In the beginning was the idea to build a new chicken coop. This was because certain (unnamed, and possibly including myself) people had gotten overexcited about the idea of chicks and bought sooooo many there had to be two separate enclosures in the basement. They were awfully cute back then.
Of course they got bigger and the basement started to smell. Getting them outside sooner rather than later kept us working as often as weather and time allowed.
The coop took shape. Chickens need to scratch around outside too, so there would have to be an outdoor enclosure (a run). But it turned out that the one set of basement chicks was growing at the speed of light, far outpacing the other set and looking gigantic in comparison.
Chickens are nasty, you know. Integrating one flock with another often leads to shows of blood. Pecking order is a very real thing. Peck, peck, peck on the back of the neck. Big over little. Strong over weak. Murder happens. I have seen this. It’s not pretty. Mine were used to their separate spaces. Keeping the giants separate from the dwarfs would be the best approach.
So okay, two coops, two runs – adjacent but with a chicken wire fence between them. Is this unreasonable yet?
It got to where there were two sets of doors, leading into one run and the other, with a concrete (soon to be brick) entrance. That’s all there was going to be at first, just a flat, sweepable way in. That garden bench was still there at that time (fancy table too, huh? cinder blocks and a piece of 2×8). I had been sick and it was nice to have a place to sit down, and then when I felt better it was too heavy for me to move by myself and not really in the way… yet…so it just stayed there.
Clearly we already had some bricks for that area in front of the doors. Clearly not enough. There is a salvage place in Louisa that I had never been to before and will never go to again, but they did have bricks, and I bought as many as would reasonably fit in my Prius. At 20 cents a piece I deemed it worth the trip. These still were not enough, but that problem would wait for another day.
Set the bricks aside and ponder. Sit on the bench and stare. Cute chicks. Darn slope. From the top of the old coop’s stoop to the height of a brick on the concrete was 14”, way too high a step. Someone would surely get hurt if I didn’t do something about that. Plus the mulch would wash over the bricks every time it rained, the run would get the overflow water and it would all be a mucky mess.
There had to be a way to terrace the land right there. One way or another it had to be leveled out. I started digging without much of a plan in mind, which I realize has the potential to be problematic. But I was feeling stronger after having been sick for a month and was happy to be strong enough to dig. First I took out the old coop’s stoop.
Once I did that I was committed so I just kept digging.
All the while I’m thinking vaguely This has to be flat. So I kept digging. It is hard to think deep thoughts when you are busy digging. I realize that following a plan has merits when doing a project but sometimes I just keep going. When I got it dug out, I had a flat and reasonably level space with a new drop-off, this one at the front corner of the old coop. Some kind of retaining wall would solve the problem, would be obvious enough that people wouldn’t trip on it. Plus it would keep the water away from that area. I played around with some very heavy concrete blocks that are made for retaining walls, but they were too unwieldy and I couldn’t make them fit in the tight corner. Also they were kind of ugly.
A deck then. It has to be a deck. That would tie the coops together, make a bigger clean space for approaching (and viewing!) my peaceful (non-murderous-because-they-are-separate) chickens and fit the setting better than concrete.
This, however, is where it is going to look funky to those of you who have ever made a deck of any kind. What on earth is she doing with all those short, scrap pieces of 4×4 and 4×6? Bear with me here. This is not as crazy as it looks!
What I was doing was using the shorter pieces to get my trench level and prepared. Truly I was, but I also stupidly thought I could actually use them there. Sandy took one look at that and said Uh, no. I didn’t yet have the longer 4x4s that you see up and to the right, which he insisted were a necessity. I so wanted to use up all that scrap wood! No, he said, you have to have solid pieces on the sides.
But okay, once the solid sides were in and once they were solidly joined to each other making a solid frame around the whole thing, the rows in the middle would still need wood to screw the decking boards into. I had an itch to scratch, you see, and by golly I was going to use those shorter pieces! End to end, snug in against each other and against the outside framework, c’mon, this works. Then once you screw in the boards from the top, those babies aren’t going anywhere. The ground is hard pack clay (like concrete if you are familiar with Virginia “soil”). And this method does not require me to throw the scrap away (they are pressure treated and can’t be burned) and I had to buy a little less wood (thank you, Bertie!). In the end it looked like this — perfectly solid and perfectly wide for every screw from above to find a home.
The landscape fabric and sand that ended up on top of these should have been put down below them, I know, but by the time I got all this in place, and level and square, I wasn’t moving anything again. I have my limits after all. So the fabric went on top, then sand, then I punched a bunch of holes in it for rain to get to the earth a little more easily. I didn’t want little pools of water under the deck for the mosquitoes to breed in.
For the retaining wall side we used two 4x4s on top of each other, connected with timberlock screws, plus a topmost 4×6 on its side to serve as a somewhat more comfortable seat. You can sit on it and look at chickens. You would want to do that, right? You would want to if you saw my chickens.
Then came the fun part, laying the decking boards. I got real comfortable with the cordless screwdriver I got for Christmas (the one that got lost for six months, but that is another story). There were a lot of screws. This is grunt work. I see why the new guys get the grunt work.
With a few more bricks from Lowe’s I figured out how to make them all fit without cutting any, which was a relief because believe me, it was time to have this project be finished!
This is the whole picture now, viewing deck ready for guests (and do they ever use it!), solar lanterns up, solar panels in place to power the chandeliers inside the coops, flower pots to look pretty, fluffy chickens showing off. The only thing left is the siding, but I am content to wait for that to be milled.
The topmost 4×6 on the long retaining wall works as a seat for me, but maybe not for everyone. Anyway now that I am so experienced, I think I’ll make a bench besides…