Sunday, September 29, 2013

15 Lessons from Coop and Run Building

So just the other day I put the finishing touches on The Ladies' coop and run.  The rain, snow, sun cover went up on the 5 feet of run closest to the coop so even in inclement weather The Ladies can get some fresh air and stretch their legs.  And I won't need to shovel a section of the run for them.  It was a little bittersweet taking a step back and looking at the finished project.  I've loved working on it!   And of course it got me thinking of all the little (and some big) lessons I learned in the process.

"Finished" Coop and Run

1.  I LIKE building things!  Ok, so this wasn't so much of a lesson as it was a reminder.  But I really do like sawing and sanding and hammering.  Painting isn't my favorite but it sure looks nice when it's done.  It reminded me of shop class in Middle School and I loved that.  I had forgotten how much I like it.  And in fact I'd be pretty surprised if many people knew that about me. 

Adjusting one of the locks

2.  It's important to have vision!  As soon as I knew that our friends would be giving us their old dog house/coop, the wheels began turning.  In my mind's eye I saw the coop with an added nesting box, painted red, oriented a certain way, right off the corner of the garage with a run going back along the side of the garage.  I saw the run being about 3 feet high with a flat "top" of fencing.  Then to provide some shelter from rain, snow, and sun I pictured a removable wooden peaked roof similar to what people in New England use to protect their shrubs from heavy snow fall.  That was my vision - and it was very clear.
Coop before it was hit by "The Vision"
Mid Revising of the Coop

3.  You must trust your vision! There was much discussion at our house about coop paint color.  The girls voted purple.   Not!   Scott just looked skeptical when I said Barn Red with White trim.  But we stuck to my vision.  Then when it came to me painting the trim white, again some raised eyebrows.  But I stuck with it.  And it matched my vision exactly!!!  

First part of "The Vision" becomes real.

4.  Be able to change your vision!   I don't mean toss it out totally.  It was my vision for a reason.  But sometimes the vision doesn't take into account some other important factors.  Like whether you will end up crippled.  My vision was of a run with a flat roof at 3 feet.   That was until we got the sides of the run up and I realized that while I am short, I am a good deal taller than 3 feet.  And if I was going to need to get in that run at all, without crippling myself, we were going to have to adjust the vision (and the construction) to allow me in there.  And so the vision shifted to include an arched roof to the run.  My back is thankful!

Completed Run with Arched Roof

5.  Measure twice, Cut once.  I think I learned this lesson repeatedly in this project.  And it's something I knew anyway.  But sometimes you get cocky....  Repeat after me, measure twice, cut once! 

6.  There are many types of fencing.   And now I can tell you the difference between welded wire, hardware cloth, and chicken wire.  Not sure when that will come in handy but I know it now!   Interesting factoid - Chicken Wire is for keeping poultry in not for keeping other things out.  Hence the need for multiple types of fencing.

7.  Wire fencing is sharp!  I'm going to have some nice scars to remember the run building piece of this project.  And just as one heals up, I somehow manage to cut myself somewhere else. 

8.  When you don't have a true work bench, you can make one out of almost anything.  For instance, two folding chairs works quite well.  And for a vice to hold the wood as you saw, the butt of a 10 or 12 year old is perfect!

9.  If you have a good power drill/screwdriver (preferably a rechargeable battery one), you are a lucky lady.  Mine is my favorite tool.  I had misplaced it sometime before construction began.  All plans went on hold until we found it.  I could probably have done this without a great saw but The Ladies would still be coop-less if I didn't have a power screwdriver.

10.  Bungee Cords are the Bomb!   Let's see I've used them to hold up the doors while I painted, attach a temporary rain cover to the run, hang water bottles on the run fence, and hold up the rolled side piece of the cover. 

11.  Zip Ties are even better than Bungees.  And more fun!  All our run fencing is attached with zip ties.  They are quick, easy, cheap, come in all sorts of strengths and colors, and are easily replaceable (once you get the old one off - which is not easy, nor should it be).  And if we ever have the need for handcuffs.....

12.  Always get more fasteners than you think you need.  This includes every type of fastener.  I have had to make restocking trips to Home Depot for screws, zip ties, hinges, hook and eyes and slide bolts.  I always think I get a good count first but then I find that in the case of locking down the coop for predator proofing, more is better.

13.  Grommetting (is that a word?) is fun!   And easy.  When my friend Kristie agreed to help me with the waterproof fabric cover, I made her promise to show me how to put in grommets.  She's a whiz with all things fabric related so I expected she'd show me and I'd only sort of get it.  But voila, I am now a grommetting professional.  If you need any grommets, I'm your girl!  Now I spend my time trying to think up another project that might require grommets.

14.  Burying the welded wire fencing to help deter predators is HARD work.  There's rocks in this New England soil, you know!  In order to prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion, this job should not be undertaken on a hot sunny afternoon, no matter how excited you are about getting it done.

15.  And lastly....   I have discovered that this is a job that will never be done.  As I type I am already thinking about other things the Ladies will need.  Won't they want an outdoor perch that is closer to the coop so they don't have to hike out from under the snow cover into 3 feet of snow to get to a perch where they can dry their cold feet?  Come spring won't they want new grass to much on?  And they've already eaten it down to the roots, so they'll need a grazing frame.  I wonder what they will want next.
 The Chicken Chick

Friday, September 20, 2013

Change of Seasons at the Coop

This week I found myself wandering out to visit The Ladies and enjoying the moments of soaking up the sun.  It's as if my body is prepping for winter by soaking in all the rays I can.  This is my favorite season (closely followed by Spring).  I think it's partly because the sun feels so wonderful.  Not too hot and not too cold. 

As I enjoyed the warmth, I noticed that I wasn't the only one taking advantage of these past few beautiful days.  As I sat in the sun watching the Ladies, I heard quite a ruckus coming from the vegetable garden.  The bird bath was full!   And I mean multiple birds bathing and bunches waiting on the rim!  Water flying everywhere!  And then I turn back to the Ladies and realized that they were not pecking around like usual.  They too were sun bathing!  Their version of sunbathing makes me giggle.  It's very awkward looking on a good day.  And this time they were all trying to sunbathe in the same small spot.  4 would get settled and then one would step on them all.  Then they'd shuffle for position again.  They didn't seem as amused as I was.

Even Blaze was out from under his bushes, sleeping in the sun (until I came to take his picture!).

It surprises me that I love this season so much.  Since I love my gardens and fall is all about the flowers going away for months, I would have though it would be more bittersweet.  But it never is.  It's a little like nesting - putting my gardens to bed for the winter.  Making sure they are cozy and ready for the Berkshire cold that is coming.  I'm just itching to start that work but the gardens are telling me they aren't quite done yet.  We've had 3 frosts already so I am startled as I walk inspecting the various gardens to see them still trying to show their colors.  The ferns are even trying to send out new growth.  They are holding on to the dwindling warm days too.
We're even still getting some summer vegetables from the garden.  The frost hasn't stopped them. 

And the flowers....  Still some summer ones hanging on and the fall ones just beginning.

And now with The Ladies officially moved out to the coop, this weather makes me think of preparations for them for the winter.  Daily I check how they are doing growing feathers.  It's happening so fast - It seems that if I sat still and watched them for a bit I must be able to actually see the feathers grow!  There is no question they will be fully feathered and ready for winter by the time it arrives.  Early in this adventure with the Ladies I worried about what winter would be like for them.  But then I was reminded that New Englanders have been raising chickens in our sometimes brutal winters since before heat and electricity.  Someone else reminded me that the wild birds survive the winter with much less shelter than the Ladies will have.  And each of the Ladies is a breed that is particularly known for being cold hearty.  So the preparations for the Ladies will be to cover a section of the run closest to the coop so they have an area that is relatively snow free so they can get out and about a bit.  Can't you just imagine The Ladies hiking up their fluffy butts and wading out into two feet of snow!  Somehow I'm thinking they would not appreciate that.

I'm ready for my fall preparations.  But my gardens are not ready for me yet.  And the Ladies are doing their own preparations growing their little down parkas without my help.  So I will take advantage of whatever beautiful September days I can get, soak in the rays, and watch the change of seasons from the coop!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

If fences make good neighbors what about chickens?

One of my concerns before we got The Ladies was what the neighbors would think.  Our lot is only about 1/4 acre and quite open.  So there was not going to be a way to place the coop so that it would be visible only to us.  We of course did check on our town regulations and all that.  But just because the town allows it doesn't mean the neighbors are going to like it.  And being concerned about upsetting people, I was a little worried.

So after we really decided we wanted to do this we spoke to each of our abutting neighbors.  I was thrilled that not only were they not concerned or upset - they were downright excited!  They have been happy with the coop we have placed and have complemented us on how nice it looks.  Good thing since there's no way to hide it on our little lot!

And yet another gift from The Ladies to us....  the arrival of the chicks helped to foster more of a relationship with our neighbors.

In our life - both Scott and I working and running the girls to and from events, we often don't see very much of our immediate neighbors.  I actually see more of others in the neighborhood when I am out walking the dog.  We live on a corner lot, so have two adjoining neighbors - one adjoining the back yard and one adjoining the side.  Both those neighbors are elderly.  We have always had a friendly relationship with them but just don't see them often.  Mostly we just wave.

The Ladies have changed all that!  After we let the neighbors know we would be getting chicks, they were always checking in with us to see if The Babies had arrived.  And they were the first visitors to see the new chicks.  They have brought grandchildren over to see the chicks, saved lettuce scraps for the growing Ladies, oohed and ahhed over them, and been concerned that we think one is a rooster. No - not because of the noise but because they don't want us to get rid of that chick! One neighbor is particularly excited that The Ladies (and maybe one Gentleman) are spending their day out in their coop and run.  She is anxiously awaiting their official move to full time coop living.  I'm glad she's enjoying them since she has the best view of them.  She reports in on how they do when we're not home.  These are well looked after Chickens!

But it's not all about The Ladies.  As my neighbors stand with me and watch the now pretty big chicks running in their pen, they talk.  They have gotten to know Emma and Meghan a bit more, and shared some of their lives with us.  And they laugh.  That warms my heart.  As I have gotten to know them more, I know those laughs are important!  And just as importantly Emma and Meghan have gotten to know their elders in a different way. 

So I'm thinking Chickens make better neighbors than fences. 

The Chicken Chick

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rejoicing in Growth

Today is the first day of school for Emma and Meghan.  Emma is starting 7th Grade and Meghan - 5th.  It leaves me thinking of how fast they have grown up.  And serves as a good reminder to rejoice for them spreading their wings.

It's easier to consider how fast little ones grow up when I think of The Ladies.  Last night the chicks graduated to being without their heat lamp for a whole 24 hours!  And we have started taking them out to their (nearly completed) run for little field trips so that when we move them, it will be at least a little familiar.  Both are huge milestones which the whole family has met with excitement and cheers. 

Jiji, Luna, Ebony, Bella, and Hedwig are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  Learning to take dust baths (think Pigpen from Peanuts), trying new foods, literally spreading their wings and trying them out, jostling for social position, and becoming more independent (ie looking for their own food - grass, bugs, etc).  And they are growing up literally before our eyes.  It's easy to take joy in the growth of the Ladies. 

Jiji at 1 day old
Jiji at 1 Month (yesterday)
I can't even count anymore the times Emma has come running in with a report of some new milestone.  "Mom, Jiji is on the high perch."  "Mom, Luna is taking a dust bath."  "Mom, Ebony just flew to the top of the brooder."  And each time she reports - it is with a great smile of triumph.  There is no sadness that they aren't helpless little chicks anymore.  Of course both Emma and Meg like looking at pictures of the chicks when they first arrived.  They sure were cute!   But even more they like looking at the slideshow of each chicks development.  Celebrating their growth!

So why is it that so often when we think of our children growing up it is with an element of sadness that they are growing so fast?  Today I will focus on celebrating that Emma and Meghan are growing into young ladies. 

Today begins Meghan's last year in elementary school.  Yay Meg!  This morning, Meg showed me how grown up she is getting by getting up and doing all her stuff.  Way to go Meg!  Over the weekend, Meghan played 4 soccer games in the heat and humidity.  She hustled and didn't complain once.  You go Girl!!!  And she is starting to be able to stay home alone for short periods.  I'm proud of you Meg!

Today begins Emma's second year of Middle School.  She has settled in and is ready to be a good older kid to the new 6th Graders!  Awesome, Emma!   This summer, Emma has challenged herself to do new things - overnight camp and new swim team events.  Way to Go, Em!  She has also stretched herself to make some new friends.  Yay Emma!  And she is starting to figure out the whole "think for yourself" thing - deciding what teachers she likes even if no one else does and thinking about whether she should talk to Mom or Dad about something she is worried about.  I'm proud of you Emma!

My thanks to The Ladies for reminding me to Rejoice in Growth