|Olive tends her flock - Errol's in the foreground with the glorious orange neck feathers, new 'Fort Choox' chook house behind
Fox-proofing the poultry community on our little farm has proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. When we first got the ducks, I made a dome. It was dodgy as all shit on account of the fact that I used the wrong kind of pipe, but we didn't have any trouble with foxes, though in hindsight I think that had more to do with the fact that our neighbours were baiting because it was lambing season. Just before we got the chooks, we built a snazzy A-frame house, which was, I thought, fox proof. Not so much. We had a few break ins, lost a few chooks, and I even spent one night in the orchard on an inflatable mattress chasing the fox off before I decided that the A-frame had to go. I'd patched it and patched it, and the mongrel fox was still getting in. We needed a new plan, a new design. So I consulted with my ever-helpful and thoughtful friend David, who had become quite interested in our fox-proofing plight (he enjoys a challenge). After many sketches, home-brew sessions and whiteboard-planning meetings, we devised a fox-proof chook house that fulfilled the following criteria:
1. Zero cost
2. accessible for kids to let out/put chooks away/collect eggs
3. FOX PROOF
4. includes a run so we can go away for a night or 2 without having to organise for someone to come and lock up/let out chooks
5. comfy for chooks.
The house we made was kind of inspired by Milkwood's rawbale chook house, though we obviously didn't use bales. We did borrow their idea of having a mesh floor for ventilation in summer, which is covered in thick straw in winter. And the house is (obviously) raised off the ground to thwart that fox digging his or her way in. Walls are corrugated iron (bastard fox ain't gonna chew through that in a hurry), held up with bush poles from David's place, floor mesh came from some supermarket shelving that was being chucked out, all timber was scrap from other projects/salvaged from the tip, and the pen is made from mattress springs that are dug into the ground down to 40cm. We'll be planting passionfruit vines on either side, to climb on the mattresses to provide shade in the pen during summer. It took about 10 hours to build (4 hours with David's help), not including the time it took to dig the trenches for the mattresses and holes for the bush poles.
At the moment, we have 8 chickens living in it (John Howard (our breeding rooster), a rooster we'll be eating as soon as he starts to crow, Errol, and 5 laying hens), and I reckon that's about the limit. When we expand our flock to include commercial meat birds, we'll be building more pens a-la Joel Salatin. But for the purposes of the orchard, 8 chooks (and 11 ducks) is just fine.
All in all, the chooks seem to dig it, and we've had no evidence that the fox has been hanging around or trying anything out. It's easy for Olive to tend to her flock (especially Errol, who is currently preparing for the Far South Coast Annual Poultry Show), and, if I do say so myself, it's pretty good to look at. Though it seems to me you can't really go wrong with bush poles, old gal and beautifully rusted mattress springs...