Sunday, June 12, 2011

lessons & plans

One of the habits I took with me to the practice of law from the practice of music is that of viewing every "performance" as an opportunity for reflection and improvement. In the practice of law, those performances come in the form of arguments made (persuasive or not so), bargaining positions taken (goals achieved or not), cross-examinations conducted (admissions obtained or not). In the wake of each is moment in which I consider what worked and what I will try never to do again.

At our house, the past few days have been one long pause for reflection on what went wrong and led to the loss of our chicks. It's absolutely clear to me that but for our neighbors' irresponsibility our sweet girls would be flapping about their yard today and climbing aboard the laptop as I write to see what could possibly be so intriguing there. But it is also absolutely clear that there were many things we could have done to prevent disaster. I've been working to catalog the contributing factors this week not because I enjoy beating myself up for my part in what will go down in family history as one of the worst events of our lives. But rather because if we are to raise chickens I must know what not to do the next time around.

The past few days have given us the opportunity to answer that question as well: do we really want to raise chickens? And the answer, it appears, is a conditional one. When we embarked on the project the first time, it was from a position of total naivete (fatal naivete, as it turned out). We had no idea what it would be like, what they would be like. I had never even had a pet parakeet, let alone a flock of hens. But if you've been following this blog you know that our girls charmed us from the first moment and it's clear we all feel strongly that a flock of hens is something we truly want in our lives.


Tuesday night left us all heartbroken and feeling extraordinarily vulnerable. Hank and I, at least, have suffered enough heartbreak and disappointment to know that it comes with the territory of living. We've learned that often, despite your very best efforts to head it off at the pass, tragedy comes right up your street and knocks insistently on your door. We've developed certain coping skills that get us through the days that follow such a knock. Poor Max, bless his heart, is not as practiced. And truth be told, even for those of us with a substantial amount of life under our belts, this was a particularly horrible knock.

So the other thing that has come clear, in addition to how much we all want to try again, is that we can only try again if we have satisfied ourselves that we've taken every conceivable measure to keep our next chicks safe from all imaginable harm. We also know that this time, we cannot rely only on our own imaginations to predict potential harms but must tap the collective wisdom of all those flock-tenders who have gone before us. We know there is no guarantee we will not again suffer a horrendous loss. The only way to ensure that would be to never try again. But that is an unacceptable outcome. So we will do our homework and do everything we can, this time forewarned, to prevent a second disaster.

Having arrived at that conclusion, I undertook a round of hardcore research into best practices in coop and run design. And of course my heart broke all over again when I realized just how tragically silly we'd been and how many resources there are for anyone who wants to learn the proper way to house and protect a flock of laying hens. By opting for a pre-built (and, as it turns out, completely insufficient) coop I bypassed those resources the first time around.

Not this time. This time, we're starting from scratch. Because we will all be away for a number of days in early July, we've decided to wait until the middle of next month to get new chicks. That will mean we will wait longer for eggs, possibly until days start to lengthen after the solstice, but the chicks should be sufficiently feathered by the time cold weather arrives and may (with good insulation in the coop, windows and light to extend day length) reward us with eggs as soon as Christmas. With a month's lead time, we can build a deluxe coop and run employing best practices and providing the new girls with a degree of bio-security we can all live with.

So here is the plan:
There is at least one architect who reads this and I hope he's enjoying a good laugh. I've used this style of drawing to close in a carport, renovate a kitchen, build two differently designed loft beds and the patio table on which these plans rest. They're not pretty, but I can read them and they let me problem solve and create a fairly accurate list of materials.

And here, loaded into the trusty Subaru, is the first round of building materials:
I only had to stop once on the way home when the boards shifted and I couldn't get the windshield wipers to turn off!

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