We had a whole glorious year of free-ranging our chooks before the predators found them. We locked them up at night (the chooks that is, not the predators) but during the day they had literally no fences. Most of their time they spent up at the house, near the humans, cadging scraps and trying to sneak into the house to scoff the cat food. The cat is elderly, and has two teeth, and is no match for even the field mice that poke their heads into the kitchen, let alone a blustering chook intent on stuffing her face with the cat’s breakfast.
But one day Wendy didn’t come home to the roost shed at night. It took a while to sink in – surely she just got lost, or stuck behind one of the orchard fences or something? But after a couple of days of searching, and a series of sightings of feral cats and dogs, we twigged. Poor bloody Wendy. It was right then that we should have begun to pay attention to some serious predator-proofing.
But life (and death) being what it is, we found ourselves occupied by other things, and didn’t get around to the predator-proofing until a few weeks later, when we lost, in quick succession, Thatcher and Sammy. Then we dropped everything, including blogging, in order to give the chooks some secure living arrangements.
First, we built a fence connecting the chooks’ roosting shed with the summer garden, to keep the chooks from ranging way out into the forest where the dogs and cats were. The fence has a “floppy” top, partly to make it difficult to climb over, but also as a natural consequence of our using second hand chook wire that used to be the roof of the old summer garden. The fence also has a “skirt” at the bottom, made of brand spanking new, heavy-duty chook wire, to discourage goannas. We had to buy extra fencing for this bit, because the local goannas (bless the big doofuses) don’t seem to have much spatial awareness, and the main way they move through obstacles – such as chook wire – is to blunder their head through a hole and then push. When their shoulders get stuck, they try another hole, and another, until they finally find a weak spot where they can stretch the wire enough to squeeze through, reminding me that we’re running out of toothpaste.
We thought the chooks might object to their new smaller living arrangements, but they didn’t seem to notice. They’ve still got over 150 square meters to tiddle about in, and it includes the “chook tractor” section of the summer garden, so there’s lots of Commelina to eat and mulch to scratch about in.
The fence, it turns out, was Part One of the Predator Prevention Plan. Shortly before we’d finished the skirt, a goanna extruded itself through a mousehole in the actual roosting shed, and surprised Cally, who I found in pieces on the shed floor that evening. Being extra keen to put a stop to that kind of thing happening, Part Two was to seal all the mouseholes in the roosting shed. We used metal guttering mesh – you know, the stuff you put on your roof gutters to stop the leaves getting in. Felice laid it artfully along the junction of wall and floor, and my sister and I dumped buckets full of pebbles from the creek to weigh it down. So now the roosting shed has a pebble floor, which as it turns out also drains remarkably well. No more wet season quagmire for the girls. And a double layer of goanna protection.