too many words by laura lemay

How to Convert an Old Shed to a Chicken Coop in 45,732 Easy Steps (Part One)

About a year ago we went down the hill one afternoon to visit with our neighbor Greg. While we were there, Greg pointed out the improvements he had made to his house, taught us how to douse for water with two bits of coat hanger held in the hands, showed us the decrepit 5000-gallon redwood water tank he had been restoring, took us out in the woods to see the really awesome skeleton of a deer he had found, and noted offhandedly as we walked back that just the week before he had accidentally rolled his Jeep over the sharp edge of the trail and it had taken him a couple hours to get it hauled back up again.

We can never visit with Greg for less than half a day. Greg always has so many interesting stories to tell and so many things to show us, although a large portion of them scare the living daylights out of me. In past lives, I imagine Greg has been a pirate, a gunslinger, a flying ace, or a lion tamer. Greg operates at a very high RPM. Everything Greg says is emphatic. Greg is the number one living example of the power of positive thinking. “Did you get hurt rolling the Jeep?” I asked. “Oh no!” said Greg, cheerfully. “A little shook up, but it was fine! I just crawled out and went to get the winch!”

“Did the Jeep get badly damaged?”

“No more than any other time I’ve rolled it!”

Toward the end of the visit Greg pointed out a huge old shed he had down on the side of his driveway below the house. The shed was ugly and crammed full of boxes and paint cans and bits of metal. It smelled like kerosene. It looked like it was rotting away one side and not entirely water tight. The door was crooked and it didn’t shut all the way. “That shed has been here since I moved in!” Greg exclaimed as we passed by. “Someday I need to get rid of it! I could use the space!”

I looked back at the shed. Although the siding was rotting it was still standing upright. Behind all the junk, it looked like redwood. “You know,” I said. “If you could find a way to get the shed up to our house, I’d take it.”

“Really!” Greg exclaimed.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I need a bigger chicken coop.”

“Really!” Greg repeated. “That would be awesome! I’ll clean it out and see if I can get it up on a trailer!”

“Oh, no rush,” I said. “The chickens aren’t going anywhere.”

There’s kind of a a rule amongst chicken people that says once you get a couple of chickens you’re always going to want more chickens. If you’re not careful you end up collecting them, like seashells or interesting rocks or t-shirts with embarrassingly nerdy slogans on them (“Roses are red, violets are blue, all my base are belong to you“). I started five years ago with three chickens, which grew to five, and then suddenly like that I had ten hens that laid eight eggs a day and ate all the weeds in the vegetable garden (as well as many of the vegetables). By the time I found Greg’s shed I had built a second chicken pen in the barn, in which there were 45 fat and happy meat chickens I was raising to eat.

I had long ago crossed the line from just keeping chickens into being an actual chicken farmer. (It could be argued that I had not only crossed it, I had charged it with my vast army of undead warrior bears and scattered the enemy in terror before me.) But because I was insane, I really needed more space so that I could get more chickens. I figured it would take Greg a few months to get the shed together, which would give me time to get ready.

And then the very next morning I got a call from Neighbor Greg. “Hi!” said Greg. “I cleaned out the shed and put it on a trailer! I thought maybe I could bring it up to your place sometime this morning!”

Uhhhhh I thought. That was way faster than I expected. “Uhhh, well, you can bring the shed up,” I replied, “But I’m not really ready — ”

“OK! Open the gate and I’ll be there in an hour!”

I anxiously walked down the hill some time later and there was Greg, slowly climbing the driveway in his big truck and with the shed swaying way, way, up on top of a narrow trailer. Jesus, Greg’s Mexican friend who helps him out with odd jobs, was down on the ground on the windward side, holding onto the shed with a rope tied to the roof to keep it from tipping right off the trailer and crashing onto the ground. When they turned a corner the other way, Jesus ran over to the other side of the shed and picked up another rope.

Oh my God, I thought, backing away back up the hill, this is so totally not OSHA compliant.

The shed on top of the unstable trailer was ten feet off the ground, which was taller than a number of the low-hanging branches on my driveway, so progress up the road was slow and Greg had to climb on top of the roof shed to do some guerilla tree trimming. Sure! Climb up ten feet in the air on an unstable platform with a chainsaw in one hand! What could go wrong!

But Greg’s astonishing and apparently bottomless pool of good luck served him just fine, and no one lost a limb or was crushed into pulp on the shed’s trip up to my house, most of which I spent standing well off to one side peeking through my fingers and making worried squeaking noises. “So!” Greg proclaimed triumphantly. “Where do you want us to put it!”

“I’m not ready,” I insisted. “The road to the chicken yard isn’t clear, and I have to take down the fence to make a space large enough to get the shed into the yard. You’ll have to leave it here and come back.”

Greg was crestfallen, but he agreed to tuck the shed into a corner of the driveway, still on top of the trailer, and come back later when I was better prepared. With Jesus’s help, he tied the shed to a tree and braced it with random bits of wood he had in his truck. Braced and tied the shed looked stable, but if you were brave you could still put one hand out and rock it on the trailer tires. In a strong wind you could see it shivering in place, as if the holes in its decaying siding weren’t keeping it warm enough.

And there the shed would sit for more than nine months.

(Continued…in Part Two)