Repurposing old stuff, and how to do it

The obvious downside to me not having an office job anymore is the drop in disposable income that went along with that. So, when I need things for the animals, I can’t just go buy them – I have to be creative.

In spite of that, I am very happy with the supplies I have gotten for my animals. My chickens reside in a coop made from a motorcycle shipping crate. My rabbits live in cages that other people discarded. The cages are supported by a metal bunk bed frame. The cat litterboxes and most of their toys were free from Craigslist.

We’ll start with the chicken coop. We bought a used motorcycle shipping crate, took it apart, added two 2x4s and some hardware, and put it back together as a chicken coop. The shipping crate was approximately 8′ x 4′ x 4′.  Most of it we left intact – the floor, the two small ends, and the back were left just as they came. The front we took off and sawed in half to create two barn-style doors – we attached them to the sides with hinges for human use when we need to access the inside. Then we cut an additional small door in one of them for the chickens to use on a daily basis, attached with hinges and a latch. The roof we removed, and then added a long 2 x 4 above the hinged front doors, and put the roof back on (this time at a slant for rain runoff.) An 8′ long 2×4 added to the inside serves as a nice roost, and as an extra stabilizer for the whole thing. It is up on stilts (we already had scrap wood for those), and the chickens reach it by a ramp (also scrap wood, traction provided by stapled on inner tube that had ruptured). A coat of off-white paint (super cheap because it was a custom tint the store got wrong for someone else.) Viola! A usable chicken coop for up to 8 hens for less than $100, two days, and a screwdriver and paintbrush.

The rabbit cages came entirely from sellers on Craigslist. Some I purchased in Colorado, driving an hour away to pick three huge ones up for $55 together. Some were (unexpectedly) given to me when I purchased the rabbits inside them. Two were free because someone thought they were too rusty to keep and was giving them away as scrap metal. Four of them were $15 apiece and came with a nestbox, three J feeders, a water bottle, several plastic droppings trays and some supports – from someone who simply wanted the barn space more than he wanted money. Sometimes they need repair, but a pair of pliers and some scrap wire is often enough to accomplish that.

The support frame for my rabbit cages is our most recent find. We originally had the rabbit cages up on a frame made from an old dog kennel. But the legs were so skinny that one side was starting to sink into the ground and tip the cages. Plus, it wasn’t large enough to hold all the cages, and some still sat on the ground which was a cleaning nightmare.  We wanted to build a new frame from PVC pipe that would be large enough for all the cages, but it was more expensive than we wanted to pay. Then one day we saw a yard sale just a couple doors down from our house – selling a metal bunk bed frame! The wheels started turning in our brains, and we went to go look at it. Perfect height, perfect width, and the bottom bunk was for a double mattress so it would be great for the larger cages… it looked perfect.  One broken slat that would have held the bottom mattress, but that wouldn’t matter for what we wanted it for. They asked $20 and we offered $15 – they accepted it and we walked home carrying a metal bunk bed frame! (I’m sure we looked a sight! Not every day one sees a bunkbed being walked down the street.) The rabbit cages fit perfectly on it.

Have you ever successfully repurposed something to fill a different need? Here are some tips

1 – Know what you need.
Don’t just know the name of what you want – know what purpose it needs to fill. I did not need “a chicken coop”. I needed a thing with at least 16 square feet of floor space, with a door and windows, and with a top at least 3 feet from the floor, with sides strong enough to resist predators. Knowing that, I was able to asses everything I came across for its suitability. A child’s playhouse would have worked. A large wooden rabbit hutch would have worked. A small storage shed would have worked. And so on. By knowing the bare bones of what I needed, it became easier to find something that would work. Remember that with search terms as well – a search for “rabbit hutch” may not turn up many useful results, but a search for “wire” brought me to the rabbit cages that were listed as scrap metal.

2 – Look for what you need when you have the time to deal with it.
It would not have done me much good to look for things a half hour before a job interview. I would have only frustrated myself with my inability to drop everything and go get a good deal. Most people who are trying to get rid of something want to do so quickly, and they won’t wait even a few hours if someone else will take it off their hands immediately. To deal with that, check at the beginning of your free time. I tend to check listings while eating breakfast.

3 – Always be prepared.
Most people have some sort of emergency kit in the trunk of their car. Spare tire, jack, blanket, maybe even flares and some tools. Mine includes all those and some more – a cat carrier, lots of rope, some cardboard boxes, a long-sleeved sweatshirt. So when I find a good deal I can jump in the car and just go. No need to hunt up a carrier for a new rabbit, rope to tie a cage to the roof of the car, careboard boxes to store feed, hay, or litter, or a shirt to protect my arms while I help round up chickens.

4 – Bring a tape measure.
One of my God-given talents is spatial recognition. I can look at one thing and just know whether it is the same size as something else. But most people don’t have that gift, and that’s why man invented tape measures. Know the dimensions of what you need. Write them down and carry them with you if necessary. Remember to include the sizes of any doorways it needs to pass through. With those and a tape measure you can know for SURE if what you are considering will work.

5 – Be flexible.
My husband and I have jumped in a car at 8:00 at night to get free rabbits, instead of watching a movie. I have driven home from picking up cages with one tied to the roof of my car rather than leave it behind. Our original plan for rabbit cages included them all facing the same direction, but the bunk bed frame has them back-to-back. And all those changes worked just fine. If I had stuck to my original plans I would not now have my current litter of kits, have the largest of my cages, and my rabbits would all still be listing sideways.

6 – Lastly, be safe.
Craigslist is not for dummies. There are weirdos out there. A safety plan is important. Always let someone know where you are going, when you will return, and how to get in contact with you. Carry exact change for your purchase. Don’t make a display of anything tempting to steal – leave your purse in the car, but carry your phone and some pepper spray in your pocket. Don’t be concerned about looking stupid – your safety is more important than any purchase. I almost lost a great one (a manually-powered meat slicer) because I kept turning around to keep my FRONT to the man who was selling it – no way would I let a man I did not know stand behind me. Meet in public when possible (not always possible for heavy items like rabbit hutches that are in someone’s backyard, so use extra precautions for things like that). Bring a friend along when you can.

Repurposing things is FUN. It is great satisfaction to look out at what we have created and know that it was our ingenuity that created it. We’re much prouder of the chicken coop we built than we would have been of one we simply purchased. The friends who “get” our lifestyle think the things we have done are really cool, and their support is awesome to have. But you won’t have those experiences until you get out and DO it yourself.

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One comment on “Repurposing old stuff, and how to do it

  1. One of our chicken houses is made from: an old dog crate, some plastic carpet protector, a piece of old skirting board and cable ties – it’s waterproof, fox-proof and doesn’t harbour red mite… and it cost us nothing because all the components were already lying around the place. In addition, we feel smug about it!!!

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