BURLINGTON — Mike Vanderhoef remembers being a 10-year-old kid, waiting for his turn to run his homemade pinewood derby car for a 4-H competition in his county fair’s farm building. This project sparked his interest in woodworking, leading him to explore wood shop classes in high school and landing him a job as a finish carpenter after graduation, honing his skills in cabinet making and fine finished wood work.
But Vanderhoef always had ambitions to own his own business, finding an opportunity after connecting with his customers in construction.
“While working construction jobs, I was being asked if I could make chicken coops,” he said. “And it just took off from there.”
Vanderhoef started The Chicken Coop Co. in his backyard in 2013. The following year was the official starting year for the business, which only sold custom chicken coops to start. Now the business sells a variety of unique wood-crafted pieces, including cat houses (which are much like bird houses, with a large hole for an outdoor cat to nestle in to), rabbit hutches, duck coops and other enclosures.
And with the majority of the pieces custom-made for each customer, there’s typically never a dull day for Vanderhoef in the chicken coop construction business.
From his shop in Burlington, Vanderhoef receives inquiries from customers with a wide variety of needs for their chicken coops. Most inquiries come in from The Chicken Coop Co. website and Facebook page, with most customers from the Great Lakes area. However, the company has shipped a coop as far as Colorado, he said.
Vanderhoef stays pretty busy February through July, designing coops that meet his customers’ needs. On his website, customers can browse designs and select a variety of add-on options that are available or articulate their needs to Vanderhoef and he can design something completely custom-made.
“Some coops are designed by necessity while some are just a thought I had while working on a project and I’ll try and see if it works,” he said.
It takes Vanderhoef about two weeks to complete each coop, constructed with premium lumber selected specifically to withstand Wisconsin winters. After they are completed, they are delivered to the customer fully assembled and ready to be placed in just the right spot on their farm or property.
Vanderhoef said since opening his business, the coops he has designed have gotten much bigger, more decorative and more high end. Just this past December, he built one of his biggest coops yet — a 6-by-24-foot coop with a screened-in run, painted to match surrounding buildings on the property.
One of the most memorable chicken coops Vanderhoef has designed and created was one that went to Darlington, he said. It was built into a hillside next to a log cabin in the middle of the woods.
“That coop had some really neat features like a crooked roof, sky light and recycled cabin windows,” he said.
It isn’t unusual for customers to add their own special features to their coops, including reclaimed windows, stains and paints and more to make them their own once delivered. But the special touches Vanderhoef puts into the coops’ designs are what customers appreciate the most.
“People seem to appreciate the little details of how our product caters to both the chicken and its human,” he said.
And while Vanderhoef likes hearing from customers about how much they, and their animals, are enjoying their coop, his favorite part of the job circles back to his interest in woodworking and creating something from scratch.
“The daily challenges and engineering feats, and seeing the project done at the end of the day, are my favorite parts of being a craftsman,” he said.