The Hen Pen Project

“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
C. Northcote Parkinson

In 2011, as I was reaching the end of my working years, I decided to go part time.  It was wonderful!  All of a sudden, I had extra days to work on my bazillion projects here at the ranch.  It was great for a while, but it was only a matter of time before those extra days also gave me the opportunity to think up even more projects.  Soon, my project list, instead of getting smaller, was actually expanding! 

Then in 2015, I retired.  That also was wonderful!  I once again had extra days every week to work on projects.  Guess what happened next.  Yup.  The project list got even longer!  And now I’m out of options for adding more days to the week unless I start making my own calendar with a ten-day week! 

So, I prioritize.  I have a list of urgent projects that need to be completed in the near future.  I have a list of long-term projects that are not so urgent.  And I’ve got a list of small projects that I can accomplish and scratch off the list in less than a day.  Then there’s the seasonal list – things that have to be done every spring or fall.  I organize it all with a list of lists.  I’m sure this sounds a little over-meticulous to some folks, and it is true that maintaining these lists does take a certain amount of time.  But it’s so satisfying to finish a project and put a big dark line through that item on the list!  It’s also worth pointing out that with multiple projects from multiple lists all going on at the same time, it can take some time to reach the point on any given project when I get to draw that satisfying big dark line. 

All of this prologue is just my way of easing into an explanation about why it took so long to build the new hen pen.  Back in October of last year, in a post entitled “Around the Coop and Beyond” I posted this picture and had this to say about that particular project: 

“Another project that’s underway is the building of a new hen pen. The chickens in the two coops take turns, every other day, going into the half-acre chicken run. On the days that they’re not in the big chicken run, the 15 chickens in the big coop spend their outdoor time in the 450-square-foot hen pen. When the nine chickens in the small coop aren’t in the big chicken run, the outdoor space they have to hang out in is the sixteen-square-foot “chicken patio”. That space was fine when it was just Snowball, Emily, and Angitou.  But then Courtney came along, and then Courtney’s four Legbar babies grew to adulthood, and then I moved Willow the buff Orpington to the small coop, and suddenly the outdoor space that was OK for three small chickens is embarrassingly inadequate for nine birds.  So, I’ve finally got started on building them their own outdoor hen pen.  It’s going in along the side of the pole barn, and since it’s at the base of a steep hill, the first thing I had to do was excavate some dirt to make a level space.  Next, I need to put up a retaining wall and haul in some class five gravel.  Only then can the walls go up.  The leaves are falling. Will this project be done before the snow falls?  Stay tuned.”

Well, that was posted in October, and then the snow fell and this is how the new hen pen looked in February.

Ahem.  Yup.  That’s it.  Some, but not all, of the retaining wall blocks were laid.  And that was it.  No more progress was made until this spring.  In March, Snowball and Courtney and a couple of the Legbar hens did a site visit.  I know they were shaking their heads about how slowly the work was progressing, but they were too polite to say anything.

Finally, later in March, the hen pen project became my top priority with the goal of getting it done before my trip to Florida scheduled at the end of April.  I got the retaining wall finished in short order, and set to work framing it up the pen itself.

Here I am, building the frame.  Willow the Buff Orpington, as you see, is keeping me company – or she may be headed for my beer.

On the last day of March, the frame was done and I started putting up the hardware cloth.

The second week of April I started putting the roof on.  The roof is made of fencing and is built at a slant.  You may be thinking, “Why a slanted roof?”  Obviously not so the rain can run off.  There are a large number of trees that shade the hen pen.  Their falling leaves in the autumn are a whole lot easier to remove from a slanted roof than from a flat one.

When the roof was done, what remained was the details—building a roost, a couple of doors, and cutting a hole into the pole barn and putting in a pop door.

Building a Door
I try to recycle material as much as possible.  The retaining wall blocks, for example, are a combination of blocks salvaged from two different projects with a few new ones thrown in.  They don’t match completely.  The chickens don’t care.  The door hinges are salvage from a garage door that I took apart in the early 1980’s.  There are several bins and buckets filled to overflowing with odd bits of old hardware in a dark corner of my garage that I call my “Oh Hell Collection”.  Whenever I need a certain piece of hardware for a building project, I go there first.  If, after spending an inordinate amount of time meticulously sorting through that chaos, I don’t find what I need, I say “Oh hell,” and go buy what I need at Home Depot.

Recycled Hinges
Finally, it was time to go to Florida.  The project was done, except for the fact that I hadn’t even started building the second door.  Sooooo……I filled the second door opening with a couple of old gates, introduced the chickens to their new space, and flew south!

Some of the Coop 2 Chickens Look Over Their New Outdoor Space
Snowball the Silkie Roo and Marissa the Cream Legbar Hen Get Cozy in Their New Space
I officially crossed the hen pen project off the list two weeks ago when I finally got around to building the second door.  Like I said, sometimes it takes a while to reach the point where I get to draw that big dark line.  But it’s always satisfying!  Right now, I’m building a small coop in the pole barn for the babies, so I can move them out of the woodshed.  I’m almost done!  Honestly!  I’ve got to get the babies moved so I can start filling the woodshed with the winter wood supply!  Next on the list:  Lowering the 10-foot coop ceiling to eight feet.  A new tighter, lower ceiling will keep the coop a whole lot warmer in the winter.  That project will happen!  Will it happen before winter?  Don’t place bets!

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