• Jenny Dupre

Building the duck run

Can you believe The Pretend Homestead blog is almost a year old? And I've published eighteen posts. That is not a great average. I've started a facebook page for the blog in the hope that I can grow my audience and better connect with people and maybe start to find out what you're interested in hearing about. In my second year I'm going to try to double my number of posts which doesn't sound like a whole lot but considering there are months of agriculturally unfriendly weather in New England, it's going to take some doing.

Anyway I wanted to write a more detailed post about building the duck run because 1) I am so unbelievably proud of it 2) it was really nerve-racking to come up with a plan and then execute it with pretty minimal building experience and 3) I promised this blog would show the good and the bad of my experiences so that others could have the confidence to set out to reaching their goals even when they have no idea how.

So about a week before Memorial Day weekend my ducks had grown large enough to escape their brooder. Apparently someone got a bug up their butt and decided to jump over the side of the kiddie pool and push past the cardboard that had previously kept them at bay. Now there are two truths that I have learned about ducks: once one has an idea, all of them have an idea and they are poop machines. So naturally, as soon as one realized how to escape, the guest room became a filth pit in about 4.5 seconds.

That is duck poop. That is not ALL the duck poop.

I had been planning and fretting and worrying over how to build a duck run for weeks... months probably. Marcel and I had gone back and forth about 20 times about building or buying pre-fab. Unfortunately the problem with most pre-fab duck runs is that they're either chicken runs so they are elevated too high off the ground for ducks to use, woefully undersized, extremely expensive, cheaply made or some combination of those four factors. In the end I decided to split the difference and buy a coop that would be appropriate (good size but cheap materials and expensive price tag) and build the run.

My original plan was for a 6' x 8' run with a chicken wire fully enclosed bottom and a hard, pitched roof. I drew up the plan after looking at hours and hours and hours of pinterest posts. I ordered the coop off wayfair.com because it was on a Memorial Day sale and we planned to execute the building of the run over the Memorial Day weekend.

The original, VERY ROUGH design.

The night before the build was to commence, I got cold feet on almost every portion of the plan. I decided that I would scrap the pitched roof and hard top in favor of a completely rectangular structure to cut down on the "I have no idea what I'm doing" factor. Right angles and square cuts seemed a lot more our speed. I also decided to adjust the size to 6' x 10' to give the girls an even 60 sq/ft. Ducks need a lot of space to be happy (I have heard both 3-5 or 4-6 sq/ft in their coop and 10-20 sq/ft in the run) and their coop was already a little on the small side so I wanted to give them as much space as I could. The other last minute adjustment I made was to use 1/2" hardware cloth to cover the entire structure. I, like many novices, believed chicken wire would be appropriate, but learning that a raccoon could put their hands through chicken wire, grab a duck and EAT OFF ITS HEAD made me splurge for the smaller gauge hardware cloth. I wanted to be able to leave my duck's coop open 24/7 to cut down on ducky chores so the added security was very important to me.

DAY ONE: Saturday

Marcel let me know that since he builds giant boxes all the time at work, this would be a five or six hour project. I smiled and shrugged and hoped he was right but knew way deep down he was not. We headed to Home Depot for the first of many trips that weekend. I had written down all the cuts I thought I'd need so we picked out our lumber, had it all cut to length, and loaded everything into the back of my Rogue. As it turns out, 2"x4"x10' lumber doesn't fit in a midsize SUV and Marcel had to ride in the back with a bungee cord holding the gate closed. It was the first of many anxiety producing experiences to come.

We worked for about seven hours (including the trip to Home Depot) in 90 degree heat and were able to accomplish putting together the pre-fab coop, building and securing the base, building the sides and top exterior frame, and starting the door frame. We used about 70 brackets to make sure all corners were secure. After Day One I felt like a super hero!

Soundtrack to day one - Hip Hop BBQ on Pandora. Please listen to it if you're in your mid-thirties because it's amazing.

Day one complete - VALIDATE ME!

DAY TWO: Sunday

On Day Two we began to hardware cloth the sides. We used about 10,000 staples to fasten the hardware cloth to the wood frame. The main take-away from day two is that you have better control over smaller sections of hardware cloth. Finding this out the hard way, after going around a corner and realizing my side was not straight at all, was the first time I screamed the "f-word" at the top of my lungs. Day two was much cooler and also it was raining. We had to do a lot of crawling on ladders and hoisting things above our heads and my hands hurt a lot from using the staple gun for about five straight hours. At the end of day two I felt less like a super hero and more like I wanted this project to be done already.

Soundtrack to day two - .357 String Band and The Goddamn Gallows. We're building a farm but also we used to like punk rock. (Marcel still likes punk rock.)


Marcel could not believe we were still working on this project. I was also fast running out of steam and our attitudes were not great. We finished enclosing the sides and hung the door. The hinges we had purchased on Saturday were way too big for the door so we had to exchange those for a smaller set. We started to hardware cloth the top, deciding to do one long strip the entire length of the run. Unfortunately we didn't measure very well and cut the cloth too short. This was very frustrating because hardware cloth is very expensive, we were already way over budget, and I had already started to staple it to the top when we realized it wouldn't work. So we removed the staples and cut the cloth into three pieces which we secured to the roof joists.

Fortunately the added work of doing it in three sections made the piece we had already cut fit. Main take-away of day three was measure twice, cut once. We decided that we should use 2"x4"s to brace roof and that we'd also need some more hardware cloth so we returned to Home Depot to pick up what I swore would be our last set of supplies. When we got to Home Depot we realized that they only made HUGE rolls of hardware cloth that cost $60, or tiny rolls that cost less than that. This is the second time I screamed the "f-word" at the top of my lungs. This time it was in public. Marcel was not happy with me. I decided to get the tiny roll because I had measured how much we needed and the tiny roll would work if I was super careful. Marcel suggested we bite the bullet and get the big roll but I refused. The anxiety of how much money we had already spent was catching up to me. We got our wood for the roof braces and headed home. We attached the roof braces and realized somehow we had two extra pieces of lumber that I couldn't figure out what I had planned to use it for. Oh well. We rolled out the hardware cloth and realized three things: 1) it wasn't the right size gauge (we had purchased 1/4" inch instead of the 1/2" which we'd used for the rest of the run, 2) I hadn't purchased enough because I measured from the wrong spot. (Remember the day three take-away above...) 3) We couldn't return the open and unrolled wrong sized hardware cloth. We very quietly returned to Home Depot to pick up more hardware cloth. We got ice cream on the way home because we really needed it by this point. We attached the last of the hardware cloth and I used the pieces of wire that holds the cloth in a roll to weave together the places where two pieces of cloth overlapped so the structure would be completely predator proof. We added two bolt locks to the door - one at the bottom and one in the middle - as well as a hook and eye at the top. We laid down construction sand as the base to cover the hardware cloth on the floor and put the duck coop inside. By this time it was nearly dark so we decided to wait until the following morning to let the girls outside. It seemed mean to send them out on their first day right before nightfall.

Soundtrack to day three - Three straight hours of Joseph Huber and then Patsy Cline Radio on Pandora. ONLY CALM MUSIC.

DAY FOUR: Tuesday

Tuesday morning we kicked the girls out into their new enclosure, complete with food, water, a house and a pool. They splashed and quacked and were immediately terrified of me since now they had a little more room to run away from me. It was less than rewarding, but I was glad to have them out of the house. I was frantic all day at work hoping they weren't dead and were very glad to see them happily splashing around in their pool when I got home. I added some decorations and a string of solar powered lights which turn on automatically when the sun goes down.

The girls out in their new home!

So there we have it! The long version of our first major build project! When it was done, I turned to Marcel and said "So I think we can build a cabin now!" He's not really on the same page about that, but I'll get him there! The best part about this whole ordeal is that now we spend way more time outside than we ever did before. We've put our swing, which we barely sat on before, beside the coop and every day we hang out with the girls.

I've built a five gallon auto-waterer and am working on a similar style feeder, so I'll report back on that once I've got them both finished. Creating the waterer was not without some trial and error so I'll happily spell that out in a separate post so no one needs to think "oh, that looks easy" and then put a bunch of holes in a five gallon bucket for no reason like we did!

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