Wednesday, May 15, 2013

News from the orchard part 2: the quest for a fox-proof chook house

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 
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.
Chook house almost complete
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.
The back door - for chook ingress/egress, egg collection and house-cleaning
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...
View down the orchard showing swale to duck pond, chooks and chook house


  1. How sad that you want to kill the poor chickens you look after. I will unsubscribe now. Peace to you and I hope you change your mind one day.

    1. Hi Maria,

      yes it's true we eat meat. Not much, but some and yes, some of our chickens have become our dinner. In the past we've been vego and vegan. A lot of reading, thought and discussion has confirmed our place as conscientious omnivores with a focus on local and seasonal. For us, this feels the right way to eat. Our approach to eating meat is that we will increasingly raise our own, knowing it has had a good life and a swift death. Or else we buy from local producers we know are focussed on caring for their animals and caring for the land. We recognise that we are profoundly privileged in being able to make choices about what we eat and we feel strongly that there are many people who have the luxury of time, money and access to information and so should engage more fully with where their food comes from.

      It's true we are directly responsible for the deaths of animals for our own consumption. But the reality is that very many animals are killed as a result of agriculture - small mammals, insects, frogs, microbial life, river and creek dwellers etc etc all die through grain and annual crop production. Not only do they die but the production of annual crops is fairly devastating on the land. Being vegan or vegetarian does not absolve one from animal deaths. In short, very few people can say with certainty that no animal has died in the production of their food, no matter how vegetarian they feel they are.

  2. It's called food!
    M (omnivore)

  3. 'Poor' chickens? I think they do beautifully.
    Keep on truckin, gals.
    Still enjoying your words and pictures...
    BTW> I admire and enjoy your consistency with blogging. It's so nice to check in and find a regular little feast.

    1. Thanks so much Shelley! It makes us very happy to hear you enjoy our little bit of internet space.

      all the best x

  4. That looks great! We've also just finished our chookie pen. Haven't got the girls yet. Still just need the door on the coop put on and then we're done. Can't wait!
    The mattress thingies look great. Hope it works and so hope the foxes that can't manage to get into yours don't find us!!! LOL

    1. Hi Kim, thanks for your encouraging words. We do love the mattress fences, there will be more, there will be more... It's been days now and so far so good on fox front. Though it seems foxy season has quietened a little. Can't wait to read about your chook foray. All the best xx

  5. pS I don't mean to be mean but I just popped over to Maria's blog and she's got a flipping ad on there advertising ...wait for it .... chicken recipes!!! Hello!!! Not being mean or anything;)