Go ducks!

No, not a sportsball reference. We’re making another addition to our homestead menagerie: ducks!

We recently ordered four ducks for delivery in late May, the same day we’ll get a few more chickens.

The breeds of ducklings we’ll be getting are the Buff and Cayuga, one male and one female of each. Click those links to learn more about them on the My Pet Chicken website.

Here’s what the Buff ones look like as adults:

And the Cayugas:

The ducks will be free-range on our large pond. Unlike chickens, the ducks shouldn’t destroy our landscaping… hopefully!

I will build a small 4×4 foot duck house for them, similar in construction to the cat house I built last year. That is the ideal size for four ducks. I currently plan to position it on the east side of our pond. In the following picture, looking south, it’ll be positioned in the center of the picture, at the edge of the pond in front of the rock:

I will re-contour the ground to be a little less sloped, just enough for drainage. Here’s a view of the spot looking north:

After doing a bunch of research into duck house designs, I wrote up a bunch of notes, then over the last few days, I sketched my plans. I drew them on my iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, in the excellent Linea Sketch app.

Here are the external elevations:

Duck house elevations

It’s basically a 4×4 foot cube, with a gable roof.

The west side faces towards the pond, so can be considered the front, and features a door for the ducks to go in and out, that can be closed at night with a vertically sliding panel, like the chicken coop. It’ll also have a custom sign, and the controller for the door, that will be able to automatically close it at night, and open it in the morning.

The east (back) side will have a couple of large doors, enabling access to a small cupboard that will contain a jug of food, and storage of spare food and supplies. It’ll also enable access of the nesting boxes. Ducks can lay eggs pretty much anywhere, but I’ll provide ground-level nesting alcoves as cozy private places to lay, and hope they use them.

The north side will include another door, that will enable access to the interior for cleaning, and to reach eggs laid outside the boxes.

The south side will have a closable vent, that can be opened in summer to help cool down the interior.

Here’s a top-down plan view:

Duck house plan

Here you can see the food cupboard on the left, and the interior on the right. The circle is a plastic jug for food, that leads to a tube with holes for them to eat from, like in the chicken coop.

Finally, here’s a cross-section through the middle:

Duck house cross-section

You can see the food jug and tube, with a nesting box below, plus the ventilation, the duck door, and the ramp into the pond.

As usual, it’s quite likely I’ll refine the design over time, especially as I build it, but it’ll probably end up much like this, unless I have any radically different ideas before I start. If you have any suggestions or questions, let me know!

We’ll get the ducklings at the end of May, so I’ve got a few months to build this. It will take a while, working on it only on weekends (building it in the shop like the cat house), but I think there’s time. Should be fun!

Gate between chicken run & veggie garden

This past weekend I built a doorway and gate to make it easier to go between the veggie garden and the chicken run. Something I do a lot, especially in summer, when giving the chickens treats of kale, tomatoes, etc grown in our garden.

Here’s the new doorway, built by adding the new left pole and top plate, cutting away the fencing, and cutting out the horizontal rails:

I also moved the grazing box in the chicken run, to clear a path by the door. The chickens love having direct access to the grass, which will probably be all scratched away in a matter of days. I’ll seed new grass in the new box position in spring:

Building the gate frame; the fourth and last one:

Door hardware installation:

The completed gate, closed:

And open:

I added a hook & eye to hold the gate open during winter:

I also permanently closed the small holes through the fence that the chickens were using to access the veggie garden, so now they go through this doorway.

That concludes building the gates for the veggie garden and berry cage. Next up: replacing the old fencing wire around the berry cage.

Berry cage: more gates

Over the last couple of days, I took advantage of some fine weather to build another couple of gates for the berry cage project.

Firstly, the middle gate, in the new fence that divides the veggie garden:

Close-up of the bottom hinge:

The gate latch and handle:

After adding the wire:

The finished middle gate:

Then the same again for the front gate, to replace the old disintegrating one:

I also moved the dirt from the potato planters, so the chickens wouldn’t spread it all over the garden:

Surprise! I found a soil scoop buried in the dirt; I’d wondered where that had gotten to:

I dumped the dirt into the new bed; we’ll add more on top later:

I stacked some boards to make a roosting bar, so the chickens can safely get to the top of the potato planters if they want to roost there:

This morning, I opened up the small holes in the fence to let the chickens into the veggie garden. These holes had been closed with zip ties since last spring. Here’s the hole into the new run:

And the old run:

The chickens will enjoy eating the remaining vegetation, and rooting around for bugs and such. Fun for the them, and helpful for us to clean out the beds for spring planting:

I took a bunch of photos of them in the veggie garden, which I’ll post another day (probably Sunday, since tomorrow is Caturday). Stay tuned!

Next up: one last gate between the chicken run and veggie garden, that will replace those small holes, and let me get between the two more easily.

Berry cage: back gate

Another few hours on the berry cage project yesterday.

Despite what I said at the end of the last post on this project, I decided to make the gates before finishing off the wire, since I suspect I might need more materials. Okay, I know I do, unless I decide to sacrifice my spare 10′ or 12′ 2x4s. I don’t need that long for the gates, and like to preserve them, since those lengths are too long to bring home in my truck, whereas I can always pick up more 8′ lumber.

Yesterday, I built the new back gate.

Here’s the assembled lumber portion, using much the same design as I used for the chicken run (though a little different):

Here’s the gate mounted, with the hinges, latch, and handle (despite what it might look like, the gate is level; the angle at the top is because the top rail and roof slopes gently):

A close-up of a hinge:

And the latch and handle:

I then added the fencing wire to it, including the chicken wire layer at the bottom (that helps keep smaller animals out):

To make it easier to open from inside, I added a wire pull cord to the latch:

The finished latch etc:

The old front door of the veggie garden is slowly disintegrating; it will be replaced with a new one like the above:

Next up: another gate!

Berry cage: starting fencing wire

Just a few hours on the berry cage construction this weekend: installing the welded wire on the new fence portion, that divides the berry cage from the rest of the veggie garden.

The rightmost portion has an angle to accommodate the slope:

Right side done; working on the left side:

All done:

A view through the doorways:

The left side also has interesting angles for the slope:

Next up: replacing the wire on the old portion of the fence, with this smaller gauge wire.

Berry cage: poles and rails

The weather last weekend wasn’t great, and it’s going to pack in again next week, so I decided to spend some days this week on building the berry cage in the veggie garden. An advantage of being self-employed is that I can shift my time around as needed, in this case to take advantage of decent weather during the week.

I ended up doing four days (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday), which is equivalent to two weekends, so all works out. I’m working on the weekends to offset that time.

Anyway, I started by making a simple wooden stand out of scrap wood, to help support the 10′ lumber when cutting it with my table saw:

Then I continued installing the poles and roof beams, starting work in rather frosty mornings (and the highs were only around 45° F / 7° C):

Here’s a pole in a hole. The 10′ poles are about 2′ underground, 8′ above ground:

As before, I used boards and clamps to hold the poles straight:

I also added a post level, that is tied onto the pole, which is much more convenient than using a straight level, plus a string to line up the posts:

Here’s a view down a pole, showing a temporary block clamped to the pole, making it easier to position each horizontal rail board by myself:

Here’s a board resting on the block, ready to be nailed:

Another new acquisition was another stop ladder; a new 8′ one, in addition to the older 6′ one, very kindly picked up from Home Depot by Jenn. Having two ladders really saved a lot of time when measuring, positioning, and nailing two ends of a rail, and no doubt had safety benefits, not having to move a ladder as often:

The last pole:

I didn’t want to bother with covering my tools with a tarp, or carrying them individually back to the hoop house shelter at the end of each day, so I put them in one of our carts. Including keeping the air nailer compressor in the cart, which makes it easier to move around as needed, too. Here it’s all loaded up, ready to go back to the hoop house for the night (you can see the hoop house in the background):

A view of the roof beams:

Completed poles and roof beams:

Adding bottom and middle rails on the front fence:

I brought the welded wire over to check the position of the middle rail:

An extra rail on the sloped part of the fence:

Fence rails done:

A view of the front and back doorways:

Another view of the finished poles and roof beams:

Next up: adding the welded wire fencing!

Berry cage: top beam, first pole

A little more progress on the berry cage project.

I started by moving some of the holes a little, as was mentioned last week, to position them better. Here’s my earth auger, which makes digging holes much easier:

I then temporarily placed poles in the holes:

Next I removed the top course of wire from the existing fence, since I need to add boards to attach the top of the new wire, and the roofing wire:

I also extended some of the poles that were a bit short:

Here’s the new top beam; that will be the height of the roof (about 8′):

Finally, I carefully positioned the first new pole, bracing it with boards and clamps, and attaching the two roofing beams — one with the board in a vertical orientation, attached to the side of the new post and an original fence post, another with the board in a horizontal orientation, 5′ from the old fence (for the width of the fencing wire):

Here’s a closer view of those roof boards:

Next time I will continue placing posts and their roofing beams.

Berry cage: new bed, back doorway, moving tap

Last week I posted about the start of a new building project: a berry cage in the veggie garden.

This past weekend I continued work on it, starting with a bit of prep stuff: taking the table saw, circular saw, air compressor, nailer, and various other tools to the hoop house and veggie garden, and re-stacking the delivered lumber to access the bits I need first.

8′ and 10′ 2×4 pressure-treated boards:

10′ treated posts, and welded wire fencing:

Next, I took the new untreated lumber to the veggie garden, and built a new garden bed in what will be inside the berry cage. I decided it’d be easier to do this before the enclosure is built, rather than after. In progress:

This bed is the same size as the others, 10×4′, though is on a slope, so has extra lumber shaped to the contour of the ground, to make it level:

Thusly:

The veggie garden is fenced, and had only one entrance, which was fine, but a little inconvenient at times. Especially now that there’s a greenhouse behind the garden. As part of the decision to place it there, I planned to add a back door to the veggie garden, to make it easier to get to the greenhouse.

So I started adding the new doorway; removing the fencing wire, and adding a new pole:

I then cut the fence boards to make the doorway (3.5′ wide):

The opposite view, showing how convenient it’ll be for the greenhouse:

One issue was that there was a tap in the doorway, so I also moved that (I do enjoy the garden plumbing!):

The new tap position:

Hole filled (a little mounded at present, but it’ll settle flat):

I also placed some boards on the ground to help visualize where the roof beams will go. You can see two short vertical posts marking where the poles will go, boards standing on their edges that will be attached to the posts, and boards lying flat between those, that’ll be spaced for the roofing wire. Basically the same design as in the chicken run.

I do need to move some of the holes a little for optimal placement. I had measured the holes based on centering them between the beds, but this arrangement will work better, having the poles in the center of the cage next to a bed instead of in the middle of the walkway:

Finally, I temporarily closed the back doorway with a spare gate panel; I will build a proper gate later (in the same style as the chicken run gates):

Next up, I will tweak the holes, and start installing the poles and beams.

Berry cage: holes & materials

Yesterday I started work on a new construction project that I planned a month or two ago: a berry cage in the vegetable garden.

We have a large fenced veggie garden, with multiple raised beds. Some of the beds include blueberries, strawberries, etc, which are targets for birds. Plus we let our chickens into the veggie garden after we’re done with it in fall/winter, so they can clear out the foliage and weeds. But we don’t want them grazing the berries to the ground.

So, I’m building an enclosure: a fence to split the back four beds of the veggie garden from the rest, a wire roof to keep out birds, and gates. This kind of enclosure is commonly called a berry cage.

I started work on this project by measuring the positions for the poles, cutting the fabric on the ground, and hand-digging out the top gravel layer:

I then used my earth auger to dig the holes, about 2′ deep:

Thusly:

I also dug to expose the pipe for this tap at the back of the garden, as it will be moved. I’m going to put a new gate there, to make it easier to get from the veggie garden to the new greenhouse:

Here’s a view of the back part of the garden. The holes in the foreground will be where the front gate of the berry cage will be:

This morning, I received the delivery from Home Depot of the materials:

Several rolls of welded wire fencing, a heap of 8′ and 10′ posts and boards, and gate hardwire:

A closer look at the lumber. The big untreated boards are for a new garden bed in the berry cage:

Stay tuned for construction progress. Next weekend I’ll re-stack this lumber (I need the posts at the bottom first!), cut the back gate, and start installing the posts and beams.

Should be fun.

Chicken grazing box repair

Believe it or not, we have more than just feral cats at the homestead, despite them being a popular topic of my blog posts.

We also have chickens, and I recently did a minor repair of their grazing box. This is a wood and hardware cloth (wire) cover over some grass, to enable the grass to grow without being pecked to the ground by the chickens. They can nibble on the tips that grow above the wire.

Some of the wires had come loose at one end:

So I snipped off that panel and replaced it with fresh hardware cloth, nailed down with U-shaped nails:

Here’s the whole thing:

Just a simple little repair.