“It’s like déjà vu all over again” may be the best-known Yogi Berra line, but my favorite is still his comment on a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”
Anyway, the farm work over the weekend was largely like déjà vu all over again because we were constructing the second chicken yard, otherwise known as Flock A in Chareva’s grand design:
I’ll start with the end: we’re almost done with the chicken yard, but had to stop for what the Pentagon would call an operational pause because of rain.
The young chickens will live in the yard in the foreground, and the older chickens will be moved to the the yard in the background. (The really old chickens will be moved to a stew pot.)
The first job we had to tackle on the second chicken yard was stretching the fencing across the posts. With our hilly, uneven terrain, it’s difficult to pull the fence into a nice, straight line. I tried using a come-along, as a reader or two suggested. It would be the perfect tool if we were stretching the fencing between heavy posts sunk into the ground. But these are mere t-posts and, as I feared, the come-along starting pulling the-posts out of the ground long before the fence was straight. So we accepted the bends and wobbles in the fence.
Well, almost. There was one spot where the top of the fenced bowed in more than I could ignore. Purely an aesthetic issue, you understand. The chickens will be just as safe either way. But after trying and failing to convince myself the bowed-in fence didn’t bother me, I finally pounded in an extra t-post to straighten it … a little.
Now, of course, the sight of that extra t-post bugs me. But I can live with it.
We are able to secure the fencing to the posts much quicker than last time. That’s because this time we had the good sense to buy aluminum fence-ties. Last time we used steel ties. Those are fine for fencing with large gaps, because you can wrap the tie around the wires using pliers and a screwdriver.
But with this fencing, the gaps are only 1″ x 2″. Good luck sticking a pair of pliers or a screwdriver through those. With the steel ties, we ended up pushing them through the gaps with our fingers, yanking them with pliers, rotating them around the wire with a small bolt, grabbing them again with pliers, lather, rinse, repeat, four times for each post … oh, and try not to become unreasonably grumpy with the innocent person on the other side of fence.
The aluminum ties were a breeze. Chareva would clamp one end, bend the tie around the post and pass it through to me, then I’d wrap it around the wire with my gloved fingers.
This chicken yard, like the other, will open into a chicken moat that runs alongside the gardens. The gate is for closing off the moat at night.
Thanks to the dog kennel we re-purposed, this chicken yard will also feature a human-sized entryway. Since the yard and thus the net slope downhill from here, we also had to build another cattle-panel arch to elevate the net well above the door.
I pounded in two rows of t-posts to set the outer edge of the new hoop house, and then we bent cattle-panels (Chareva’s new favorite construction material) inside the posts to form the hoops.
I’m pretty much just the hired labor for hoop houses. Chareva’s the architect and engineer. She’s getting pretty good at building these things. As you can see in the picture below, the four cattle-panels all start out having different opinions of where to meet.
So after they’re lined up, she clamps them together with something called hog rings. (Don’t ask; I don’t know.)
We had a bit of excitement on Saturday. As we were working on the hoop-house, the dogs started barking like crazy. Chareva speaks a bit of canine and understood they were yelling at the hogs. (Their exact words, according to Chareva, were “Hey, hogs! Hey! Hey, stop that! HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY!!”)
She ran off to investigate, then yelled back to me. (Her exact words were “Hey, Tom! Hey! HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY!! GRAB A T-POST AND GET OVER HERE, NOW!)
Turns out the female hog was trying to push her way under the fence at the back of the hog-house — and doing quite a good job of it. Her head was outside the fence and she was sniffing freedom.
Chareva scared the hog away from the fence, then I pounded a t-post deep into the ground. We connected the fence to the post, which was enough to convince the hog there would be no great escape. (That’s the male in the picture below. The female was off sulking.)
When we covered the first new chicken yard with a 50′ x 50′ net, we used up our existing net-lifting poles, so I had to make three more. Before the weekend work got started, we picked up three cheap buckets, three galvanized steel pipes and a sack of Quikrete at Home Depot. I used the front stairs and some Velcro strips to hold the pipes in the center of the buckets.
After adding water to the Quikrete, I hired a cement-mixer who was willing to work for less than union scale if she could make a hand-print in the cement.
I still have to bury the buckets in the ground to keep the poles from tipping over. I was just about to start that job when the rain showed up.
Sounds like a busy weekend, eh? Heh-heh … heck, that’s just part of it. Last year, this chunk of our land was still a jungle with chest-high weeds. I knocked down the weeds with the brush mower I call The Beast, then we spread grass seed. It’s nice to have grass everywhere, except for one annoying feature: the stuff keeps growing.
So in addition to helping with the construction, I got to mow all this …
and this …
and this …
and this …
and some other parts I didn’t shoot. That took five hours. Thank goodness the new chicken yards took part of the side hill out of the equation, or it could have taken five hours and twenty minutes.
I’m not complaining, mind you. I never liked mowing lawns before, but this doesn’t feel like mowing a lawn. It feels like maintaining my land. It’s not a chore; it’s a chance to go out and get Dog-Tired Satisfied.
Weather permitting, we hope to wrap up Chareva’s spring project in the next 12 days or so, and with good reason. I didn’t want to announce this until the schedule was set, but now it is: Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans will be coming to the Fat Head farm at the end of this month to film an episode. Some of you fans Down Under had mentioned in comments that I should meet this guy some day. Perhaps you put that thought into the universe, because he ended up emailing me to ask about doing an interview.
He at first suggested flying me to New York for the interview. I said sure, but mentioned that since making Fat Head, we’ve moved to a small farm with chickens, two hogs, gardens, etc. He wrote back to say in that case, he’d rather come to the farm for a cooking episode plus the interview.
So the farm should probably look nice when he gets here.