There is an advertisement for Horizon Structures on the Community Chickens website that says, “Before the chicken OR the egg ... You need a coop.” Acknowledging that the famous “which came first” puzzle may never be solved, I can assure you that Horizon Structures is on to something here. The coop properly DOES come first, else you may find yourself thinking unkind things while scraping the remains of the day from your bathtub.
The coop in Phil’s backyard did not get built over the Memorial Day weekend. Family outings and other projects took precedence for us both. The chicks remained in my bathroom for another week, after which time I retrieved a decommissioned puppy kennel from the attic and installed it in the living room. The birds moved to the front of the house. It was not really an imposition because they were still very small and relatively tidy creatures, and while I have relaxed attitudes towards housekeeping (yes, this is a euphemism), I am not good at sharing bathrooms. I made a cozy home of the kennel by layering generous amounts of straw over newspaper and adding a thick dowel across the cage for a roost. As long as it was cleaned every day, there was no problem with odor. The cats and the dog were overjoyed at the spectacle. It was during the chicks’ first two weeks of residence in the living room that we really got to know each other.
I saw their first clumsy attempts at roosting, we watched television together (they fell asleep during The English Patient, but were delighted by a documentary on Calatrava’s Lyon-Satolas TGV station), they ate their first slugs and berries from my garden, they took tiny dust baths in my hands. I fell in love with our little chickens.
Meanwhile, Phil and I continued to dabble with the construction of their permanent home. The self-cleaning, clerestoried dream version of the coop had been simplified to a basic lean-to structure. On a sunny afternoon early in June, we headed out to gather building materials that he had scavenged and stored in a complex of abandoned manufacturing buildings. As we pulled in to the industrial area, he pointed out that the first factory building had recently been set on fire so that scavengers could extract the metal beams from the ceiling. The building was reduced to remnants of brick walls and blistered charcoal surfaces. Curls of corrugated metal siding peeled from the remains: potential roofing material for our project, he noted. In another building, he pointed out where he had created a shallow pool by dumping a load of stones around a water leak. Grasses were growing around piles of old tires and other debris, and he found that birds frequent the area. We continued to the back of the property to an open shed. Stacked here and there were an array of objects collected over the years: heaps of reclaimed lumber, discarded old-style street lamp posts, a speed boat covered in peeling paint, stacks of large picture frames, a vivid red sink. He tossed me a pair of gloves, and we filled the back of the truck with 2-by-6 boards.
Upon returning home, we constructed a 6-foot-by-10-foot platform from the 2-by-6s and surfaced them with additional 2-by-6 boards.
Over the course of the next week, Phil framed the walls and sheathed them in reclaimed privacy fencing.
More 2-by-6s were cut for ceiling beams, decked with plywood, and shingled. Polycarbonate sheeting and heavy wire mesh was added over openings to form windows and allow for ventilation. Old soda crates were added as nesting boxes.
And doweling was attached to the wall framing for roosting. A small door (that doubled as a ramp) was cut into the paneling, leading to an outdoor pen constructed of reclaimed construction fencing.
These panels were attached to the low wall of the lean-to, then topped with one panel of aluminum fencing and some shade cloth for protection from aerial predators and sun. It turned out to be an adorable little cabin, and much too large for four chickens. I found myself making jokes about moving myself in and leaving the girls in my house, but my imaginings did not get very far. Just as the construction was wrapping up, I received a cheery email from our chicken keeping friend: “Phil picked up some of my new batch of blue and brown egg layer chicks today ...”
We now had a total of ten chickens.
So, at last, the original chicks (who had grown to a dramatic size by this time) and the new chicks were moved into their own home.
I was out a getaway cabin, but gained a living room.