Saturday, October 29, 2011

Upcycle: How to turn a desk into a chicken nest box

As you may recall, the former owner of this place left behind heaps of junk.  Amidst the junk, there have been a few useful items.  There have also been some items that we have found new uses for (apart from bonfire fuel, that is).  This is the story of how I turned a rather uninspiring old desk into a chicken nest box.

The desk in question was in the "office" room of the house, which looked pretty much like this when we moved in.  Oh wait, you can barely see it.  Yup, that's my point.
Another blog will be coming soon on the office space - I'm in the midst of re-doing it.  Once the desk was cleaned off, we determined that it was a very heavy, solid, hardwood desk, not unlike old fashioned teachers' desks.  There were 6 drawers, and some of them had pieces of masonite that could be slid into diagonal slots - sort of paper holders within the drawer.  In addition, this desk  had the interesting feature of having a typewriter on a hidden shelf, which rose up when the top part was lifted.  It was sort of nifty, if you wanted a typewriter desk, but we didn't.  Additionally, it has a very heavy and thick layer of some kind of shiny varnish on a skating rink for pens.  There are bubbles in the varnish too.  Not all that nice, really.

Richard figured it would make good firewood.  I looked at it for a while, and saw in my mind's eye... a chicken nest box.  I convinced him to help me haul it out to the barn, and today, I brought it back to life in a new way!

Here's where I began - I had removed all the drawers and had disassembled the hinge bits that made the typewriter shelf move up (you can see a sort of triangle shape on the far side from where the hinge thing was located.
This was the top piece, which I removed.  You can see the handle on the front, which was used to lift it, and that engaged the hidden typewriter shelf.
 Here is the typewriter shelf, which had the typewriter bolted to it.  It was also removed!
 The first thing I did was remove the drawer slides for the top set of 2 drawers.  You can see them sitting on top of the desk here.  The openings are now larger for the side nest box units.
I also removed matching slide-out shelf bits that were on either side above the top drawer.  After that, I put the bottom drawers back in on each side, as seen below.
In the centre portion, which now had the top and typewriter shelf removed, I built a 3-sided surround at the base (the light coloured wood in the picture below) to support the typewriter shelf in its new position.  That shelf had a "lip" at the back of about 4 inches, so I left a space between the back piece of the surround and the back of the desk to insert the lip, so that the shelf piece could not move forward or back, but could easily be removed for cleaning.
 Here is the re-purposed typewriter shelf in place.
Then, I used one of the old pull-out writing surface boards as a divider on the centre of the shelf, to make it into two nest box areas.  I placed two pieces (from the removed drawer slides) on the back wall of the desk to support it.
 Then, I made a sliding groove with two other pieces of the former drawer slides to support it on either side.  Now the divider stays in place but can be removed for cleaning purposes.
After the divider was in place, I made a support for the front that is also held in place by two small blocks.  This piece can also easily be lifted out.  I'm hoping it will discourage goats from trying to sleep inside the nest box part.  So now you can see the 4 nest box units - one in each drawer, and two in the centre.  I also placed some extra support to hold the top in place, but it can be lifted out for cleaning.  It's very heavy wood.  I knew the goats would jump on it, which is why I wanted the extra support.
 One great thing about this is how easy it will be to clean.  The two drawers can be pulled out, the shavings dumped, and new shavings put in.  The centre section can be cleaned out easily, and the heavy varnishing on the top and on the typewriter shelf (which is the base of the two centre boxes) should mean that chicken poop will easily be brushed off and will not stick.  The varnish is sort of like teflon!
I filled each nest box unit with clean shavings.  Unfortunately, I left my fake eggs in Iowa on my old farm.  I shall have to find some new ones, or sacrifice a few "real" eggs from the store to teach the chickens what this thing is for!  I do hope they'll use it.
The flash photography makes it look brighter in this part of the barn than it really is.  The area is dark and the nest cubbies are nice and private, so the hens should appreciate that.  Sometimes hens choose their own places to lay, but I shall try to encourage them here.  Nobody's laying right now, but the 7 we got earlier this year should start soon because they're approaching 5 months of age, and the cuckoo maran should start laying soon I hope, now that she has finished moulting.

I couldn't entice them in to check it out - they were enjoying dust baths in the sun...
 ...which is just as well because the weather tomorrow is due to be dreadful - snow and/or rain all night and all day tomorrow.  Here, one of my Polish hens shakes herself off after a dust bath.  The dirt adheres to oils on their feathers and helps keep them clean and free of lice or other parasites.
 Hopefully tomorrow's weather will encourage some serious investigation of their new nesting area!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dog Blog

Over at the "In a goat's shoes" blog, Tayet has a theme of the week, which is dogs!  She featured her lab, and gave the option of naughty dogs as a theme, or just dogs.  My dog, Stickley, is very rarely naughty.
I don't often feature him on the blog.  He's sort of a background critter, because he never gets into trouble, really.  This is a picture of him on the day I took him home.  He was quite a beautiful hound!  Sorry about the glowing eyes....darned flash cameras!
Stickley is a retired racing greyhound.  I got him fresh off the track when he was just about 4 years old, as he was being retired.  He was a big winner in his day, and was a very fast dog.  His father was a very famous racing greyhound named Molotov, who is in the Greyhound Hall of Fame.  Stickley is a large male, even for a greyhound, at nearly 90 pounds.  He's a gorgeous red fawn colour, and has a super-mellow personality.  He will tolerate just about anything, such as bunny ears!
 Once in a while, he does something a bit rascally.  Long time readers might remember this post, about him stealing rotten eggs that I had put by the door for garbage.  Ewwww....silly dog.  He made the whole house stink for several days as a result.

Most of the time, he's pretty content to be in the background.  He doesn't even really like to have his picture taken.
He's a very gentle, loving hound.  He is also terribly afraid of unfamiliar things.  You need to think about the life of a racetrack dog.  They only know a few things - kennels, group feedings, routine....and racing.  They are raced every third day.  When they are retired, they have never seen a few things that most dogs deal with from day one.  They've never seen stairs before.  They have no idea what a window is, especially glass patio doors, for example.  They are generally terrified of stairs and at age 3-4, have no idea how to go up or down stairs of any sort.  They bump into windows and glass doors, not realizing that there is glass there.  Sometimes, they run full-speed into glass doors and have very bad accidents.  Stickley did that a few times with the screen door and completely took it out of its track and sent it flying into the yard.

Greyhounds are sight hounds - they don't think about it....they just chase things that move.  Could be a rabbit, a squirrel, a plastic bag blowing in the wind...  If you have a retired racer, you have to be very careful not to let them out of a fenced area, because anything that moves might send them running, and you'll never see them again.  They're not good at finding their way home.  They're not scent hounds....they're sight hounds!
Stickley was born on March 7, 2001, so he's now about 10 and a half years old.  He's acquired the classic whitening of the fur around his muzzle and he's a little slower than he used to be.  He also has an eye disease that is fairly common in dogs, called pannus.  It affects his vision to an extent, and sometimes it seems to mean that he is more timid of unusual things in his field of vision, like he's completely freaked out if the kettle is near his feeding station, up on the counter, because it's not usually there.
Hmmm.  Poor dog.

Stickley adores attention, especially from my parents.  He lived with them from December of 2010 until I moved to Nova Scotia in April of 2011.  Here he is getting some loving from my Dad.  He'll put his head on your lap if he thinks it will get him some attention!
I highly recommend the retired racing greyhound as a dog companion.  Contrary to common perceptions, they do not require a lot of exercise.  They are more of a couch potato dog.  They are raced every third day for 1/4 mile, and then they rest for 2 days.  They're not endurance dogs.  They do need a fenced yard, a soft bed, and a lot of love.  
The tragic statistic is how many of these gentle hounds are euthanized every year because they are no longer "valuable" to their owner (i.e. they're not winning races any more), and they're often euthanized at about age 4.  Pure-bred, gentle, sweet, mellow dogs, just eliminated because they're not money earners.  To the best of my knowledge, it used to be about 30,000+ dogs euthanized annually.  Because of greyhound adoption, it's now about 15,000 dogs being euthanized.  If you ask me, that's about 15,000 too many.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Deer? Oh dear!

When is a dear not a deer?  Well, when she's a goat, of course!  You see, dear reader, it would not be at all good to mistaken for a deer, during deer season, when one is not in fact a deer, but rather, one is a very endearing goat.  The problem is, some goats look very much like does.  Well, a female goat is actually a doe, but I meant that in some cases, a goat doe can look very much like a deer doe.  Oh dear me, this gets so muddled!

Our dairy goat, Caramel, is 25% LaMancha, 25% alpine, 50% Nubian, and 0% deer (although 100% dear, to us!)
However, in deer hunting season, some hunters get over-exuberant about their quarry and will not always take the time to ensure that their target is in fact of the Cervidae family, and not something else.  From time to time, one hears horrible stories about various animals being shot by mistake, including horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, and even dogs.  I think some people hunt at night or in poor weather when they can't see properly.  I simply can't figure out some of those mistakes otherwise.  However, Caramel would be an easier mistake.  The only thing she's missing, really, are the ears.  She has the lovely fawn colour, the tall build, the flagging tail, and definitely the run.  She's also a champion fence jumper.

So, I took some bright orange fleece and set to work creating the perfect "I am not a deer" coat for my little Caprine friend.
I might have to tighten the front holding strap a bit - I'll see how it fares over a couple of days.
Since I rarely use the alphabet function on my sewing machine, I thought I'd give it a whirl!
I'm not sure that Caramel is particularly impressed, but she'll be safer this way until deer season has ended and she can quietly regain her dignity.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gratitude, an Accident, and a Fibre (Fiber, Fybur) Festival

First and foremost, I want to thank everybody who posted in response to my last blog post, with your good ideas, your sympathy, and your good wishes.  It has been a very difficult time for us, and I know that eventually we will overcome the difficulties and find the light at the end of the tunnel.  In the meantime, knowing that my blog community is behind me and wishing me well is really and truly important to me, warming my heart and inspiring my hands to get the job done.  I am truly thankful to you.

Your ideas were great!  I received many ideas through blog comments and through private emails.  Rest assured that we are seriously considering ALL ideas at this time.  Your experience and your suggestions are invaluable as we move foward in deciding what to do.  The wine business is not completely out the window - we have had much in the way of encouragement to lead us forward.  The previous owner did leave behind some books containing recipes, and the equipment is there, so blueberry (or other fruit) wine is not out of the question.  Stay tuned as we move forward with our decisions - you never know what you might see!

It's a farm.  Stuff happens.  It's pretty much inevitable that there will be accidents.  Last weekend was an accident that was worse than most (for me) and was a whole new experience.  It all began with days and days of rain.  Solid, driving, torrential, miserable rain.  I felt really bad for the goats - they hate to be wet, and they didn't want to be outside.  I had been collecting vegetation for them, mostly in the form of branches and weeds.  I was bringing armfuls of goldenrod and raspberry into the barn, each day of rain.  On the 3rd day of solid rain, I went  down to the road where the big vegetation "chopper" had been by, and collected a vast amount of branches - aspen, apple, spruce, alder....whatever they cut down.

I was bringing an armload of branches into the barn when it happened.  The accident.  I was on the 3rd of 3 wooden steps leading into the barn, when suddenly, the entire steps gave way.  I was thrown forward against the barn boards that held the steps, where the metal brackets and now-exposed nails eagerly took advantage of my legs.  I had a huge gash on my right leg that was bleeding buckets, and a bump on my left leg.  I gingerly shoved the branches into the goat area, and retreated into the house to tend my wounds.  The bleeding was hard to stop, and I was concerned I'd need stitches.
I called Richard to tell him I might need to go to the hospital and he said he was coming home (he had been on his way to work in Halifax).

He came home and tried to convince me to go to the hospital for stitches.  I knew that, bad as the gash was, it wasn't a candidate for sutures.  I declined medical help.  He went to look at the steps and determined that the nails had pulled right out of the rotting barn boards, taking me with them.  He fixed the steps, and came to check on me again, urging me to go to a doctor.  The bleeding was easing, but the pain in the left leg where the bump was, was beginning to mount.  I still thought I'd be fine, and I decided to lay down for a while.  He went back to work.  I was vaguely amused by the growing lump on my shin, which was taking on quite significant proportions. I felt like I'd had half a grapefruit implanted under my skin.
A couple of hours later, I got up and tried to go into the studio.  Bad idea.  I was in the most incredible pain I'd ever felt in my life.  Walking on my left leg was felt like somebody stabbing a knife into my leg.  I hobbled over to the telephone.  In doing so, I could barely take a step with my left leg.  I began to cry out, even though nobody was there to hear.  I reached for the phone, registering the fact that I was suddenly covered in a cold sweat.  I took a few hops on my "good" leg with the gash in it, and then sat at the top of the stairs.  I was in agony, my left leg just causing the most incredible pain I'd ever felt in my life.  I kept thinking it would stop, but it didn't.  I began to feel strange, disconnected and disoriented.  I called Richard....I somehow sensed I needed help.

He answered, but I was useless.  I could not speak properly.  I was shivering so violently that I could not form words, and I was confused and muddled. I remember saying "Hi" repeatedly, because it was all that I could say.  I barely remember anything else.  What I do remember was being unable to speak or ask for help.  I knew in my mind that I needed help, but I was just babbling nonsense and could not even say a normal sentence.  He kept asking if I was OK and I remember trying to say "NO" and that I needed help, but the words would not form themselves.  Fortunately, even though I didn't realize it, he knew that I had gone into shock.  I passed out part way through the phone call, due to the intense pain and the shock.  Thank goodness he knew what was happening, and he called 911.

The next thing I remember, there was a policeman and paramedics surrounding me, and I was being asked questions.  I was still shivering violently and could not speak properly - it was a cold day and I was laying on the floor of the upstairs without any blankets or anything other than a tank-top and cotton pants.  The phone lay beside me, dropped in mid conversation with Richard when I passed out.  The paramedics were saying that my leg was probably broken, the swelling was immense.  The graze on my left leg had split open due to the swelling and was bleeding.  I was unable to stand.  They took me down the rickety stairs in a chair of sorts, and transferred me to a gurney.  I was taken to the hospital about 30 minutes away for a suspected broken leg and for treatment of shock.

Remarkably, after x-rays and consultation, my leg was not broken.  Instead, I had bruising to the bone.  It was in fact more painful than a break would have been.  The bruising was deep and severe, and the outer layers of the bone had swollen, which caused the incredible pain that made me go into shock and eventually pass out.  I had no idea that such a thing could happen.  I was sent home with a compression bandage and strict orders to keep the leg elevated, with the compression bandage, and to use ice packs and keep rested.  Whew!  Not so easy on the farm!

Thank goodness, my dear parents came to the rescue.  My mother came to stay for several days to take care of me, despite her own injury not so long ago to her own ankle.  We sat together crocheting and commiserating, wearing our ice packs and keeping our legs elevated.  What a pair!  We went out and chopped branches for the goats, since the rain was unceasing, and slowly I began to heal.  Poor Richard had to work and had lots of appointments, so he was away for several days.  It was so kind of several of my neighbours to stop by with offers to help, and a wonderful apple pie as well.

Additionally, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Richard, for recognizing that I was in shock and for having the foresight to call 911 when he was a 1.5-hour drive away.  He was my hero that day, as he so often is, and without him, I would not have received medical attention that I dearly needed in a timely manner.

Now, just over a week later, I am walking much better and the wounds are healing, although the bruises are a very colourful testament to the injury.  The swelling has receded considerably, although it is still much worse at night and better in the mornings.
I sincerely hope that I never have an accident of this magnitude, or worse, again.

I was excited to participate in the Nova Scotia Fibre Arts Festival in Amherst for the past two days.  In spite of the injury, I was able to attend and had a brisk business selling my yarns, felted chickens, and scrappy scarves for the past two days.  This is an annual festival, but it was the first time I was a vendor.
Fibre (Canadian) or Fiber (American) or Fybur (Goat) is well loved by so many people, and I was delighted to be selling my handspun yarns, my felted creations, and my crocheted scarves, to so many buyers.  My mom also helped me out by crocheting some beautiful scarves to feature at my booth - many of which quickly sold.  The little felt chicken ornaments that I make were a huge hit and I sold out of nearly my entire stock of my little felted friends.  Soon I'll be replenishing my Etsy shop with more chickens!  Don't miss out!

A huge thank-you is due to my father who made me the incredible "tree" stand that you see in the above picture, on the left, for me to display my felted chickens.  He made it on the lathe, with a gorgeous cherry wood base and a pretty finial on top shaped like a turret on a Russian church.  He also made the super PVC rack that held all my handspun yarns - the ideal "blend into the background" rack that didn't take attention away from the yarns themselves.  I had so many compliments on my booth set-up, I think he could have a new career in building booth hardware!

Huge, HUGE thank yous to both my parents for being the wonderful parents they are - helping me in my time of need and in supporting my dreams and aspirations.  I could not ask for more.  They are an inspiration and a  gift that I can never begin to repay.