Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Building A Third Level

One of the fun things with a C&C cage is that there are endless ways to configure it.  I built my first C&C cage in 2003. (You can find a great set of instructions on how to build a C&C cage on GuineaPigCages.com.)  Over the years I've rearranged my cage several times.  The original base still exists, but the rest of it morphs.

Many of my YouTube videos feature Bertie, Pinni and Willow frolicking around in their cage and people want to build a cage like it.  These are instructions for the third level I have in my cage.  The design is dependent on having another floor that is only a half-grid below it.  You can get the directions for that in No-Ramp Loft.

The third level in my cage is almost the same size and shape as the second level, just with one extra grid that works as a ramp.  Before you build this addition, you need to know that your guinea pigs are not leapers.  The third level I designed is rather open, and if my pigs were determined, the could leap out of the cage entirely.  It would be a long and possibly fatal drop.  If you are unsure about your pigs' penchant for jumping, you may want to replace the half-grids on the balcony with full grids.

To build the third level like my cage you will need the following:

  • 9 C&C grids (one grid cut in half to create two 4x9 hole rectangular grids)
  • 50lb zip ties
  • Coroplast cut to 20"x48" (you will need to adjust if you do not have 14" grids)
  • 2 medium binder clips (more to keep on the fleece)
  • 2 metal S-hooks - looks like mine are 2.5" long

You will need the tools you do for any C&C cage project, plus a pair of heavy duty wire cutters or a hack saw in order to cut apart the one grid to create the half grids.  As you can see from the first photo, they are 4 holes by 9 holes.  I attach the cut edges to the bottom of the frame, so the sharp edges are not out in the open.

Front of the third level grids
The first step is to build the frame for the third level.  I used 50lb zip ties for the entire 3rd level.  I have a connector in the upper left corner just to help stabilize that part of the frame and to keep it square.

I have connectors on the back on the first level from when I first built the cage.  Your cage may look different if you zip-tie or use connectors for all of the levels.  I also debated about zip-tying an extra grid or two on the back of the cage, centered where four back-wall grids meet, to make the back a bit more rigid.  However, the whole thing seems to be holding together well (I've had this design a couple of years).  Even with Bertie and Pinni jumping on it (over 5 lbs of pigs), it doesn't budge. 

Back of the cage, including the third level
The coroplast on the back of my cage extends up the entire first level solely to keep the hay from falling out the back and into the radiator that's behind the cage.  It's not necessary for the design.

I used a lot of zip-ties to attach the last back piece to where the first and third floors overlap the second level.  I had a difficult time getting the grids to line up properly.  The roof/shelf area on the third level helps keep the balcony from warping.  It's nice to have a place to put extra fleece, but the structural integrity is key.

I temporarily added full grids zip-tied to the half grids when I first let my pigs up to the third level.  As they got used to it, I removed the grid nearest the ramp, and a few days later removed the other additional grid when I determined they weren't likely to bail over the railing.

Edge view of coroplast level and ramp
Next, cut the coroplast.  It only needs the 6" sides on one short side and across the back.  As you can see from the photo, I cut the section on the ramp shorter than 6".  I found it easier to put on the fleece with a shorter edge.  See what works for you.

The coroplast is scored where the ramp bends.  Because of this, I cut this piece of coroplast so that the "ribs" run on the short side of the level, rather than running down the long side.  It was easier to score and bend.  The score is 14" from the end of the ramp, so that it bends where the 3rd level joins the ramp.

Now, assemble the whole thing with the coroplast.  Because the levels are stacked and overlap, they have to be pulled apart in a certain order and put back together the opposite way.  In this photo you can see the whole upper side empty, ready for reassembly.

First put in the 2nd level coroplast.  I find it easiest to binder clip the fleece to the coloplast, and then drop the whole thing into the second level.

Next, you need to secure the ramp.  The third level is spongiest where the ramp meets the third level in the corner of the half-grid.  If you press there, you can feel the whole thing sag away from the back wall.  To make sure this didn't sag too much, or put too much stress on the zip ties, I connect the bottom of the ramp to the second level, so when you press down the ramp doesn't slide away from the third level.

Underside and overhead view
of the ramp and hooks

This is where the S-hooks come into play.  First hook them to the coroplast/grids of the second level, so they rest on the top part of the second level.  Then bring down the ramp and hook them around the grids, so that when you press down on the ramp, the ramp won't slide because it is pressing into the hooks.  The 2.5" hooks are just the right size; I have to wrestle them in there.  At least I know they won't budge!  Don't worry if they stick up a little, the coroplast of the ramp will help keep it flat.

I attach the fleece to the third level, similar to the first level, and then lay it down on the third level and ramp.  I have found that some extra padding under the fleece on the ramp improves the guinea pigs' grip when going up the ramp and they are less likely to slide down it.

Binder clips, with the wires removed.

The last thing you want to do is binder clip the fleeced coroplast to the edge of the ramp grid.  This both helps the grid from bouncing and also keeps the bottom edge of the ramp from coming away from the second level.  I binder clip it in two spots, near the top and near the bottom of the grid.

I worried that the pigs would catch their nail on the wire portion of the binder clips.  I didn't want to chance them tripping and hurting themselves.  I flip the bottom wire so that it is flush with the grids, but the top wire I remove.  This is quite easy to do, by pinching the wire edges of one side together.  They will slip out of the metal folds that are holding them there.  Put these in a safe place that you can find them!  You will need to slip them back into place in order to remove the coroplast and fleece.

That's about it.  Add pigs and enjoy.  It may take your guinea pigs a few days to adjust to the new layout.   Mine weren't to sure of it at first, but now they bounce all over the second and third levels, especially when they get new fleece.

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