We definitely still have room for further improvements in our rendition of Justin Rhodes design. Our wooden axle broke once right after installing and turning over to install the other wheel. We were able to hodgepodge it back together by splitting the axle. We also plan to replace our wooden axle on this chickshaw with a metal shaft for stability. This was already in the plans due to the dowel rod length we needed being unavailable. We’ve also yet to find the time to do some overdue weatherization.
Overall it’s still a vast improvement that allowed us to move the chickens in the chickshaw (and herd the geese) into last years garden to give it a much-needed weeding. I think my bees will also be quite happy not to be pestered quite so much by poultry.
Love that poultry!
Up to this point, we have been extremely lucky. We have never lost a chicken, or chick, to any predator. While that has not changed, we have lost many eggs, and could have lost chickens not too long ago. This happened a few weeks ago, but we’ve been so busy with the aftermath that I haven’t been able get you up-to-date with us. So here goes.
It all started on a Saturday morning not too long ago…my oldest son went out to collect eggs and feed the chickens. He came back very quickly exclaiming that there was an opossum in the coop. My husband and I went out immediately. Opossums are mean, and there is no way we would risk anyone’s safety. He told us it was in the nest boxes, so that is where we looked. My husband was slowly raising the lid to the nest boxes. It was then that I saw what we were dealing with and told my husband to quickly, for goodness sake, close the coop!!!! It was a skunk. Thankfully it was looking at me and it was a face, not a tail, that I was looking at. This left us with quite the dilemma. We had a hen in a nest box. A skunk in another nest box. We also had a bunch of chickens that would want to roost in their coop at night. A skunk is an opportunistic predator. We knew that if we left things as they were, we might not have chickens in the morning.
Thankfully, we had raised meat chickens in a separate “chicken tractor” the year before, and still had it. We, very quickly, decided that the chickens would need to live in the chicken tractor until we had built a proper mobile chicken tractor. Thus began the task of catching chickens. If any of you have ever tried to catch a chicken, you probably know it’s really not that easy. Unless they are sitting eggs that is. Thankfully, the hen that was laying an egg was in the nest box closest to the door, so we got her out rather easily. Even though it was a bit frightening to stick my head in a coop that had a skunk that was aware of our presence. Chickens are not, however, easy to catch if they have somewhere to hide. It took a while, but with everyone pitching in we did catch them all, starting with the rooster.
We caught them one or two at a time and put them in the chicken tractor. Got them some food and water, and it worked out. Getting the eggs, however, was not so easy. We had given them some buckets with straw in them, hoping that they would work. Alas, it did not. They laid one or two in the buckets, took all the straw out, and laid eggs in all the corners and places that I couldn’t reach them. Of course.
At this point we are trying out some milk crates, modified to work as nest boxes. We got this idea from Justin Rhodes over at AbundantPermaculture.com. He has a wonderful article where he talks about his mobile chicken tractor design. Absolute genius! We are actually in the process of building a chicken tractor based on this design, but with a few changes for what we want.
Dealing with the Skunk: Lessons Learned
I’ll have more to update you on with this in the near future. Suffice it to say that trying to be humane by simply letting it out was probably not the best idea. You will soon find out why. Before a possible next time, we will be doing research to figure out how to deal with a predator, such as a skunk, with no one being harmed, with being humane, and with not risking the well-being of our animals (or bees) or investments we have made on our homestead.
We now have the chickens, and bees, inside of an electric poultry netting fence in our backyard. Thankfully, everyone seems quite happy.