Notes from Windward: #71


Building a Chick-run

making more room for juveniles


March 17:

     As our chicken breeding program is being improved upon, the group decided that we needed to provide more space for the baby birds to grow out in.

as the chicks outgrow the brooder
they will move to the chick-run

     After some deliberations on how best to improve the housing and habitat for chickens we decided upon a synthesis of several elements both new and old.

     The structure itself is similar to our other two hooped structures. It differs mainly in using a shipping container as the northern wall, and using only half-bows for the roof structure.

     The half-hoop structure is more practical than the full-hoops because the northern side of a building does not receive direct sunlight in the winter months when it is needed the most. Ultimately we get more utility from the bows and sacrifice very little.

"Dairy-box" the shipping container which
will form the north wall of Chick-run.

     There are more technical issues involved in engineering with the half-hoops, but we hope it will ultimately be less of a hassle to maintain in the snowy months, while using less materials.

     In addition to the hooped structure itself, we will be experimenting with other methods of fencing in chickens and allowing the partial-range capabilities.

     Mary Lou, one of last year's apprentices, donated a 100ft length of 9ft tall deer fencing. We hope to set up an outdoor courtyard area for the chickens on the eastern side of the chicken run.

     There are many benefits as well as dangers in allowing chickens to range on open ground. The chickens get to go scratching around to find food. Ultimately making the chickens happier, less agitated and healthier.

Wyandotte hen free-ranging it
in the early spring

     However, if chickens are allowed to be truly free-range, they tend to congregate in the garden areas. Eating and destroying lots of human food and hard work. Also, there is a constant danger of predatory birds such as red-tailed hawks and great-horned owls in our area. As the chickens venture further away from the main encampment, the rates of loss increase.

     We hope that with this deer fencing, we can allow the chickens what they psychologically need. A place to run around and forage. While also preventing them from destroying crops, and protective them from predatory birds.


March 22:

Finding the Corners of the Southern Wall

     Chick-run got under way in November of last year as Opalyn and I, with the help of a fall intern Elliot, began the process of laying our the corners of the buildings.

     Since we had squared shipping container to work from, finding the corners were relatively easy. We started by butting long pieces of lumber against the sides of the container.


and built up a carriage underneath the extended lumber until it was level.


     We made sure everything was square by using the 3x4x5 method of triangulation. I do not have pictures, so I will try and spell it out.

     The 3x4x5 method works because of the principle that a right triangle with a 3 unit side and a 4 unit side will have a hypotenuse of 5 units. By measuring 3 feet along the shipping container and 4 feet along the lumber we were able to adjust the angle of the board in relation to the container until the distance between the two points (hypotenuse) was 5 feet.

     This is much easier to do all of this with three people! If we had a fourth we could have had a photographer.

     Having everything squared up we the moved to mark the position of the corner. Since we are working with 20 foot bows that are cut in half, we assume that the wall needs to be 10 feet out.

     We marked ten feet out from either side of the shipping container on the perpendicular boards. We also marked the position of the boards in relation to the container so that we know if the boards moved. In order to check our work we measured between the two points. The distance should be the same as the shipping container. Luckily it was very close, and so we did not have to re-square everything.

     Next we carefully placed a plum-bob on the points and marked the exact place to dig corner post hole.


     We were able to get the southwest corner post cemented into place, and the hole dug for the southest corner before the first round of winter snow.

     At that point the project shut down for the winter.

April 3:

Placing posts for the southern wall

     When work of the Chick-run got started again this spring the first step was to place the other corner post. Since we had already located the post and began the hole, the task was simple.

     The main thing was to ensure that the top of the post matched the other corner. This can be rather difficult in our sloped environment. After a while of living on a hillside, the eye can tend to misjudge what is level. So, we employed a surveyors hand level.

The hand level is a combination
of a telescope and a level

     Looking through the eyepiece, we got the top of the first pipe to sit in the center of the viewfinder.

     Then we tilted the hand level until the bubble is also centered on the cross hair. This established that we are on the correct horizontal plane, and that the plane was level with regard to Earth. We then moved the opposite post up and down in the hole until the top was also on the center cross hairs.

Here is a person using a hand level
Our technique was slightly different
Hopefully you get the gist

     Once the other corner post was cemented in its proper position, we strung a line between the tops of the two corner posts. We tied the line so the it was over the top of the corner pipes. This gave us a straight mark elevation from one side to the other. If we did our job correctly with the hand level, this elevation should also be level.

Tied string over top the pipes

     On the strung twine we measured off 3feet 6inch distances and marked them. We shied on the side of putting them too close, because we have the materials to do so, and we want this building to stand up to the tests of time, and heavy snow loads.

     Next we attached a plumb-bob onto the line and moved it to each mark along the string. Letting the plumb-bob settle, we were sure to have a line perpendicular to level and descending to the ground. We marked each point on the ground and began digging the post holes. because the soil is moist, the work took only minutes.

     As Nicole and I began cementing each post into the ground, we attempted to bring the top of each post to the strung line. We did this by digging the whole slightly too deep and adding field stones under the post. This not only gives post something more solid than mud to rest on, but will also be incorporated into the mass of concrete, providing added rigidity.

the posts, some of which
have the hoops on to check
the distance and height

     I say we "attempted" to level the posts, because we did not do a perfect job and the line ended up having a little bit of a bulge to it. The common knowledge we work from is that it is important to practice precision on projects that do not require it. To hone fine skills before they are needed. In this way you have a repertoire built up when it really counts. This is applicable to everything. Whether in construction, animal or plant care, inter-personal communication, or individual development. Everything new is an opportunity to learn, grow and improve upon past actions; and to practice another multifaceted aspect of building community.

     Since this wall is for chickens, I think we did a pretty good job for the first try. The real test is whether we do a better job next time.

April 11:

Finishing the southern wall

     After the skeleton of the wall was put up, the next step for the southern wall was to attach the meat.

     We used a combination of 10 and 20 foot 2x6 boards, and offset the seams to add rigidity. The same principle that is used in masonry.

note the offsetting of the 2x6 boards

     We mimicked the northern wall of Vermadise structure. With three strands of 2x6 boards running perpendicular along the length of the wall. A treated board on the bottom since it will be exposed to soil moisture, chicken poop and what not, and non treated boards in the center and top.

treated wood at the bottom

     We started the wall on the uphill side of the building. This way we would ensure that, in keeping the boards level, we have increasingly more space between the ground and the bottom board. This makes the work easier (less digging).

     The tricky part about the process of attaching the boards is holding everything level while the first stabilizing screws are put in place. The work is made easier with three people. Although at times I did it solo. So I will share the process I had to work out in order to manage.

     I started with the lowest wrung. It was easy to level by simply wedge some scrap wood under the board until it was level. And by tying one board to the post, the length of the board was kept more-or-less flush against the posts.

getting the board level

     Once the first rung was level and firmly affix to the post, I attached some vertical 2x4's to the post. Since I knew these were all uniform in length, I could safely assume that their top edges were level. So I could rest the center wrung of boards on top of the wood. That turned it into a one person job.

vertical boards supporting the middle rung

     I asked for help for the top rung. :)

     We attached the boards with self tapping screws designed to attach wood to metal. It was a three step process.

     First we drilled a recess in the wood the counter-sink the head of the bolt so there was nothing jutting out of the surface of the boards. We had to do this because otherwise the plywood exterior would not sit flush against the surface of the boards. Allowing water to easily penetrate and degrade the wood.

     And, it would just not look as nice.

     The second step was to drill a pilot hole through both the wood and the metal. This makes attaching the screw go off with out a hitch. Taking the time to drill a 1/8inch pilot hole is soo much easier than trying to drive a self-tapping screw through a curved surface. Generally the screw has a tendency to want to walk all over the place. And, without a pilot hole to remove some wood, you can sometimes split the board along the grain. Because essentially you are driving a wedge between the wood grain, in a similar physical process as splitting fire wood.

     The third step was actually setting the screw.

The end result looks like this

     Too bad all that work will be covered up! It seems to me pretty common in carpentry that half the work is doing extra work to hide your work. To maximize the unblemished appearance of the pretty exterior wood grain. I don't know how I feel about this. I like to see how things are built.

     After the boards were attached, the next step was to put up the ply-wood. We are using 1/2 inch sheets of treated plywood. Since the metal posts were approximately four feet out of the ground, the size of these sheets works well in the design.

[Side-note:  The spacing of the vertical posts, and other dimensions of the building are a good example of designing with the materials in mind. Since we knew that we'd be working with 10ft and 20ft lengths of 2x6 lumber, it makes sense that the dimensions we work with are divisible by these dimensions.

     We designed the building to be about 40 feet long, and the southern wall to be approximately 4ft high. This means we get the maximum conversion of bought materials into usable interior building space. Minimizing waste and giving and making the job simpler because there is little or no cutting to fit.]

     We needed to leave about 1 1/2" gap at the top of the wall. This is where the wire-lock track will go so the plastic and shade cloth can be attached to the hoops. This is the same design we used on the northern wall of Vermadise.

     We marked the top most line across the length of the top boards, and used it as a our guide.

     It took two strong folks to hold up the plywood at the right height.

     We used common 1 inch drywall screws to affix the plywood. And drilled every 8 inches or so.

Kotomi got a lot of practice with the power drill

     Since in any given year our temperatures can swing in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, we left a 1/8 inch gap between each sheet of ply wood. This should be more than adequate to allow the sheet to expand and contract with the changing temperatures and moisture.

     Because the posts were not perfectly straight, nor was the lumber always straight, we occasionally ran into large gaps between the boards and ply wood.

pushing in a gap

     We remedied them by using brute force to push the two together. And then adding a few extra screws around that site.

exterior view of the finished wall

     One extra note on a technique used throughout this wall building. When working on a linear project like this, it is good to start from one end and work your way to the other. Laying nails and screws one after another. This insures the the grain is pushed uniformly to the end, and prevents bulges from forming between the screws.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71