Covid Coops: Making Lemonade out of Lemons
Reading Time: 4 minutes
When Drake Clifton of Cleburne, Texas, lost his job early in 2020 due to COVID-19 shutdowns, it was a mixed blessing at best. “I was stuck in an office going nowhere working a dead-end job for a company I didn’t care for, drafting 3-D blueprints of commercial plumbing systems,” he says. “I had been there for years, and each day I grew more unsatisfied and depressed.”
But of course, unemployment is terrifying. “I had no idea how I was going to pay my bills,” he remembers. “In between looking for work, I used my free time to build my chickens a more secure coop. I got tired of making repairs to my flimsy store-bought coop and figured I could make one better. It kept my mind occupied, and I just had fun with it.”
Then came some life-changing magic. Clifton posted a photo of his coop on social media to see what others thought of his work. He was blown away by the comments — and the surge of requests for custom coops. Suddenly he had more work than he could handle. “I felt like I could finally breathe again,” he says.
What started as a hobby during his unemployment blossomed into a full-time business. And not just any business; it’s creative work he loves to do.
Interest in backyard chickens has exploded during the coronavirus shutdowns for many reasons, ranging from boredom to distraction to entertainment to homeschool science projects to desiring organic eggs. Many suburbanites learned, to their delight, that backyard hens (though seldom roosters) are permitted, opening a whole new avenue for family activities.
This meant a steep learning curve for many novice chicken enthusiasts. Social media sources ramped up to meet this interest, and online “chicken school” classes blossomed to teach poultry care and feeding basics. The overwhelming consensus among the backyard chicken buffs is a genuine interest in treating the birds properly and caring for them long-term. This means protecting chickens from predators and inclement weather and making sure they have comfortable places for laying eggs.
It also means every family indulging in this new pastime has one common need: a safe and comfortable place to house their birds. It’s a bonus when the coop is stylish and affordable as well. This is the niche into which Clifton fell, landing on his feet.
Having experienced shoddy workmanship in pre-made coops, Clifton’s focus is making structures that last — “Sustainability and longevity,” as he terms it. “I build each of my coops by hand and construct them like a house, using good solid materials and with reinforced frames. I feel a creative responsibility and appreciation for my clients and want to make sure they’re satisfied with my standards and work quality. Style and customization are very important. I will build whatever my customers want or need, from the basic design to features such as LED lighting, automatic feeders, wheels, solar-powered doors, etc.”
Clifton learns something new with each project. “The first questions I usually ask are, ‘How many chickens you have?’ and ‘What size coop would you like?’ My coops range in size from small and transportable to bigger on-site ones. I work with my clients to customize and design the perfect coop that fits their needs. I also keep in touch with them and ask for feedback periodically on how the coop is holding up and see if they have any critiques or recommendations. I try to go above and beyond on each project.”
Clifton grew up in a hard-working family and learned his construction skills from his uncle and grandfather. He started working construction part-time in his early teens and picked up additional skills over the years. “I have always had a keen eye for design, and I’m fascinated with architecture and building,” he says. “I read and research things I don’t know how to do. YouTube is a great way to learn. In fact, I just started a YouTube page with DIY and ‘how-to’ videos to teach some building projects.”
Clifton’s enthusiasm comes through in everything he does. “I have a genuine love for this work, and I think other people would too. I build other stuff besides coops. I also build greenhouses, sheds, dog houses, tiny houses, porches, garden boxes, and much more. I’m located in Texas, but I travel all over the states for my builds.”
Clifton’s new business is not just helping him financially, it’s helping him mentally. “It’s completely changed my outlook on life,” he says. “There are a lot of people out there struggling in the world right now, and I’m truly blessed and thankful to have an opportunity like this. I will continue to expand my business and pursue my dream. I’m extremely fortunate to have a way to express myself creatively, doing something that I love.”
More importantly, Clifton’s attitude and abilities demonstrate how to make lemonade out of lemons during a time of economic upheaval.
Originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.