Tag Archives: construction

You Win Some, You Lose Some. Aaannnd you lose some.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a sad situation.

But first, let me back up…

As I mentioned in my last blog, my brother brought me six more chickens the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I had a bit of preparation to do.  Because I only found out about it about a week beforehand, I fashioned together a fairly unstable coop for them for an unknown temporary time.  (Full disclosure…  I say I only found out about it a week prior, but we’d been talking about it for months.  I just hadn’t planned.  And you thought I was a prepper.)

Behind my barn, there was a pile of wood and junk under an awning, and the previous owner had built a structure that was sort of an incomplete workbench to support said wood.

woodbench

I should have taken a picture before I cleaned out a huge amount of garbage, because you couldn’t even see the supports at the bottom.  I ended up having to jack some of the supports up, because they’d ripped away from the wall where they’d been nailed.  It’s still not that sturdy, but remember, this is a temporary coop.

Luckily, considering this started as a giant pile of wood, there was some scrap pieces that were perfect for this endeavor.

temporary-coop

There were also some old posts in the pile, and I dug some holes with our post hole digger (included in the purchase of our house!) at the corners of the new temporary run.  Unfortunately, because we’re on a big ol’ slab of rock, I could only get about 8 inches into the dirt before the solid clank of the metal tool hit stone and signaled the end of the road.  If I were smart, I’d probably search around for better ground.  But instead, I filled the dirt around the post as best I could and tied them to trees.  Remember – temporary.  For the permanent coop, I’ll probably need to pour a little concrete.  But don’t worry – I’ve poured a ton of concrete.  Like, a literal ton.

temporary-run

After the awkward tied-up posts, I added chicken wire.  I’m starting to hate chicken wire.  It’s crazy hard to keep straightened, and it’s pokes the crap out of me when I’m handling the ends.  In the future I’ll probably use hardware cloth, which is the worst name in the world for fence material, because it sounds like it’s metallic fabric.  Like it’s the kind of thing I’d use for making pants if I was in a glam rock band.

So, as shabby as it is, the temporary coop and run is up, and just in time!  Only a day or two after it was “completed,” Michael brought the chickens in from Indiana and we transferred the old ones to their new home.  Beforehand, however, we clipped some of their wing feathers so that they wouldn’t be able to get out.

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Michael assured me that it wasn’t painful – it’s more like a haircut.  Chickens can indeed fly, but without the longer feathers on their wings it’s much harder.

My whole family was actually there at the time - but only my nephew was forced inside the chicken coop.

My whole family was actually there at the time – but only my nephew was forced inside the chicken tractor.

Apparently I forgot to get pictures of my new chickens, so here’s another picture of the old ones.

chickens-new-home

They adjusted well to their new home.

I thought.

But that was the last time the four of them were together.  As I said, yesterday morning I woke up to a sad situation…  As I approached the “new” coop, one of the hens was pacing back and forth at a section of the fence.  It had apparently been doing it for a while, because it had worn a path into the dirt.  My first thought was simply, “Yup, I need to cover the run, because even with clipped wings they can get out.”

Then after I put the hen back in the run, I realized I only saw three chickens.  All that was left of the fourth was a few piles of feathers.

feather-trail

I also saw a few turkey vultures roosting in the trees above, so I figured the missing hen’s carcass wasn’t too far away.  I assume something grabbed both of them, but the pacing pullet got away while the other sacrificed herself.  At least, it was that dramatic in my head.

I was sad because something ate my chicken.

Specifically, because something besides me ate my chicken.  I got it plump and juicy for some thieving animal that now knows where I live.

Unfortunately, I had a lunch meeting soon after, so I wasn’t really able to do anything at the moment.  And then the day completely got away from me (because, you know, I have an actual job).  And the next morning I woke up to seeing this out my window.

chickens-in-the-woods

Yup, my three remaining older chickens were just prancing around in the woods.  So, apparently they have no trouble getting out of the fence.  I didn’t really know what to do, because I don’t want to spend much time (or any  money) on my temporary coop, when I’m planning on building the permanent one soon.  I did, however, find a big roll of plastic.

It’s probably not very effective, but I just covered the run with the plastic, hoping that it would obscure vision if death came from above.  If something does swoop down into the plastic, it would be like that scene in the movie “Unbreakable” where Bruce Willis falls into a covered swimming pool.  Except possibly a bald eagle instead of a bald dude.  If something crawled in through the side, they’re still sitting ducks chickens.

How much safer are these chickens? None. None more safe.

How much safer are these chickens? None. None more safe.

I need to figure something else out for the temporary long term…

In other news, I bought a truck!

I says to the guy, "But do you have one in Pepto-Bismol pink?"

I says to the guy, “But do you have one in a Pepto-Bismol shade?”

It’s a bit bigger than I planned on getting, but it was the cheapest diesel that I could find that would actually run.  It’s stick shift, too, so that’s fun!

It ran perfectly fine when I went to test drive it (it’s a little tricky getting into reverse), but when I tried to start it on Monday to get my emissions tested the battery was dead.  Sigh.  I plugged the battery up to a slow charger and left it overnight.

The next morning was a bit colder, and – like me – diesels would rather not wake up when it’s cold and early.  So I had to plug in the heating element for a bit before she fired up.  It wasn’t until I passed a cop (no license plate, a note in the back window stating I was applying for tags) that I realized I’d also forgotten to get insurance on it.  Eek!

Luckily, the cop didn’t pull me over.  Either he could read my note (fairly unlikely), he didn’t feel like writing any tickets that day (also unlikely), or he appreciates the hard working farmer and realized that anybody with a truck like that is hard working farmer.  (Still probably unlikely)  I think he was simply looking down as I passed, by the grace of God.

license-plate

I think this truck will fit in just fine on the Stevenson Family Farm, provided it continues to start.

Also, the tenderloin of the roadkill I butchered was dee-lish!

I know what you food critics are thinking... Yes, it was too much broccoli.

I know what you food critics are thinking… Yes, it was too much broccoli.

Oh, and this happened in my front yard last week…

car-wreck

Second wreck in my front yard this year.  (Don’t worry – the driver was ok)

coop-detat

Coop d’etat: How to Build a Chicken Tractor. Sort of.

My chicks were starting to not be chick-ish anymore, and were long overdue for a home renovation. And I know all about home renovations.

wood

I have a good amount of scrap wood leftover from our house, but not a lot of good clean 2×4’s (or studs, as those of us in the know call them; my constant joke when trying to find a stud is to simply say “I’m right here.” Always a crowd pleaser, amiright?), so I picked up a handful from Lowe’s. I also picked up some 2×3’s because I thought it would be more efficient to make the run out of those to keep it light. Looking back, I should have gotten only one or the other – not both.

Getting Started

I kind of drew up a plan – to the point that I could figure out about how many studs I would need.  I didn’t follow that plan very long, because of the following reasons:

  • I was not building a house, so I didn’t need to have studs every 16 inches
  • My plan was not very good, and I left out just about everything I actually needed

One thing I thought I knew for sure is that I needed 4 square feet per chicken in the coop, and 8 square feet per chicken in the run.  (My brother informed me that I actually needed 10 sq ft in the run, but I was close!)  I decided to go a little tight on those numbers, though, because I want to build a stationary coop and run big enough for 20 or more feathered friends – so this is simply another step along the way.  The main reason for keeping it tight is because since I was building a chicken tractor – meaning I would move it around as they eat everything in the patch of grass it contained – I didn’t want it to be huge and hard to move.  It’s still pretty huge and hard to move even at its current measurements.

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Probably not the right way to add a roof – but again, these are chickens, people.  I decided on a run at 8’x4′, and a coop that would sit on top of half that – that way I could keep it fairly compact while not sacrificing the space on the ground.  You might or might not be able to see the differences in the 2×4’s and 2×3’s, but I started getting nervous when I got to joints that were made with the two types of wood.  It ended up being fine, but I had to finagle them a bit.

Hopefully you won’t see from the pictures that it’s definitely not squared up.  Almost none of the angles.  But I blame it on working on an uneven surface.  And also on the fact of never checking to make sure my angles were square.  Lesson learned.

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There’s a better picture of the ramp, which is braced by a couple 2×4’s nailed into the coop floor and the corner board.  It’s mostly made from scrap, but they don’t seem to mind.

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I pretty quickly realized that even though I planned on having nesting boxes that were accessible from the outside, I hadn’t planned on it.  I had to add the braces because they were sagging pretty badly – and I figured that adding the weight of birds and eggs and bedding would not somehow lighten the load.  I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, though, after calling my brother a couple times and doing some research on the interwebs.

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Some of the “finishing touches.”  Kind of looks like a fort – like the ones that my brothers and I used to build in my parents’ basement when we would launch empty plastic bottles at each other.  If I had this fort, I would’ve been unstoppable.  Which is not to say I wasn’t unstoppable without it.  (Ok, I was not unstoppable.)

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It’s really ugly and probably dangerous, but I have a lot of metal flashing leftover, and wanted to make sure my nesting boxes were super weatherproof.  Just don’t touch the edges.  Or if you do, make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.  It took a long time, because most of these pieces were cut off after they were formed together, so I had to pretty much unform the edges to form them again.  And because I’d never done this before.

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I added some 6 inch lawnmower wheels to be able to move it around.  However (spoiler alert), I ended up replacing them with 7 inchers, because the smaller ones weren’t easy to work with on uneven ground.  The larger ones lifted everything off the ground just enough to keep me moving, but not enough to worry about leaving enough space to let them shimmy out.

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Here ’tis with all the chicken wire on the run – which was a very tedious and laborious process.  I had to cut each individual wire, and then staple almost every individual wire.  If someone knows of a better way to do this, please let me know in the comments – because I feel like the way I did it can’t be the most efficient way.  This is also a peek at the new waterer and feeder, because…

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I just couldn’t let my birds sit in a cramped box when I basically had a finished run for them.  I screwed a piece of wood over the coop entrance and put them inside.  After a time of obvious confusion (they had only ever seen a roof above them and sand/paper towel below them – never the sky nor grass), they were super excited to run around.  As were my cats.

I was nervous that the cats would get aggressive with them (one of my cats, while pregnant, chased down a squirrel and ate it), but they seemed to simply be curious.  I kept my eyes on them for a while, but they apparently like to watch the fowls just as much as I do.

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Almost done!  Added a door, walls, and a roof.  I also added a few more 2×4’s to brace those things (but did it after I had much of the plywood on, so they’re not included in the ‘skeleton’ pictures.  I sealed up the roof pretty well with caulk (the contractor’s version of duct tape), but later added some roofing paper to make sure and keep the leaks out.

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There’s another thing I forgot – roosts!  It’s a chicken’s natural instinct to sleep off the ground to keep away form predators, so this was another thing that I was planning on, but didn’t include in my plans.  I ended up adding some more 2×4 braces – which is much more difficult when all of the walls are on.  Then I just cut some 45° angles on some roost-ish wood I had and drove some awkward nails.

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I added some bedding, and voila!  One by one, they started figuring out that their home had doubled in size.  The first to find it (a rooster, I think) wanted to see just how high he could get.  Luckily, as soon as he got to the highest point of the coop, he pooped.  Thanks for the commentary on the craftsmanship, big guy.

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I also added some chains to the waterer and feeder so that I wouldn’t have to take them out to move the tractor, and also to try to get them to stop pooping in both.  Because they do that constantly.  That can’t be healthy.

Funny story about the bedding: I went to Tractor Supply for the waterer and feeder, and told the checkout guy that I wanted to buy some pine shavings (which were outside the entrance).  He asked me if I wanted flake or fine shavings, and I just randomly said fine.  A guy who walked in, but had paused to watch me check out (creepy…) said “You want the flake.”

I simply said “Oh?” with a surprised look on my face.  “For chickens?”

“Yes,” he said.  “The fine stuff will fall out of every crack in your coop, and you’ll have to add more all the time.  The flakes will last longer.  I noticed your feeder, so I figured I’d help you out.  This is my third year.”

Ah – not so creepy now.  I said thanks and told the checkout guy “Flakes, please.”  I definitely see how flakes are better now – especially because I’m still losing a lot of it through the hole by the ramp.  I think I’m going to build a small ‘fence’ around it so that it won’t fall out so easily.

Now that I’m a farmer I feel like I’m in a club.  A club where, when I’m at Tractor Supply, random people – who are passionate about some of the same stuff – will gladly look awkward for a moment to help a brother out.  Same for bee keepers…  Every single one that I’ve talked to has been super excited to help out and show me anything I want to know.  Reminds me of a simpler time, growing up in Cairo, Ky, when everybody considered you to be a neighbor even if you were a 20 minute bike ride away.  Hopefully, I’ll have some awkward wisdom to give to someone at Tractor Supply before too long.

Here’s a mini tour of the Coop d’etat:

Putting the roof back on (after taking it off)

Building is Magic

When we first bought our house, we thought that we’d be done with renovations after about 3 months.  We gave ourselves a 6 month timeline to pad our expectations a bit – that way if 3 months rolled around and we weren’t done we would still feel like things were moving smoothly.

Well, three months went to getting permits from the county alone.  That was frustrating.

We just hit the six month mark, and we’re not quite done.  We probably have a month (or two) left.  That’s not as much frustrating as it is exhausting.

For the last three months of renovation, I’ve tried to be at the house as much as possible.  If our contractor, Alex (my uncle), was working, I wanted to be working along-side him if I could in order to save money.  Because I’m a self-employed web developer, my schedule is whatever I’d like it to be, as long as I get everything done.  So, on average I’d be at the house from 9ish-5ish; Alex would usually get there at 7 and leave at 3, so by the time I got there I’d jump in where they needed me, and I’d stay for a couple hours to clean up or complete any project that I could.  That also means, after an almost eight-hour day, I’d come back “home” and pull out my laptop, working until midnight or later.

So, yes.  Exhausting.

I’m incredibly happy (when I’m not tired and grumpy) that I’ve been working at the house, though – I feel like I’ve picked up a billion skills that a web developer would not normally have.  I’m excited to be able to apply these skills to building a chicken coop and other various things after we’re settled in.

The funny thing about building/renovating a house is that none of it is magical.

There are a lot of things in this world that seem like I’d never be able to do because there is some line between attainable and fantastic.  Anything that I can do, or know that I could do, seems to me like a fairly average skill, and anything that I have no idea how is done is ridiculous.  Building a house was one of those never-going-to-happen skills, because it’s so far out of my skillset that you must be a wizard to do it.

Funny thing, though…  When Alex would say “pull all of that drywall off” or “build that wall,” the curtain started to lift, and I could see the wizard moving the ropes.  It was so very normal.

Hard, but normal.  I’m not huge on exercise, but I’ve had more exercise in the last 3 months that I’ve had possibly in my life.

We’re at the point now where there house is completely framed, wired, and insulated, and we’re waiting on drywall.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I didn’t try my hand at wiring the electric or running the plumbing – though I did get to cut and put on temporary piping – so that’s still only slightly a mystery to me.  I don’t plan on running outlets so the chickens can watch Walking Dead, though, so I’m ok with that for now.