Beefing Up Security (Part 2)

In researching how to construct, or reconstruct, a safer coop for our next flock of birds, I discovered that we were (perhaps) not as good to our birds as I thought.

We fulfilled and provided almost all of their basic needs.

They had fresh air, clean water, a dust bathing area, lots of fresh grass and insects to forage and enough space. But they didn’t really have a place to flee from predators…or (apparently) much protection against them.

Their coop and run were completely enclosed, but that just meant that if something got in (ie a fox or an opossum), there was no escape for the chickens.

They would have been way to frantic, not to mention way too clueless, to escape the way the predator gained entry.

So where were they to go?

While pondering these concerns and researching what other chicken keepers have done, The Grow Network, a blog where I’ve been a guest contributor, published an article that addresses most, if not ALL of our concerns.

Raising Chickens: Coop Considerations

One of the top concerns we have is (for obvious reasons) protecting our flock from predators.

There are many things the article mentioned the things we are already doing.

The coop is enclosed and raised off the ground and the run and ramp are completely covered with chicken wire.

But, there are also a few things we could be doing to better.

Chicken wire, while fine for keeping the chickens contained, would not protect against a determined dog, fox or raccoon.

Apparently, raccoons as well as small dogs and weasels, could easily tear through the wire.

Using wire mesh or hardware cloth instead of or in addition to chicken wire may be an affordable option.

Another suggestion was to bury wire around the run.

This is not an option for us. We want to have the freedom to move the chickens around the property to help us weed, fertilize and prep for planting.

But, if we cover our chicken wire with the mesh, and also cover the bottom of the run, we would still be able to move the coop around and the chickens would still be able to peck and forage.

This added protection would further deter predators by making it that much more difficult to breach the coop.

We could also cover the ramp with the mesh, which is one of the most vulnerable spots in our set-up.

The use of electric fencing, motion-sensing lights, or even a well-trained livestock guardian dog (LGD) is also an option.

We already use a solar motion detecting light that seems to be doing a pretty good job…at least at night.

While I’m not sure we are ready to get another dog yet, installing an electric fence around the coop and run is one of the precautions we have been considering to beef up security.

Electric fencing sounds so scary, especially to an amateur homesteader and chicken lady with two little boys running around touching everything they see like crazed monkeys.

But…with the proper precautions and training of said crazed monkeys, it would be another layer of protection for the hens.

A simple measure we can take will be to lock the hens in at night. While there are daytime predators like hawks and the occasional confused fox, locking the hens in at night will put the odds in our favor.

We should have been doing this all along. It wouldn’t have stopped the daytime fox from getting the big flock, but it may have protected our last three girls…something I will always wonder about.

Beefing up the coop
Security our main goal
Protecting our hens

Ping-Pong Eggs

I guess we will not have to worry about tricking our hens into laying this winter. Oh how I will miss them!

a pinch of homestead

The eggs had dwindled down
To maybe four a day
We checked boxes with a frown
No hiding our dismay

All hens seemed hale and healthy
All feathers bright and red
Our cats are not that stealthy
Besides, they are well fed

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Was the problem frost and cold?
Was that what made them stop?
Was their laying put on hold?
If so, their heads would drop

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A tiny little laugh came out
While looking in the coop
There they were, without a doubt
A cozy little group

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The ping-pong balls will be the scam
Our plan should do the deed
Call it a trick, a ruse, a sham
But will it work? Indeed.

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The Meow

A mournful meow, so loud
Is coming from the garage
It sounds a little proud
This eery meow

I stop and take a breath
My fingers on the door
I know I will see death
What is it now?

Once she brought a mouse
A mole, and then a bird
She brings them to the house
And then she’ll chow

And when this time she meowed
And brought me to the door
There she stood so proud
And I said, “Wow”

A rabbit, limp and dead
Was lying on our rug
(At least it had its head)
Boots sweetly meowed

Beefing Up Security (Part One)

Almost a week has passed and the loss of our 13 hens to a fox still smarts.

If I’m being completely honest, I am surprised it took this long.

We have been pretty lucky to only have lost one or two to a predator. It was really only a matter of time I suppose.

Still. Did he really have to kill them all?

It is getting to be too late in the year to start a new flock, so we will be taking time to re-evaluate our coop construction and re-think our defensive plan against unwanted visitors.

There are a few sad realizations we have come to as we get ready for winter:

We have no livestock to prepare the kitchen garden.

We relied on the chickens to weed, eat pests and prep the ground for Spring planting. Now we are forced to (gasp) do the work ourselves.

Kitchen garden before chickens have spent 4+ months prepping for the Spring planting.

Kitchen garden after chickens have spent 4+ months prepping for Spring planting.

We will have to buy eggs for at least the next 6 months.

In reality, by the time you factor in the cost of chicken feed, electricity to keep them warm and bedding, we will probably be spending a bit less.

Still…buying eggs.

We won’t only be losing fresh eggs, but also fresh fodder for stories and poems. A tragedy indeed.

So, what can we do to better protect our birds?

We are already doing a few necessary things to protect the flock.

  1. The coop and run are completely enclosed with chicken wire to protect from opportunists like hawks and raccoons.
  2. We keep the chickens highly visible and have a solar powered motion light to deter possible predators.
  3. We collect eggs daily so as not to attract any unwanted visitors

But, as with anything else, there is always room for improvement and there are several precautionary steps we need to step up.

For example, we could do a better job of picking up any food scraps the chickens didn’t eat before nightfall. It should have been obvious to us that food left out in the open can attract more than just chickens.

We could also start to shut the coop door at night to make it more difficult for intruders. The run and ramp to it is “secure” with chicken wire, but that (apparently) did not stop Mr. Fox.

Also, we need to pay more attention to and fix any holes in the fencing that could provide an easy entry into the coop and run.

Another recommendation was to get a rooster. This is not an option as we had several and the crowing got a bit out of control.

But…we could get a guard dog.

A guard dog would provide the same security as a rooster…only better.

A guard dog would scare off any predators…man or beast.

A guard dog would be an excellent addition to the homestead.

Killers Unknown

Since we’ve lost our entire flock, it’s time to start thinking about what breed to get next. I liked our Red Stars and our Rhode Island Reds. It would be kind of fun to get a few different breeds to mix it up a bit.

a pinch of homestead

The morning started just like any other morning.

Bleary-eyed, I started the coffee pot.

Yawning, I looked out the back door.

Uh. Oh. The chickens were out.

I forgot to put them away. Again.

Their coop had been open all night. Again.

Sighing, I started breakfast.

‘I have to start remembering to lock the hens up,’ I thought to myself.

Later, I went outside to move the little girls out to the playpen. After getting them situated (with only a few squacks and pecks), I did my morning headcount.

Nine pullets and six hens.

Wait. Six? Where were the other two?

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I looked around a little, not too concerned yet. They’d been out for most of the morning after all and they’d been getting braver, venturing further away from the coop. Surely they’d come back when they got hungry.

I went about my day, forgetting about the missing ladies.

Early evening…

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Just a Lady

Chickens on the homestead
Roaming in their pen
Clucking, pecking, roosting
Squawking now and then

I watered them and fed them
I cleaned their little coop
I made sure they were healthy
A happy little group

Their eggs became a staple
Fresh food to share and eat
We worked them in the garden
And butchered them for meat

I was “The Chicken Lady”
But now those days are done
A wily fox invaded
And killed them…every one

 

The Massacre

“There was a different looking cat under the chicken coop.”

This may seem like an innocent enough comment, but coming from my 5-year-old as he held an empty egg carton…it sounded ominous.

“A different looking cat?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was under the coop playing with a chicken. That’s why I didn’t get eggs.”

Uh oh.

“I’ll go check,” I said as I went out in the bright, noon sunshine and headed toward the coop.

“Mommy, be careful!” called my oldest, worry in his eyes.

I was halfway to the coop when I saw movement. A few more steps and the “different kind of cat” shot out from under the coop, a chicken in its jaws.

A fox had been in the henhouse. 

Surely, I thought, he had just captured PJ, our one free-range hen. There was no way a fox could actually get in the henhouse. Right?

I checked on the smaller flock first. The three ladies looked a little shaken up, but aside from a few loose feathers, they were unharmed.

I could see a lifeless chicken under the coop. I could only assume it was PJ. On closer inspection, her head and body were all intact. She looked almost peaceful.

But wait…if PJ was in one piece without a leg, thigh or head missing…what did the fox have in its mouth?

It was then I heard it.

The eerie sound of silence.

Not a whisper or a rustle came from the coop. Not a hen wandered in the pen.

I slowly opened the laying box and peeked inside. All I could see were feathers.

I opened the big door and saw bodies everywhere.

It was a feathery massacre.

Not one of the Pearl White Leghorns had survived. All bodies, save one, were accounted for. The missing body, I could only assume, was in the belly of the fox.

I don’t know if I truly interrupted his theft, or if he was only going to take one bird all along. I’ve read that the fox can get in a “killing frenzy” when cooped up with a bunch of hens, but usually will only leave with one. Creepy.

As I started to remove the dead, I noticed something strange. Only two hens were headless.

The rest were just…dead. There was no outward sign of fowl play. 

As I picked the bodies up with my three-layer-gloved hands, I saw what had happened. The fox, had broken all their necks, but only taken one as a prize.

The guilt set in as I realized what had really happened. The words I had spoken only the night before echoed in my mind.

“We need to butcher the hens before winter. All of them except the new ones.”

The wily fox had heard me and granted my wish.

The Sac

In the roses, hidden
A crinkly little clump
Squishy, brown and wrinkled
A smallish papery bump

Look a little closer
And see the little swirls
The grooves and swishy-swashies
The round and running whorls

It’s not a wilted flower
A leaf deformed and slack
The blob is quite important
A praying mantis sac

It holds eggs in the hundreds
It keeps the mantids warm
Until the frost is over
Then hundreds start to swarm

So let the brown globs stay there
Don’t pick at them or spray
And you’ll have lots of helpers
To crunch on pests and prey

Greenhouse Project: Plan Adjustment

I had almost forgotten about the jigsaw greenhouse we bought in 2012 only to sell the parts in 2013. Now we are working on building a hoophouse style greenhouse…for real this time.

a pinch of homestead

Our plan this year was to put up the greenhouse we bought at an auction last year. We bought it sight unseen…our family was at the auction and described it to us. They told us that it was in pieces…

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We brought it home, put the glass in the garage and piled the rest out back on cardboard.

It came with four sturdy tables with wooden slat bottoms. Perfect for starting seeds or filling with leafy green. It also came with a pack of pictures showing how to construct it.

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It was a professional grade greenhouse that used to be at a local flower shop in our hometown.

When we finally got around to getting the underground wires and cables marked by JULIE and determining where we were going to put it, we quickly realized that this was going to be a MUCH bigger project than we had anticipated.

The slope…

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Significant

I wrote this post a few years ago during a particularly trying time at home with the boys. That MOPs group has since disbanded, but I learned so much from the ladies and made quite a few friends in the bargain. This post applies to our homeschool and reading it has helped to remind me that ‘momming’, ‘wifing’ and teaching are only a part of who I am as a person.

a pinch of homestead

Rain. Wind. Gloom.

It has been a rough couple of weeks. The boys, cooped up all day in the house, have gone stir crazy and I’ve come right along with them.

I’ve yelled. I’ve shouted. I’ve cried tears of frustration.

Then, I remembered that MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) was on Friday morning. A break! A 1 hour and 45 minute break. I could drink coffee and commiserate with other moms while the boys played with other little people their own age.

Real conversation. Real play.

At first, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about all of the screaming going on in my house. I didn’t want anyone to judge me. I didn’t want to feel worse from the looks of shock I thought other moms would give me for losing my cool so often.

But I decided to put myself out there. Take a risk. I posted this note on our group page…

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