Time had ravaged the old chicken run we built over twenty years ago. The salt air had turned the chicken wire to crumbly rust. The termite tunnels were more extensive than the volume of wood that housed them. Visions of large raccoons plummeting into the rotten structure began to gnaw on my thoughts. It was time to start anew.
Although the old run was originally sturdily built and entirely enclosed, it had never had a proper coop for the girls. Instead there was a bit of a covered structure that kept the rain off and for most of our mild winter weather provided enough cover. Our old fence needed replacing as well. This necessitated a way to secure the hens while portions of the fence were down to keep the neighbor dogs – good dogs.
Now if you have shopped around for chicken coops in the central coast/bay area recently, even the shabbiest used coop can cost a chunk of change. Building a coop from scratch (no pun intended) was appealing but would cost time and pushed back getting that new fence installed.
Our local landfill has a business called the Last Chance Mercantilewhere people can bring items that would otherwise be thrown into the landfill. Items are then resold as-is for people to clean, repair and use for another turn of the wheel in the great material continuum. This is a business model that other landfills need to adopt as it cuts down the waste stream load and puts resources back into a use cycle. You never know what treasure you will find at the Last Chance. But I digress.
At the Last Chance I found and purchased a homemade kids playhouse (treasure!) that was broken down into 6 flat pieces. I was able to load onto the car racks and bring home. A few minutes with the cordless drill and we had a serviceable enclosure that could be closed at night while the old chicken run was torn down.
Later upgrades included building a raised platform with a bottom so that the chickens were entirely secure at night. I was worried all the disruption would find the hens roosted in trees that night, but they got the memo and were perched inside as it got towards evening. They have faithfully roosted in the coop every night since its installation, even after moving twice while building the new run. Chicken stamp of approval!
There is something comforting about the various sounds that chickens make. Not the high alarm of “THERE’S A CAT!” or “I LAID AN EGG!,” but the smaller sounds as they discover a tasty slug or enjoy a satisfying dirt bath or settle in to the roost for the night. That said, my main conflict with the “girls” is that they are driven to turn over every atomic sized particle of soil if given the opportunity. The drive is strong, and it is important to keep sharply defined areas where the hens have free roam, and, where they can be BY INVITATION ONLY.
Case in point; I recently gained a small English breed hen that has remarkable escape artist skills (see post on selecting breeds). Miss Buffy could have shown the Great Houdini a trick or two in squeezing through impossible gaps and flying over tall fences with closely clipped wings. She quickly made WWI foxholes all over the back lot shortly after adjusting to the new surroundings. Her escape was possible because the old chicken run had rotted away and building the new one required multiple time consuming side projects including replacing a section of (also rotted) fence. So, during the construction of the new run, she wreaked havoc in the garden.
The new run is entirely enclosed; including bird wire across the top. We used the smaller 1/4 inch bird wire instead of chicken wire to enclose, because last year had a booming rat population of epic proportions. The smaller rats were entering through the 1″ wire cells to feed on downed food bits at night. The White Crowned Sparrows that migrate through our area in late winter, would boldly hop in through the open doorway during the daytime as well. A redesign was required to stop feeding the unwelcome guests, that would then linger further to eat peas (the pea PLANTS – those voracious birds never let them grow big enough to have peas), apples, tomatoes, loquats, blueberries and guavas.
A barrier dug in along the bottom edge will prevent skunks, possums and raccoons from tunneling in for an evening visit. I am changing the chicken feeder setup so that less food material will be dropped to the ground. The new enclosed roost will provide better protection from the weather and will interrupt the chicken flea life cycle (look it up – disgusting) because the droppings will never land in the soil and give the eggs a place to hatch.
For me, peace will be restored with the new pen. No one will fall into the chicken formed fox holes unsuspectingly taking the compost out in the dark. Lettuces and other tender greens will not bear the tell tale marks of a few “tastes.” Soil will be un-churned and the protective wood chip mulch will keep the moisture where it belongs. And the chickens will stay where they belong.