The summer of 2004, while building my studio, Barbara and I had a brown bear cub wander onto the property and adopt us. I hadn’t taken much to guess that his mother had been killed, because he was much too young to be on his own and the poor little guy didn’t know doodley-squat about how to survive.
Normally we don’t cotton to animals taking advantage of us no matter how cute they are, but the little guy was so helpless and forelorned, Barbara and I took to feeding him scraps and goodies scrounged from the back of grocery stores in town. How could we help ourselves? Knowing that he was a wild animal and those claws looked pretty long, we kept our distance when we saw him at the compost pile and while he stripped wild raspberries on the side of our hill.
Much bigger by late autumn, we saw less and less of him as he spent more of his time out in the thousands of acres of wild lands just beyond our property.
One day, he discovered the chicken coop and you would think that would be the end of our four chickens, but for a while anyhow, you would be wrong. He busted into the coop and ate the scraps and chicken food, not aware that the chickens were sitting on their perch a few feet above his head. He could smell them, I just don;t think he knew what the smell was and wasn’t savvy enough to search them out, at least for a while. For a week, I’d repair the coop by day and he’d bust back in that night, until, you must have guessed by now, he discovered the chickens and ate all but one in a single night. We had to find a home for her. What can one do? Winter was coming and since the old coop was made of rotting posts and twenty-year old rusted chicken wire, hardly a consideration for a growing and insistent bear.
The next spring we got more chickens and by mid summer, just about the time they started laying, he found and ate them. We tried again the next spring, but then gave up and for the next two years the coop was left empty and for the first time in thirty years I didn’t have at least a few chickens around. I’d grown to like the little peckers with their endless variations of clucking and the eggs weren’t bad either. I vowed to eventually build a coop that would hold out our local bear. Thus, “the bear proof chicken coop” idea was hatched.
Some of the metal I scavenged and some I had (heaven forbid) to buy new, but last summer after a few false starts and a bit of wasted metal, I started, what would turn out to be a seemingly endless chicken coop project. I sawed the thick walled inch and a half steel tubing, then swedged each end, drilled holes and bolted the twenty or thirty segments together into what I hoped would be a geodesic dome. Very quickly I realized that my calculations were slightly off and the eighteen-foot dome I had envisioned would end up being eight feet and that wasn’t going to get it. Only the best for our chickens.
Continuing the original dome shape was out of the question and after long hours of deliberation, I decided to give the structure some legs and make it into a bell shape. It wasn’t the shape I had origionally planned, but, as with anything build from scrap and spit, adaptation is critical. Once the legs were in place I hung the entire structure from a center pivot made from an old truck axle so I could spin the cage and weld each segment without dragging the welder around the circle.
So, came the job of filling in the gaping holes in the cage so our bear friend couldn’t simply push through the chicken wire and of course, as with everything I build, I wanted design to the consideration, because what is the point if it doesn’t look good, especially something that will far outlast the next millenium.
The finished cage in place.