See, we want to move half of the flock from Dreamland back over to Homeland. Ideally, I want the two-and-a-half Sussex tribes to be housed at Homeland, because I don’t want such big heavy scrubbers destroying Dreamland’s delicate forest garden. It will also result in much less chickens spread over a much larger area. In addition, I think those young slow-growing citrus trees at Homeland can do with some more nitrogen input and the couch grass between them can do with a bit of natural trimming.
Up to now all 20 of the chooks have been housed over at one half of Dreamland, together with the 4 ducks. We think it’s good for them all to get to know each other while they’re all still young. Initially we kept the 3 baby Light Sussex pullets, the 3 teenager Buff Sussex pullets and the 4 Cayuga ducklings apart from the rest of the adolescent chooks (9 Scot Greys, 3 different Sussex roosters and 2 Wyandotte hens). We housed the young ones all together in the renovated coop with the big run. Within a few days they polished all the mixed chicken greens I had so lovingly cultivated there. Of course, that is what it was there for, but I had hoped it would have lasted a bit longer. Note to self – I need to find a more economical source of mixed chicken green seeds.
However, over the last three weeks, we started opening the renovated coop door during daytime – so at times all the fowl were mixing it up while free-ranging. The little ones get chased around a bit, but nothing that we became concerned about, it all seems like normal pecking order stuff. What was really interesting was that the ducks, which are the youngest of the lot, often hang out with the 5 big roosters, and at times the ducks even put big Barry in his place. But then, those ducks grow really, really fast – they are already bigger than most of the adolescent hens.
Anyway, I had already started clearing the area for the Sussex coop, had put the fencing posts in place and had already planted some more chicken greens, when our friend Scott sent me a text that North Geelong building supplies were having a big sale. Oh well, I thought at the time – I might as well get the materials at discount price and start building the coop.
Second to providing shelter against the elements (blazing hot sun in the summer, icy cold wind with misty rain in the winter), this coop (and the other 2 coops at Dreamland) must provide protection against predators such as foxes and birds of prey. Since the chooks have started free-ranging,we have now three times found fox poo on the property – something we have never seen before. So I laid a good foundation of super-galvanised chicken wire after I had planted the 4 corner posts.
The rest was just a lot of carpentry, varnish and then wire work – nothing too special there, except that it did take me quite a number of days to do the job. However, in the process we addressed some of the shortcomings we found in the other coops, and no doubt, we probably have introduced a few new ones!
I designed the roof so steep to improve airflow on those crazy hot days. You have to open the lid of the lay boxes to let additional air in though. We’ll see how that all pans out.
A bit of fencing added and we’re ready for the Sussexes.
We’re just waiting for their greens to grow enough, then it’s time to move.
At the time when we bought the mansion coop-and-run kit, I thought it was ridiculously expensive, even on a Christmas special, especially since it needed a concrete foundation to make it fox-proof too. In terms of effort, Simon of Gatt’s Concreting took one full day (split over 3 days) to complete the foundation, Markus and I took two full days to assemble the kit and Patricia took a day (split over two days) to varnish it.
The new coop, even with most of the materials bought on sale, using a repurposed garden door, wire we had on-site, and so on, was only slightly cheaper. Wood, wire and materials are expensive in this country! But the big difference came in time. The new coop easily took me more than 8 full days to complete, and my full days are even longer than my and Markus’ full days, if that makes sense.
So is DIY any better? I console myself with the thoughts that ours is more purpose built, and it is way stronger than the kit. You can almost say we built it for the future 7 generations (permaculture future care, anyone?) The kids easily sat on the new coop’s roof rafters and be fascinated by the chooks going about their business next door. Even at their weight, I wouldn’t dare sit on the mansion’s roof…
I don’t yet know if this new coop will be used for all the Sussex chooks, but at least it will be good to house Fluffball and his three Buff Sussex hens. One thing is a fact – we have surely spent a lot of time and effort (and money) getting our chicken facilities in place. But that’s the price you pay if you want to keep heritage and pure breeds apart. When we ordered our first batch of eggs, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We thought Sussex was Sussex… now we know there are about 10 variations of them (and we ended up having 3.) If I ever get to do it again, I would be much more selective in what breeds I take on. Maybe even just one single breed. Or with two properties, two breeds at most. On the positive side though, the different breeds have such different personalities and because we hand-reared them, they are all quite tame and are a pleasure to work with. Even the two naughty Wyandottes seem to come into the coop at dusk by themselves now.
Of course, moving roughly half of them into the Sussex coop is going to be an interesting exercise for the first few days – especially around closing up time. But hopefully they learn quickly.