coop buildingTei’s hen ladderPhoto: Nina LalliGardening is a gateway drug. Smoking pot didn’t make me want to snort coke and getting a wimpy tattoo never made me crave bigger tattoos, but show me a sage bush and a bunch of sorrel and all I can think about is a chicken coop. Growing vegetables is pretty amazing, but animals who give you stuff is about as thrilling a prospect as I can think of. Because I love animals, I love food, and I really love free stuff.

Almost immediately after my boyfriend, Tei, and I cleaned up the filthy yard behind his apartment building and planted vegetables, I started fantasizing about fresh eggs in the fridge and fertilizer for the compost. He wavered between non-committal and enthusiastic, but I could tell he thought I might get over it.  

I missed the garden during the winter, and I didn’t get over the egg dream. As soon as it got warm enough, Tei and I started bickering about the chicken coop.  The plan was that  “we” would build it, but we both knew that meant Tei would grumble about it first, and then reluctantly figure out how and do the heavy lifting. (I finally have a boyfriend who can fix machines, build shelves, and sell my old iPhone on eBay, but he performs these duties with the customer service style of a terribly exploited, disgruntled janitor.)

painting the coopNina applies “Dragonfruit” paintPhoto: Nina LalliAfter two days of manual labor and agitated vibes, the coop was built. And it was beautiful. Tei found lots of plans online and picked a simple one to copy pretty closely. We bought cheap strand board (for the walls) and plywood (for the floor and roof), plus two-by-fours, two-by-threes, and chicken wire. We spent a total of about $250 to make the coop and an attached, fenced-in run. Our good friend runs a woodshop in the basement and we were lucky to get to use his fancy table saws. We also used an old scrap of fencing to cover the run, and to keep squirrels and rats from the attack landings I imagined them plotting.

Tei was smart enough to raise the whole coop off the ground and make sure the run walls were tall enough, so we wouldn’t have to stoop to feed the hens and clean out their mess. He also built a hilarious little staircase for the hens. Inside, there are four wood dowels that lead to three nesting boxes. All this explains why I was not in charge of planning and construction.

Tei did put me in charge of choosing the color and painting the coop though. I immediately said, “pink!” and he immediately responded with, “no pink.” But by the time we got to Home Depot, I showed him some pinks, adorably antagonizing him, and, to my surprise, he said “whatever.” I had worn down the angry janitor.  I chose “Dragonfruit,” because it reminds me of the brightly painted buildings in Vietnam, where we traveled last fall (and ate dragonfruit).

coopThe finished coop!Photo: Nina LalliSome friends came over to paint and help with the fencing, and then the home was ready for its new inhabitants. I was giddy about final product: an exuberant pink box with little birdy doors and stairs — it was like a deranged person’s dollhouse. Tei was considerably more subdued; he rolled his eyes back in his head while I bounced around taking pictures. “Anything else I can do for you?” he asked.

Of course, in the weeks afterward he showed off those pictures almost as often as I did.

In the next installment: Nina and Tei travel to a small farm outside the city to pick up the chickens.