The “mansion” (as it is called by the supplier) recently got a planting of tagasaste, wormwood, spinach and some leftover grass seeds in the run area as a final preparation. I know they’re going to mess it up, but I felt we needed to give them a neat start – somewhat like a kid’s room isn’t it? The mansion is very predator safe – it even has chicken wire under the foundations. But despite its fancy name, it is quite small, especially if the chicks need to stay in there for long periods while they still need some protection during daytime from predators like falcons, little hawks and especially the Currawong that’s persistently and optimistically hanging around lately. We don’t want them squashed into too small an area, they’re destined to be fully free-range birds after all, not just in name.
The mansion planted outside and inside
This one has a garden!
However, we have a secondary objective too. These are all pure bred chooks, from different parents, so the intention is to breed with them in future. However, we have Scot Greys, Wyandottes and Sussex chicks. So, we will have to keep the different types of chickens separate if we want to propagate the respective species purely. So the bottom line was – the old coop had to be renovated.
In addition, if we renovate the old coop, we then have a backup coop as well, in case something goes wrong with the other one. It’s a good permaculture principle that one – to back up your crucial elements. Especially if your crucial element is the home of another dependent key element in your design. And especially (even more) if that dependent element is a live one (with names and characters)!
The old coop is massive – together with its run it is probably 6 times the size of the “mansion”. The run is about 10m x 3m and the inside 2 “chambers” together are about 6m x 2m. I wouldn’t want the chooks to live in there permanently, but at least they can comfortably stay in there for a few days. And if we make it safe enough, the little ones can have a ball in there while still being protected. But the problem was, the run was open at the top, its fence had huge holes in it (not fox proof) and the layer boxes and some other woodwork were falling apart. In fact, the layer boxes couldn’t even open properly anymore. And who knows what mites and spiders now live in there?
Our first job was to change the human and chicken entrances and the layer boxes as they’re all close together. The fun part for Markus was demolishing the old entrance and layer boxes and removing the old dilapidated wood work. Something about a big hammer appeals to him, although we had to work carefully not to damage any of the existing structure. We refitted the door on a larger and tighter fitting frame, we paved the work area after sliding around in the mud trying to fit the layer boxes’ frame and lastly we built the new layer boxes in our shed and carted them over (heavy!) and fitted them (interesting bit of re-engineering.)
As part of this exercise we also cleared and cleaned the “living room” and cleaned and refitted the “sleeping chamber” with new roosts and ladders.
The second phase was to secure the run. First I trimmed and mulched the apple tree growing just outside the run together with the loquat and persimmon trees growing inside the run. (An interesting side benefit is that although the loquat tree is now a lot smaller, we, instead of the wild birds, will now have some chicken manure encouraged loquats next year. It’s not often that a bird net acts as a multi-functional element.) Then I added form wood to complete the frame and fastened wires along the edges, as well as in a few places to hold the net up high across the run area. (Gaë left me a massive roll of wire, which came in very handy.) Next we secured all the sides and bottoms with strong chicken wire, which we clipped to the wires and cemented into the ground where it touched, again using some of the bi pile of bricks that Gaë left me. Lastly we covered the run with industrial strength bird net, which we had left over from the new vines project. Markus helped me a lot by clipping the net on the opposite side at the same time, so we could stretch it nice and tight as we were working.
The jury is still out whether the bird net is fox proof, but the dealer reckoned it keeps big strong possums out (which weigh similar to a fox and are apparently smarter.) He also mentioned that he hasn’t yet heard any reports of foxes breaking through the bird netting. It’s a bit of a gamble whether we trust our heritage breed chickens to that bird net roof? Fortunately when we are at home, they will sleep in the “living room” and the “sleeping chamber”, which together are fox proof, if the doors are shut properly. But someone will have to shut the doors every night…
The Lucerne that we planted in spring is growing nicely in the run, because it gets irrigated together with the sunflowers and pumpkins that grow outside the Western side. A lot of parsley is also coming up all over the place. To finish it off, the run also got a tagasaste and wormwood as well as a row of spinach. If they don’t spend too much daytime in there, as we plan it, the run garden should serve them well over time.
A few coats of varnish here and there and we’re ready for the chookies!