Chooks,  Fauna,  Hard Lessons

Chickens, Coops, & a Fox

Chickens pave the way to regenerative agriculture and permaculture practices, and here at Innisfree Homestead, we count ourselves lucky to have six of them. All six have names (Red, Blondie, Ros, Cinder, Coru, Crookshanks), and their own personalities to boot! So far only our Isa Browns Red and Blondie are laying, but any day now the rest should start, and help feed us (even more important during these Coronavirus times).

Red & Blondie, our two ISA Browns
Red & Blondie, our two ISA Browns

Originally the plan was to have a chicken tractor with five hens moving around the yard. As the restriction in the city limits we live in is ten chickens per property, Mr BirdCat’s parents (who share the land with us) could use the old coop for five of their own chickens. We purchased a dozen eggs (Coronation and Platinum Sussex) and popped them in a friend’s incubator, as well as picked up Red and Blondie with the chicken tractor, who we gave to Mr BirdCat’s parents. Everyone’s happy!

Until the fox came.

The chicken tractor is completely covered in mesh, and has a closed in wooden box for the chickens to sleep in. All it took was one night of not making sure the three pullets from our hatched eggs were locked up in the closed box and disaster struck. Homesteading life isn’t always pretty. The fox pulled one through the mesh in pieces, and another it raked its teeth along, hurting her so badly we needed to put her down to stop her suffering. We were left with Ros, our Coronation Sussex. She was frightened for weeks of anything that moved or somewhat resembled a fox (namely Milo).

Ros, Coronation Sussex
Ros, Coronation Sussex

To offer Ros better protection, we moved the chicken tractor into the run with Red and Blondie. Over the course of a few weeks we slowly introduced them all. The two older Isa Browns were not helpful in rehabilitation! The two even now are near inseparable, and a young chicken on her own was not allowed to intrude on their friendship. Thankfully they all get along, but it was definitely a rough start!

During that time the old family coop became much more the property of Mr BirdCat and I, and his family took a less hands-on approach (though they still happily drop their scraps off!). Built with tin siding and solid concrete foundation, it proved to be a much better home for our chickens than out in the middle of the yard at night. Three chickens hardly looked enough in the big coop and run, so Mr BirdCat and I jumped at the chance for three more. Enter, Cinder (Platinum Sussex), Coru (Red Sussex), and Crookshanks (Buff Leghorn), purchased as older pullets. Ros was older and more established in the coop at this point, so assisted in the bullying that she had received herself only months prior, but all has settled down well!

Coru, Red Sussex
Coru, Red Sussex

For a few months, Mr BirdCat and I were too nervous to let the chickens out of the run attached to the coop and into the yard to free-range. The memory of the carnage left by the fox certainly did not help. Thankfully, the neighbourhood fox only makes its rounds at night. Double thankfully, our Murray River Curly Coated Retriever, Milo, who is a bird hunting breed, has decided that the chickens are his friends and are to be protected!

We let them out.

Cinder, Platinum Sussex
Cinder, Platinum Sussex

First for an afternoon. Then for a day here or there. Now every day, rain or shine, the chickens are let out as part of the morning rounds. It’s worked out far better than we could’ve hoped! After a couple months of free-ranging chickens, we’ve noticed:

  • Happier, healthier looking chickens
  • The two older ones of laying age lay a lot more eggs (We don’t mind an egg hunt every now and then as long as they hide them where we can find them!)
  • Our harlequin (a type of stink bug) infestation that was in plague proportions is now hardly noticeable, especially compared to what it was
  • Areas of the yard made bare by heavy machinery when moving our house onto the property are coming back to life with greenery, with the most in the stretches that have the highest chicken traffic
  • We probably should’ve fenced in the veggie bed before letting the chickens out….but no doubt they traded us some good fertilizing, bug picking, and other soil benefits in trade for the lettuces the gorged on and corn they scratched out! Or at least that’s what we hope 😀
  • The chickens love racing out in the morning to help spread the cow manure around which helps break it down into the ground, as well as lowers the amount of flies and other pests that could bother us or the cow
  • Our home feels much more like a homestead — there’s something pretty special about looking out at any time of the day to see your chickens happy and healthy, doing what they do best!
Crookshanks, Buff Leghorn
Little Crookshanks, Buff Leghorn

Do you have chickens on your property? Any stories to share? Post in the comments below!

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