Sunday, November 30, 2008

We Can Rebuild It-- We Have the Technology

Recent events call for a re-build of both the chicken coop and the backyard itself. While I truly appreciate all of the "it's not your fault!" comments, in a way it is. There will always be predators after chickens. Whether they are dogs belonging to someone else, stray dogs, foxes, raccoons, cats, or hawks, it is the chicken keeper's job to protect her birds. We did a lousy job, not because we were lazy or cheap, but because we just didn't know enough yet. Now we do, and we're fixing several things before trying to obtain more birds.

First off, we're replacing the temporary wire gate with a real one, the kind that has pressure-treated posts sunk into concrete, heavy-duty hinges and latches. Nothing but a human will be able to get through this thing, and with the double-latch system that Don is putting together, quite a few people would be baffled as well. It had always been the plan to make a permanent gate at some point, but there were always more pressing projects at hand, primarily fixing the hole in the downstairs apartment before the weather got to freezing. What we had was working "well enough"... until last week.

The rest of the fence is fairly secure: it's 48" woven wire with sturdy metal posts. The only weak spot in the fence is this one section that comes up against the neighbor's front-yard retaining wall: their yard is raised about three feet from the level of our back yard, so the fence is only about a foot tall on the "outside", if that makes any sense, while still being four feet tall "inside". It would be very easy for a medium-sized dog to jump into the yard from the retaining wall at that point, and not be able to get back out. For that section of fence, we're going to make it double-height so that it will stand four feet high on the neighboring side, and be almost eight feet tall measuring from our ground up. Our neighbors to that side are elderly and both are sight-impaired, so I'm hoping they don't notice how weird it's going to look, although hopefully if they say anything I can explain about predators and they'll get it.

Don has explained that electric fencing really won't deter the dogs at all, and is not worth putting in; it was just a vindictive idea on his part. He had also come up with many cruel booby traps for anything going after the chickens, but decided against them on the grounds that they'd be more likely to get me, him, or our animals than the intended victims-- and also because they were downright inhumane. Also considered and dismissed: getting a rooster to protect the flock (he'd be more likely to run at the dogs and scare them, than to run away and entice them), or getting any of the following to do the same: a goat, a gander, a male swan, or an ostrich. Essentially, we decided against a guard creature of any kind. For one thing, being downtown severely limits what animals we can maintain; for another, our 1/8th acre wouldn't sustain much more than chickens, and lastly I don't want anything that would attack me. (I'm scared of swans, to be honest. They're beautiful from a distance, but up close and personal those things are powerful and mean.) It's too bad that we can't use our own dog to guard the chickens, but she would go after them just as these dogs did. Alice is a bird-dog at heart.

Building the gate and reinforcing that one area of fence should make the yard reasonably secure. Our long-term plan involves planting shrubby, thorny bushes around the fences to create a bigger barrier; we're putting raspberry brambles along one edge this spring. The more important thing is to make the coop itself as secure as possible, which really means, completely secure. Don and I both agreed that if the coop itself had held up against the dogs, the girls could have just hidden out in there until the dogs got bored and left. It was the coop being breached, more than the yard, that was the real problem. The "run" half of the coop seems to have held up just fine, ironic since it's just a frame with wire mesh while the "coop" half is heavy-duty lumber and plywood. Don spent yesterday making small changes to it anyway, that make it sturdier and will let it connect with the coop more securely. The latch on the coop's back doors was just not strong enough; it only latched one door to the other to hold them both closed. Don is fixing them so that one door will latch to the house itself, and a two-by-four brace will wrap across both doors and be dead-bolted on the side. I can't exactly picture it, but he bought a lock set for the coop that is better than anything we have on the house. (He feels more than a little guilt about all of this since he built the coop, even though he did the best job he could; we just didn't know.) I pointed out that I will still need to open the back of the coop at least once daily to feed, water, and gather eggs; he asked whether my convenience was more important than the birds' safety. Something tells me that my morning routine just got more complicated.

Once we've finished all of this, I will try to find more chickens, although this is exactly the wrong time of year. If I can find three grown or mostly-grown birds in any of the breeds that I'm interested in, then we will start again.


Bex said...

It sounds like you'll have a bit of a chicken fortress when you both are done. Good luck with everything.

ayla said...

I'm glad that you're reinforcing the coop and are going to give it another go. Srsly, chickens are so cool and I wish I had the patience for them.

Mara said...

Chicken fortress- haha, I guess that is more or less the effect we're going for. I will admit that at one point in the discussion process, the words "moat" and "alligators" did come up, but Don reminded me that aligators will eat chickens, too.

Rachel said...

That's another reason I didn't get them...the owner told me that the hunting dogs got her chickens and goat one night. I couldn't deal with it at all.

Sounds like you've got a plan and it will be awesome and strong! Chicken fortress, as Bex says.

BTW...come on down to Richmond anytime...would love to see you!

Anonymous said...

I agree! Glad you gave it another shot! It sounds like you did a great job! My kids love our chickens and the eggs are sooo delicious! You should check out They get some great articles on there from time to time!

Good Cluck! (sorry...I couldn't resist!)

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