Friday, February 13, 2009

Building A Whelping Box

I'm very biased about many things. One of my core beliefs that I will not waiver on is that the Labrador Retriever is the best breed of dog. Now, my black lab, Steeler (as seen above), is a family pet but she's much more than that. She's a constant companion and does a great job retrieving the ducks and pheasants my friends and I harvest. She's very understanding and the old adage, "May I be half the man my dog thinks I am," rings true with her.

As it turns out, she's due for her first litter of pups on February 23rd. Now, Steeler is 4 years old. The name Steeler is something I also will not waiver on as I feel they are the best football organization in the history of the NFL. Some folks will make an argument for other teams and a pretty good argument can be made. However, my beliefs are my beliefs and I'll never waiver from them. With this being her first litter of pups, I needed to build a whelping box for her to deliver them in.

There's really not much in the way of building them and I refuse to pay for something that I can build. Additionally, being unemployed limits my opportunities to do any buying of much. But, I was not going to let my current work situation affect the quality of care that Steeler deserves. One of my best friends, Tim, brought up some supplies that he thought would help in my quest of building a functional whelping box for Steeler. (On a side note, if you have a friend like Tim, guard him. They don't come along very often and a great friend is an invaluable gift)

I was really more concerned with function than form on building this box, however, I knew the pups would be spending a lot of time and thought the bigger I could build it, the better for them.

The first step in building the box was basically to frame out the bottom of the box. I wanted this whelping box to be 6' x 6' so it was large enough to accommodate the pups but still small enough that I could fit it into a cramped, heated garage. This time of year the weather is so unpredictable in northern Indiana and I did not want the pups to be born outside.

I started with two 4' x 8' pieces of tongued plywood. I cut the plywood to specifications and joined them together with the tongued end. I secured the two pieces together with some scrap wood so that the plywood would stay joined and then took some scrap pine that was 1" x 12" and boxed in the plywood so that the base of the box looked like this:

After framing it out (you want to make sure there are no sharp objects anywhere on the inside of the box), it's time to add some posts to all four corners as well as to frame out a door. Now, with the sides of the box being 12" high, I'm not afraid of the pups being able to get out of the box for quite some time. However, I plan on fencing this all in as once the weather gets better, I'll move the box and place it outside for the pups to spend some time outdoors. I'll also cover it at that time to keep a beating sun or any other weather off of the pups.

Here is the box with the posts (the posts were basically 1/2" x 3" pieces of wood that were 8' in length. I cut these down to 5'-2" in length as the fence material I had was 4' and with the height of the side walls being 12", this would allow a little length left over.

Once this is done, it's time to fence it all in. This was the hardest part of building the box. I recommend having someone around to help as the fencing can be extremely difficult to handle by yourself. My 10 year old son (Cayden) and 8 year old daughter (Kennadee) helped but really two adults would have made this much easier. It was fun building the box with them and describing how things were going to be happening with Steeler soon, though. I simply used staples (hard-core staples; not your office supply type) to attach the fencing to the posts.

I simply wrapped the fencing all the way around the box and stapled the fencing both to the posts as well as the box to ensure there weren't any openings. The fencing material is simply caging that could be used for a chicken coop. After attaching the last piece of the fencing to the last door post, I simply rolled out more fencing to fit the door opening and attached a handle to the piece of fencing that would act as the door. I then attached a latch to the door allowing it to stay tightly closed when latched.

As I wanted to keep the cost down to a minimum, I decided to use pine shavings as the base to keep it warmer and soft for the pups. I contemplated cedar shavings as I felt that would help keep the odor down some but thought that pine would act better in absorbing puppy messes. I still may get a small bag of cedar to add to help with odors.

The last item I wanted in there was a heat lamp. Now, my garage is heated and with the pups being out of the wind, I'm not really that concerned with the temperature as the dogs will be kept warm by Momma. However, I'm the type that would rather have something and not need it than to need it and not have it. I simply hung the lamp from a hook in the ceiling of my garage.

I don't think this box is the prettiest or the best that's ever been made. I was certainly more worried about function over form. However, I think this whelping box is great for its intended purpose. I am nowhere close to being a construction-type of guy and if I can do it, I believe it can be done by anyone. Now, all I have to do is sit and wait for nature to take its course. There definitely is something about the circle of life that makes this part of the circle extremely exciting.

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