Monday, October 26, 2009

The hen house.

Winter is coming! We got our first accumulation of snow in early October and the girls did NOT like it. They wouldn't come out of their portable coop until it all melted later that day, so I knew it was time to get crackin' on their winter coop.
When I built our second wood shelter earlier this summer, I left a space between it and the first one. I wish I could say this area was intentionally designed for a chicken coop, but I wasn't even thinking about it at the time. Nevertheless, it seemed like an good spot to build- it is close to the house and we'd have easy access to it all winter without having to shovel paths through the snow. I could use the corner posts of the sheds to support the coop framing, and the wood piles on either side would provide some wind protection. Plus, there's plenty of field on the back side for the chickens to free-range.
Here's the finished product on moving day (I finished just as another batch of snow was falling).
Because of the orientation of the wood sheds to one another, the coop is shaped like a trapezoid. The raised roof line provided a little more headroom and allowed me to blend the three structures together without too much difficulty. Other than the pressure treated lumber I purchased for the floor framing, the entire coop was built with salvaged wood from the other buildings we have deconstructed on the farm (and whatever I can pull out of the debris piles at our local landfill!).The two little doors on the front provide access to the nest boxes, so we can gather eggs without going inside. All the doors were built with foam board interiors, and weatherstripped to keep the cold drafts off the chickens.
The walls were insulated with fiberglass batting and foam board, then covered with salvaged barn boards. The roosting bars are round floor joists from one of the barns, and the chickens know just what to do with them. I put a window (actually, I sandwiched together three old storm windows to make one triple-paned version) on the south wall so they can spend the winter watching the snow pile up outside. I also trenched a power line to the coop and installed lights, a heat lamp, and an outlet so we can use a heated water dish this winter.
On the back side of the coop, I built a sky walk that leads to their new 'run'. With it up off the ground, we won't have to deal with snow shoveling or roof runoff. The side door is to let them outside to free range when we are around.
We decided to spend a little money for enough wire hardware cloth to fence in their run. We buried the fencing a foot deep and piled field stone around the perimeter so the predators can't dig their way in. I also covered the top and framed in a hinged access door so we can get inside when necessary.
It was a lot of work, but at least now we know the kids are safe and comfy for the winter. Besides, we owe it to them since they make us breakfast every morning!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chainsaws...not just for firewood anymore.

Some very old maple trees harvested from city property found their way to our yard recently, and I had to figure out what to do with them. At nearly 3 feet in diameter, they were far too big for our sawmill and too heavy to move. Cutting them into firewood would be criminal. So after a little research, I invested in a used pro-sized chainsaw and an attachment called an "Alaskan Mill", which combine to make a simple, portable sawmill. The Alaskan Mill has been around for decades- I remember seeing their ads in Mother Earth News magazine when I was a kid and thinking they were cool. I never thought I'd actually own one someday, but then I never expected to be building a barn at the North Pole, either. So, today I went to work on one of the smaller logs (!). I started by screwing an aluminum ladder to the log to guide my first cut across the top. It worked great, leaving me with a surprising flat, smooth surface. With the ladder removed, I set the mill for a 3" cut and started making slabs. The excitement dwindled after about an hour when my forearms were burning and I was getting dizzy from the chainsaw's exhaust. These slabs will be used for stair treads in the barn, as well as some table tops and who-knows-what-else. It took me all afternoon to whittle one log down into 16" square timber- just small enough to fit onto the Hudson sawmill where I can finish the cutting without so much effort. I've got six more logs to go, so looks like this will become a winter project...