Hey ho, before I get started, I want to say I got a 1944 "silver" nickel as change the other day at K-Mart. That hasn't happened to me in a good five or six years, maybe seventeen. (The US minted nickels with a silver alloy between 1942-1945 because nickel was cited as a material critical to the war effort. Nickel, the metal, not the coin, was used in copious amounts to produce nickel-steel armor plating for tanks, aircraft, warships, and artillery pieces to mention a few uses. Same thing with pennies, which went from copper to zinc-coated steel during the same time period.)
That little silver nickel is worth about a buck and a half today in just metal content. Numismatically speaking, you could at least add another nickel onto that! Hopefully you've all been saving your pre-1982 pennies too, which are now actually worth over two cents (each) just in copper content. Here's a great site for more information about those coins you have (or have not) been saving: www.coinflation.com. (Scroll down for an up-the-minute metal value of circulated coins.)
My wife and I have been in this area since 1979, a lovely locale in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California. We raised a couple kids here, raised a lot of hell too. That right there's another story, maybe another time. We divorced. Remarried other people. Divorced them. Remarried each other. That right there's another story too! It's much more romantic than I'm making it sound here, but I am trying to get to Chicken Fantasia Land.
After the kids went off to college, we went on a four year walkabout, taking us to the Central California coast for three and up to Portland, Oregon for a year. We sold our house here in 2005 when our journey began and everywhere we've lived since we've rented. When we finally returned "home" we were able to pick up this property on a short sale.
One of the reasons this property really appealed to me (at least) was it's homestead potential. I don't think this country or the universe in general is out of this economic mess yet. I think we still have to trod barefoot through the Black Forest, with a blindfold on, for longer than anyone would like, until the planet blows up probably, before it gets any better. I wanted the potential, at the very least, to provide my family with as much self sufficiency as possible, or as much as a rapidly aging old poop fart can muster as life moseys on.
Any short sale house these days is going to need some TLC, some more than others. This house was not in terrible condition, and it has good "bones", but it needed an immediate face lift and appliance upgrade, which will be the subject of another post.
Built on a hillside in the late 1970's, it sits right about in the middle of two and a half acres with about half an acre of level land immediately about the structure. The land slopes up and down from there at a very heart-healthy angle. As a matter of fact, a simple hundred and fifty yard jaunt down to the road to fetch the mail (and back up) once a day will afford you enough cardio for at least a week. Well, you know, if you went swimming every day too and maybe road your bike to work a couple times and went to the gym and stuff. But seriously, the drive's Lombard Street steep, the tourist part. About as long too.
The house also affords sensational privacy from every angle. There is thick manzanita on the high and both sides, with many scattered pine and oak trees. Except for the place a half mile across the shallow valley you cannot see another structure from this vista. Either floor. There's a point to this, but I forget.
Wait a minute! I remember. You can pee anywhere you want around here and no one's gonna see! Or care. Our grandson took advantage of this on his last visit. Living down in the East Bay Area, he doesn't have many opportunities to urinate al fresco. He turns six July 30th and completely comprehends the enormous benefit of peeing out side. You can certainly miss a toilet, but you can't miss the outdoors!
During the manic interior refurbishing push (before we moved in), I was also taking into consideration many aspects of landscaping and homesteading. The previous owner had done some good improvements over the years, like he'd been watching This Old House and actually paid attention. For a day. Then he'd done others that made you wonder if he was under the influence of some mind altering substance that made him think like Cousin Eddie on a Blue Ribbon bender.
And then there was the apathetic drizzle of despair in the air that envelopes many of these short sale properties. Once loved, there's now disarray. People fight with their lender a while, then give up, let go, suck it up, and move on, leaving behind a pile of unfulfilled dreams.
And besides being upside down on his loan, the previous owner was also undergoing a divorce. As I mentioned, it wasn't in terrible condition, but it did look like Fred Sanford had taken up residence inside the house and Iggy Pop, with all his innate handyman, landscaping design and gardening skills taking care of the outside. You can tell, he's got sprinkler solenoid plastic shrub valve transformer adapter kit written all over him. Well, maybe the last part. Almost. He almost looks like one of the This Old House Crew's second cousin. From somewhere other than where they're from. For sure.
Oh yeah, and figure Iggy was probably on heroin most of the time. And really motivated. To drool that is. And stare at his feet. And Fred had been, uh, well, um, drinking. And probably farting. A lot. He eats cabbage you know. But a serious prospective purchaser must look beyond these lurking phantoms, odd odors and excessive sweating to comprehend the good bones concealed within.
OK, so homeboy had this old chicken shack sitting upwind about ten feet from the front lawn, and about twenty-five feet from the front porch and house. WTF? The front porch downwind from the warm wonderful aroma of soggy or baked chicken manure? Iggy and he must have concocted that idea together one fiesta fueled afternoon, eating Cheez Doodles (made on Doodle Mountain by the way), Chasing the Dragon and swilling magnums of Old English 800.
It was too small for what I envisioned as far as chickens were concerned, but it was well made, with steel supports and chicken wire all around. Good bones.
I splashed a little paint on the former waaay too small little hen house (to the faaar left there, see what I mean?) and tossed some green house plastic about the frame. This has now served as an interim green house for over a year, keeping patio plants frost-free in winter and harboring a variety of other plants throughout the year. Considering my current agenda and schedule, a permanent green house is a few years down the road. Good thing this thing is sound, it's been through a few of good storms so far and managed fine. Giddy-up.
That one was quick and easy. My next undertaking, Chicken Fantasia, would take me over a year before completing. Do not confuse my Chicken Fantasia with apparently a thousand different food recipes using the delightfully tasteful, descriptively happy and bouncy word "fantasia". Apparently this noun can be used any old way one likes when creating or describing a chicken recipe. For instance...
Iggy Pop could spray some Cheez Whiz on a chicken leg and wallah, Chicken Fantasia.
Keith Richards could sprinkle a little cocaine on a chicken breast simmering in a pot of Jack Daniels, Chicken Fantasia. Nick Nolte could spray paint some Krylon on a chicken thigh and eat it raw, Chicken Fantasia. Cousin Eddie could bar-be-que a squirrel, Chicken Fantasia. See what I mean?
So about forty feet downwind from the house and back deck, homeboy had built a goat pen. He hadn't maintained any goats or the pen for a number of years before we hit the scene, but the perimeter fencing (and posts) and the structure itself had good bones. There's that dang word again. I mean, the goat house had a foot thick concrete foundation. How can you not put that to use? This was definitely influenced by the This Old House crew, well, sorta.
The existing roof was without overhang on the sides and back and leaking along the roof edges. The two by four (and six) pieces of board that made up the sides were dilapidated and haphazardly skewed. The ob-la-di wasn't anything like the da and the helter was definitely skelter. It looked like Joe Walsh had joined Iggy, Homey and Fred for a weekend of homestead debauchery.
After drinking a case of cheap whiskey and snorting a barn-yard water tub full of cocaine, homeboy said (at about three in the morning-I have a transcript), "I got an idea! Let's be carpenters!"
As I mentioned, the perimeter posts and fencing were in good condition, but both the gates were battered and bruised and barely hanging on their hinges. They both went a round or two with one really large and pissed off goat. Or, and this could have really happened, a couple of professional gypsies came up to party and they brought a couple of elephants. They (the elephants) tromped through the gates to free the goats which were going to be eaten for lunch. I also think there was a monkey involved. Disney has an option. Or, they fell apart due to lack of maintenance and obsolescence. Or the elephant thing. Either way.
The overall Fantasia land project loomed large, so I gave myself a year to complete due to all the other diddily do's that will be the subject of many plots and posts to come. By the way, thanks for coming along so far. It's probably gonna get a lot weirder and a little bit crazier before it really gets insane.
My first step was to weather-proof the structure, and I began by enlarging and putting on a new roof. Pretty simple really. The existing roof was flat, had a proper slope and the rafters were sound. I tore off the existing rolled roofing, then tacked on three sheets of half inch plywood spread out over the existing sub-roof, which was still in decent enough condition to allow extra support. The front, which is where I aligned my plywood, already overhung the structure by about eighteen inches. My new addition now allowed for a six inch overhang on the rear and both sides, something it did not have before and which any structure needs to keep rain from penetrating the top of the side. In general.
With the sub-roof up, I rolled on some new comp, tacked, flashed and sealed the edges. I then cut to fit and tossed on about six sheets of basic exterior siding and trimmed all that out. I then caulked the seams, tossed on a dress and put on some heels, splashed on some paint and went out on the town. Wait a minute. Forget the heels and dress thing. Where the heck was I going with that?
Lay Around the Shanty...
For my purposes, I divided the interior in half by tacking up about one sheet of plywood. A couple slices and a few dices here and there. Extra stuff. Support. Things. You know, modifying an existing something into a future anything always presents an interesting array of variances and nuisances.
For instance, suppose you wanted a new TV. You'd have to drive to the store to buy one and then there'd be a stupid person. Doing something stupid. There. On the way there. On the way back. On the side trip to the cookie store. There's always a stupid person doing something stupid. Everywhere. So you're gonna to run into one. It's gonna happen, and it's gonna be a nuisance, unless, of course...
You happen to be listening to the Beatles Strawberry Fields on the way to the store and then somehow you happen upon this flock of finely festooned flamingos, cracker jack crested and bedazzling bright breasted. Un-prepossessed and way overdressed. All wearing top hats. And sport coats. And canes. Candy canes. Sugar pops. And, uh, crimson and indigo and pink things were all around. Lots of pink things. And indigo things. And pink things. Everywhere. And more brightly colored stuff.
And then the suburban landscape sprawl fades into a panoramic vista of unparallelled beauty and delight. With rolling green hillsides and lovely lavender lilies, Peter Max follies and warm woolen mittens. And then you see this White Rabbit with a watch running along like he's in a hurry...
At this stage every thing is going to be a variance until the flashback subsides.
So anyway, after a lot of those, (the variance and the nuisance thing, not the flashback thing) the side to the right is now used for chicken food and sundry storage. Its a good hall closet size type affair, so far safe and secure from any invading rodents. The left half is now the Rooster and his harem's imperial chalet.
They have an upper loft with three nesting boxes, and now two nesting boxes on the floor. The girls generally like a "safe" place to lay, and I originally only made the upper. But once they started laying, I believe there was an "access" issue for some of them since I was finding a few eggs on the ground. In the cage, but on the ground. I subsequently made the lower boxes and I am now getting about half the production in the upper boxes and half in the lower.
There are a couple "ladders" to get hither and yon, and a couple manzanita perches. They love their perches! The concrete floor is covered with rice hay, which is a little bit less "harsh" than typical straw hay. Straw hay? I'm getting confused. Has anybody got a hat? A riverboat?
There are now two built-to-fit "man" doors to each side, (a lot more variance and nuisance) and there is also a little fifteen by fifteen inch opening at ground level on the hen house side. The large door has remained open on that side since early May, but I suspect it will be closing sometime this fall when it gets colder. Right now they all perch inside the cage at night, which is essentially an exterior extension of their enclosed environment that should be safe. I say should be, but you never know.
I have taken precautions. I sank a few posts, built a sturdy frame, added green corrugated plastic roofing, sank wire about a foot deep in concrete around the perimeter, placed gun turrets at the corners and tacked it up so that the largest opening would not allow a small piece of toast through. Or a minnow. Or a cheeze doodle. Or a midget in a rain coat. We get some strange varmints out here!
I also believe our accidental rooster to be an incredible security inclusion for those hens. He routinely demonstrates protective behavior around them, and then there was that turkey vulture experience. (Previous Post Update) I would now put him up against a medium to large dog or coyote and I think he could do some serious damage. The problem with those dang coyotes though is that they pack up, and while he could do some initial damage he'd eventually be overwhelmed.
We did have some yippie coyote chorus the other night, and although it sounded some distance away the motion sensor light I have on the back of the hen house looked like the encore of a Kiss concert at the high note was going on. My hearing could have been off. They could have been closer. It was twenty-two time.
The second story master bedroom has a small balcony with a great view of Chicken Fantasia Land, which is about sixty feet away. I keep a loaded .22 rifle in the closet, and there is also a light switch in the master that hits dual flood lights on every side of the house, definitely a This Old House addition! I flipped the switch for a view and the yips ceased immediately. And Kiss didn't come back for a second encore either. No shots were fired and the perimeter was not breached. I know, what a let down, huh?
Inside the cage I have placed a large, ten gallon waterer on an oak stump left from our first land clearing effort. Their food bucket hangs on a cable attached to the roof. It's always good to have their food and water elevated above ground level. They have a tendency to get dirt and poop tossed in there to the extent it becomes a mucky mess and entirely inedible. Just imagine, you're really hungry, you're at an elegant restaurant and have been salaciously anticipating the incredibly delicious cuisine that has just arrived before you and then one of my chickens hops on your table and poops on your plate. Imagine.
They're a self-regulating bunch, that harem, when the sun gets behind the mountain range they head for the roost. But they still need to be locked in and protected at night because once darkness falls their metabolism slows down dramatically. They can enter a near comatose state while sleeping and can remain that way even when awakened briefly in the middle of the night. Like by a crowing rooster. For no reason at all. At four the other morning. If we didn't love him so I'd a thrown a shoe. One of my wife's of course. Light weight. With a point. Bright color so I can find it right away.
It would be like popping a couple of Ambien every night, with chamomile tea of course. Or with Johnnie Walker Red, depending on your point of view. Or it'd be like how Ozzy Osborne would react after drinking a pint of cough syrup (with codeine) and listening to a lecture about how sub-atomic space particles relate to the mating rituals of chimpanzees. Or something like that.
So, because of the cough syrup, chickens can't really defend themselves at all if some varmint like a fox, weasel or Alice Cooper showed up drunk and wanted their heads.
And they love their perches. I had to add two more because just about all of 'em were using the lower perch exclusively to get to the higher one. There wasn't enough room for more than about six of them on that particular roost so they were bickering and squawking and playing queen of the perch, pushing each other off and acting like a bunch of old squabbling hens.
The addition of two more perches has eliminated that activity, plus a few girls are actually roosting on the top of the open "man" door. At least for now. Until it gets cold and the door is closed for the night Which reminds me, I need to add another perch in the hen house before winter.
All the perches are manzanita, retained from some of the clearing I've been doing. Which reminds me, if anyone needs some manzanita I've got a zoo load. Two to twenty feet, one to four inch diameter. Tree-like. Lots of it. Monkeys could play on some of my manzanita. I could call it my monkey manzanita.
Anyway, because it is manzanita I've been able to be a little creative, utilizing the natural bow of the wood for more liner footage in the space I have available. Once cut to fit, I'll place the piece in place and figure out the angle of attachment. Then I'll drill a 5/32 hole through the manzanita at each spot where a screw will pass through, with two or three holes at each end. I'll then shoot a three inch screw through the hole and into the supporting two by four of the structure. At the proper elevation of course. It's been very effective so far, all the perches have received sincere poultry abuse and are still fit and sound.
Between the hen house and the cage, they have a total of around eighty-five square feet of living space, which does not include the second story nesting boxes, library, lounge and recreation center. An adult chicken needs a minimum of four square feet of living space not to go insane, you know, like having to live in the hall closet. On acid. For two weeks.
Our flock of eleven have about the twice the minimum space necessary to not go insane (if kept confined to that space), but they also generally get let out into the open yard every morning, you know, to eat bugs and lift weights. But only if the warden's not away for the weekend.
I added some of the plastic gutter that had been torn off the house when we had Leafguard rain gutters put on and painted the entire shebang Old Vine, a wonderful blender with the panorama color. I also splashed the existing perimeter fence as well as the newly built gates with some color. Those were completed when the chicks were brooding in the garage.
Once Fantasia was complete, and as the darling little demons were brooding in the garage, I next began the subject of ingress and egress. There is a right angled retaining wall in the back right off the rear deck. This was originally used as support or something for an above ground pool, back in the hey day when homeboy was still rocking with the crew. I can just imagine Cousin Eddie in a red speedo, or Eddie Van Halen even. Why the hell not?
So they're both lounging on air mattresses, taking up the entire water surface of the pool, and sipping Mai Tais out of turquoise Melmac coffee cups. Or were those cowboy boots? I forget. So anyway, they all conspired with Iggy, who was yiggy with some Jager (as well as pain pills) on the next phase of the incredible landscape design they were slowly becoming more unaware of even as they imagined it.
I have a plan for this entire mess, the retaining wall that is, and some of the other gobbily gook around it. In another post of course. and another time. And speaking of posts, I am working with this wall because it has, well, good bones. However, walking all the way around to get to Fantasia wasn't going to cut it.
My son and I had cut some stairs in the hard rocky clay about mid-cliff, and while used, they are right now for the stalwart only. Or the US women's beach volley ball team. Randy Newman would take issue. So would Alice after she took the small pill.
I digressed. I needed easy ingress and egress. Jeez. Somebody stop me.
Since there was already a narrow cleft between the cliff and wall I decided to attack there. These stairs will be getting dealt with sometime later this winter to spring. I hope. There's a plan here too, with a manzanita rail. It'll be fun. I'll see. It's like digging in concrete. With reinforced rebar. And rocks. The size of Montana.
I wanted to make sure the existing treated wood was still good, so I hand dug down to the bottom of the wall while also widening the path to three feet. I moved a lot of dirt by hand. Hurt my back. Lightly tore my right Achilles tendon. Lost a few weeks there. Put that into the time equation thing. Whatever that is.
Once at ground level, and with the help of a dear friend, (who also helped enormously during the manic refurbish push) we ran electrical up to the hen house. I figured I had already trenched half the way, through the hard stuff no less. Trenching the extra twenty-five feet from there was a breeze. There was a box already at the retaining wall, so we only had to run it a total of about fifty feet.
Once that was done, I dropped down a yard of drain rock, tossed down about half the dirt I took out so that there was a nicely sloping avenue running along the rear of the wall with a step up at the end. This was covered with some crushed granite, a wonderful trail cover. I used the extra dirt to fill in an area nearby that was a little shallow. Win win.
I have also added shade cloth on the west side of the cage. I noticed (long before it got screamingly hot) that the cage area did not have any shade from about two o'clock in the afternoon on, the hottest part of the day. There's shade behind the cage and in other locations of the yard, but there will be times they are confined to the cage throughout the day. Like when we're gone.
Their entire yard is pretty much in the shade all morning, with filtered sunlight flitting in here and there. But the afternoon can get Sahara like hot in some spots, so I have also tied up a ten by ten foot tarp to four posts to give them a little more shade. Now that he has a Bedouin tent of sorts, Goldie can pretend he's Lawrence of Arabia. If he wants to and stuff.
I have also added another layer (or two) of protection around the compound. You may have noticed a small, pack of cigarette sized red and black diggity-do attached to the shade cloth.
This little contraption is a Nite Guard, ($19.95) which is a weather resistant, solar powered little gizmo that emits a red strobe light upon night fall. Goes all night, like the bunny. Or Hugh Hefner. With a bunny. And Viagra. OK, this supposedly activates the fear mechanism in predators, and they steal away. Or sneak away. Whatever. They leave.
I have one on both sides of the cage. I also have several more scattered about the property, with the vain hope they would help keep the deer away. Although they may have helped a bit (Nite Guard does have a caveat with deer), we are still plagued by those flea ridden parasites. I am, however, very happy with Nite Guard so far as a security deterrent at the palace.
As I previously mentioned, I have also added a motion activated light at the rear of the structure, just to give any lurkers a little surprise. And as I mentioned, something was activating it the other night. Hopefully whatever it was felt like they were on the cover of "Band on the Run". Hopefully.
We also harvested about sixty head of garlic back in June. A few different varieties, now hanging (and drying) in another old goat shanty, way up on the eastern forty. And I say this because the garlic was grown in a fenced off, secure area within the official perimeters of Chicken Fantasia Land. Homeboy had a weird array of fencing going on when we got here, which will be covered in a future post.
But it must have been sorta like he and the boys, back in the day, all put on mining helmets with colored lights at four am, after drinking four or five gallons of ghetto wine, and tequila, probably, and commenced to tromp about the bush singing Queen songs and placing T-Posts and fencing willy-nilly across the land. Zippity-doo-dah. Where's my shovel?
Since being "confined" to their five hundred square foot imperial garden, our flock seems quite happy and content. We're getting six to eight eggs a day now, and there is a nice harmony within the community. Apparently Goldie has his way with any of them where ever and when ever he wants. They don't seem to mind. Usually. Cock-a-doodle-do.