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The plans were drawn, the chicken permit application approved, and the materials gathered.  Time to build!

The first step was putting the posts in that would support the entire coop.  The reason I wanted a raised coop was because it would give the chickens shade during the day in the summer, a space to dust bathe and hang out, and in the winter, straw bales around the perimeter would provide an area to be outside yet protected from the wind.

(I would like to make a note here, before going any further, that Richard worked tirelessly to make this coop actually come together.  He built it while I was at work, and I helped out in the evenings and on weekends.  He’d send me pictures at work when he’d completed a wall or framed in a window, keeping me updated with the progress.  He worked countless hours to make my dream come true, and I’ve never felt more loved.)

We marked where the posts would go and then used boards to keep them upright.

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Uprights of a chicken coopThen we dug post holes, put the 4×4’s in the holes, and poured cement to anchor them.  We used great big bolts and nuts to connect the 2×6’s to the posts, and then framed in the floor.
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We attached plywood sheets to the bottom of the floor, then laid insulation, and attached plywood over the top. The floor, walls, and roof are all fully insulated this way.
IMG_20130903_192152Richard sawed off the posts to the correct height.
IMG_20130909_182745We framed the walls and windows, and built the trusses.IMG_20130911_185030 IMG_20130914_164924 IMG_20130914_174155 The end trusses had aluminum vents (from craigslist; $20 for both).
IMG_20130914_174213In this picture, you can see the 1/2″ hardware cloth attached along the undereaves. We lined the truss vents, the roof vent, undereaves, and the windows to allow lots of ventilation while keeping out predators and rodents.
IMG_20130915_183418The steel roof paneling went up next.
IMG_20130916_191645Windows and insulated walls…
IMG_20130918_172908 IMG_20130919_180312Wiring and outlets…
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Main access door and pop door…
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The nesting boxes were made with repurposed wood from a teak outdoor storage cabinet.
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Cleaning doors…
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… and then we were ready to host a potluck painting party!

We invited our friends to come help the last weekend before we were scheduled to pick up the chickens.  We had a beautiful sunny day, a nice breeze, and everyone brought their kidlets.

Chrystal and Greg helped paint the coop exterior and support posts.
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Russ and Heather tackled painting the interior walls and floor.
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Katie paints the roof, with supervisors Jess and Lo.
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Dennis puts the fence posts up.IMG_20130929_172856
Richard takes a break with little Eli.
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Eli plops down with some toys in the yard.IMG_20130929_153620
Greg samples dip from the potluck spread.IMG_20130929_145228
Eli’s dad Ron takes a break in the shade.IMG_20130929_145221
Richard cuts trim pieces for me to paint before they’re attached to the coop.
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The trim pieces are painted and drying in the sunshine before being attached to the coop.

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Russ takes a break from painting and enjoys a cookie.IMG_20130929_155808
The sliding pop door is rigged.
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Dennis pounds in another fence T-post.
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The fence stakes are ready for fencing.
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The interior is painted and drying.
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Richard attaches decorative trim pieces to the main door.
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The coop was finished. All that remained was hardware, fencing, and preparing for the chickens to move in.
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In the week that followed the painting party, we got the fencing up.
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Straw, feed, barn lime, heating lamps… and a roosting bar to put up yet!  So much to do before our ladies arrived!IMG_20131004_074123 IMG_20131005_115227 IMG_20131005_114955
And finally, we were ready. Next up will be the final post in this series of the evolution of our coop, when the chickens came home to roost!

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Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?  When I first heard that a chicken ordinance had been passed in our town, I immediately started planning a coop.  I took this pic at my desk one day in July, when I was knee-deep in graph paper and http://backyardchickens.com.  Thinking we’d be buying all of our materials, I was calculating costs of lumber, insulation, hardware, paint, and fencing.

Designing blueprints for a backyard chicken coop

By the time I was submitting my application for a permit, I’d drawn up what the finished coop would look like.  I’d also printed out a map of our neighborhood and marked the distance the coop would be from property lines of neighbors.
Chicken coop - north and south

While I was drawing up dreams, I started gathering materials from craigslist.  These windows were free from a couple who was remodeling.  I ended up only using the front two, but the others will be used for cold frames in a month or two.
Free windows for chicken coop from craigslist

Then, by a stroke of luck, a local business posted that they had a huuuuge shipping crate that was free to whoever would tear it apart.  I think it was 16′ x 8′ x 8′, and had contained a large piece of manufacturing equipment shipped from Germany.  It contained all the 4×4’s and plywood we’d need for the coop, which was a considerable savings considering that the walls, floor, and ceiling would all be insulated, requiring double the plywood of an uninsulated coop.  Richard spent two full days at the business with his chainsaw, a giant pry bar, tools and mallets and hammers, pounding that thing apart.  He came home with not one, but TWO loads, like the one below.
Repurposed shipping crate used for chicken coop

Then an irish dance company in Milwaukee posted that they were disassembling their entire dance floor because they were moving out of the space.  I got all of the 7″ thick insulation pieces, about 500 linear feet, for $40.  The steel roofing panels were used and posted in a different ad, and I got the entire roof for $65.
Used steel roof panels from craigslist for chicken coop

I wanted the back and side windows to let in as much light as possible without losing as much heat as even a double-paned window.  These glass blocks sell for $6 each at Home Depot.  I got 40 for $25 on craigslist.
Used glass blocks from craigslist for chicken coop

The run area attached to the coop is about 25′ x 30′, and we needed about 15 T-posts to attach the fencing to.  They’re $7 each at Home Depot.  I found these used for less than $1 each.  They’re rusty but perfectly sound.
Used t-posts for chicken run fencing from craigslist

Unfortunately, there’s really no such thing as used fencing on craigslist or anywhere else that I’ve found, so I ended up having to buy that from a farm store.  Same thing with deck screws and a couple of 14′ x 2″ lumber pieces for the frame, paint, and hardware.  All in, the coop cost around $650.  The kind of coop we built would go for upwards of $2500 if you were to commission a builder for it, so I’m ok with that cost.

The other part of the planning was picking which breeds I wanted.  Living in Wisconsin, these were my requirements:

  • Not breeds bred strictly for production, like Sex Links, White Leghorns, or Production Reds.  More like heritage breeds that lay less eggs, but lay eggs for longer.
  • Cold hardy
  • Heat hardy
  • Steady egg layers, from 3-6 eggs/week
  • Dual meat and egg birds
  • Bear confinement well (for nasty winter weather, when they won’t go outside)
  • Pretty birds
  • And last but not least, pretty eggs!

I decided on Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, Golden-laced Wyandottes, Easter Eggers, Salmon Faverolles, Plymouth Barred Rocks, and French Black Copper Marans.

We started building in August, and our application for a permit was approved on September 5th, 2013.  Next up, pictures of the coop going up!

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Whew!  I got all of these huge nails out of ONE of the 4×4’s. 
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I also got seven 1×6’s cleared of nails.  Hard work, but I’m going to love my chicken coop all the more for the work, sustainability, and thrift that went into it.
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Tomorrow night, I’ll take off the tarp and have at it again!

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Our friends Dennis and Ann’s roguish flock of seven Toms, who had been rounded up and coralled for processing.

As I contemplated the Coleman cooler sitting in my kitchen, I felt … intimidated.  It wasn’t the two turkeys I’d recently helped butcher, or the bloody gallon-sized Ziploc stuffed full of necks and giblets.  It was the 14 gray, disembodied, eerily reptilian turkey feet sitting on top.

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I was also giddy with excitement.  As most of you know, I’m deeply into the subject of nutrition and am always seeking to know what’s in my food down to the micronutrient level.  I love knowing where my food is from, who grew it, how it lived, and how it died.  While not “fun” (well, ok, it was so tremendously interesting that it tread awfully close to “fun”), participating in the slaughtering and butchering process of seven turkeys was immensely satisfying.  I knew these animals from when they were tiny fuzzballs, and had held and petted them.  They had been treated VERY well while they lived.  They were killed humanely, with as little fear as is possible to impose on an animal.  As they died, I sent up a prayer of gratitude for the lives that were taken in order to nourish my own.  I think these moments of gratitude are crucial to being an eater of animal flesh; they are what keep us human, connected both to the mortal life cycle and each other.  This connection is what’s missing for the overwhelming majority of the U.S., who have been systematically distanced from their food animals by companies interested only in selling us shiny packaging and sanitized, faceless, bloodless “meat”.  I, on the other hand, played a quiet little game in the gut pile of “guess what THIS body part is” with myself.  (For the record, esophaguses look and feel like long, rubbery, banded smoothie straws, and the wobbly purse-shaped thing at the end of it is NOT the “gobbler”, as I discovered later when I Googled it.  It’s a sphincter, and it serves to keep food and drink down once it’s swallowed.  So we have sphincters at both ends to keep the food in.  How about that for a Thursday Fun Fact?)

I have lots more to say on this subject, but I digress.  Back to those crazy feet.

If you’ve made it this far, you must either know why a person would be playing with turkey feet, or wondering why the hell anybody would be playing with turkey feet.  Nutrition, of course!

A summary of the benefits of bone broth:

Promotes healing: Bone broths have been used successfully in treating gastro-intestinal disorders, including hyper-acidity, colitis, Crohn’s disease, and infant diarrhea.

Digestive aid: Aids in the digestibility of grains, beans, legumes, vegetables and meats and is hydrophilic in nature

Macro minerals: Contains highly absorbable forms of the calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur and fluoride as well as trace minerals

Gelatin and Collagen: rich in both; promoting bone and joint healing in addition to supporting digestion, particularly broths made from the feet of chickens (and turkeys)

Protein: adds easily digestible protein to your diet

Amino acids: Glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and lysine are formed, which is important to detoxification and amino acid production in the body

Joint support: Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid are produced and present for additional muscle and joint support

Immune system: Promotes the assimilation of vitamins and minerals and thus supports the immune system

Delicious and nutritious: use as soup, cooking liquid, sauce or as a tea.

From Lance Roll, CEC, HLC1,  The Flavor Chef

And, according to Jenny, at Nourished Kitchen:  ”Chicken feet [and turkey feet] produce a fine golden broth that’s rich in all the obscure nutrients that make a good stock so nourishing: glucosamine chondroitin, collagen and trace minerals.   Moreover, a chicken stock is an excellent source of calcium.   Understandably, a stock made from chicken feet gels beautifully just as a good stock should.”

So there you have it.  Cheap (or in this case, free), bursting with easily absorbed nutrition, and freaky-deaky as HELL.  Who could resist, I ask you?  Not I!

With the feet of any fowl (and this may already have been done for you if you’re buying them packaged from the market), you need to get the leathery outer layer off.  It’s full of stuff that the birds step in all day.  Nobody wants THAT soup when it’s done, and who knows if you’d ever get the boiled bird-crap stench out of your curtains?

What you’ll need:

  • A large pot with salted water for boiling the feet
  • A large bowl filled with ice water
  • Tongs
  • A small sharp knife
  • A large sharp knife
  • Pliers
  • Cutting board
  • Receptacle for discarded skin n’ bits
  • Receptacle for cleaned fowl feet

Here’s how I set up my kitchen before I started.  (Ignore the scissors; one of the girls left them on the counter and I didn’t see them in time to get them out of the picture.)

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Directions:

Make sure your salted water is boiling hard.

Drop a bird foot into the boiling water and let it boil for just one minute, no more, no less.

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Pluck it out of the water with the tongs and immerse it fully into the ice water, and swish it around for about 10 seconds.

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Using the large knife, get any feathers or other undesirables cut off the leg end of the foot.

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Switch to the small knife and use it to slit the skin, which helps to get you started on peeling it.

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Start peeling the skin off.  If you’re doing it wrong, you’ll be peeling up the underlying leg cartilage and it’ll bleed, believe it or not.  If you’re doing it right, peeling the outer skin will leave a perfect pink replica of itself underneath.  Kinda like a macabre jello mold.

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When you get to the spur, use the pliers to firmly grasp the hard nail of the spur and wiggle it.  The outer shell should pop right off, leaving the shiny whitish-pink claw exposed.

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Keep working your way up the toes.  I found that after peeling the skin off the “palm” or “frog” of the foot, I could then put my fingers between the toes and keep pulling the skin sheaths off the toes, like turning gloves inside-out. I read several sources that said to chop off the talons at the first knuckle, but I found that the hard outer shell just came right off with the skin, and there’s no sense in wasting the underlying claws since they have all the same nutrients as the rest of it.

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When you get to a claw, use the pliers again to get a firm grasp on it.  Wiggle it and pull at the same time.  It should pop off, just like the spur did, leaving the shiny pink claw exposed.

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When you’re done with skinning it, start the next one.  I didn’t overlap this process much because I read that if you boiled it too long, the skin fused to the leg and you couldn’t get it off.  The horror.

When you’re done with the feet, you might have a lovely pitcher full, like I did.

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And your child may think it’s funny to grab a couple and menace you with them, like mine did.  Her little sister thought it was hilarious.

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Now, as cool as I think bird feet are, I’m not sure I want to make a giant pot of foot-only broth.  I decided that since they were much larger than chicken feet, I’d wrap them individually in waxed paper and place them in a Ziploc bag.  That way they can be taken out one at a time and added to a pot of regular bone broth when we make it, for added nutrients and gelling.

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This was one of the most awesome kitchen experiments I ever did, and I’ll do it again when we run out of paws.  I didn’t need to be so intimidated after all.  The smell was interesting.  It smelled exactly like boiling wool.  I used to boil wool in order to dye it, for spinning, and I also sold the handdyed rovings on Etsy.  If you’ve ever exhaled into a pure wool scarf on a cold, biting-wind kind of day, and smelled that woolly smell on the inhale, that’s the smell of boiling wool.  And of boiling turkey feet, it turns out.

Shared on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday.

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It was raining cats and dogs on the way up north to the cabin but we still had to have lunch, picnic weather or not!  Richard cut up a large bin of carrots and celery and grilled up some flattened chicken thighs on Thursday in preparation for today’s lunch.  I sliced up a tomato, onion, and avocado, and assembled sandwiches for everyone.  While straddling the boat tongue under the hatch of our Honda Pilot at a gas pump in a downpour.  People, if you are determined to eat real food, I’m here to tell you that with a little preparation, it is possible under ANY circumstances!

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In between ratcheting bolts out, ferrying giant pieces of channel-molded galvanized steel out to the trailers, finding and fetching tools, making sure people had water, and being available wherever a hand (or a foot) was needed, I took a lot of pictures and even a video.

Just a small disclaimer:  Please don’t ever, ever try any of this at home, or at somebody else’s home.  The property owner Kfir is a very smart man and had a lawyer friend write up a waiver that basically said if you fall off a ladder and flail to the ground in a heap, that is a bummer but you can’t sue Kfir.  And if you fall off the ladder AND cause damage to Kfir’s property, I’m afraid you’re going to be having a very bad day in many ways because you’re responsible for the damage, too.  We all signed the waiver, and immediately started doing very dangerous things of which our mothers would severely disapprove.  (Richard’s mother Donna very much disapproved of most, if not all, of the activities being performed on ladders.  She was vocal, adamant, and not at all swayed by our repeated justifications that “if the ladder wasn’t in a pool it wouldn’t be that high off the ground at all!”)

Here is a video of these brave souls taking one of the ribs down using nothing but a pool rake handle and ingenuity.  I think the takeaway here is that it’s very, very important to have friends and relatives just as optimistic and willing to sign away their rights to life and property as you are.

In this video, they make it look ridiculously easy.  Don’t be fooled.  This is never something you should ever remotely consider doing, especially if it takes place over a pool.  Ignore my voice at the beginning; not sure why it seemed like a good idea at the time, but in my own defense, we had been at it for something like seven hours by then.

Taking Down a Rib of the Beast

Again, thank you to the people who made this happen:  Brian, Steve, Lisa, Dick, Donna, Kfir, and Kfir’s FIL (I truly suck at names, I’m so sorry, Kfir’s FIL, it’s nothing personal, TRUST ME), you are all full of win.  Full to the brim with win.  Let us all drink deeply from the chalice of win, and be sated.  Huzzah for teamwork!!

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At 10:00 am today, there was this.

By 9:00 pm, there was this.

Because of this.

Nephew-in-law Brian, BFF’s Steve and Lisa, Muriel and Richard, FIL Dick and MIL Donna

The very, very best crew in the entire world you could ask to bring down a 42′ x 31′ greenhouse built over a giant green-slimed pool.  (Kfir and Kfir’s FIL were right in the thick of it, working their tails off, but aren’t in the pic.)

Guys, thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.  We could NOT have done this without you.

This is gonna be AWESOME.

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