.
    7. The other time our kids helped was by going to the local nursing home and reading to one member’s sick mother.
    8. I helped folks weed their gardens and paint their fences among other tasks like building chicken coops.

So as you can see, even a tiny child can contribute to a time bank. And yes, you’ll definitely get a lot out of it for yourself. If you’re older or disabled you can even probably find someone locally who can build that coop for you or maybe help you put up a chicken run. But more than that, time banking is a great way to get involved with your community and make new friends.

I do recommend that everyone who wants their own coop to at least try to build it themselves first and turn to outside sources for help when they get stuck. Most of the plans I sell are very easy to use and made with the beginner in mind. There is pride and satisfaction to be had when you manage to do something yourself. But for when you do get stuck . . . I definitely recommend time banking! 😉


How To Find Cheap and Free Construction Materials (for any purpose!)

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So we’ve all been there: money is tight, but we have big plans to help our family with various projects (such as chicken coops). We look at the costs involved for the building supplies and we think to ourselves ‘we just can’t afford this right now!’

Paying attention to detail

This type of negative thinking prevents a lot of people from fulfilling their dreams of building gardens, sheds, chicken coops, and even just regular ol’ home improvement projects. Below I have outlined several tips and suggestions for getting around that so you can move to the construction phase of your big ideas quickly and easily.

    1. ASK for cheaper wood! Go to a lumber yard and speak to the manager or owner. You can also call, but the old saying ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ so they’re going to see a potential customer RIGHT in front of them and be more willing to play Let’s Make A Deal than if you call. Ask them if there is any hardwood or construction lumber they would like to sell quickly and cheaply. Be careful with wood marked as ‘infested’. If you get wood which is marked as this, generally it can be frozen or sealed to kill any bugs in it, but I wouldn’t risk it personally. Check for insect activity before purchasing. Generally a smart manager will give you a good deal on wood they can’t sell for various reasons. And if you happen to run into a not-so-smart manager . . . move on. There are a million lumber yards so don’t waste your time. Most managers and owners know that you’re really doing THEM the favor by taking that wood off of their hands. It would cost more for them to dispose of it and this way they’re not losing as much money. It’s a two-way partnership.


    1. A lot of people will turn their noses up at wood that has knot holes and imperfections in it so ask for wood that people have returned (this works for lumber yards as well as your major hardware stores). It’s generally still good wood, but it didn’t meet their high standards of ‘pretty’. Sometimes entire bundles will be marked as rustic or second grade lumber when in reality only a few pieces on the top are imperfect. Other people’s snobbery is your gain!


    1. Don’t be a jerk. No one wants to talk to or give anything to a person who has a chip on their shoulder or an entitled attitude. Take a page from my wife’s book of Southern Charm and eat a spoonful of sugar before talking to anyone about getting free or cheap items. A pleasant tone of voice and a friendly smile goes a long way toward getting what you want in a subjective agreement that is usually off the books.


    1. Check the dumpsters around places under construction or behind hardware/lumber stores. I don’t recommend actually going inside the dumpster, but good items are generally left right there either on top or in front of dumpsters frequently. Think I’m joking? Years ago when I worked for a well-known hardware store chain that begins with L, we often threw away entire stained-glass doors, sheets of drywall that was missing a corner, charcoal grills, tons of good lumber, a million and one old wood pallets that could be used for a ton of things, and many items that came back from deliveries since we had a policy of removing the old appliances when delivering new ones. Many things were demos that we couldn’t actually sell so we had to throw them away! And when doing construction, companies will often purchase more than they need and the rest gets tossed. Just finding places to go ‘cruising around’ will be worth the weight in gold later. Things like this really irritate me because Western culture is so focussed on the ‘bigger is better’ mentality that good items are thrown away. It’s wasteful, but you can benefit from that and so can your chickens! The best part is that almost no one can tell that you got something from next to a dumpster unless you tell them so if you’re still nervous about keeping up appearances, don’t be.


    1. Visit the recycling center in your area and question them about construction items or other bits and pieces which may work for you. Old doors and windows, etc. Usually this stuff is free for the taking and almost any plan or blueprint you read can be adjusted easily to accommodate a recycled window or door instead of building one from scratch.


    1. Freecycle and Cheapcycle are both great groups to join on yahoogroups. Check out the rules for your local group, but usually you can both browse the ads and then post your own want ad for things you’re looking for.Craigslist has a dubious reputation these days, but if you follow basic safety rules you can generally sniff out great deals. People often want things picked up for free instead of paying to have it taken to the dump so they’ll happily give you extra construction items they no longer need. Just look for ads or post one of your own there.Need cheap paint? Go to any paint store or major hardware store and ask where they keep the mistakes. People often not only return paint because it isn’t exactly the right color for them, but the mixers also make mistakes sometimes, too. So it’s just a matter of sorting through their shelf to find what you want. When I do this I make a note on an index card of what type of paint finish it is, what brand, and then dip half the card and dry it so if I want to go back and get that exact same color again I have a paint chip for a color match with all the information on it. It worked great when I was repainting our daughter’s bedroom!


    1. Look for ads where people are wanting old barns torn down. You might not even have to do all the work, but you can sometimes lend a hand in exchange for as much of the wood as you can carry. The wood is generally older and well-seasoned so it’s great to use for chicken coops, garden sheds, and dog houses!


Until later,