It's funny how a decision can be both relatively spur of the moment and a long, long time coming. I've been pitching the idea of our own backyard hens to my husband for many months now. For many months, he has resisted, citing the work required and the smell. When he came on board the farm fantasy train, though, I wanted to start moving forward. We are growing vegetables in a community garden and we're learning, but there are two very limiting factors to really getting into it: the space available is limited there (although VERY generous by community garden standards) and it's not at home, which makes it difficult to spend as much time and attention there as I'd like to. The next obvious step would be to start growing food at home, and while our yard is very big, it is shady all over and, also, already landscaped. The previous owners were huge gardeners. It's possible I could find a few spots for some leafy greens, but that's probably it, and that's not enough to motivate me.
What we can do in our yard is have chickens and see how we like that. It would probably be a good idea to get some sense of whether we even like caring for them before we do something crazy like buy a farm. So last weekend we decided to just get chickens this fall. I know of a local breeder with heritage breed pullets (I'll tell you all about him after we've supplied ourselves... sorry) that he's willing to sell at the moment, so we needed to move quickly on a coop.
Our first impulse was to buy one ready-made, but I thought back to my 2012 resolution, and we thought about how much Husband and Eldest have been enjoying making neat stuff, and it seemed like a great time to learn something about carpentry and have some fun with creating our own design. It happens that my dad is a whizz at building. He built my family's cottage all by himself, and both his dad and his grandfather were carpenters. And it happened that my parents were unusually available this long weekend to help build it.
So we've spent the last week obsessively learning about what chickens actually need in their dwellings. All week I wasn't sure we'd actually go through with it, but my dad had set a challenge: have all the materials and design done by the time he arrived Saturday morning. We had a concept figured out and bought a bunch of materials but there were still a lot of details to be worked out based on what actually works with the materials, things that we really needed my dad's input on.
I discovered that I really enjoy building stuff when I can learn from someone who knows what they're doing. Because my dad is a MACHINE, we made such fast progress that I stayed really motivated. Over two days, we were able to go from this:
I think my favourite part is that we're using windows we found in our shed. The run will be fenced and roofed as well. I'll go into more detail about our design when it's done.
In the meantime, I will say that I had a great time this weekend. We were all working together on a common goal, and it felt great. Eldest was Grandpa's assistant and loved it. Husband did a lot of childcare and heavy labour while I learned from my dad about how to drill screws in, hammer nails (this wasn't actually the first time he taught me that, but I needed a refresher), and generally asked why every time he quickly figured out an angle or did something apparently without thinking. I used power saws for the first time ever and at the moment I'm feeling reasonably confident about finishing off the rest of the coop. Except for digging the trench to bury the chicken wire al around the perimeter of the coop and run. Our neighbourhood offers such a variety of animals who would love a chicken dinner, I feel like we really need to do our due diligence with predator protection. (Our friend lost most of her flock a year or so ago in a single night to some predator.)
I think working on a joint project is a really good way to connect with my dad. He told me about how he spent a whole summer helping his grandpa build his last house. He was 10 and his grandpa was 80. His grandfather built the whole house, stairs, cabinets, roof and all, using only hand tools and he could figure out everything with the tables on his square whereas my dad had to place each rafter to figure out the bits to cut out. His grandfather's saws were so sharp, he could saw through a 2x4 in three strokes, and every night he went down to his basement to sharpen all the saws he'd used that day. What an amazing experience that summer must have been for my dad.
It was really an amazing and beautiful weekend, working together with three generations. More than once, I thought, "I could get used to this." I even made this zucchini plum chutney, and even though the author said it was better after some time, we tested it today and it was delicious and a gorgeous, well... plum colour. Which is wonderful news because I have a LOT of zucchini to use up. I plan to try it with rhubarb as well.