Thursday, April 12, 2007

Changing Plans

This morning I had a long list of things I hoped to accomplish with my apprentices, Meghan and Mae Rose, today, including checking the equipment for Farmer's Market, learning to lay mulch for potatoes, moving tomato cages, working with the sheep, etc.

Building a roof over part of the "Brooder House" pen wasn't even on the list. But after recent rains, with more rain in the forecast, and a bright sunny day today, it was a project whose moment had come.

Some background: I was left with a flock of about 40 pullets (young hens just starting to lay) in addition to my usual 40-some-odd hens when the tenants left. They were raised in the little shed I call the Brooder House because it is well suited to raising baby chicks. But in the past, the pullets always went to the hen house after a couple months, when they got big. Now, the hen house is full, and there's nowhere for the pullets except to keep them in the rather small Brooder House.

Most of the time that worked OK this winter, when everything was frozen, and the pullets wanted to be close together for warmth. But as we get heavy spring rains, the pullets are mucking the pen into a muddy mess. I collected bags of leaves that folks had raked up and set out for the city's yard waste collection program; putting those down in the pen for the pullets to scratch in helped somewhat. But spilled feed is beginning to ferment in the mud--yuck! Smelly! As the weather warms up, flies could become a problem. The last straw was finding the feed pans more full of mud than of feed this morning...and knowing that we will be getting yet more rain.

I've been thinking about this project--roofing over a portion of the pen to give them more dry space--for awhile, but didn't have a clear idea how to proceed. Today we just sort of jumped in and made it up as we went along, using materials on hand. It was a good project to work on our first day of all three of us working together, getting to know each other a bit and learning each other's ways of working. I'm thrilled that these two young women want to learn more about farming, and to have the chance to share what I've learned. What we built today will defintely improve the pullets' lives. And our effort will definitely show longer than if we had spent the day moving tomato cages!

Since this is a temporary project (the ultimate solution will be building a new, larger hen house with a pen cross-fenced for rotational use, giving it time to rest and dry out), I didn't want to spend a lot on lumber. And there's a grove of small elm trees in a neglected corner of the garden that needs cut down. So we pounded T-posts into the ground, cut forked saplings the right height for the roof support posts, and tied the saplings to the T-posts with baling twine. Long poles went horizontally between posts. We attached a sheet of plastic across the front of the brooder house, tied some of those 3' x 8' pieces of used hail-damaged Lexan onto the horizontal poles, and then pulled the plastic around the Lexan to seal the seams and hail-holes. I'm hoping that with a little "tweaking", the plastic will channel water from the roof away from the pen, maybe even into a rain barrel that I can use to fill the pullets' waterer....

Underneath, I set some metal grates (I've had them for years, and they've served many different purposes) up on concrete blocks under the new roof, and put the feed pans on those. So the chickens have to wipe their feed before they eat!

Checking the equipment for Farmer's Market, learning to lay mulch for potatoes, moving tomato cages, working with the sheep, etc., will all get done. Just not according to the schedule I had planned. And as I look at the forecast again, with a possibility of 1-2 inches of snow tomorrow and Saturday, I do think maybe God might be giving me a little nudge to not be in TOO much of a hurry to plant potatoes in this wet, cold soil....

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