Well, today is Labor Day and we had hoped to spend the day enjoying a bit of well-earned leisure. Last night as we were heading to bed, however, we felt compelled to have a problem-solving chat about the inevitable…we have to do something about the chicken coop and run!
Like many chicken folks, our hen house, coop and run have evolved over time to fit the needs of an expanding flock (more nest boxes, even though they all use the same one), a run to enclose them some of the time instead of letting them free range all over the garden as we originally intended, multiple feeding stations so everyone can get along, and other necessary adjustments. But, now we have to address a an issue we hoped the pullets would outgrow or outlearn, but that doesn’t seem to be the case: they want to roost in the apple trees.
Since overhead predators are not a big problem for us in our urban area, we build the run in our mini-orchard, utilizing the fruit trees for shade and cover. We built the sides up about 5 feet on one long side with wire, and there is a six-foot wood fence along the other side. We did not put a “roof” or wire covering over the top–knowing our older hens to be too fat and fluffy to fly up or over. While the more sprightly pullets escaped a few times, we assumed they would outgrow that spryness quickly.
Alas, they are now fourteen weeks old and about a week ago, they took to flying up into the apple tree to roost at night instead of heading into the hen house where they have slept for a couple months. This has meant we have to climb in there and pull them down and put them in the hen house to roost–not an always easy task since they seem to be climbing higher and higher. Oddly enough, they never get up into the trees during the day, only at bedtime!
I have to be honest with you, we are both annoyed and secretly proud that these three little pullets are so crafty and un-domesticated. We can’t really blame them for wanting to roost among the apple branches independent of the cranky older hens. We liken it to teenagers claiming a black-painted room in the attic where they can get out from under the dull oppression of the old folks. Of course, like teenagers, they aren’t necessarily making the safest choice and are setting themselves up to be a delicious midnight snack for a raccoon (which we do have plenty of) and it won’t be long until all the leaves and apples come off those trees and they are shivering in the autumn rain.
So, today, we rebuild and reconfigure our coop and run. Like other urban farmers, however, we see it as an opportunity to not only address the pullets-in-the-trees challenge, but to fix and upgrade some other issues–building a new gate, cleaning out the hen house, adjusting the feeding system, etc. When we started this adventure, we assumed we’d just get a hen house and sit back and collect the eggs, but that is not exactly how chicken wrangling works!