Winter And Warping Wood
I built my coop on my own, and while it’s not perfect, if viewed from a distance it looks pretty nice. If you get too close, you may be able to notice some areas where things may not line up exactly as they’re supposed to. It was never about perfection, so that doesn’t bother me. I needed a place to keep my chickens safe, and I needed to not spend what a store-bought coop for 6 chickens would cost. When I got my chickens, I chose to get six, because I had no idea what to expect. I feared they were fragile little things, and could possibly die if I looked at them sideways. Three seemed like too few, in case one or two did die. Having one chicken is a no-go, since they like company. Six seemed to leave me wiggle room for a couple dying, but then still having enough left over to make for a friendly social gathering. Of course, they were more rugged than I expected, and the cutoff for coop sizes seemed to be 5 chickens. To buy one big enough for 6 birds, prices doubled, and prices weren’t that cheap to begin with. So, for about what a small coop would have cost me, I was able to build both a coop and an enclosed run, using mostly reclaimed wood from various sources (including some bathroom stalls that had been in our house – it’s a long story). The hardware cloth to keep out varmints was the biggest expense, and there was no skimping on that. The rest was improvised.
The original door into the run was a canvas stretcher I had pulled out of the trash at work. Working for the Art Department at a college has its perks. It was a pretty good sized rectangle of wood, and I figured it was probably more perfect in shape than anything I was going to be able to make myself. I reinforced the corners, added some hardware cloth and hinges, and affixed it to my creation. It was fine for the time being. I could get in and out to open the coop door and bring in food and water. However, I also had to squat down really low to enter. I knew it was going to be a temporary thing, but the length of that temporary period got shorter each time I had to do the Groucho walk to get inside.
Eventually I went out and bought some 1 x 6s, and cobbled them together into a door with whatever other scraps of wood I had handy, or could pilfer from the wood shop’s free scrap wood pile. (At some point, I started to grab anything that looked like it might be useful down the line, and became a bit of a wood hoarder in the process.) Now I had a door I could walk through like a normal person, and my chicken duties got easier. Or they at least involved less awkward bending and waddling.
However, each winter I run into the same problem. At a certain point, the door will just not shut flush. It happens to various degrees, which in turn gives me various degrees of worry. I had always assumed it had to do with the cold temperatures making the wood warp. Last winter, I just needed to add a zip tie to one of the latches so I could get the door hooked shut without having to risk breaking anything (though I did end up ripping some screws out of the bottom of the door from pushing too hard to shut it – Hulk smash!). This winter, since it has not stopped snowing, I’ve realized the issue is that snow gets in the space between the bottom of the door and the run, and in doing so creates an icy barrier to closure that only a thaw (or maybe a heat gun) will overcome. This time around there is a good-sized gap between the door and the frame, even with the door latched. I’ve been stuffing whatever sticks I can find in there to plug the holes, figuring that an animal would have to touch the electric fence to get these out, and so wouldn’t get very far in their break-in attempt. This is really a flimsy fix even by my own slack workmanship standards. It doesn’t help that one gap has 3 sticks that I have to wedge in there in a specific order to make them stay. Luckily, my wood shop hoarding days have paid off. I found some pieces of wood that are a good thickness to cover the existing gaps, and leave extra room for if the gaps get larger, and I had already even painted them for some other abandoned and forgotten project. We currently have 4 feet of snow on the ground (and of course, more on the way, because winter is now an endurance sport) so running an extension cord out there to drill pilot holes may not happen, but I’ll find a way to get this done, and soon. This whole coop project has been about making things work, even if in an inelegant way. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this really just validates my hoarding, so I’ll have to make an extra effort to avoid the scrap wood box for a little while. I’m miles from campus right now, but I can hear its siren song already, telling me I never know what problem I’ll have next, so I’d better have weird pieces of wood at the ready. Can you hear it too? Shh. Listen.