Remember that I adopted chicks this spring? Well they are growing! It took me a while to find a way to protect them, and I lost another since I last mentioned my chickens. But these days they are thriving.
My original group of hens were dubbed The Hussies, and when my friend started calling my new babies the Lil’ Hussies, I loved it. I started with 4 Hussies, and I only have one left. The matron is Jamie. I saved her life a couple months ago when I heard her squawking and I sprinted out of the house and down to the chicken pen to find a raccoon chasing her in circles around the pen. The raccoon was not bothered by my presence, and soon had its teeth around Jamie’s neck and had her pinned to the ground. I was barefoot and unprepared, but I ran over and somehow got the raccoon to let go of her. I put the stunned Jamie carefully inside the chicken house and then turned to the arrogant raccoon, who was not leaving while there was still a chicken that wanted killing.
I was furious and tried to get it to leave by yelling and flailing and stomping my feet at it. It did not flinch. I picked up sticks and rocks and threw them at it, but it watched them approach and then swatted them to the side. I waited, but the raccoon didn’t budge. After a stalemate for awhile, I opened the chicken house door again to peep inside at Jamie, whom I had not yet inspected. She seemed ok.
In that 20 seconds while I wasn’t looking, the raccoon had somehow dashed outside the pen. I had wanted to watch it exit, to figure out how it was getting in. The only thing I could think of is that it is climbing the walls.
At the time of that incident, the Lil’ Hussies were getting big and I had been trying to decide when to bring them into the big pen with the adults – now adult. I realized that until I made the place safer, they could not live here.
First of all I needed to block the gap beneath the front door. I knew raccoons had come through there in the past because they dragged the rocks I placed, out of their way. I had to place a rock too heavy to drag. Concrete is a heavy rock! I bought a couple bags, built a form, then mixed the concrete and filled up the threshold beneath the door. There is no way a raccoon will either fit through or be able to move the concrete. I used the leftover concrete to reinforce the bottom of the walls of the pen in places where the chickens dig holes to take dirt baths.
Next I solicited advice from friends and family, and read articles online and watched YouTube videos, trying to figure out the most reasonable way to protect my girls from the raccoons who would still get inside by climbing the walls. The option I went with was a suggestion from a fellow blogger. The entry point for my girls for 4 years has been a chicken-sized opening into their home. No door. They come and go as they please. I think it was Maureen who suggested putting a door on the chicken house and locking up the girls every night. It was the cheapest and most reliable option.
In the shop I found an old cabinet door from before I remodeled the kitchen. It had been smeared with blue paint at some point, but the chickens wouldn’t care.
Next I needed to get the right hardware. The Internet assured me that raccoons will be able to figure out any latch and the only guarantee would be a padlock. Well…that’s a bit much for now, but I did find a two-step latch with a ring in case I ever do want to use a padlock. I also bought hinges and screws and charged my wireless drill.
I had to remove the ramp and replace it farther down the wall, to allow the door to close. Then because the door was an inch thick and rested on the outside of the wall, I had to attach another piece of wood so that the latch could be mounted level. I needed to figure out a way to keep the door open during the day. I collected all my tools and began figuring it out.
Jamie, the only hen residing in the pen at that time, hovered around me. Like all chickens, she’s nervous of anything new, but also desperately curious.
When it was done I put all the tools away. Now. How to get six excitable middle-school aged hens from the other side of my lawn into this pen? The easiest method would be to wait for nighttime, and that’s what I did. In their separate pen, my babies were still huddling into a cardboard box filled with straw each night. I waited till it was dark and they become paralyzed. I threw a blanket over the top of the box, and carried the whole box into the chicken house. I set the box into a dark corner, uncovered it, and quietly backed out and locked the whole place up for the night.
The next morning I was eager to find out what the Lil’ Hussies thought of their new home. I opened up the door and waited for them to come out and explore. I kept waiting. Then I peeked inside.
I gave up waiting after half an hour or so. I went back to the house and made some coffee and began my day. A couple hours later I went back down the hill and coaxed and coaxed, and finally got them to come out into the world. They were scared of everything, and kept climbing back up the ramp and going back into the house.
Two months later, the teenage Hussies are comfortable and have explored every inch of the new pen. One thing I find very amusing is that they love to climb the tree. Have you ever heard of tree-climbing hens?
The chickens include Easter Eggers (the ones with the cheeks, that were sold as Ameraucanas), Buff Brahmas, and Jamie, who is a sexlink (mixed breed).
The door has worked wonderfully, but the lives of my babies depends entirely upon me. One night, about a week later, I forgot to lock the door. In the morning, one of the babies was dead. Killed by a raccoon. Now there are only five Lil’ Hussies plus Jamie.
The next major challenge is what to do with them when I leave. You know me, I travel! So far, when I’ve only been gone a day or two, I leave them trapped in the house the whole time. I’d rather have alive chickens who feel imprisoned, than dead free-range chickens. Eventually, though, I will be gone a long time. I do not know what to do. I have two neighbors. The next door neighbors I do not want on my property for any reason. The folks on the other side of them are good people, but older and not in the best of health. They have offered to free my chickens during the daytime for an upcoming trip of four days length. But if I’m gone for two weeks in the future, I feel like that’s a lot to ask of people who have much more important things to worry about. I need a mechanical door on a timer!