Rita the Rhode Island Red regarded the pile of sticks and looked querilously up at me before clucking her disapproval and wandering back off into the maze of yellow weeds where they secretly congregated, laying eggs and forming dastardly plans that always seem to get foiled at the very last moment.
I too had a dastardly plan but was less sure than the pea-brained chickens as to the certainty of it’s outcome. My plan was to build a Salatin-style chicken pen to house the hens meaty cousins and move them to fresh grass each day. My left hand hefted the reassuring weight of the Stanley measuring tape while my right eagerly tensed on the trigger of the electric screwdriver. I ran over the plan in my mind one more time, checking and double checking the measurements vs the quantity of wood…
- Five ten foot 2″ x 2″s
- Five twelve foot 1″ x 3″s
- Eight ten foot 1″ x 3″s
- and a bag of woodfloor screws, Robertson head
My eye wandered from the 50′ roll of 1″ chicken wire to the tin still nailed to the precariously hanging roof on my latest collapsed barn. I stepped forward, grasping the first ten foot length of 1×3, cutting it into five pieces with the jigsaw I borrowed from my neighbour last winter. My work had begun.
In no time I had built the two short ends, braced them for rigidity and connected them with the five 12′ pieces of 1×3, my wife and mother-in-law offering encouragement from the safehaven of the comfy chair and hammock. Next up was to brace the long sides, both vertically and perpendicularly onto the center 2×2. I also added a crosswire on a turnbuckle along the bottom to help hold the two long sides together. An old pros trick I picked up in a bar in Saigon.
With the aid of my Wilkinson Sureshot I attached the chickenwire around the open side of the pen, then spent several hours balanced on the roof of a building that fell down the previous autumn, tearing 15′ pieces of tin off with my trusted claw hammer, hickory handled and perfectly balanced. Later I would cut the tin to size and drive grooved cement nails through it, only hitting my thumb once every minute until my coarse and ragged thumbnail was purple. The opposable digit would be numb for a week – all in a days work for a penbuilder.
Every now and then a chicken would visit, fixing my work with a golden eye, committing every aspect of it’s design to memory. Squadrons of blackfly circled me, mosquitos whined down to dine on my exposed skin, the black-winged deerfly diving in like kamikazi pilots only to fly away again with a chunk of flesh. I worked on. I had to. I had chickens to house.
I formed a frame with the remaining pieces of lumber, bracing the corners and covering it with the chicken wire. This would be the lid to close the gaping maw, keeping predators out as much as the cargo of chicks in. Then, it was transport time. Aided by the mother-in-law and an all terrain double pram we maneouvred the chicken pen into place.
Calling in the experts we then put the chickens in their new home. Water in a cut-up bottle, food in a trough, lid on – job done.
I could sleep tonight, knowing that tomorrow I’d repeat the process, bettering the design only in the makeup of the lid. For now though the pen is complete.