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Rookie Homesteader: Getting Chickens Part 2

Rookie Homesteader: Getting Chickens Part 2

This is “We’re finally getting chickens! Part 2”.

Why the series name change? Because I realized that I do have plenty of other “Learn with me” stories to tell. This summer it is chickens. And for the third summer in a row, we’re making simple mistakes ("happy little accidents," right Bob Ross?) with our gardening. As it becomes apparent that major life and family challenges are going to keep us here behind enemy lines (Washington State) for quite a while, I have to acknowledge that God doesn’t always move to our desired timing.

But I digress. Let’s talk about how I moved forward on several property projects, including the chickens, and we’ll start with what I call “the tractor pucker factor.”

I borrowed a big John Deere 540 from a good friend. I’ve operated forklifts and aerial work platforms for a good many years, so I wasn’t too worried about operating it. Until I started driving on hills.

I live on two-and-a-half acres that have forty feet of elevation change from one end to the other. This area is very hilly and very rocky, originally part of the foothills of the Olympic Mountains before the Hood Canal was formed. The goals for the use of the tractor were several:

  • Clear and grade where the chickens will go (A decent sized spot with good sun and shade and no need to fell trees)
  • Dig the post holes for the free range area
  • Dig post holes for two driveway gates
  • Drag a tree off the vacant neighboring property to the south that was affecting our house's parking area
  • Grade the driveway
  • Clear and grade an area of heavy brush and stumps to widen our back yard
  • And dig post holes to finish that back yard fence

I accomplished all of those. A bonus goal would be to drag deadfall trees to one area for bucking. But I don’t use firewood, so it wasn’t imperative. But the real story was that after one hour of use, I was texting my buddy, trying to throw money at the problem. I felt like I was going to roll this thing when topography forced me to drive sideways on the slope. I couldn't have driven an 8-penny nail up my tightened sphincter with a sledge hammer a couple of times. But my friend was starting to have some medical issues to work through. I was on my own.

Of course there is a learning curve. That’s to be expected. But when I was failing to clear the brush very well… And then I discovered something angering that the prior property owner did… (and then I clamped said-mentioned sphincter shut driving on a slope sideways a couple of times)… I hit the panic button. I hid behind a legit excuse: the longer all of this takes, the less I can work on the things I should be (my novel-in-progress, blog articles, the Amazon ads overhaul I’d just started, our garden, the actual chicken coop and run…)

The angering discovery was something we already knew, but the extent of the problem was a bit shocking. In three (so far) locations on this property, the prior owner had turned it into his personal landfill—including right where the chickens are to go. If he’s still alive, he’s pushing 90 years old. We’ve owned the place for over six years. There is zero value in going after this guy. A retired navy officer, I can call hime names (justifiably) and degrade his low-level of honor and responsibility until the chickens come to roost, but there’s no point. All that does is keep me angry, and I don’t like living in that mood.

One of the uncovered trash piles

As I dug, cleared, and graded the chickens’ future home, I discovered that that particular area wasn’t horrible. Mostly some rotting lumber, old hoses, remnants of trash bags, and seven tires. Whatever was in the trash bags has long degraded. And the seven tires will be repurposed into a chicken obstacle course. The other two areas are more prominent with larger refuse, like pieces of sheet metal, old discarded furniture, broken fiberglass corrugated panels, beer cans... you get the idea.

As the earth-moving phase turned into almost three weeks (still gotta go to work and what not), I made peace with it. God put me here, in part, to clean up this property. The brush slowly cleared and got dumped onto the pile next to where the fire-pit will be re-built (dismantled it to make maneuvering on the slopes less hazardous). What can burn will be burnt. Metal will be recycled. The rest will eventually be collected and thrown away.

Our strategy revolved around getting this tractor back to the owner, not just working the chicken area. I.e. We cleared, graded, and buried chainlink fence under the area where the coop and run will go. Then we worked posts on two of the triangular area’s sides. But we left one side un-posted because I needed the space for the tractor to turn when grabbing spare dirt off a large pile in the area. We worked all of those things listed above. I mention this mainly to explain why the chicken area is taking a while. And all of those items also serve to explain why this is evolving into an on-going homesteading series.

The chicken yard starts to take shape

We also employed our 6-year-old grandson to help us pick up dinosaur eggs, aka rocks. As in rocks galore. The rocks would often send that 12” auger bit shooting sideways. Every hole had to be dug out with the post hole digger and a heavy breaker-bar. Every. One. The tractor auger was still very useful for loosening stuff. But rarely did the giant pile of dirt just get pulled out, leaving a beautifully crafted hole. The soil is very sandy, and about twenty inches down is a concrete-like hardpan. But all of those rocks will find new purpose around the base of the various fences.

Rocks and post hole digger

The driveway gates we’d picked up for a good price from a friend early last year. And while they won’t stop a thief on foot, I’ve designed them to only swing out-and-away on purpose. And we were able to hit a three-foot depth on those hinge posts. A group of tweakers will need to destroy their vehicle trying to get onto the property for a large haul.

One of my new gates on the secluded driveway

The backyard fence has been posted to an acceptable area. I originally wanted to go close to the property corner. For now, we’ll leave it open near the fire pit. Now that posts are in, I can finish this later in the summer. When we finally get a dog (you know—if our cat okays it), it will be easy to connect the fence I started five years ago with the new section with just a small run and a couple of t-posts.

Creating a backyard behind the house

Thanks for checking out this phase of the journey. Here’s what’s in store for the next several installments of Rookie Homesteader. I'll be sprinkling these in amongst a couple of other series over the next four months.

  • The Coop/Run/Yard layout
  • The Coop Build
  • Predator and Snow Proofing
  • Water & Food Distribution
  • The Breeds we started with
  • Moving Day!
  • Our first eggs!
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