Dome-icile

In September, S. helped me make a new chicken dome. When I first moved in, a friend helped me make a dome, a la Linda Woodrow. Here it is, already looking shonky (my, how my garden has grown since then! And by ‘garden’ I mostly mean ‘weeds’).

If you click through you can see said friend commenting on said dodginess. It wasn’t his fault. He had inferior materials to work with. See, I needed the dome to be small, because I was getting bantams and I wanted lots of smaller garden beds, so I could tesselate them around my awkward space. But that meant that pvc was too thick to bend into such a small circle. The dome needed to be about 1.5m in diametre. So I got polypipe, which was alright. Except that it’s obviously not very rigid. So when the chickens roosted on the roost, which depends from the top of the dome, it buckled. I reinforced it with wire inside the pipes and cross bracing, but after about 18 months of being moved around teh garden, it had had it.

This was taken in April 2010. All those weeds are now some potatoes and some brassicas that really should have finished maturing and come out, because I planted things under them. But it’s a cold, dark corner behind the house so they’re taking their time. Perfect place for summer lettuces, I think.

I wanted to make a geodesic dome. I’d seen milkwood’s version. But the problem with that was, with my tiny bed size, there just wouldn’t be enough height to give the chooks good roosting room. Plus, that factor would make it unsafe. The gels freerange around the garden, and make their way to the dome at night. I try to lock them up at night, but I often forget. One of the advantages of the dome is that while things like cats and foxes can jump high, they have to jump long to do so. So they have trouble getting up to chooks roosting in a small space (well, ideally, anyway). Anyway, after some googling I found a really great example here. The great thing about this was that it was the top 2/3 of a sphere, rather than the top 1/3. This would mean that the chooks have the maximum possible scratching room, for when I do lock them in, and adequate roosting room. I followed up on the people mentioned in the post and found that they’d done the math for me, along with an easy-to-follow tutorial.

So I had a crack at it, but everything I tried looked wrong. I figured I’d missed a step or was doing something wrong, and I asked S to help me. After doing some modelling, we figured out the problem. The maths was for the massive dome. Ours was scaled way down. The difference for us between the long struts and the small was only 1cm. This meant the margin for error was teeny. Given that we needed about 90 of each length, and that they would have to be cut and drilled precisely… we gave up.

But I still needed a dome! So, we improvised. To be honest, it was mostly S, because I was feeling very unwell that weekend and had to keep going into the house for drinks. I was heavily involved at the start, so there are no pics of that. And then I retreated to taking pictures, handing him the drill, and wilting delicately.

Here is basically what we did.

Ingredients:

Quite a lot of polypipe. I think I bought a 20m roll and we used almost all of it, although some of that was on the failed geodesic attempt.

Something to cut the polypipe – scissors will do. The evil pair, obviously.

A tape measure.

Lots of bolts. I think we used about 75 in this. Measure how thick your polypipe is, and get bolts that are at least as twice as long as that.

As many nuts as you have bolts.

A drill with a drillbit that matches the bolts.

Pliers, to tighten the nuts.

Something to make the roost from (we used bamboo stakes and twine salvaged from straw bales, because I am shonky a trendy upcycler.

Some chicken wire. I got fine birdwire in an attempt to foil the sparrows (it didn’t work. Curse them)

Lots of cable ties. You should have these anyway because cable ties are AWESOME.

Lots of patience. And tea. But no alcohol.

  • Measured the existing beds. If you haven’t established beds yet, you should plot out where you want them using string or chalk/flour. Make sure you can comfortably walk around them, and the paths are logical. Do this now, even if you aren’t going to establish some of the beds for a while, because it will affect the size of the beds, and therefore the dome. Feel free to make little maps of your garden (fun!) and move things around on paper a bit before deciding. My beds are a few cms bigger than the dome, so that the dome sits comfortably inside them.
  • Lay out your bottom circle of poly pipe until it is the correct size. Have one person hold it into shape. They’ll probably have to sit in the middle and hold both sides.
  • Have the person in charge of Practicality and Aesthetics (this was me) decide how tall they want it. Have the holder hold one end of a piece of polypipe to the bottom circle, and arch it over the top until it looks right. Cut it at that length, then use it as a template to cut two more.
  • There are actually four struts, though. Well, three and a half, plus a gap where the door is. I’ve sort of tried to make that clear below but maybe I just made it more colourful?

  • Anyway. So you want three long struts, and one that is just over half the length.
  • We attached the pipe by drilling a hole through it, sticking a bolt in, and screwing a nut on. You don’t want to screw this too tight, or it will create a fold in the pipe, making it less strong. You can see where we’ve screwed the nut too tight on the second circle up, and the struts are bending a bit.
  • We definitely did not have a fight about this. But if we did, I definitely won.
  • Ok, so attach each of the three struts, plus the half strut. Basically, you will need to mark eight points around your base. They should be an equal distance apart from each other. Drill a hole through the side of the base, and through the bottom of your strut, about 2cm from the end. Obviously use the same size drill but as your bolt is. I WAS going to use the size up. We did not have a fight about this either, but if we did, I definitely lost.
  • So, now you’ll have your base, and your four struts attached. The struts will be flopping all over the place, flipping the base up, etc. Have one person hold the all together at the top, and the most OCD person (not me) adjust it so that they are roughly even. This doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be good.
  • Once you’ve got them about right, drill through all the struts right at the peak. You will need a really long bolt for this, but it’s also ok to compress this join a bit more.
  • You can trim any ends that are sticking out a long way past the bottom circle, now.
  • It will still be all floppy. Have the OCD person sit inside the dome, and hold the struts up. They should all be sitting up in the position you want them to be in the end. So, not all wibbly wobbly, and DEFINITELY not all timey wimey. Have the Person in Charge (me) make another circle of polypipe, the same size as the base. They should run it down the dome until it sits about where it looks right. The struts should get sucked in a bit – this is not really a dome anymore. It’s a… curve topped cylinder. Or something. Anyway, the second support circle should suck them in, and also not be higher than your chickens are comfortable jumping.
  • Mark where the circle needs to go, or measure how far up the strut. Drill holes where holes need to be. If you are the OCD person, do this from inside the dome, just holding the struts in the air. If you are the Person in Charge (PiC) close your eyes and wince every time, as you are convinced that the OCD person is going to drill through his own hand.
  • Drill through the circle at the appropriate points, and join it up.
This is getting pretty wordy, so here's a picture of a cabbage I grew. It was delicious.
  • OK. Now you should have the bottom circle, the second circle, and the struts. It will be less wobbly, and might sort of be standing up by itself.
  • Attach the top circle. This is stabalising, but not load bearing, so it’s less essential. Make a circle of polypipe and slide it down until it’s where you want it. Cut it to that length, attach. Make sure the gap between the second circle and the top one is big enough for your chickens to perch on the second circle.
  • Now you need to stabalise the dome. We did this with triangular bracing. Have the OCD person sit inside the dome. They can run the polypipe from corner to corner within the rectangles of the bottom section, guessing how much they need. The other person will need to hold the dome stable, as otherwise it will shift around and the lengths will change.
  • Repeat previous method of drilling from inside of the dome. Don’t skimp of the wincing and flinching.
  • This bit takes FOREVER. Also, it is very boring
  • We double reinforced the front part, because that’s where the chickens jump in. They perch on the rim and so it will sag if you don’t prop it up.
  • You probably should brace the rest of the dome, too. If you are the PiC, go inside for a lie down at this point. Be unable to rest because you feel to guilty that the OCD person is doing a thing for you without your help. Make them a cup of tea, instead.
  • Make the roost. We made a triangle of stakes, lashed them together, and suspended them from the top any old how. My chickens are pretty light, so we didn’t get too detailed with the reinforcing. But if yours are actual-sized ones, you might want to rest it on the sides of the dome as well. Make sure they gap between the roost and where the roof will be is big enough for your chickens to be comfortable.
  • By this stage it is getting dark, but you really really want the chickens to go in their new dome tonight. Really. It’s important. It just is. So whack the chickenwire on in a hurry. We cut a rectangle for the bottom section that is mostly a cylinder, and cable tied that to the struts. You might need one person sitting inside, and one outside. Then we just kind of placed the bits we had over the top and tied it in, however it made sense.

  • Suspend water and food containers from the roost. We put in that extra strut because the chickens couldn’t work out how to get up to their roost, since it was so much higher than their last one. They kept trying to perch on the entry. They worked it out in a day or so and I took the white strut out.
Those tires in the front have potatoes in them. Please don't look in that disaster in my shed. I swear only the front 1/3 of that stuff is mine.
  • Cover the dome with a heavy duty tarp, and cable tie into place. Linda says not to attach it to the dome, because in a wind it can basically lift off. However, I found with the smaller dome, in my fairly sheltered backyard, that it’s fine. Your mileage my vary, obviously. Tie it down fairly tight so it doesn’t flap and freak out your chooks.
  • The red thing in there is the old mop bucket that is SUPPOSED to be a nesting box. They liked it fine before, but for some reason in the new dome it’s not good enough. Now they prefer waiting to be let out (squawking all the while) to find secret nests. Maybe this would be less of a problem if my backyard weren’t overgrown with weeds, with many many good places for secret nests.

After that we were buggered. I did the door by myself the next day.

Basically, I tied pieces of bird wire to the sides with cable ties. I folded down the edges, so they wouldn’t catch on things. I attached the inner edges to pieces of smaller polypipe that I’d bought for something else. Then I cut little bits of the larger pipe, and attached it to the dome. The smaller pipe slides into the bits of big pipe, top and bottom. It doesn’t fit exactly, so I pull it closed with a springy thing that’s meant for tents. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t keep the f-er sparrows out, but it basically does the job.

Tada! Brand new, actually functioning, chicken dome! It’s lovely and it’s possibly one of my favourite things I’ve ever owned. For serious. It’s very very light, which is important as I have to move it myself.

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2 thoughts on “Dome-icile

  1. That chook dome tutorial was awesome and one day I will be able to come back here and use it. When we have a garden that has some flat land on it rather than just, you know, CLIFF.

    I fear there would definitely be fights though. We can’t even pitch our tent without fighting.

Whadya reckon?

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