Category Archives: chook pen

Hitches in the chicken-pen process

The new chicken pen has hit its first hitches:

1.

I bought 5 posts of treated pine the other day to use in the pen (I’ll stand them in the ground as posts then attach non-treated pine to them above-ground). And I nearly bought 5 more yesterday, but ran out of time to get to the shop. This morning, belatedly, I thought I’d better check something: the posts are bright blue, which I hadn’t expected; they look weird on the ground. And – you’ve probably guessed it – turns out I bought the wrong sort of “treated”. The ones I’ve got are intended for use in dry surroundings to prevent termite attack! Termites aren’t even a problem out there, or not that I know of. All I needed was timber that won’t rot in the ground. I should have checked with the man at the shop before buying them but he was already writing out the docket (for me to take to the checkout) before I realised what he was doing. He asked how many I had, wrote that down, gave me the docket, and headed off on an apparently more important mission.

I’m kicking myself about this because the damn posts were more than twice the price of plain pine, so I’ve wasted about $20 on nothing. And now I have to find the right treated pine, or…  I don’t know. Would it be better to paint plain timber posts? Which is cheaper? And what do I do with 5 bright blue posts now?

The other problem:

2.

As soon as I’d laid out the posts on the ground yesterday in the shape of the pen I could see it will need to be bigger. I’m hoping to buy 4 hens, so with W too that would make 5 chickens in total, and the pen I’d been planning would be 2.4 metres by 4.8 metres, meaning that it would really only be the size that W currently has in the Weldmesh day pen multiplied by five, which is too small. (I’m hoping to be able to leave the chickens in the pen for days at a time so I don’t have to go out there every day.) I should have seen the problem just from the measurements, but didn’t understand it until I looked at the shapes on the ground with W walking through them.

Dammit.

New chicken expenses: 1

Part of the reason I didn’t do any blog posts last year is that I’m embarrassed about taking so long to finish the chicken house I was trying to make – a delay which means my pet chicken is still living solo. Internet poultry experts would say that’s bad for him: they say chickens need a flock.

Today I bought some new timber posts, because I’m starting the chicken house again – again. I couldn’t get the other version to work, and it had been through about four different versions on the way here.

In the beginning, several centuries ago, I was trying to make moveable pens. I still use one of the Weldmesh tunnel things as a day pen for W, but it’s not safe enough for nights. (Our predators: foxes; wild dogs; eagles; hawks; pythons; brown snakes; black snakes; goannas; and I even saw some rats running around in the coffee trees late the other afternoon too, so who knows: they might have a go.)

I tried making timber-framed cubes that would link together (in the manner of train carriages), but after about six months or something I still couldn’t make them work.

After that I started to despair, so I bought a flat-pack coop from a hardware store, knowing (from reading internet forums) that it would be flimsy and small, but thinking I could reinforce and modify it – which I was thinking would be quicker than trying to make something from scratch.

And in fact the flat-pack coop had been built pretty well, I thought, if it was intended to sit in only one place. Its flimsiness came from all the panels being held together by screws: if you move it often enough the screws will break out. I tried to make the roosting area bigger and the walls stronger, but couldn’t find timber small enough to fit well. The frames in the flat-pack coop are 35mm x 25mm (if I remember correctly), but the smallest timber I could find to add to it was 45mm x 35mm (being pine battens or purlins).

With the clunky bigger timber bits I tried a few different things – reconfiguring the panels, adding cladding, adding a new underfloor area, making a new door –  and even went as far as painting the whole thing several times (with undercoat and top coat, at ridiculous expense, and I mean I even filled in all holes and sanded the thing down first). But I couldn’t see how to add a run outside it so that the whole thing could move as one unit. After all my tinkering just the house on its own had become almost too heavy to move. And finally, when I tried moving it one too many times, it broke.

I couldn’t face trying to modify it in any other way, so I took it apart and tried to use the timber to make something new. And that’s where we are at the moment: I managed to make a little house which is sturdy and okay, but there’s still no run to go with it. And I can’t find a way to add another little house and run onto the side of it for W (he can’t live in the same house as the future hens because he might jump on them all the time – I don’t know how he’s going to treat them).

And sometime in the last few months I had to move everything from one paddock to another one, because the first one had all its coffee trees trimmed down to about 1.5 metres high, and it’s no longer suitable for running chickens in.

The site for the chicken pen in the new paddock is sloping and narrow, and I’ve had to rethink the whole thing. For various reasons a mobile pen won’t work as well now, even if I could find a way to build one that worked. And I’m sick of trying to make something that I can take apart again later when I move – it’s too hard to do everything in panels.

So, in the last day or two I’ve decided to build a permanent house and run, or as permanent as it can be considering it’s on someone else’s land. How I will move the thing when it’s time to leave is anybody’s guess. It’s a worry, but less worrying than trying to stuff around any further trying to invent something new. More worrying is money. I don’t know how I’m going to find enough to pay for this.

Anyway, one day at a time, and today I bought 5 bits of timber I’ll use for posts. I could only fit 5 in the car, stretching from under the glovebox, through the gap between the two front seats, and over the flattened back seat to the back hatch door. I’ll need to buy more later.

I’m hoping to draw up some building plans this time, not just work things out while I’m staring at timber stacked on the ground.

Anyway, fingers crossed. My poor chicken has already waited far too long for companions, so I really need to make this work.

NEW HOUSING EXPENSES

From Medium Town’s hardware store:

– treated pine 70 x 35mm, 2.4m long, 5 @ $6.96: $34.80

– treated pine screws: $11.30

– galvanised nails: $9.90

I also bought a new hand saw because the old one is so blunt it makes me give up and weep.

New Housing total: $56.00

Testing the chicken tunnel

I just tested the process of moving the tunnel modules under real-world conditions: first thing in the morning, while wearing pyjamas. The chickens aren’t using the tunnel yet, so it wasn’t a full test, but it did at least let me spot a few things which might become problems:

– To move each module I stick my fingers through the wire mesh at the middle top of an arch, lift it, and lean the arch against one knee and upper leg as I walk to the new location. This morning is sunny, so my pyjamas remained dry and clean, but in wet weather or if the arch was dirty for some reason it would be really annoying to end up with dirty wet pyjamas. (If I find a job that involves getting to work early in the mornings then it’s unlikely I’d want to change into garden clothes first just to move the chook pen.)
– Moving the second module hurt my fingers at the knuckles. This module is heavier because it has more mesh attached as an end panel – but not a large amount more, so there’s probably a fine line between a weight which feels okay to lift and one which is just too heavy; or maybe it just gets harder with each module.
– The tunnel would definitely need a door at each end and it will need to be easy to open and close. I’ll need to put in new feed and water for the chickens every day – either into the house area or into the adjoining tunnel, and it’s probably better in the tunnel so vermin won’t be attracted to the house.
– Moving the chickens might be a logistical problem. If I build their house to have a wire mesh floor (so foxes can’t tunnel in overnight), they probably would need to move into the tunnel so I can move the house without them in it. But then, if they’re in the tunnel, how will I move the tunnel? Moving one module at a time will allow them to get out, and I couldn’t just transfer them back to the house because it’d be sitting in the new location and unattached to the tunnel.
– The tunnel will need to be pinned to the ground with tent pegs, but I don’t like the idea of having to pull up all the pegs every day and then hammer them all in again. It’ll mean bending over and standing up many times, and though that sounds like nothing to worry about and maybe I should be looking at it as exercise, the reality might be different, especially when it’s raining or I’m tired.
– Finally, if there’s much effort needed to move the tunnels I’d definitely want to have a cup of tea first, which would mean either getting up earlier than I do at the moment (which I’d be reluctant to do) or making the chickens wait longer to be let out of their house into the tunnel (which they’d be reluctant to do). Just a small thing to think about, but the small things add up.

Tinkering with weldmesh

Today I tried to make a chicken tunnel using the Weldmesh Easy Sheets I bought yesterday, but it didn’t work out the way I’d hoped. (A chicken tunnel is a long narrow chook run made of wire mesh that you can move around the yard, giving the chickens room to run around without requiring a huge pen. I found the idea in the Chicken Tunnel Man video.)

I haven’t used weldmesh before. The sheets I’m using are 2m x 1.2m, with a wire diameter of 2.5mm and gaps that are 25mm square; each sheet weighs 7 or 8kg. Here’s what I noticed:
– The bolt cutters made cutting the mesh very easy.
– The cut edges are sharp and therefore could be dangerous.
– The cut edges will probably rust unless painted.
– The width of the bolt cutter blades sets the length of the little stubs of wire that are left sticking out along the cut edge. You can’t get a smooth finish.
– The joins aren’t very strong. More about that below.
– I couldn’t bend a sheet so that each of the long sides stood on the ground (which is what I had wanted to do); there was too much resistance from the wire. The only way I could make an arch was to bend the mesh widthways (so that each of the short sides is on the ground). This makes a run that is wider and shorter than I wanted.
– It’s easy enough to pick up and carry an arch made from one sheet of weldmesh, but two sheets would be heavy and awkward.
– A narrower shape (the lengthways tunnel, if it had worked) would be easier to pick up and carry. It’s more difficult to pick up a wide tunnel because you need to reach further to lift it from the centre.

Here are some pics.

chickens under a wire mesh arch.

The upturned wheelbarrow acted as an anchor so that one end of the mesh would stay in place while I held the other end and bent the sheet into an arch. I tied the two sides of the arch together using string – a temporary fix – so that if the tunnels don’t work out I can use the weldmesh for something else instead.

The chickens wandered under the arch without any encouragement, which was lucky – it let me see whether the arch is high enough for them. And yes, I think it is. Adult hens are bigger than these chickens, but still, I think there would be enough headroom for them under that arch.

closeup of wire mesh

Something that didn’t work: I put the flat mesh along the deck, with one of its wires running along the edge of the deck, and a small section of perpendicular wires poking out into midair – which I tried to bend down into a right angle by hitting each wire with a hammer. (I was trying to make a small ledge that would run flat along the ground at the base of each side of the arch: something I could put tent pegs through to pin the tunnel down; and a foundation for attaching a fox-proof “skirt”). But bending the wires broke some of them away from their joins. I tried again, lining up the mesh so the edge of the deck was between joins (not along a wire as before), but that didn’t help.

wire mesh tunnel

If the arches are about the same width at the base, and the string is back from the edge a bit (the string ties on about 10cm in from the end of these arches), then the end of one arch will fit over the start of another. They’re modular. That was the plan, and I think it should work. I haven’t worked out a good way to secure the joins yet, though; maybe some sort of pin arrangement. The photo above shows two arches joined together, giving a run width (at the base) of about 110cm and I think the length would be about 220cm.

Next I fitted part of the third sheet of mesh against the end of the tunnel, attaching it with string (which was a pain to do). I haven’t cut the panel to exactly fit the arch because as yet I’m not sure whether I want to use it this way. It would probably be better if each module had a door.

wire mesh tunnel and end panel

Lizard in the fence

Yesterday I got home from being away all day to find an Eastern Water Dragon (lizard) stuck in the fence of the chickens’ pen. The chickens were in a corner at the other end of the pen and raced over in a bunch when I opened the gate. (I couldn’t tell whether they were scared of the lizard or just eager to get out after being shut in all day, or both.)

I took some photos of the lizard while trying to work out what to do. The photos are terrible and even I can’t see which bits are where, so in summary: the front half of the lizard was inside the pen, and the back half was outside – kept out because its two hind legs were too wide to get through the gap in the wire. (The gap is about 5cm by 7cm or 2″ x 2¾”.)

Here’s the view from inside the pen:
lizard stuck in wire mesh

And from outside (the redness on the lizard’s stomach is its pre-existing skin colouring and not the result of injury):
lizard stuck in wire mesh

I left for five minutes to change out of my town clothes (I’ve still only got one outfit, so I couldn’t run the risk of getting dirt stains all over my trousers) and by the time I got back the lizard had twisted around so that its stomach was now facing up and its back legs and claws were in a position to scratch me if I got too close:

lizard stuck in wire mesh

Luckily, yesterday I’d bought a pair of bolt cutters and they have long handles, and the nose of the blades was able to fit into the spaces between the lizard and the wires. The lizard didn’t kick at all, though, so then I used some pliers to fold back the cut wires. The lizard still didn’t move. (They seem to specialise in freezing, even in normal conditions. Often it’s only their eyes that move, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to see they’re breathing.)

After I’d got back out of the way the lizard struggled for a second then jumped from the fence and into the chicken pen. As far as I could tell it hadn’t been injured.

lizard in a chook pen

The chickens seemed okay, too. Twenty minutes after being let out of the pen they were lying around on a planter, trying to grab a little nap.
3 chickens in a huddle

I think it’s unlikely the lizard was trying to attack the chickens; it was probably headed towards the cherry tomatoes I’d left in the pen.

But if by chance it had found a way into the pen, it might not have been able to get back out again, which could have been a nightmare scenario: panicking lizard and three captive chickens. After I’d freed it from the wire yesterday the lizard seemed set on trying to get out through the wire on the other side of the pen. In the end I bribed it to escape by leaving a strawberry on the ground outside the open gateway.

This chicken pen was only ever intended to be temporary – just somewhere for the chickens to stay when I’m away from the house and until I’ve made a proper pen for them. And now I know more about the sort of mesh I’ll need to use for the fencing: it must have a gap smaller than 5cm.

UPDATE 21 Feb 2013

Just a note to say that I saw the lizard again recently and he/she seems to be doing well. There’s a small dint or gap along the ridge of his or her spine where it was cut by the wire, but – contrary to my fears – the wound apparently didn’t become infected and the lizard didn’t die.