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The Chicken Haven!

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The other day, David said he was finally ready to build us a chicken house. The weather in Florida this month is just too steamy and grueling hot for outdoor projects, but he has a window of time off from working and he wants to take advantage of it, so off to Home Depot he went. Hours later he came back with the truck laden with all kinds of odds and ends he would puzzle together with materials leftover from other projects to create a chicken house unlike any other.

I already have the chickens. We bought 5 baby chicks in the spring knowing they would quickly grow large enough to join my 4 chickens and a rooster. Those more mature birds were purchased on craigslist in Feb as a source of free range eggs and we housed them in a small but cute prefab chicken house that we picked up last winter because it was steeply on sale and, while small, too adorable to resist. Building a new chicken house has been in our long range plan since we bought this property, so all along the tiny hen house was considered temporary. The cookie cutter design is meant for 6 chickens at most and really doesn’t have room for any sort of healthy ranging. I’m a girl with big chicken fantasies. so a worthy chicken house seemed important for this lifestyle.

We bought the chicks thinking we had plenty of time to get around to building a more formal chicken house, but as is often the case with busy people, we blinked and suddenly faced a pressing need to get something built because our little house is smack dab in the way of a new parking lot that we are building. I love my free ranging chickens, but they make a mess of the grounds, and while a few fluffy birds pecking around the yogi’s feet is cute, upwards of a dozen free ranging chickens chasing people to their cars and a rooster that likes to crow whenever we are meditating is more than a little annoying- especially when those same birds uproot my mulch and eat my flowers. David and I both agree the time has come to keep the birds contained.

David is a research guy, and innovation is in his DNA, so of course he wouldn’t dream of building a clunky shed sort of thing with a pen attached. He read some chicken magazines began his contemplation. He asked me about what I liked least and best about my former chicken set ups (which wasn’t a very high set bar, I confess.) He looked at chicken houses on the internet. Eventually, he came up with a design incorporating a little of everything he thought would be important.

David’s chicken house not only had to be practical, but well built. He would use reclaimed materials to be environmentally conscientious and cost effective. This would also help us get rid of things building up behind the barn – a bonus! For foundation walls, he began with four big, reinforced stage units we built for the yoga festival three years ago. He decided to use the big rolls of fencing wire we have rolled up behind the barn, remnants of the old fence that we saved after putting up the new wood fence. He configured a nifty system where the pens pinwheel around the hen house so I can let the chickens range in one 12 foot area each week, then rotate the birds so the ground has 3 weeks to recover before the chickens revisit the area. My chickens will never be scratching around in hard packed dirt, which is often the case in chicken pens after they pick the ground clean. He arranged nifty doors in each side of the hen house that can open and close from outside with pulls.  I can direct the chickens to any area with a shift of the hand and don’t need to go inside unless I want to collect eggs.

David used the heavy rolling door he made for our barn a year ago, before he upgrading that building, and repainted a screen door rescued from an old house remodel to use as an entrance. Three other screen doors were made from scratch to provide a separate entry to each of the pen sections. We already had nifty chicken nesting boxes with removable (and cleanable) tile bottoms from when  we first moved here and built chicken housing in a stall in our barn. David’s new brilliant design includes a nifty air handler on the roof to keep the hen house aired out, as well as open space along the bottom of the building so the shavings never smell. He’s added lights for winter, and an automatic waterer, and hung a great big feeder so when we’re busy, we don’t have to worry about the birds going hungry. The food and water is protected by a slanted panel under roosts.  This chicken house even has a small hose rolled up so I can conveniently keep things clean, and a bin for food. There’s even a small box to keep whatever little keepsake might need to be tucked away . My former, little cute chicken house is now situated by the big pen as a housing area for any nesting chickens, or for times when I want to purchase new chicks.

When yogis go out to see David’s newest creation they all comment that the place is big enough and nice enough to put in a bunk for overnight lodging. They marvel at the spacious interior and the windows and the fact that it is cool inside despite the summer sun. We’d certainly love to build a few cute caravans for yogis someday, but for now, we are delighted to have finally created a chicken haven for our feathered friends.

I do love chickens. Not only do I love collecting free range eggs daily, but there is something calming and natural about a chicken-friendly lifestyle. I plan to situate a couple of comfy Adirondack chairs out there so people can hang out and watch the cute antics of the birds. I’ll be there with a cup of coffee more often than not, I suppose.

The only problem is, this new chicken house is so fantastic and so big and so user friendly, that my ten, humble chickens don’t do it justice. Having one measly rooster and a few uneventful brown hens out there in such a grand chicken haven seems like a poor use of resources.

So, I’m checking out Craigslist every day…. Looking for some fancies. I need a sportier robust flock as the final garnish for David’s fantastic chicken endeavor.   I’m thinking a few Frizzles, a Silky or two, some exotics…… And don’t ya know, the darn housing is big enough for peacocks or pheasants. Ah, the possibilities!

The house isn’t complete just yet. David has a few final touches and fencing to finish off. I bought a big metal chicken sign for the building and my metal chicken sculpture must find a place of honor. But soon, this chicken haven will be a part of Heartwood that feels familiar to everyone who visits, and in no time, it will seem as if the grand chicken house has always been here. That is how it goes. We work, change and evolve this property, and every addition feels like such a natural fit, we quickly forget the “before”.

That is how the best of dreams unfold, I’m thinking.

 

 

 

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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