What would I do differently
when installing another heavy
duty shade trellis?
Use fresh trellis wire. We
used some recycled wire on the first loop and straightening out the
kinks used up most of the tension in the turnbuckle.
The second loop was from a
fresh roll and looks a lot tighter.
As you may have noticed,
I've been running a bit of an ongoing series here with answers to
questions new chicken-keepers might have. Previous posts included how to hatch homegrown chicks and how to choose the best chicken breeds for homesteaders.
Today I want to touch on a topic that's not so photogenic, but that
needs to be considered by anyone who wants to get into chickens --- how
to protect those delicious morsels from the wild animals who'd love
nothing more than to eat them up.
Baby chicks are most likely to be eaten by rats and snakes, but adult hens tend to succumb to dogs, hawks, raccoons, opossums, and similar predators.
Your first line of defense against predators is to protect your flock
when they're most vulnerable --- at night. A solid chicken coop is
optimal, and if your predator pressure is high you'll want to shut the
birds in each evening (or to invest in an automatic chicken door
to do the job for you). Raccoons, especially, can reach right
through small holes, so be sure your birds' roost is far enough away
from gaps so that a predator can't rip their heads off without even
entering the hen
house. To be truly predator proof, the coop will also need to
have a solid base that extends for several inches into the soil to
prevent diggers from entering the coop. Finally, even though I
love giving scraps to chickens, I'm starting to lean away from putting
those kitchen scraps in the coop since the scent attracts predators who
stick around to eat my birds.
What if your chickens are
getting picked off in the daytime instead? If you have a small
run (which you shouldn't), you can beef up the walls just like you did
the coop, then can string fishing line over the top in a woven pattern
to keep out hawks and owls. But if you prefer giving your birds
larger pastures, or even letting them free range, it's going to be
nearly impossible to keep predators out of their daytime living
area. Instead, I recommend adding a rooster to your flock, since
he'll sound the alarm and do his best to fight off any invader during
daytime hours. A good dog (trained to protect, rather than eat, chickens)
is the second line of defense --- our dog comes running as soon as she
hears our rooster's alarm call, and she has managed to chase away a hawk
that had pinned a hen three times over the past winter.
are pretty alert to predators during the daytime, with hawks being
their primary downfall. After a rooster and a dog, I have two more
lines of defense against raptors. First, I make sure that our
chickens roam in areas with lots of bushes and other things to hide
under. Hens often see a hawk coming as the raptor dives down to
dine, so if they have something to scurry beneath, the chickens might be
able to evade capture. Second, I raise dark-colored chickens,
since I've learned the hard way with multiple breeds over multiple years
that letting white chickens free range is like putting up a flashing
neon sign: "Chicken take-out, now hot!"
I'd be curious to hear
from others who have dealt with their own predator problems. Which
predators are the most likely to eat your chickens? What do you
do to protect the flock?
And for those of you in the planning stages of starting your own chicken operation, be sure to check out our chicken waterers, which keep you from having to handle manure and keep your birds from having to drink it.
We upgraded our grape
shade trellis today.
Thanks to one of our constant
readers Brian we realized the 2x4's we planned to put up would block a
good deal of Winter sun.
It's two loops of 10 gauge
galvanized trellis wire that uses a couple of heavy duty turnbuckles to
increase the tension.
I'm always of two minds
about the first spring flowers. On the one hand, I really, really
want to see them, not just for myself, but for my hungry bees. But
on the other hand, I know that early blooms on the fruit trees often
mean no harvest that year due to late freezes. So I decided to
poke back through the blog to determine when our peaches and crocuses
have bloomed in past years, and how that relates to the subsequent peach
|First crocus bloom
|Peaches at first pink stage
first thing I noticed --- late peach blooms do seem to be correlated to
an actual peach harvest that year. But do early crocus blooms
mean no peach harvest? Nope. In fact, the date of the first
crocus blooms seems to have very little bearing on when the peach
flowers open, suggesting that the two plants are using different cues
to decide on the proper time to pop open their flowers. (Last
year's crocus blooms might have been a bit of an outlier, though,
because I had transplanted the bulbs in late winter to a new location.)
This post is all a long
and geeky way of saying --- okay, crocuses, open up those buds!
And, peaches, stay sound asleep as long as you can. Because, of
course my plants listen to my wishes, right? (Maybe I should hedge
my bets by dumping the ice from my maple sap concentration campaign around the bases of our fruit trees.)
This Snap On extra long ratchet driver made
these hard to reach jobs easier.
It's one of the few tools
I've held onto since my copier repair days.
A popular chicken hang out
during snow days is under our old camper.
Lucy likes this same spot on
hot summer days for the shade and cool ground.
If you want to go to a
conference 45 minutes from your father's house and want to squeeze in a
visit at the same time, do you attend the conference first and visit
afterwards, or do you have family time right off the bat? Mark's
gut said the latter, and I think he was right, since I wanted to see
Daddy more than I wanted to learn at the conference...and some weeks I
can't manage even one night away from home. After a wonderful
visit on Friday, I managed to net two whole hours of sleep, and that
only came once I gave up on the bed in the guest room and on the quiet
and comfortable couch and went to squeeze myself into the back seat of
the car. (Yes, I am the world's weirdest sleeper and really like
small spaces. I should have brought my tent.)
Anyway, that's all a long way of explaining why --- even though Mark and I were itching to hear Tradd's
newest talks and to check out the South Carolina Organic Growing
Conference --- we only managed to enjoy a delicious lunch there before
heading home. On two hours of sleep, even pastured pigs, medicinal
mushrooms, and biointegrated homesteads didn't sound as lovely as
returning to the peace and quiet of our own farm.
I did get one of the
nicest February tomato plants I've ever seen out of the weekend, though,
plus some cuttings and a rooted sprout from Daddy's Brown Turkey
fig. That brings us up to five fig varieties we're trialling for cold hardiness here at the edge of their range. More on what I'm doing with my new figs in a later post.
October through February
are our primary visiting seasons due to farm constraints the rest of the
year. Of these months, the first and the last are the best for
trips because weather is mild enough that the chickens don't need extra
care and the house can survive without a wood fire, but the garden isn't
nipping at my heels. Soon, our first chicks will be hatching and
I'll want to be on hand in case they have trouble for the next couple of
months, and after that the weeds will be growing a mile a minute, then
the garden produce will be begging to be preserved. I rarely feel
called to leave the farm at any season, but soon even those urges will
Which is all a long way of explaining why we slipped away this weekend to visit my father and attend the South Carolina Organic Growing Conference.
More photos and tidbits from the trip in later posts --- today I'm just
sharing a photo of Mom's visit last weekend when Huckleberry clearly
ruled the roost.
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