Backyard chickens are exciting, super fun and entertaining. We have loved having chickens in our backyard for almost the past decade. Over the years, we have gone through a few chicken coops. Does that surprise you? Sadly, this happens to quite a few folks due to things like chicken math, wish lists, what’s working, what’s not working and quality of the construction. It’s kind of the norm for most chicken keepers, but it doesn’t have to be. When it comes to keeping chickens, the chicken coop is the most costly part of the hobby. From building your own chicken coop to purchasing one ready to assemble or even assembled online, here are some tips and common pitfalls to avoid and help you to get your design right the first time.
Chickens love to be outside. They get a thrill from free-ranging in the yard and garden. They love to explore, scratch in the grass and hide under large plantings for afternoon naps. However, sometimes it is not feasible for the chicken to be allowed to roam freely where they want to go. The reasons are many, including when you are not home or on vacation, poor weather conditions, and nearby predators. It is always a good idea to have a safe run enclosure for the chickens attached to their chicken coop even if they don’t use it very often. When considering design, one of the most important things that you want to think about is how to predator proof the run. Here are some of the things I did when I designed my chicken coop and run.
Yesterday, the girls were tormented by a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk for a few hours. Either myself or one of the contractors would chase it away, only to find it returned and perched upon the coop. Finally, I had remembered something that I had seen and learned about from Terry Golson during her Chicken Workshop. She had strung old CDs across her pullets’ open top run to ward off flying predators. It had worked beautifully.
Today I was working in the backyard with our contractor replacing a window. I kept hearing the chickens sound the alarm. I could only assume they were reacting to the power tools and hammering. Little did I know that the threat was real. I decided to investigate after they were squawking for a while. As I rounded the corner, I was taken a back by this juvenile Red Tailed Hawk perched atop the coop staring down at my chickens! It was big, about 2 feet tall, and it was not fazed by my presence. The girls, on the other hand, were down in the far end of the run fearing for their lives.
I snapped a quick picture with my phone, went into the garage, and grabbed a 2 x 4. I was ready for battle. As they are federally protected, my intentions were not malicious, just scare tactics. It was not until I was about 5 feet away swinging that it went up into a nearby tree. I was shaken. After a few minutes standing there, it took off, buzzed my head, and flew into the woods. I am sure it will be back. I now will not dare let the girls free range. I had never been within a few feet of such a magnificent creature. Nor do I think I want to be for a long time. The worst part was, poor Fifi was trying to lay her first egg inside the coop while all of this ruckus was occurring outside. She never did lay that egg.
Photo Credits: Tilly’s Nest
My neighbor called me today and told me of an animal he saw in his backyard yesterday around 3pm in the afternoon. At first glance, he thought that it was a ferret, as it moves very similarly. However, it was the size of a raccoon. My worst fears were confirmed. I had seen them in the night but never in the day. I never thought that I would have to worry about them during the day, but apparently, this one was out hunting bunnies in my neighbor’s yard. It was a fisher cat in broad day light in the middle of the day.
Known to be vicious members of the wolverine that can even eat and kill porcupines, the only real threat to this animal is man. They tear through chicken wire with their sharp claws. Eat through wood and love poultry. My worst nightmare has come true. I am a nervous wreck. I wonder if an electric fence would work?
For more information about fisher cats, click here.
Terrible news has come from across town. Three chicken coops have been invaded by a weasel and the flocks had been wiped out. I got news yesterday from Viola that her flock was attacked in the night. She had a mixed flock of about 20 girls. Only 3 escaped harm. When she arrived at her coop, she noticed bodies and feathers everywhere. Thankfully, the children were not home. Not knowing what to do or where to start, she ran to her neighbor’s house.
Together, they began to clean up the coop and run. As she was picking up the bodies, she had discovered that her beloved rooster, Dusky, was still barely alive. Slowly dying, she held him. He was probably responsible for saving the lives of her three remaining girls, her Hamburg and two buff Orpington pullets. Dusky had always had a sweet spot in Viola’s heart and now, he was near the end. He passed on as Viola was desperately trying to reach her husband and physician friend to help ease Dusky’s transition.
Thoughts are that the same weasel is responsible for Viola’s tragedy. The birds were left, no bodies were taken. As I have been talking with Viola, she believes that the weasel was able to access the chickens through their pop-up door. You see, Viola and her family are moving a few streets away. She had been busily setting the new coop at her new location and the old home is now vacant except for the chickens out back. The dog is away and so are her cats. They are already at the new house. The night of the attack, she did not lock the girls up.
Viola’s loss is a terrible reminder on how important it is to lock-up our flocks and do our best to prevent predators. Weasels can be tough. Even with doors locked, they can fit through 1 inch openings. Please take the time today to examine and investigate any tiny openings in and around your coop and run that you have been meaning to fix. Your flock’s life may depend on it.
Today, I am helping Viola to rebuild her flock. Her remaining girls are safe in her garage. She is taking the Hamburg to the vet today for a foot injury that most likely occurred in the invasion. She is placing an order for new chicks and we will be taking a visit over to my friend’s farm where she raises Silkies. I am happy to be there for Viola who inspired me to take the first step on my own adventures with backyard chickens.
|Cooper’s Hawks, like this one, used to be called
“chicken hawks” in the days of the early settlers.
Are you nervous to let your flock free range for a number of reasons? I too find that I need to supervise the girls whenever they are out. Here on Cape Cod, we have many predators including fisher cats, coyotes, raccoons, fox, hawks and weasels. I find it entirely sad when my chickens come to the run door and ask to go outside. They come and snuggle with me and sometimes the little Silkies pop out between my legs! However, I usually cannot let them out unless I have about an hour to give to them while I babysit, standing by on predator watch. The other issue that I have is that not all of the chickens are as easy to catch. In the past, I have spent over 3 hours trying to catch a rouge chicken. As the days get longer, it is nice that the flock has so much daylight. In fact, it seems to be getting dark around 8 pm lately. At that time, the girls go into the coop and roost for the night.
This morning I heard the girls yelling out their alert call. After a few minutes I decided to investigate. I peered out the window to discover a male turkey paying a visit to the girls! Oyster Cracker was standing on the log in the run. All the girls were yelling! What a sight! I snapped some pictures through the front door.
|Standing closely to the girls, admiring their beauty|
|50 feet between them|
I am not sure if he heard the girls, realizing that Chocolate was gone, and decided to investigate. Maybe he was looking for love and trying to start a new flock of his own…..I wonder if he will return?
Do you ever have those moments when you can’t wait any longer to fix something wrong in the coop? Well, after dinner last night, I did. I knew that I needed to adjust the hardware cloth that I had buried in the ground last Fall to guard my flock from predators. I needed to rebend and relocate some of the cloth. The girls were digging such deep holes that lead to exposed wire edging. I was afraid someone was going to get hurt.
So, with tools in hand, especially my Cobrahead (which just so happens to be one of the best digging tools I own), I set out. It was around 5:30 pm and I knew that I had about 2 more hours before sunset. The best part, was that the girls could free-range for almost 2 hours!
Everyone was let out except for the broody girls and Dolly. They preferred to stay in the coop as I worked. I locked them into the coop and then removed the run. My set-up is easy this way, nothing is attached permanently. This makes for easy cleaning and reassembly. As I worked, the girls could not be more curious.
Tilly came to visit me the most. I would call out to them when I found a tasty bug or worm. In my best chicken impression, deep and low, I called out their names then, “Duht, duht, duht, dut”. No matter where Tilly girl was, she would come running! It was fun. As I redug some of the trenches, the girls could also not help peering into the sides of the 12 inch trench. They would jump from side to side and stick their long necks into the deep abyss. They also could not help knocking the dirt back in. I think they thought it was funny watching Mom dig holes like chickens. At one point they all dug around me. So much dirt, leaves and woodchips were flying, I had to take a moment and just smile.
Chocolate too was on his best behavior. He romanced his girls one at a time. Strutting around the yard with them and offering up all tasty morsels. I guess it wasn’t quite so Disney when it came to Tilly. My goodness, I think he lured her in for loving! That poor girl, there was no end in sight. Finally, I had to pull him off her. She can only take so much feather pulling!
All in all, despite the hard work, I had a great time watching the evening shadows begin to appear after sunset. It was a magical time with the girls. It had been such a long time since we were able to spend so much time together in one gathering. It was enchanting. As I came into the house, the Spring Peepers had just begun their evening serenade of the woodland creatures of the night.
Last night when I arrived home, it was around 5:30pm. The flock was in for the night. Quickly, I refilled the water bowl for inside the coop, slid it in and tried to shut the door. Oyster Cracker came off the roost to see what I was doing. Unfortunately, the chickens can’t see well in the dark and she was so confused. Interestingly enough, as I peered into the coop to try and settle Oyster Cracker back onto the roost, I noticed that the sleeping positions on the roosts had changed.
Usually on the front roost, I find Oyster Cracker next to Sunshine; next to her is Tilly then Chocolate. Well tonight was different for some reason. All four silkies and Tilly were on the front roost with Chocolate. Six were so tightly squeezed together that I wondered how they could be comfortable. However, apparently they were. They were all nuzzled and fluffed up together fast asleep. I finally locked them inside and rechecked all the doors for security. I find it funny that instinct tells us to do certain things. I am not sure why I did that, but now I know. My intuition was trying to tell me something.
Around 2 am, I awoke from a very deep sleep. I heard some sort of eerie yelling noise. I heard it again. It was a high pitched howl coming from the side of our house near our bedroom. There was no mistaking what I had heard. We had a visitor; a coyote again. I leapt out of bed and put the lights on in the front and the back of the house. I heard the howl again but from the other side of the house. I checked on the coop through the window. All the doors were closed. I did not hear the rooster so, I assumed that they were all safely locked inside. In fact, they were probably sleeping unaware of their unexpected guest.
I looked all around the yard and never did see the coyote. I waited for about 5 minutes and then I turned off the lights and went back to bed. My heart was still beating like crazy. I laid there. In the distance, I could hear the coyote howling. It was gone but my mind was awake. Finally after what seemed an eternity, I did doze back off to sleep. When I went outside this morning, there were no signs of the visitor. My chickens happily came out into the run and started to scratch in the dirt and it was just like nothing ever happened.