Go with your Strengths
We had started year three of our growing in a good position. We were using crop rotation and still figuring out the irrigation system but we felt good about our knowledge. The deer were still beating us on the blue berries but the strawberries were coming on strong and sweet. The barn was holding up but was showing its age. It was built in the 1950's as a dairy barn. We didn't have the money or the experience to do anything major with it so we kept an eye on it, making it water tight and let it go until the future.
I am not a handyman or a “mister fix it” by any standard. If fixing means tearing down or destroying then I’m great at it. One of the first successes I had as a handyman came when we were able to open the barn doors in the back of the building, that the previous owner had boarded up. The second success came when I built new doors and was able to hang and close the barn back up, mostly. My first mistake in the project came when we closed the doors for the first time. We had measured the opening and made the doors from plywood and wood trimming. Once hung and closed we realized the doors weren't wide enough to cover the entire opening of the barn. You know, I measured twice but I was not the only one doing the construction. However, pointing fingers never moves you in the right direction so why dwell about fault.
I added wings to the doors and sure enough there was no opening to allow small critters inside. So that success started me thinking about other small projects. Like a moveable, self contained, floorless chicken house and pen, one large enough to hold twenty-five birds.
It has since been referred to as both the Spruce Goose and the Titanic, neither names invoking any thing other then abject failure. But I digress. I've never been good with building things as a matter of fact I excel at the complete opposite. I learned earlier on that destruction was my forte. I've put holes in cinderblock walls with a sledge hammer in order to place in a doorway. I’ve torn down shacks with crow bars and sledge hammers. I can tear things apart with the ease of an expert. Putting things back together though I'm the kind of person that has spare parts when everything is completed. I'm much more comfortable bringing down a dead thirty foot oak tree than I am cutting a forty-five degree angle for chair molding. Even though I knew I was not a handyman I tried to build the moveable pen.
We started out with six birds and bought our first hen house. It is a great little moveable house and pen. It is completely self sufficient. It has water, food, nesting boxes, roosts, bare floor and a small enclosed yard. It is called a Henspa. It was more than we wanted to spend but we bit the dust and placed the order.
The house was small and would hold up to twelve hens though nine is more hospitable. With green manures and winter cover cropping we had plenty of fresh grass for the hens to eat. We could put the house in our gardens and move it every other day. The hens got fresh grass and the garden got nutrients for the coming growing season. For the first year this worked well but we had more orders for eggs then we had capacity. It was nice having a waiting list but we needed to add to the hen population.
I started drawing the new, bigger portable pen a year before we started building. It would have everything that the other house had but this would hold twenty-five birds, comfortably. So I took the dimensions of the real house and scaled it up to handle the increase in hens. Most of you are already getting the picture. I think the only thing I can say is that I didn't rush into things. I drew up the plans with measurements from all sides, heights, widths, lengths, floor plans, nesting boxes and roosting poles, egg door and outside pen. I had all my drawings (14 different views with measurements of various sections) and a materials list before purchasing a single screw. I was on top of the project.
We cut all the pieces of wood and started assembling them. Adding sides to other sides it started taking shape. We got the nesting box and egg door in, the second floor and roosts, wheels and pulley system and feed box. We pulled it out of the barn to put the roof on. I can't begin to document all the failures and in what order they took place. All I remember is that I would fix one thing and another thing would break. But, being one that doesn't give up easily, I would fix the next problem only to encounter another. So on its maiden voyage it hit ground and a support pole broke on the wheel mechanism and it sank into the ground (think Titanic). I then heaved up the wheels and support beams that would carry the whole box. I fortified pullys, cables and support hooks.
On its second maiden voyage we pushed the lever down to lift the box up off the ground, and on its wheels, but we couldn't get enough clearance to move the box off the ground (think Spruce Goose). After two years and five hundred dollars in materials (at least that is what my accountant says, and if I wasn't married to her I would've questioned her book keeping skills) I've somewhat given up on it. When asked about it I joke that it was designed by the "Three Stooges" and built by "Fred Flinstone".
It sits out by the barn mostly built, no roof, no pen, no handles on the egg door; it just sits there and mocks me. I may have stopped tinkering with it and often think about accidentally setting it on fire when weeding but I'm not just ready yet to give up on it. Besides, it’s been holding up pretty well these past few years.
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