The Chicken Wire

Episode 1

I recently made the fairly unilateral decision – with little buy-in from the rest of the family – to get some chickens into the backyard. Our youngest seems keen, as he is where any animal is involved, but my wife less so, and our other son equivocal. Our daughter is quite keen (not least because her partner has his own charming four-girl flock in his student house). Basically I’m just pushing it through the approvals process – which no doubt means I’ll be the sole mug who cares for them, but hey.

I will blog the odd update, and invite any contributions (advice, derision, etc.) from other backyard chicken farmers. So here is the first episode of The Chicken Wire. (With thanks to my wife for the title.)

Over the past couple of weekends I’ve made a start on the coop, in situ. Most of it’s made from scrap that was lying around, but I’ve had to buy a bit of timber and hardware, so the total cost is just under $200, with some spend still to come on wire mesh for the run. The coop is around 2.4m long by 1m deep and 1.5m high. The pop-hole + ramp will be to the side. Ventilation is a slit window across the upper back panel, plus that window you see on the front; the door will also be mostly mesh. I’ll have covers for the front window and door for when it gets cold in the winter (as it does here in the Wairarapa). Inside are laying nests, obv, and perches. I’ll put corrugated iron on top of the ply roof, and paint the outside.

I’m aiming to house four bantams in it. Five at a push. I’ve read that bantams are fairly easy to keep, good layers too. Also, the laying nests are probably too small for anything larger. My bible, by the way, is Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow. Her writing is authoritative and highly readable, with no base left uncovered.

The surrounding bus-shelter-like structure (the four-bay white frame) was built by a previous owner to stable his classic cars; it measures around 12m x 3m. I’ve taken most of the corrugated iron off, and will fence in two of the four ‘bays’ with chicken wire. The birds will have the freedom of this run during the day, and I’ll also let them out into the back garden for an hour or two each day, in the hope that they peck codling moths from the fruit trees.

The other half of the ‘bus shelter’ – the part with the portico roof section – will become a greenhouse. Aiming to add more light into the barn, I acquired a swag of century-old conservatory windows and doors from a nice bloke around the corner who is doing a villa reno. I may use some of these for the greenhouse, but they’re a bit heavy, so more likely I’ll install corrugated polycarbonate panels. (When I win the Lotto, that is. By gosh that stuff is costly!)

That big rusty skeletal structure off to the side was going to be a vast shed in the engineering yard that borders part of our section, but they never finished it. One day either they’ll pull it down or it’ll collapse (on us, most likely), but I don’t think they plan to finish it. I hope not. We’d lose a lot of light! The blackbirds will lose their playground, too.

In front of the coop is a newly dug vege patch – currently tarped over to kill the grass roots. Our neighbours, who moved out last week, kindly left us the rhubarb. We aim to grow some of the crops that are eye-wateringly expensive in the supermarket, such as raspberries and chillis and eggplants, and maybe the odd cherry tomato. Any recommendations welcome! (Our soil is very free-draining, given that most of the town was a riverbed in ancient times, and the rounded, spud-sized riverstones lie thickly in strata beneath the topsoil.)

Behind, you can see the double bifold doors of our son’s sleepout. Putting those doors in last year was a major mission, as it was a nightmare to square them up. Originally, when we moved in, the barn was open to the elements; the previous owner used the space for welding trucks. Now it makes a neat lair for a teenager, though it’s cold in the winter.

This final shot includes our young fruit trees – apple, peach, cherry.