Carpenter Berg Danielson built his first chicken coop during the economic recession a few years back, and the high-quality, handcrafted coops became a hit. From there, his Seattle company Saltbox Designs was born. Now, Danielson specializes in building coops and garden structures for the backyard farmer. Read on for his reflections on raising chickens and his best tips for new coop owners.
How did you decide to start Saltbox Designs?
I built the first “Saltbox Coop” after having chickens for about a year and considering their needs. This was during the height of the “great depression” and I had just been laid off as a lead carpenter for a high-end remodel firm here in Seattle. So I tried to sell the coop on Craigslist and somebody really loved it. That was about 200 coops ago!
What made you passionate about raising chickens and building chicken coops?
I love the format of a coop: the scale is really fun to work with, and the fact that it functions as a little house for animals appeals to my childhood imagination. I like to build things that are what they seem to be — no veneers. If you look inside the coop, it looks like the outside. The materials are simple: real, solid wood, nails and unpainted metal roofing. I like to think they will age gracefully, like an old barn, and hope they will be around for decades developing their own unique characters.
Do you keep chickens? What is your favorite part about raising chickens?
My favorite part is the connection to our food. Most of us can’t be completely self-sufficient, but being partly self-sufficient is startlingly satisfying on the deepest of levels. I think its huge for kids to experience this too – my 3 year old son and I go get the eggs, and he throws them some scratch, and then we go cook the eggs. I mean come on, what could be more real than that?
Why did you want to collaborate with Agrarian?
I like how Agrarian is supporting small domestic artisans. And they care about quality. It’s a beautiful collection and I love being part of it!
What would be your main recommendations for a new coop owner?
Don’t worry too much — its suppose to be fun! Relax. Chickens have been with us for thousands of years and we share a great symbiotic relationship with them. Let them run around in the fresh air when you can, give them your kitchen scraps (except potatoes), never, ever, ever let them even come close to running out of water, and then just enjoy their ambiance — the clucks and the strutting and the scratching and those bizarre dinosaur feet.
How do you come up with the designs? What is the process of building the coops?
By nature I am always designing and engineering things in my head. Then I draw sketches and head out to the workshop and experiment. It’s just what I do for fun. The “Ballard Coop” came out of my interest in the Gothic Arc, how it is relatively strong and has a small surface area to interior volume ratio. I thought it would be fun to make a chicken tractor/coop with that shape in the spirit of the classic English Ark coop.
I would say my muse for the Saltbox Coop was the old barns of Mendocino County, California I saw on a road trip. I love the board-and-batten sides silver in the salty coastal air, and they look and function great after 100 years. And when they do collapse into the field, they just compost harmlessly into the earth. Can we say the same for our modern buildings? The original saltbox houses are from 18th century New England, when people added shed additions to the back of their gable roofed houses.
What makes the Saltbox chicken coops unique? What are the advantages of having the coops made out of Western Red Cedar?
The Saltbox coop being off the ground is great — you get to access the eggs at the exact same height as your kitchen counter. The chickens like to roost high at night due to their instincts, and they have a elevated roost inside to do so. The lower area provides a run without taking up any more of your yard.
The Ballard Coop is sturdy yet light, so you can move it around the yard, never having to clean it out (just let the fertilizer work its way into ground on its own).
Western red cedar is naturally rot resistant and is one of the few woods that really doesn’t need paint or other preservatives on it. If you do want to add some color, that is great too — just paint it or stain it.
Any suggestions on how to keep your chickens safe from predators?
The run is built with heavy duty welded mesh, but a determined animal can tunnel underneath in theory. Roll out wire mesh around the perimeter of the coop to prevent this.
When you aren’t building coops, what would you be doing?
Raising kids. Designing new backyard farming accoutrements!
What’s your favorite way to enjoy fresh eggs from the backyard?
I like to set two soft-poached egg on a large slice of toasted rustic sourdough bread. I cut the eggs in half to release the golden gel, then sprinkle with parmesan, sea salt and black pepper. Plunge the french press and enjoy.