Fancy New Chicken Run: Phase Alpha


Holy hell people! I’ve been crazy swamped with all sorts of emergencies and/or projects and/or emergency projects. All the while thinking about how little I’ve been posting to Mind Your Dirt. So lets just quickly go through my list of excuses so that we can move on to bigger and better things.

Excuse number one:

As you know from the last post I’ve been playing wet nurse to a dying stray kitten. She was suffering from renal failure most likely from being poisoned out there in the cruel and inhospitable world of man. You can follow all those updates and video and stuff by visiting her campaign page here. Long story short, she’s doing much better now and is acting like a normal kitten should. Or all cats for that matter. A total selfish dick.

On the subject of saving the life of no-tailed yard critters, I also saved this poor little tail challenged alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata). She fell into one of the post-holes I dug for this chicken run project and was trapped in there for who knows how long.

Her tail was most likely borrowed from her via one or more curious hens. Of which I’m sure they will return to her once they’ve completed whatever chicken scientific studies they are performing with it.

She was so grateful for her rescue (or extremely cold, dehydrated and scared shitless) that she allowed me to take a series of extremely close-up photos and videos. Here’s one that I love. It’s an alligator lizard staring contest. Ready? Go!

Aw, you lost too? So did I. She’s good. Damn good. In fact, I thought she was dead at first until I zoomed in on my camera and say her pupils dilating. Watch it again. It’s pretty trippy.

Excuse number two:

Apart from saving all the lives these last few weeks, I’ve also been engaged in a rather involved and lengthy sculpture conservation project I got as a side gig through the city of San Diego. I didn’t want to do it because of the scope and my desire to fart around in the garden instead, but they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is regarding how much information I should put out there publicly, but I’ll say that it’s a giant stacking sculpture riddled with ceramic and glass tiles that has seen better days. Tons of repairs, cleaning and consolidation are needed with this beast and it has taken up a great deal of my free time as of late. Here’s a few sneaky examples of the project…


 Get to the point:

Okay. So I’m glad that’s all over with. Now to the meat of this rambling. We’ve had a perfectly wet and rainy winter finally. Which I will never gripe about ever. But one side effect of all this rain has been the deterioration of my makeshift and hastily erected chicken run. When I designed the chicken coop, as seen here, I figured that I’d just let the hens peck and scratch wherever they wished. I immediately regretted that decision back in 2014 as the first thing they did was eat up my entire vegetable crops. In hind-sight, it was a real “well what the hell did you expect?” moment.

But at the time I had the innocent and lofty ideals that I have been since stripped of with a modicum of experience. As it usually is in life. So I scrambled for some free lumber donations and bought some rolls of chicken wire and began digging some quick post holes. Thin sticks of oak were available to me so we went with that hardwood and hoped for the best. And it did indeed hold for a few years. A few years of drought allowed the whole setup to remain unscathed. But with a wet winter, my folly became evident when the oak began to snap from below ground rot and moral degradation. My flippy-floppy gate suffered the most it seemed and every time I’d enter the run, the gate would immediately slap me in the ass or donkey-punch me in the taint. Sorry. Super crass mood today.

To thine self, go fucketh gate to hell!

I decided I had had enough and it was time to upgrade the entire system. But supplies aren’t cheap and I wanted solid and cemented posts for this run similar to a proper fence. I also knew of the looming art conservation project and I would soon be losing my free-time. So I decided to break this sucker down into to phases. Phase Alpha which includes the main gate, Piper’s luxury suite and the first half of the run. Phase Omega would be the remaining back nine of the run.

Here’s the problem. It’s very difficult for me to leave a project half-finished. And it’s caused my OCD to flair up non-stop since Phase Alpha’s completion. Regardless, my options were slim and my tasks fat.

I began designing the project in SketchUp as I already had the chicken coop rendered and ready to add on new elements. Here’s the results of my first designs…

The first step was the ground itself in front of the gate. It was never level so any gate with a more solid construction would either have to be built at a slant or forever have some serious gaps on one side. So I decided to regrade the surface of the earth. Just in one spot though.

And like the [nerd alert] dwarves of Moria, I also dug too deep and unleashed a monster from the shadows. The mainline from my micro irrigation system!

it’s okay, I’ll just slap a rock in its face.

Oops! A skillfully placed stone will help to keep any flying dirt particles from entering the 1/2″ tubing. I hope.

Moving on and ignoring my blunders (which I’m super good at doing), I began digging my post holes.

A much more stable solution than the previous one, these cemented posts will help hold everything together for years and years. And as is my way, I thought it best to get slightly less lumber than I needed to do the job. My truck friend having already left had left me with only one recourse. To hand carry the lumber home for a half mile.

Back to work! I wanted to complete everything in one day because that’s all the time I could invest. So with only a few Negra Modelo breaks and many hours of toil and fun with carpentry I hunkered down to finish the task.

The hens were not pleased being stuck in their coop for the whole day. All of this work you see above was intensified with their constant protesting in the form of loud squawking which would be translated as follows:

“hey! what the fuck man!!” and “this is bullshit!!” and “hurry the hell up you stupid lumbering hairless ape of a jackass!”. Piper was a bit nicer about it she just kept saying, “oh look, it’s trying to think”.

 Like I said, the gate was the most important thing for me to fix as it is the most used part of the run. I also wanted to bolster it from its own weight buy adding a guy wire. The wire actually functions as an automatic gate closer as well as the tension of the opened gate forces it to shut behind me if I have my hands full of chickenry.

I kept the top of the reused chicken wire without any framing so as to not give the hens a nice escape perch. Not that this would stop young Hen Solo as she is a genius and a master escape artist.

I then began adding completely pointless architectural elements just for the style points. I had a beautiful African mahogany carved design that I made years ago for The San Diego Museum of Art and an exhibition for Indian paintings. I’ve been holding onto it for so long that the glued sections began detaching and what once was one piece has become many. I should’ve used biscuits to hold the joints together way back then. But I didn’t, so now I had some lovely little sections of this once majestic piece of woodworking. So I began to add these chunks to the gate. I also added some fancy solar lights to the tops of the posts.

Here’s the final product  of this half-finished chicken run…

So far it’s been working out perfectly. No more taint punches! The entire structure can double as a jungle gym as well due to the strength of those cemented posts. I can also add some bird netting on the top now if I so choose to do. I’ve mentioned before how I don’t get a lot of predators in my neck of the woods, so my security against attacks is nil. A lesson I may have to learn the hard way at some point, but I’ve never lost a single bird (knock on wood) so I’m not sweating it for now.

I’d love to hear or see some of your designs as well so please share! And if you’re thinking about taking the plunge into raising chickens, here’s a good place to start…

Oh, I also added a few more hand-me-down flagstones around my waterfall and stream. This slope was always getting bare of pea gravel due to heavy traffic, so I decided that some well-placed flagstone would help slow down that process for a cleaner look.

Once again, it’s always so amazing to me that not five years ago, this entire backyard was a vacant and barren wasteland of nutrientless dirt. Every year it gets more and more transformed into an oasis and every year more and more birds and critters come by for respite from the dry desert-like wastelands.



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6 Replies to “Fancy New Chicken Run: Phase Alpha”

    1. Once I get into your head, there’s no getting me out. I should’ve added a video of the mad maniacal laughter during the srapping process of that evil gate. Taintgate 2017.

  1. Great job James, it looks lovely!

    I’m hoping to create a run with a forage garden for the Cluckers to do their thing in this year. The run I have is a bit small for them and I might have had a slight cannibalism problem a few weeks ago which might have ended with chicken for dinner due to over crowding.

    Now the snow is finally gone I can get busy digging fence posts and building a gate that won’t stick in the wet!

    1. Oh my! Cannibal hens huh? Frightening.

      I can’t do it now, but I’ve been wanting to have a double alternating run surrounding the coop. To alternate between veggies and chicken run. With a compost bin in between and below the coop. One day perhaps.

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