The pace of work on the coop has slowed this week as we've turned our attention to site preparation. One of my priorities is to site the coop where it will gain some passive solar heat and sunlight in the winter. I've designed it with two large windows--one each on the southern and eastern exposure--in order to maximize the winter daylength. Daylength is tied to egg-laying, so this is an important point. I will still likely have to burn a light for a couple hours before sunrise and after sunset on the shortest days, but these two cast-off and recycled windows (saved from our window replacement a couple years ago) will help immensely.
It's a little tricky finding a spot in the yard that is out of the winter shadow of our house and the surrounding structures. It turns out that the old chicken yard is probably the best spot from a sun exposure standpoint. Sunny in the winter and shady (thank you, giant oaks) in the summer. It also has the advantage of being fenced separately--not sufficiently to keep predators out, obviously, but still enough to give another layer of screening between our dog and the chickens' run. And, for human comfort, it is not far from the house and the entirety of the path between the back door and the coop is covered in pavers--no wading through mud to get to the eggs. These are all details whose import I have gleaned in my coop research over the past weeks.
But the chicken yard's major drawback is that, like most of our yard, it is decidedly not level. A couple nights ago, we planted ourselves on the spot with a bunch of pavers, a six foot board, and a level. We laid out the pavers in a square the size of the coop, digging in one corner, adding soil to most of the rest. It's hard work and Hank managed to completely ruin his back only a quarter of the way in. I, of course, persevered. This is what it looked like by the end of the evening:
It was dark enough that I had to use the flash by the time I finished. Maddy, as if to demonstrate the very threat we're protecting against, or in an effort to be helpful, or just showing off her superior skills, dug her own hole while we worked:
This is why we'll give the whole thing an apron of hardware cloth. The foundation ended up pretty amazingly close to level but I was concerned about soil subsidence in the areas where we had built it up. So tonight we were back at it, moving several wheelbarrows full of heavy clay from the way-low up to the chicken yard, reinforcing and leveling out the area around the foundation. I'm almost very happy with it now. It was lucky Hank was back in commission because he, of course, is the only one who knows where all the (mostly rodent) bodies are buried and which parts of the yard are safe to dig up.
Tomorrow will be the true test of our earth moving. Tomorrow is the last day I have Hank and Max to help out before they take off for three weeks at Interlochen. The plan is to raise the coop in the morning, moving the four panels we've framed in the garage into position and fastening them together on the foundation we've prepared. Keep your fingers crossed. I'm hoping to get the roof on tomorrow as well, while there is still someone around to notice if I fall off the ladder!