Remember those adorable little white fluff balls that I was bragging about, my founders of the future farm flock, with their white angel wings? Well, at six and half weeks, they have officially morphed from cute little peeping chicks to small chickens. Stinky ones! Not that they personally stink, but in a matter of hours they can turn nice clean wood chips into a smelly mess, and because they can fly better than any chicken I've ever had before, the daily bedding change was beginning to make us feel like we were putting on a slap stick performance routine for the cat's enjoyment. These guys need to go outside where they can stretch their wings and spread their droppings in the fresh air.
Brandon and I had a plan. We were going to bring all the materials and tools home from the farm after our weekend workday, and build a coop for the eight small chickens on a Tuesday evening. This coop would be something that we could use in the back yard of our current suburban yard, and then move to the farm when we were ready to relocate. We had a drawing, a materials list, and a date set. What do they say about the best laid plans? Instead of following our plan, we left the farm in such an exhausted state that we forgot all about gathering the wood, nails, fencing, roofing, and tools. Oh well, we though, what's one more week?
A whole week is a lot to a chicken that's only been alive for six, and it's a lot to the person who is responsible for taking care of a big stinky chicken poop box every day! By Wednesday afternoon the chicks and I couldn't take it anymore, and I decided to do what I do best, which is improvise. No tools? Who needs'em. I got twisty ties!
While the flock enjoyed the sun in their cage, I strapped on my brand new garden apron (thanks, Shanna!) grabbed my garden gloves, my twisty ties, my tasty beverage, and all the scrap bits of chicken wire that I use to protect my raised beds from Mrs. Hall. I decided that what I needed was a chicken run. It doesn't have to be night time predator proof since I can bring them inside the garage at night. I need a play pen for chickens.
If you want to see how the blackberries are set up, you can look at this post from last summer. Basically, I have posts, with single strands of wire stretched between them to hold up the vines, which are in two rows. Conveniently, the posts are arranged in a square, and there's a gap between the rows of blackberries just big enough for the lawn mower or a person to stand and pick berries. The perfect chicken play pen shape, right? In a hour's time I had used nearly all my twisty ties to tie together my bits of chicken wire into a rectangular shape using the posts for the corners, and then draped more chicken wire over the top of the wires to create a semi covered roof. Then I tied a piece of tarp to the top blackberry wires, to provide a shaded rain proof area. I used the stakes for my tomato cages to pin the chicken wire along the ground. Ha! Who needs tools anyway.
Of course, as soon as I released the chicks into the run they immediately found holes along the bottom and walked out into the yard. Since they don't like being separated from each other they didn't go far, and it was easy enough to coax them back inside with some food. I tweaked my design a bit, and then stood back with Puck to admire our work. It looks sort of redneck, sure, but hey, it works!
Here you can see the run from the street view. It's not as bad as I thought it would be, really. The tarp is grey, so it blends in okay. Once the trees get some leaves I don't think it will be noticeable. The blackberry vines and weeds camouflage the sides quite well.
I added a big stick so they could learn to perch, and put their cage inside, under the tarp. Every evening they go back in their cage to sleep in a huddle and I just carry them back inside. It's so much better. If they eat the weeds and grass in the blackberries and fertilize while they are at it, I'll be happy and so will the blackberries.
And the chickens love it. They scratch and fly and fight each other.
I'm pretty sure I have three roosters. Poncho is on the left, with his big red comb. Lefty and Righty act very roosterish, but don't have such nice combs.
When Brandon got home from teaching a late class, I took him outside to show him my new chicken run by flashlight. I think if it hadn't been dark, he wouldn't have laughed so hard, because he would have been able to see the intricacies of my twisty tie creation. And he wouldn't have been so focused on the numerous holes and escape routes if he had been introduced to the run during the day, when the silly chicken behavior would have distracted him. It was really only because we had such a strong wind that the tarp was drooping so much, because I wasn't like that earlier, I'm sure. And I agree, incorporating an intentional human entry point (a so called "door") into the design might have been easier than climbing over the wall and through a gap in the wire, but I can't think of everything. Anyway... the chickens think it's great!