It’s disarmingly easy to bring home a chick from the feed store. They are super cheap, and cute as heck. They have the sweetest little peeps: peep, peep, peep. You can grab a few with your bare hands, tumble them into a cardboard box, hand over a couple dollars, put the box on the seat in the car next to you and drive them home. Put the box on the hearth, next to the fireplace. Badda bing! Now you’re a chicken farmer!
It is blissful for day one. And maybe even for day two.
Day three I saw that one chick had already flown to the top of the box, meaning it was a certainty that she would soon fly into the living room, leaving her tiny adorable little piles of poop in her wake. I wasn’t having that.
I chose a metal cage-type dog pen, and built a base by wrapping up canvas 5 inches high, to hold in most of their hen detritus. I laid down a washable sheet on top of the canvas, and replaced it once a week to clean up the chicken poop. Since the babies could fit through the holes at first, I strung bird netting around the bottom to keep them inside, but they often got tangled in it and I had to constantly rescue them.
As I lamented in a blog post, the hens, the cat, and me all lost our patience with the arrangement. About that time, my blogger friend Marlene sent me a link to a blog post she had read. The other blogger built a chicken tractor, a phrase I had to look up. It means a mobile chicken pen with no floor. You can push it around with chickens inside, and move it to a place with fresh grass and no poop. (Yes, I am noticing that dealing with poo is constantly on my mind) The blogger built hers out of PVC pipe, a hollow plastic tube that is flexible and easy to find in many sizes.
Using PVC was immediately appealing to me. I had built a tractor a few years ago using 2x4s and large sheets of particle board. All that lumber made the thing ferociously heavy for me to move all by myself. After a season outside, the rain had warped it out of shape too. PVC would not only be lighter, but rain resistant and also round on the bottom, for even more ease of movement.
I pulled out a piece of paper and starting scratching out plans, based on tips from the blogger, my past experience, and my goals for a hen pen. My goals included easy access, which I had not incorporated into the wooden pen. I had not been able to interact with those chickens and when they were adults would not let me anywhere near them. My Small Hens currently adore me and immediately jump up onto me when I sit down, and if I hold still long enough, they settle down and take naps on me. I just love that.
I had not done much with PVC before, except installing the underground pipe to fill my pond in the summer when it stops raining. That was a simple job, merely connecting pipe in a straight line from the creek to the pond. This time I wanted to use PVC like Tinker Toys, which I played with as a child. I looked up the dimensions of pipe that is commonly sold, and of poultry netting (chicken wire), in order to build something with the least amount of cutting. I envisioned all the joint connections that I assumed could be found at the hardware store, and drew out the ones I planned to buy. I found a website online where a person had invented a hinge for a PVC door, and I loved the idea and decided to copy it.
Pedro came over for the weekend and we drove to the hardware store and discovered right away that I had been too confident. Not all the joints I wanted were available, and the hinge would only work if we could find a pipe exactly the right size to fit around the 3/4″ pipe size that we had chosen to work with, and we couldn’t. Not all the pieces we wanted were at one store. By the end of the weekend we had visited three different stores, beginning with the cute local Rainier hardware store and buying everything they had that we needed, because I like to support small shops, but knowing they wouldn’t have everything and we would have to make a supplemental trip to get what they lacked.
There was no time for online shopping. I quickly rearranged plans in my head. Pedro had brought a saw from home and set it up in my garage. He followed my lead and deferred to me as Project Manager. When I needed to think through a part of design or construction, I made sure we collaborated, to try to reduce the number of mistakes. I still made a lot of mistakes. We made FOUR trips to Home Depot alone, returning parts, buying new parts, coming back for more parts, etc. But for all that, we didn’t end up wasting any material, and nothing was ruined. We never had to discard something that had been cut wrong or connected wrong. That’s pretty neat.
Soon after we got started, Pedro stopped and looked at me. “Do you need to take photos for your blog?” he asked. Awwww. That’s the first time that’s happened to me. I assume your significant others have done this, but it’s my first time. The first time a partner reminded ME that I need to stop and take a photo for my blog. ❤ So, I did.
The new box was his idea. I was trying to think of a way to put a cardboard box outside and keep it somewhat protected from the elements, soaking ground, frequent rain. Pedro’s idea was to buy a plastic storage tub and cut a hole in the side and fill it with straw – viola! He suggested a dark-coloured tub, to keep the light out which would make the babies feel safer. These ideas were spot on.
Have you ever worked with the purple glue? It sets in seconds! It took both of us, thinking quickly, constantly. Which pieces should we put together first, so that the next connection would work? How many connections could we hold in place while the other person slopped on the glue? How best to jam joints together on a 3-D structure? It was a fun puzzle and – amazingly – we got through the whole thing without screwing it up. We made one bad connection, but luckily it was early in the process, and we were able to switch it out for a different place where it would work, and kept going. We built this damned thing in a day.
Well, the plastic part was done in a day. It was nighttime at that point and we went inside to eat and rest. The next morning we were back at it. Pedro had to go home soon, so we hurried. Poultry netting is sold at rolls of 4 feet wide, so I designed the cage to be 4 feet high. I had purchased a bag of 100 plastic zip ties, and while Pedro unrolled the wire and stretched it, I zipped it tightly to the pipes. Then I went around and secured all the places that seemed like holes big enough to admit a small hen, and he went around and clipped the wire off and clipped the ends off the ties.
He helped me carry it out to the backyard. The last thing he did for me was to cut a hole in the side of the plastic storage bin that they could use as a door, and then kissed me goodbye.
I got fresh straw from the Hussies’ hen house and filled the tub and put it inside for them. Later I would cut lengths of black gripping tape and tape it to the perches so they had some rough texture to grip when they jumped up there, instead of the slippery plastic tubes. (We had selected 1/2 inch pipe for the perches, to suit their little chick feetsies better than the 3/4 inch pipe. We found joint connectors at a 90 degree angle to switch from 3/4 to 1/2. I mean seriously…this project was so much like Tinker Toys.) I installed their water dispenser to the wall, and put some food in.
Then came the FUN part!!! I got to move the babies. They were characteristically terrified when I began catching them all and throwing them into their box. I had pulled the towel completely over the top, so they couldn’t get out. They didn’t know that they could just jump against it and knock the towel off. Chickens are dumb. But still so cute. When I had nabbed them all, I carried them out of the house.
OUT of the house. Finally.
The girls frigging LOVED their new home immediately.
I took the above photo and sent it to Pedro and cheered our success and thanked him.
It was still raining and still cold, almost down to freezing at night, so for a while I put them outside in the day, and brought them back in at night – with the trauma of catching them and trapping them in the box each time. But as I said, we had all had it with each other. The Small Hens were getting bigger and had all their feathers except on their heads, so they could cuddle together in their box at night for warmth. I finally hit a wall and just left them out there. They were fine.
Guess what I did that day? CLEANED THE HOUSE. Yes, There were little fluffy feathers and some kind of weird hen dust all over the house. Somehow they had kicked little dried pieces of poo outside of the pen and onto the wood floors. I deconstructed the dog pen and washed all the fabrics once and for all. Whew. Clean and quiet house.
Racecar was quite relieved and thanked me for getting her little sisters outside.
With all that space and a big door, I can easily climb right inside and hang out with them. They get SO excited when I’m there, and jump up onto my legs and chill out with me. It’s super sweet.
They are almost big enough to stand up to the grown up hens, the Hussies. Chickens will peck each other to establish dominance, and it can get out of hand when one or more chickens are not able to defend themselves. It’s not meanness, just instinct, but it could be harmful if the babies are too small. But they are getting to know each other and so far when the big hens peck the little ones, it has been gentle and the little ones respond right away so no additional pecks are needed. I have high hopes that they will soon be ready to live together in the hen house in the big pen. Then I can retire the PVC cage till the next time I decide to raise baby hens.