Shop class

We find ourselves in the odd situation of being short on brooder space. Now, if you’d told me three years ago that I’d wake up one morning and realize that our two – two! – chick brooders were insufficient to get the job done for our spring poultry plans, I would have said, “What the hell’s a brooder?”

A brooder, as you all probably know, is just a box that you put chicks in. You put a heat lamp above it so the little things stay nice and warm while their feathers grow. They stay there for some four to eight weeks, depending on the chicks, and the climate.

We have a small brooder made from a plastic storage box, designed for use inside when the chicks need the temperature to be north of 90 degrees. We have a larger brooder made from a packing crate and chicken wire, designed for use in the shed or garage, for the next stage, when the chicks don’t have to be quite so warm.

This year, that won’t be enough. We have ducklings coming this week, chicks coming the first week in June, and turkey poults coming the week after that. It’s going to be poultry central around here.

The chicks and the turkeys will both need solid-walled brooders at the same time, which means we need another one. When I pointed this out to Kevin, he said, “Why don’t you build it?”

Why don’t I build it? Because Kevin is Vice President of Building Things. He’s the one who’s good with tools and materials. Structure design and construction is his magisterium. I show up to remind him to wear safety glasses, and to hold things in place while he hammers, saws, and nails.

Kevin must be preparing to resign his Vice Presidency, and thought a brooder would be a perfect introductory project to prepare me to take it over. Either that, or he’s just tired of doing all the work while I sit around and write about how hard “we’re” working.

Okay, then! A brooder it is.

Kevin gave me hint on dimensions. We’re making a solid box with an open top, and if we make the floor 4’x2’ and the walls 2’ high, we’ll need exactly 32 square feet of … whatever. Maybe paneling, maybe light plywood – depends on what’s cheapest at Home Depot. Hey, I get it!  All those cheap things come in 4’x8’ sheets, which are, of course, exactly 32 square feet!  If part of being good at building is being good at math, maybe there’s hope for me.

From there on, I was in charge. I figured out how much framing lumber we needed (more math!), picked is out (2×3), and chose the siding (the flimsiest grade of plywood).  I measured (twice) and cut (once) with a chop saw and a circular saw.  I assembled with a hammer and nail guns, including the big hairy Porter Cable framing gun that scares the bejeezus out of me.  Kevin held things in place as I hammered, sawed, and nailed.  He didn’t have to remind me to wear safety glasses.

Do you remember, back when you were in pre-school, making those potholders with the fabric loops that go on the little plastic loom? A teacher, or camp counselor, or babysitter gave you all the materials and showed you how to do it, and you spent a morning going over and under, over and under. When you were done (if you were me), you had a lumpy, misshapen potholder that nevertheless elicited compliments and praise. Nobody told you it was something any six-year-old could do.

That was the dynamic around here as I surveyed my finished brooder. The box was sturdy, the corners were square, there were no nails sticking out. I felt a little swell of pride at the sheer adequacy of it. Kevin didn’t point out that, as long as an adult was there to help with the Porter Cable framing gun, any six-year-old could have done it.

Funny thing, though.  I find myself looking around for some other simple project.  A planter?  A bat box?  Stilts? 

Still, I won’t be accepting Kevin’s resignation any time soon.

10 people are having a conversation about “Shop class

  1. I can’t speak for your potholder, but that is a positively square and sturdy-looking brooder coop, fit for purpose. Bravo!

  2. No really- good for you! Having put something together does make you want to take on something else.

    Do you need a duck house?

  3. For the next project, what about what I am contemplating – a chicken tractor, or at least a mini-fowl house with attached mini-run. I have been drooling since someone mentioned positioning one over a section of the garden – and let the chickens devour the blasted weeds, in preparation for working the soil.

    I have been trying to garden in old-growth prairie sod with a bit of bermuda thrown in. Some of last year’s space needs to be reclaimed (both Big Bluestem and Coastal Bermuda sod), and I would like to expand the space, sod-clearing activity permitting. So far my most frequent ‘hoe’ tool has been a sharpened pick axe, next up is a ‘heavy duty hoe’ that looks like the welded-on hoe blade fell off the handle. Well, and the gloves, for pulling bermuda root-strands and shaking the dirt out of prairie grass sod.

    I have five chicks in my brooder now. The adult hen and rooster in the chicken house pick over my pulled root balls and debris pretty well, but the two of them just aren’t keeping up.

  4. I am still scared to set foot in the garage with Hubby why he uses power tools. The last thing i made with wood was in a shop class & it was a bridge that broke lol. Maybe someday I will get over my fears. The brooder box looks great!

  5. Damn Tamar! Good for you. My husband just recently offered to build my coop when we move (we finally got a house!), as long as I don’t let them “tear up the grass.” Strangely, I like the idea of (mostly) doing it myself. What about a potting stand for outside of your hoop-house?

  6. Congrats on completing your project, Tamar. Making stuff can become a little addictive. It’s why I find it worthwhile to raid dumpsters on construction sites. Just having material sitting around is a spur to some projects.

    For what it’s worth, I had an uphill struggle to learn basic construction skills. My husband is an engineer. For others married to engineers, I know no further explanation is required. For the rest of you, I had to fight for the ability to finish just about any project. He’d literally hijack the construction and do it “the right way,” or just insist on getting it done faster than my rudimentary skills would allow. It didn’t make for much skill development on my part. I’ve oh so slowly trained him to back off my projects unless invited to help or give input, or unless I’m about to do something very dangerous. Now I do many things without measuring or math, and using the wrong fasteners. And I’ve learned to ask for advice with extreme caution. But my projects get done with few to no injuries, and little expense, and they serve their intended purpose.

    • Oh but when those engineers are finished with their project (and it seems to take a looooooong time for engineers to finish) that project is PERFECT. And Uber-sturdy! At least that is how my engineer-husband’s projects are.

      Tamar, I love love love your blog. Keep it comin’!

  7. Margaret Fisher says:

    Very neat, serviceable brooder, Tamar. Good for you! Yesterday was THE DAY my brother John and I built the hoop house/greenhouse to fit over my raised garden bed. John drove 12 miles in to town, and I walked 150′ across the road, to the garden. The sum total of my day? I learned the difference between level and plumb (level = horizontal, plumb = vertical) a fine distinction it has taken me 75 years to absorb. Oh yes, my other big job was providing a bag of cut-up apples during, and paying for lunch at the local mexican restaurant after. Here are my issues: poor balance; weak hands; cannot pound a nail worth a damn; scared of the skil saw, giant stapler, and on occasion the power drill. Not always this way – old age really does suck.
    And of course John built the hoop house – it is great!

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