Building the Chicken Run

The chicken coop was finished but it was by no means ready for the chickens to move into. Before that could happen i would need to erect the kennel around the coop, add a roof, dig a trench around the kennel, cut wire fencing to fit the trench, and fasten it to the bottom of the kennel, then bury it. Having gotten the chicken coop built the day before i sensed a light at the end of the tunnel. The green house was built. The chicken coop was erected. The last big project i had to do in the middle of my symptoms and my hourly regiment of herbal medications was to get the kennel up. Once it was finished i could sit down in the house and breathe for a minute, without the crushing weight of all these do or die projects on my chest. Things would be done for a bit.

So, i woke up early and tied on my bandana. I went to the shed and got out all the panels. I wasn’t doing things methodically that day. I had panels scattered all over the yard and i nearly flipped them many times while trying to carry them against my shoulder because i didn’t have the weight balanced right and was moving too quickly. Gone was my usual calm demeanor and carefully calculated plan. Truthfully, it was fear that was behind my behavior. I could taste it in the back of my throat but hadn’t stopped to name it until that moment. This whole time i had somehow neglected to realize that i was incredibly fearful that i couldn’t get this done. I had been fearful that i wouldn’t recover, fearful that there would be lasting damage to my heart or lungs, and fearful that i would not be able to run the homestead myself anymore. I was immensely fearful that i would falter and not be able to do these 3 giant projects i had in the docket because if i couldn’t, it spoke to my ability to run things in the future. In my mind the mortgage police showed up and slapped the handcuffs on me, brandishing some kind of loophole paper that indicated the property would be transferred back over to the bank since i clearly wasn’t up to running it anymore.

Now, with the finish line looming so close ahead of me, i wanted it. I wanted that feeling of having finished this chapter more than anything i’d ever wanted before. I thought about how good it would feel to know that i had done it and all 3 projects were finished; done. So, instead of calmly going about my last project of the three, i ran about the yard feverishly measuring things, reading instructions, gathering pieces, and shoving tools in my apron pockets.

Right off the bat there was a problem. I wasn’t sure how to hold the fence panels in order to secure them in an upright position. I knew my best bet was starting with a corner. Once fastened together the panels would then hold themselves up and i could go about attaching each new panel to the already existing cluster. However, getting those first two panels together without a second person to help would be a challenge. I had a very heavy ladder which i used to prop one of the kennel panels against. However, i didn’t have anything tall and heavy to prop the second panel against. The two panels had to be fastened together with additional pieces of metal and nuts and bolts, so i couldn’t be holding a panel up while also fastening the pieces; i needed both hands to work on the nut, bolt, and two curved metal pieces around the bars. So, i decided to get creative. There was a sign zip tied to the front of one of the panel pieces. It had a picture of the finished product and the written dimensions of the kennel on it. I placed a wooden chair against a plant in front of my work area. Then i tipped it until it was wedged firmly underneath the laminated cardboard sign which was zip tied to the panel. This proved to be the wrong decision. Everything was going swimmingly and i had the bolt half way through the hole in the middle of the curved metal fastener when the zip tie tore through the cardboard sign all the way to the corner, freeing itself. The sign moved, freeing the chair, which fell to the ground. Then in slow motion the panel began to tip. Still holding the panel i had pulled away from the ladder to fasten to the other one, i reached out with my free hand, intending to recover the panel, to catch it or stop it from falling into the dog run fence that it was headed for. On a good day i would have had the strength to do so. On a good day i could have used my biceps and abdominal muscles to strain and pull the panel back into an upright position. But, this was not a good day. I was stupidly operating as if i had the strength in my body to do anything to keep that panel from going where it was already headed with building momentum. The slow motion effect vanished and i watched as the panel yanked itself free of my grasp, the metal tearing through my shoulder on its way down. It hit the dog run fence with a crash and landed with a thud on the ground. I examined the dog run fence quickly. It seemed to have taken the blow well and remained standing and intact. Then i turned to look at my shoulder. The blood was already running down my arm and staining my shirt. I ripped the shirt off in an attempt to save it and for a while was walking around the yard in nothing but pants. I was looking for the gauze pads. I cleared out everything under the sink in the kitchen and the bathroom. I moved everything from under the bed. There were no gauze pads present. I wondered where i had put them. I went to the extension shed. I threw everything on the floor, looking in this bin and that, toy box after toy box….none of them held the gauze pads. At this point i was angry and covered in blood. I wanted to put the flap of skin back where it should be and i wanted to hurry up and get back to my project. I had a very real problem to solve and i couldn’t get it done until i had some kind of bandage and a shirt on. I ripped open one of the toy boxes full of clothes. I grabbed a tank top and laid it on the porch. I held it down with the elbow of my bleeding arm and cut it with my knife. Once i had a rather rectangular piece of the garment i used my teeth and my free hand to tie it around my bleeding shoulder. The edge of the panel had gone across my chest, to my arm pit, and down the side of my shoulder as it flipped top to bottom. I tightened my tank top bandage, double knotted it, and threw the lids to the toy boxes together in a heap on the shed floor. I locked the shed and went back over to my project. As best as i could tell, i was going to have to hold the panels up while also fastening the metal pieces around them. I couldn’t use my hands to hold the panels so i would have to use my body. I would have to use my hip, my torso, and my elbow to hold each panel upright while using my fingers to fasten the pieces of metal around the bars of the panels, locking them together. If i failed to hold them upright, they would either fall inwards, crushing the chicken coop that i had just painstakingly built, or outwards, flipping up and grazing the chicken coop with the bottom of the panel and probably the dog run fence again. I wiped the thought from my mind and hoisted the first panel up, leaning it against the ladder. I hoisted the second panel up, resting it against my hip. I reached for the panel against the ladder while still holding the other one against my hip. I felt the weight of the panel i was holding shift as the metal lifted from my hip and i released the panel i was grasping for, knocking it back against the ladder, just in time to grab the panel and mash it down against my hip before it flipped into the chicken coop. I sighed, arms numb and legs shaking. My body was tired. The panels were heavy. Really heavy. I didn’t see a logical way that i could do this. There wasn’t one. So i stopped thinking and just decided to do. I began balancing the first panel against my body while reaching for the second only to find that i was losing control of the first and abort. I did this 6 or 7 times, until i was getting tired. I was getting tired but with each new attempt i was getting angry, until i was furious and gunning for a fight with the panel that had maimed me. When i felt the weight of the panel shift as it lifted its bottom off the ground to flip i shouted, “Oh no you don’t you little ******. You ****** ****** you stay right the **** there! Don’t you ******* move!” As it tried to shift and lean away from me i threw all my weight into pulling it back while still holding the other panel upright. I was shouting profanities at it and using every muscle in my body. I was channeling rage into energy somehow, and i pulled the panels both upright to a point where gravity was doing the work for me for a split second. I could feel that the weight from each of the two panels was not against me. They were perfectly upright. As long as there were no slight breezes everything would be fine. I jammed my hand into my apron pocket and swiftly produced the little rounded pieces of metal. I carefully held them against the panel bars. With shaking fingers i threaded the bolt through the hole. I began fastening the nut on the other side. By the time i felt the weight of one of the panels shift the fastener was on. The weight shift pushed the metal against the nut and…the nut held. The panels were upright at a 90 degree angle from each other. I stepped back from the panels and threw my hands up, “Woooooooooo! It’s on there. It’s ****ing on there ****** ******! We did it!!” I ran into the dog run and grabbed up Sili’s paws. She danced with me as i jumped around in the grass. Cashew wanted to join in the excitement too. She jumped and flipped in the air as i danced holding onto her sister’s paws. I let go of Sili and ran about until i couldn’t breathe and collapsed on the ground. The dogs came over to me and sat in the mulch nearby as i struggled to catch my breath. I could reach out and touch both of their warm fur. I was in the ants but i didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything in that moment except the sight i was looking at from where i lay; Two upright kennel panels standing in the yard. What a sight.

Once i got the first two kennel panels fastened together the rest was just a matter of lifting and carrying each panel to where it needed to be to connect it to the others. One by one i fastened each panel into place until i had the chicken coop completely surrounded. At this point i believed i was almost done. I had forgotten about the trench i had to dig and i figured putting the roof together would be a little like assembling tinker toys. I figured i’d just snap the pieces into place and lift it up on top.

As soon as i had the roof piece assembled i knew i was in trouble. It was a lot heavier than i had anticipated. The frame of the roof was heavy enough that i could barely lift it to my waist. There was no physical way i was going to lift it above my head. I sighed. Somehow i had to get the roof piece up on top of the panels. I tried and tried and tried. I tried from the ladder. I tried from the ground. I tried holding it from the middle. I tried holding it from the edge and pushing the roof frame up the side of the panels until it made it on top. The problem i was running into was that the roof frame was the exact size of the top of the panels, so, if i didn’t have it lined up exactly right, one side of the roof frame fell in. I needed a surface that was larger than the roof frame to slide the roof frame up atop the kennel panels. I wracked my brain. I couldn’t think of anything i had in the house or the sheds that would be large and flat enough for the task and light enough to hoist in place above my head. Finally i remembered that the day bed i slept on had come with a trundle bed to slide beneath it. The metal trundle frame was still somewhere in the tool shed. I tore through the tool shed in an effort to find this bed frame i hadn’t thought of for over a year. Then, against the west wall, behind the scrap wood; there it was. I hoisted it against my hip and tried to carry it across the yard. It was heavy and i was tired and i eventually resorted to dragging it through the yard while i scooted backwards on my butt in the grass, determined to move this thing forward, to finish the project.

I filled my apron pockets with zip ties and climbed up onto the wooden chair. I hoisted the trundle bed frame against the panels and slid it up on top of the kennel frame. I stood on my tippy toes and zip tied the trundle bed frame to the top of the kennel. Then i climbed down and had a look. I was pretty sure i was on the right track to something here. I was pretty sure it was doable now. With the trundle bed secured in place i was pretty sure i could slide the roof frame right up on top of it without it going through. So i did.

The trundle bed frame and the zip ties held as i hoisted the roof frame up the front of the kennel and tipped it until it was sliding onto the bed frame and all the way into place. There was still the issue of the trundle frame where the trundle frame couldn’t be. I had to get it out somehow, but how? How could i disturb the trundle bed frame without having the roof fall into the kennel? It became clear to me as i hurried about the yard, filling my apron pockets with metal pieces, nuts, bolts, scissors, and a wrench. It would have to be done one fastener at a time. I placed the fasteners on at the back of the kennel, securing the roof frame to the panels beneath it. Then as i put a fastener in place towards the middle of the kennel frame i cut a zip tie off of the trundle frame towards the middle of the kennel frame. As i kept adding fasteners, inching towards the front of the kennel, i kept cutting zip ties, inching towards the front of the kennel. Finally, the back and middle fasteners were on, but the front were not. There was a trundle bed frame in the way. I stood on the chair and slid the trundle bed frame out from the side of the kennel. Once it was out i hurried to put the remaining fasteners on. The fasteners at the back and middle of the roof held until i could get the front fasteners on. Finally, the roof was exactly where it was supposed to be and completely fastened in place.

Now there was another problem. With the roof frame in place i could see exactly how close it was to a major branch of the cedar tree i used to hold the laundry line. The kennel was placed where it was because there was a plant in front of it whose roots wouldn’t allow me to move it forwards. The chicken coop was already built where it was. The panels were already erected. The thing weighed a ton now. There was no moving it. The tree branch would have to come off.

It was a bad idea. I was in no condition to cut any part of a tree. Sawing off tree limbs took stamina, precision, safety…none of which i had on my person that day, and i knew it. I was going to do it anyway. It was not a good time to need a hospital either. Hospitals were only taking covid patients and recommended everything else be treated at home. Even at work the doctors were shipping us supplies for procedures that would normally be performed in hospital and expecting the rehab facility nurses to figure it out. To their credit, they did. It was a strange time for the country, and again, not a good time to do something that might land you in the hospital. But here i go. I went to the shed and got my saw. I pulled the chair up to the branch. I made my plan.

The plan was to cut the branch from top to bottom until it seemed like it was ready to go, then push it sideways so it would land next to the chicken pen rather than on it. It was a good plan for someone who was up to using a saw. I wasn’t. I soon found that out. Half way through the tree limb my arms were like jelly. My energy was spent. My eyelids were drooping and i was out of breath. I could feel the branch squeezing against the saw blade. It was pinching it between the branch and the tree. That meant two things. One, the branch had shifted from where it was and was now unstable. Two, i had done something wrong, as the branch was not supposed to be falling in towards the tree. With each passing second, each new gust of wind, the branch was trapping the saw blade tighter and tighter between the two pieces of branch. It was probably partly due to my weakened state but eventually, i couldn’t move the saw blade. The tree branch had shifted all it was gonna shift before it would break. It was now or never. I had to make my decision on what i was going to do to try to control the next phase. I abandoned the saw blade, still stuck in the tree branch. I thanked the lord for steel toed boots. Then i used all of my might to lift the tree branch up for a second, until it cleared the frame of the chicken pen roof, then threw it hard to the left with all the strength i could muster. I heard the wood crack and the tree branch split free from the main piece, falling so close to the left of the chicken pen that it grazed the panels on the way down. It landed with a flop. I breathed a sigh of relief and went to retrieve my saw. That was not how i had envisioned doing things but, i didn’t have the stamina to pull the blade back and forth quick enough to get the job done in a timely manner and i let the branch hang too long where gravity started taking over and the tree branch decided things for me. It was a mess. The important thing was that the branch was down, nobody needed the hospital, and no structures were broken in the process.

As i dragged the tree branch through the yard to the brush pile i realized, it was longer than the car. it was also quite a bit heavier than i had imagined.

With the branch gone and all that out of the way i set about putting the canvas roof on. I stood up on the chair and threw the canvas atop the frame, pulling at each side one at a time as i traveled around, dragging my chair behind me. When i had each corner of the canvas roof where it was supposed to be i began fastening the velcro straps and the buckle straps around the bars to tie the canvas down.

I was so close to being done but not quite yet. I still had to dig a trench. It had been raining and the ground was muddy. Because of this it wasn’t as hard a dig as it could have been. I used my pickaxe to dig a six inch trench, going down until i hit limestone, and i dug all the way around the kennel. As the day stretched on and my time was running out i pressed forward. I hadn’t eaten, had a drink, or gone to the bathroom since i woke up. I was a woman possessed. My eyes were bloodshot. My skin was burned. The ripped up shirt had dried to my skin in the old blood and it was somehow glued to me and pulled when i moved. It was difficult to wield the pickaxe and i was out of breath early on in the digging. I began the process standing, swinging the thing with precision and making a straight line with my trench. By the time i got from the side, around the back of the kennel, i was squatting, holding the pickaxe midway down the handle, and hitting the ground with these mini swings, which was all i could muster. I was in a continuous state of breathlessness, i was covered in sweat, drool hung from my lips, and my trench was now jagged and sloppy. When i missed with the pickaxe i scraped my knuckles on the edges of the fence panels and the metal wires i had threaded through the bars to attach to buried fencing later. Soon my knuckles were bloody and raw. My palms were blistered and beads of moisture formed where i had torn the blisters off to keep going. The moisture made the handle of the pickaxe slippery, which made me even less precise. I crawled in the dirt on my knees, screaming about finishing, finishing, finishing the trench. Finishing the chicken pen. Finishing the projects. Finish, finish, finish!!! I rummaged around in the dirt with that pickaxe, limping to the finish line. Once the trench was dug i had to cut the wire fencing into 6 inch tall pieces, fit it down in the trench, and fasten it to the bottom of each panel in several places with metal wire and pliers. When i was done my hands looked like they’d had a cheese grater taken to them but there was a six inch trench dug all the way around the chicken pen, clear down to the limestone sheet beneath the soil and there was metal fencing in it, fastened to the bottom of each panel, all the way around. I laughed as i suddenly realized the meaning of the saying “blood, sweat, and tears”. All three were in the dirt surrounding this project.

Unfortunately, i literally didn’t have it in me to stand up after digging that trench. I left the pickaxe hidden in the grass next to the house and crawled to the dog run where i let the dogs out and crawled behind them up the porch steps. i left the ladder, the wheelbarrow, and the trundle bed frame in the yard. I called it a night. I made it up the stairs and onto the floor of the house. There i lay while the dogs sniffed and licked me, wondering when dinner would be in their bowls. It wouldn’t be until the following weekend when i would fill the wheelbarrow with mulch and bring it to the chicken pen, that i would finish the project. I shoveled the mulch all around the chicken pen to conceal the buried fencing. Once i was done shoveling the mulch in place i covered the floor of the chicken coop and the nesting boxes with cedar shavings. I was finally done. The greenhouse was done. The chicken coop was done. Now the chicken pen was done. All 3 big projects were finished and i had finished them smack dab in the middle of my 7 weeks of illness. I no longer worried whether i could run the homestead while physically compromised…the answer was yes.

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