By Laura Blodgett, April 16, 2013
We had plans simmering for a new chicken coop and pen in front, but circumstances conspired against us. Everything from termites under the bathroom floor to a deer smashing the front end of a car nibbled at our schedule, until we found it was time for my construction engineer to have shoulder surgery as soon as he got back from a business trip to Italy. But the chicks didn’t stop growing and my building skills are still barely wobbling on the positive side of nil.
I am willing to do things myself, but my engineer doesn’t necessarily like to clean up after me. Or scrape me off the of the walls. Or listen to me sob in the middle of the night. So, he likes to talk things over with me before I try them. Thus, it was with our mutual best interest in mind that he quickly designed a temporary PVC hoop house chicken pen. Then, he taught me how I would make it.
The idea was helped along by the more elaborate set-up that my father recently built. There would be several very low budget and time effective substitutions. I struggled some with the limited aesthetic value of PVC pipe in my landscape, but as I was constructing it, I realized that 1) the neighbor already has a vinyl fence between the yards, and 2) the pen would double as a nice trellis. With the right choice of plants, it should be covered in green by mid-summer. This will provide nice shade for the chickens, too.
So, off to the barn I went for a lesson in how to cut and glue PVC pipe. Then, with a parting encouraging smile, my engineer left me by myself in the workshop. Here are the steps I followed (but I didn’t do all of one thing at a time because my strength would give out for a certain action and I would need to do something else for a while):
- 2 ten foot long 1 1/4 inch PVC pipes were each cut into 3 equal sections – I learned how to gently hold the saw in one place with my knuckle while very softly sawing to make a groove. Then, I could saw with more vigor.
- 4 ten inch long pieces were needed for holding the bent, overhead PVC pieces.
- The one, slightly larger end of each 20 foot long, 1 inch diameter PVC pipe was sawed off.
- The cut ends were slightly sanded so that they would be able to slide easily into the joint pieces.
- The gluing process involved applying a purple primer to the inside of one piece and the outside of another, quickly followed by putting PVC cement over the primer then the pieces were twisted as the one was inserted into the other, to help spread the glue (if it was a step where orientation of the pieces was important, they were lined up with the floor),and held there for about 30 seconds.
- Specifically, three ten foot 1 1/4 inch PVC pieces were glued back together with 2 T-joints in each, to make two sides of the hoop pen.
- Elbow connectors were glued to each end of each of these sides.
- A 10 inch piece of 1 1/4 inch PVC pipe was glued into each T-joint and each elbow end (using the flat cement shop floor as a guide to keep all the pieces pointing in the same direction).
After my engineer got done with his globally connected business conference call, he came out and asked, “Do you want to make some rebar hooks, now?” I said, “Sure, if it’s a good time for you.” I really didn’t know what he meant.
We scrounged in his piles for a good piece of rebar, which I was informed would need to be cut into six 18 inch pieces. Yikes! The chop saw! I remembered enough about how to use it from when we worked on the greenhouse grow lights, but I still didn’t like all the sparks. The rebar felt harder to cut than the hollow pipe, AND it threw more sparks. I fought to control the reflexive dancing of my feet. I cut a couple pieces, then my engineer offered to cut the rest so that I could move on to bending rebar.
He set me up at the now oddly familiar metal bending block, consisting of two large bolts screwed into a thick chunk of wood. Since the rebar would be harder to bend, he clamped the block to a work table. The end of the rebar was put in a narrow pipe, to give me leverage to push on. We worked on making one hook, then he let me try it. I had to put my whole weight into it, but I bent it! I even bent it in the correct places.
Soon, there were six hooks. We carried all the PVC pipe and hooks down to the future chicken pen area to evaluate final set up. The old chicken coop, made out of an old goat shelter jacked up on some nesting boxes, was already under the small hay barn. The hay barn posts were going to help me a lot as support for one end of the hoop pen. The other end would be stabilized with metal fence posts. We put one long piece of PVC pipe in and tested the hook design. So far so good.
The next day, I moved dirt, large rocks and old fencing to make room for my new PVC pipe hoop pen. After a while, one daughter showed up to help me bend the remaining 3 long pieces into place. We positioned the side pieces for a bend of the roof that I could stand in the middle of, and that the coop door would be able to open into it.
I am both inspired and concerned. I am glad I could do a lot of this stage of the work myself, but getting all the wire up and around sounds overwhelming. I might have to use a staple gun. But, I really shouldn’t worry, because I’m sure my engineer can get me through it.