As a boy growing up in the 70s and 80s there were certain indicators of a privileged life. The first was that you had a Tonka toy. Not one of the modern mostly-plastic jobs. No, we’re talking the steel-plate, scaled down construction-grade dump trucks, diggers or cat-tracked beasts. Real toys for real men’s sons. But now I’m a father, I know the truth. Those toys were bought not just for their earth-trembling awesomeness in the sand-pit, but because as Dads, we want to demonstrate our children might wear tomato-print shirts with collars so large you could use them as a stunt-car runway, but they’re still the sons of Real Men. Demonstrating our Real Man credentials is something that I realise never stops.
At the land our house build continues apace. We’re getting the backfill done, first with a dozen truck loads of sand and then tomorrow, the guys are starting to dig the boating lake for all the extra fill we need for the final grading.
As Dave The Man and I watched the contractor expertly spinning around in the insanely large excavator like he was the Sugar Plum Fairy, I realised that I still love Tonka toys and secretly want the grown up versions. George The Tractor was like a little Fiat Punto next to the digger and he’s certainly got nothing to be ashamed of in the metaphorical Heavy Equipment showers.
“I want one. They are frickin awesome.”
“Yep, pre…tty cool,” drawled Dave The Man. “But do you reckon the operator still thinks they’re cool after so many years doing it?”
“Oh, yeah,” said I, grinning like a teenager with a party-bag of gin and tonic (supersonic).
“Yep, I reckon you’re right,” agreed Dave The Man with a knowing smile. “They’re so cool.”
But alas. Even though I’m paying them enough money to buy a voting seat on the G7 and by rights should totally own their arses, you need a license in Ontario to drive a massive earth mover which I don’t have. So, reluctantly, I settled for taking the opportunity to top up my manliness by making appreciative noises about the earth-moving equipment then returned to the baking heat to complete the Chicken Coop.
Some say that it’s design is based on the Great Celestial Chicken Coop In The Sky and that there have been riots in chicken nurseries all across eastern Ontario over just which four lucky chickens would be chosen to live in it. Now, I can’t say for sure whether that’s true or not, but as I started to build, I felt a definite avian power flowing through me that can only be described as divine. I was compelled to build this coop, and not just by Emma looking stern.
The original plan was to reclaim materials from the old sheds on the land but after an hour with a lump hammer and a crowbar, I realised that it just wasn’t worth it. Especially since Dave The Man was offering me 8ft 2x4s for $2 each. You can’t even buy a small packet of Ferrero Roche for that price. So obviously I laid down my demolition equipment and whored myself for the nice clean new wood.
I’m certainly glad I did. Having everything at prefabricated lengths and just about square made the job a lot easier. Which, to be fair, wasn’t difficult since I’d elected to build the structure alone, mano-y-coopo style in the burning midday sun. There are times when having monkey arms is a definite advantage, but during the course of the last couple of days, I would have liked to have been as well endowed as Mr. Tickle, especially when it came to nailing on the boards. Who knew that an 8ft x 4ft OSB panel weighs the same as a small donkey? Or that I was in fact a numpty muppet boy for spacing my joists 2ft on edge, rather than the more conventional 2ft on centre. Apparently there is a good reason for that convention and it has to do with the fact that nails don’t have a very good holding capacity unless they’re actually nailed into something. Duh.
Yet, despite those challenges, I was guided by the Chicken God and knew I couldn’t fail. Slowly the superstructure of the Celestial Coop took shape and all who saw it trembled. Probably in awe, but I can’t rule out mirth. Getting the first two A-frames up was, quite frankly, a bitch. Gravity, so long my friend, turned coats and became a prankster of the highest order. Eventually I managed to get them basically upright and square, which to those of you who who aren’t versed in technical jargon is also known in plain speech as “near as dammit”, “within a few inches” or “seriously, they’re chickens. What do they know about vertical? They can’t even fly.”
The basic plan that took shape as I nailed and swore was to create an A-frame structure. I choose the A-frame for two reasons. Firstly, it’s similar to a Swiss chalet and since they make most excellent penknives and chocolate you’d think they also know a thing or two about effective wooden structures. Secondly, the inside would look like a corridor from the Liberator, Blake’s 7 spaceship and hello, that was just about the most cool spaceship ever. Oh, and it’s pretty good for shedding snow apparently (the A-frame, not the Liberator which being in space, doesn’t tend to encounter very many heavy flurries).
I figured that the boards would need supporting joists every 2ft and I’d need ventilation at the roof to let the notorious and quite noxious chicken farts escape which, incidentally, would also give me some overhang on the bottom to help water run off and not seep into the base.
I struggled for a while getting the joists parallel and the boards nailed on (it turns out there are other uses for a Dad-sized belly than just a portable trampoline for small children). With a mouthful of nails, a hammer and my legs burning, I got the first side sheathed. Obviously my effort was rewarded because almost immediately the clouds rolled in and gave me a brief respite.
Emboldened and uplifted by this sign from my new chicken god, I pushed on and by the end of the day, just about managed to finish. There are a few bits left to do, mainly to generously add chicken wire to prevent rodents and more serious predators stealing any of my eggs or chickens, but I’m pretty pleased. I need to trim the front and back panels to reveal the glory of the A-frame, but since chickens aren’t noted for their sense of aesthetics, I’m happy to wait until the weekend to do that job. It’ll give me a chance to fire up my new reciprocating saw which is rather hot.
I knocked up four nesting boxes from off-cuts and scraps from the build (to salve my recycle, reuse, re-whatever conscience) and am looking forward to many eggy delights being discovered in them in the weeks ahead.
All in all, a good long weekend of work. Now all we need is a chicken run and the lucky chickens who will be joining our existing trio of Harvey, Custard and Sunshine.
It might not be as elegant as the structure Dave The Man is building for us, but I reckon this is one coop that will be standing just as long and building it has earned me more Real Man status than driving a monster excavator could ever do.