The brooder/winter layer house/raised-bed garden/greenhouse is nearly complete. I used 1/2 inch pvc to make a hoophouse-type roof for it, which turned out to be trivially easy to build. I stapled poultry netting around most of the house, leaving room for a nest box and two doors. Putting the plastic over the top ended up being far easier than I expected. There was just enough of a breeze to lift the plastic up, but not enough to send it into orbit. I was able to attach it by myself with two clamps to help me.
Downhill from us, on the other side of the alley, is the neighborhood dump. Near us, it's mostly yard waste: leaves, grass clippings, branches, Christmas trees, etc. However, people have been known to dump garbage further down. At any rate, I raided the big leaf pile for the bottom layer of bedding in the brooder. Since the leaves are already partially composted, they'll give a nice jumpstart of microbes to the bedding. Also, there will be plenty of bugs and spiders (and centipedes!) for the chicks to gobble up. I followed the leaves with a layer of pine shavings. I really need to find a local source for bulk wood shavings, because paying pet store prices is going to get prohibitive.
All that's left to do on the brooder is to build two doors and attach them, cover the nest box hole with plywood, and attach a tarp or two to block cold winds until it warms up some more. The chicks should be able to move in by the end of the week. They'll spend only maybe a week there before going out to pasture, making room for the new batch of broilers.
Speaking of broilers, the last of my supplements arrived today so I was able to put my feed order in at the mill. Even with my customizations, buying in bulk will lower the feed cost from about $0.28/lb to $0.19/lb. This is for the broilers, who are too lethargic to forage much. Once the layers get out on pasture, they should be able to forage most of their own food, especially once the insect populations explode in the summer.
5 hours ago