When we moved our first flock of chickens from the basement to the chicken yard, I looked out my home-office window an hour or so later and saw six hawks circling above the barn.  That’s when we knew we needed nets over the chicken yard.

We were given a reminder of how important overhead protection is for chickens just before Christmas.  Our second flock of chicks included some roosters, and one of them turned out to be a runt.  As the other roosters grew bigger and the runt remained a runt, I saw an example why my pal Mike (who was raised on a farm) told me not to worry about getting emotionally attached to chickens:  they’re mean little dinosaurs.  Like schoolyard bullies who had identified a weak kid, the other roosters began attacking the runt mercilessly.  So we moved the runt to a 10 x 20 dog pen in the front yard, figuring the six-foot-tall fencing would keep him safe from coyotes.  There was a tarp covering one end of the pen, but the other end was open to the sky.

As we were packing the van to leave for our holiday trip to Illinois, I caught a glimpse in my peripheral vision of something swooping into the pen.  I turned and saw a hawk on top of the runt.  I ran down to the pen, yelling and waving my arms, and the hawk flew away.  Too late.  The runt was dead.  As I turned back to the house, I saw Alana standing in the driveway, staring towards the pen.  She’d seen the whole thing.

Uh-oh, I thought.  Here come the tears.

I guess farm kids lose their Bambi-and-Thumper sentimentality about animals at a young age.  As I approached Alana, she said, “That was cool!”

“Cool?”

“Yeah, I’ve never seen a hawk kill anything before!”

This from the daughter with the gentler nature of the two. Whew. That meant we could leave for our Christmas trip without me having to give a comforting speech about the cycle of life.  Still not quite believing how well she was taking this, I said, “Well, I guess I should toss the dead rooster into the yard so the hawks or coyotes can eat him while we’re gone.”

“Okay, Dad.”

Anyway, that’s why we have nets covering the chicken yard.  The problem was that the nets annoyed the @#$% out of me.  Our chicken yard is about 44 x 46 feet.  We bought bird nets at the local farmers’ co-op, but it took four of them to cover the yard, and no matter how many times I tried to raise them by attaching them to the barn or to poles, they’d slip off or the wind would blow them off, and they’d hang low like this:

No big deal, you say?  Ha.  You try being nearly six feet tall and walking around under those nets.  I’d end up hunched over like an old man, and even then the nets would manage to snag and yank off of my hat and/or my glasses.  You don’t want things you wear on your head falling into a yard full of chicken poop.

Granted, Chareva and the girls are the primary caretakers for the chickens, but I ended up spending more time in that chicken yard than I’d planned thanks to bad shots during my rounds of disc golf.  My driver especially had a tendency to land in those nets, slide directly to one of the few narrow openings between the nets and the barn, and plop to the ground.  You don’t want things you hold in your hands falling into a yard full of chicken poop.

It occurred to me more than once that a single big net, with the barn serving as a tent-pole, would be much better.  An errant disc would hit that net and slide onto the ground outside the chicken yard.  No more walking like a hunchback under low-hanging nets.  No more having my hat and glasses yanked off into a yard full of chicken poop while I’m trying to retrieve a disc from a yard full of chicken poop.

I’ve intended for awhile to find that one big net.  Intended, yes, but between preparing and delivering a speech in early December and then preparing to leave for the holidays, I didn’t quite get around to it.

I finally got motivated when we were coming home from an errand last week and found one of our remaining roosters hanging in a net with his foot caught and his leg looking dislocated.  The other roosters, true to form, were helping out by pecking at him.  Apparently the rooster, not content to run around on the ground, had decided to leap up into the low-hanging net and got himself caught.

After we managed to cut the rooster free from the net, I did what comes naturally to me … I told Chareva the whole sorry incident was probably her fault gave her a new Mafia nickname:  Chareva “The Legbreaker” Naughton. (This replaces her previous Mafia nickname of Chareva “The Screwdriver” Naughton, which she earned while trying off a fish we caught, as I recounted in a long-ago post on my other blog.)  She did, after all, break some chicken legs back in December while trying to move the portable coop.  That’s how we ended up with our first farm-to-forks chicken dinner.  Give that woman some chickens to raise, then just wait for the bones to crack.

After assigning the new nickname, I did what comes less-naturally to me … I went shopping.  It took awhile, but I finally found a 50 x 50 net available online.

When we first pulled the new net out of the box, Chareva was convinced someone had sent us the wrong one.  She believed it was 50 feet long, but said it didn’t look like it could possibly be 50 feet wide.  You can see why she’d reach that conclusion:

I was convinced the net probably was 50 feet wide, mostly because I’d already torn down the other nets and therefore I really, really needed the new net to be 50 feet wide.  If it turned out to be, say, 15 feet wide, Chareva might punish me by making me move all the chickens to the basement and live with them until we got the yard covered again.

As we unraveled the net a bit to inspect it, I was even more convinced it was indeed 50 feet wide, just rolled up nice and tight.  Fortunately, I turned out to be right.

Since the barn would be serving as our tent-pole, Chareva pointed out that we’d have to drape the net over the barn roof and begin unraveling it from up there.  Being a chivalrous sort, I immediately offered to steady the ladder for her while she climbed up.


Unrolling a net and pulling the edges out to the fence sounded like an easy job.  And it probably would have been if the rivets and sharp edges on the roof of the barn hadn’t kept snagging the net, and if the t-posts in the chicken yard hadn’t kept snagging the net, and if the branches of the small tree by the barn hadn’t kept snagging the net.  We spent way more time trying to figure out where the @#$% the net was snagged than we did unraveling it and pulling it toward the fence line.  We kept having to get back up on the ladders to find and release the latest barn-roof snag.  A few times we could only reach the snagged part of the net with a pole.  I was worried for awhile that we wouldn’t finish before dark and I’d end up sleeping in the basement with the chickens after all.

When we were nearly finished, Chareva pointed out how much easier the job would have been if we’d covered the barn roof with a tarp first.  No rivets, no sharp edges.  I thanked her profusely for that insight.  At least that’s how I remember it.

Anyway, we did finish before dark.  That’s Chareva in the picture below, walking beneath a net that is now a bit higher than six feet off the ground.

Here are a couple of pictures taken in better light the next day.

As you can see, the portable coop is now parked up against the chicken yard.  We made that move before the holidays so our nearest neighbor, who feeds the chickens while we’re gone, wouldn’t have to move the coop around.  All the chickens now share the yard, which means the term “pecking order” is starting to apply.  Some birds are definitely more dominant than others.

Sara came running into my home office a couple of days ago, all wound up, and told me one of the roosters had beat her legs with his wings and then chased her around the chicken-yard.  When I asked her to identify the perpetrator, she described this one:

Yeah, I figured.  We have three remaining roosters, and he’s the biggest and meanest.  He also never shuts up.  He struts around the yard all day mouthing off, chasing hens, starting fights with other rooters, and otherwise behaving like a rap star.  I keep expecting to walk out there and see him wearing baggy pants halfway down his ass.

He attacked me once too.  I was looking up, trying to keep a net from snagging my hat, when the little rapper began squawking and beating at my shins with his wings.  I responded by doing my impression of a punter.  Nothing too hard, mind you … more like a punter trying to kick the ball short and avoid putting it in the hands of a speedster.  Then for good measure, I took off my hat and whacked the rapper across the face with it.  I’m hoping he’ll decide going after me isn’t a good idea.

After he attacked Sara, I figured she’d be lobbying for him to go into the stew pot soon.  Nope.  After describing the attack, she suggested that if she can only keep one rooster, it should be him.

“Why is that?”

“Well, he’s the strongest and the most aggressive.  So he’ll probably do the best job of protecting the flock and mating with the hens to make more chickens.”

Like I said, farm kids apparently lose their Bambi-and-Thumper sentimentality about animals at a young age.

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29 Responses to “The Farm Report: Nuttin’ But Net”
  1. Carol says:

    I put a net over my chicken yard every spring so I can have a garden. The problem is that if you get snow, it will pull the netting down which will pull your fence posts inward. Just a FYI so you can go out in the snow and bang it off the net. Also, mean roosters taste really good!

    We haven’t had much snow the past couple of winters, but I appreciate the warning.

  2. Wayne Gage says:

    Thanks for the laugh…a fun read.

  3. TJ the Grouch says:

    Be glad you have hawks. They are good mousers and excellent snake catchers. But even hawks get their comeuppance. Crows hate them and will often gang up on them. The funniest ones are the kingbirds. They are not big but must be tough as nails. We sometimes see them riding on the backs of flying hawks trying to peck the heck out of them.

    That must be very unpleasant for the hawks.

  4. js290 says:

    Farm kids are probably far less domesticated than their city dwelling counterparts.

    Heh. That’s one way of putting it.

  5. Shannon says:

    I think it does also depend on the kids. I’ve personally met two people who grew up on farms and became quasi vegetarians because of it. One girl I knew in college became a pescatarian (I guess fish aren’t cute, lol!). The other would eat only turkeys because, according to him “they’re mean”, lol! But he won’t eat any other animal.

    Ok, I’m not a farm girl so I’m clueless here, but why couldn’t you eat the rooster?

    The plan was to let him get bigger in the pen, then eat him. When the hawk killed him, we were packing the van to leave town, so we let the local wildlife dispose of the carcass. There was nothing left when we returned.

  6. Dave says:

    If you’re keeping a rooster, consider de-spurring it. They can inflict some damage with them.

    Good suggestion, thanks.

  7. Sheri says:

    I hate roosters. We had two. Notice I said “had.”

    I can see why roosters end up in the dinner pot.

  8. Ulfric Douglas says:

    ??What were you thinking?
    This : ” Like schoolyard bullies who had identified a weak kid, the other roosters began attacking the runt mercilessly. So we moved the runt to a 10 x 20 dog pen in the front yard, …”
    should have been this ; “So we pulled its head off and ate it.”

    Seriously, get a clue.
    (I mean that kindly, get a clue. Do it right, be human.)

    We were hoping he’d get bigger if he had his own pen (the other roosters would attack him when he tried to eat), then we planned to eat him. Turns out the hawk was happy to grab a smaller meal.

  9. D Gi says:

    Mr. Naughton,

    First off, thank you for your advice. I watched your movie a couple of years ago, it helped me and mine very much.

    I just found this blog about MSG being a cause of inflammation, illness, etc.

    Katherine Reid, Ph.D – in biochemistry.

    http://unblindmymind.org/

    Her daughter was very sick….

    Thank you again.

    Thank you for the link.

  10. SB says:

    “I thanked her profusely for that insight”
    – Oh to be a fly on the barn during these conversations. Congrats on finishing the job.

    Thank you.

  11. Howard says:

    Ah, I had a similar experience with Old Charlie. Mean bird. Spurred my mother on several occasions, sometimes drawing blood.

    He spurred me a couple of times. Then I tried kicking him when he came at me. That did not discourage him a bit. He would attack anytime I turned my back to him. I would hear him coming, spin around & kick him again — still no behavioral change.

    Then he jumped high enough that I could see it would be hard to kick him, so I slapped his head — THAT got his attention. I decided to firmly establish the pecking order at that time, so while he was stumbling around, I ran up to him and slapped his head back and forth until he managed to escape. I then chased him into a corner, and repeated the slapping until he escaped again — and this time, he went directly for the hole in the chicken coop that he had used to exit.

    Thereafter, anytime I went into the back yard, Old Charlie high-tailed it back to the coop. As long as he remained in the coop, I let him be.

    I suspect that tactic will work for Chareva and the girls, too. Chickens are REALLY stupid, but they understand pecking order.

    As for mean roosters tasting good — Old Charlie was every bit as tough on the dinner plate as he was mean in the yard. Practically all gristle.

    I wonder what people would think of us, seeing us chasing roosters around the yard and slapping their heads. We must look like rural versions of the Three Stooges.

    • Howard says:

      You only have to do it a couple of times. For Charlie, the 2nd time I slapped him was the last time I ever needed to. And slapping the bird upside the head is actually less effort than trying to land a good kick.

      I guarantee that you will be able to instantly tell the difference in the bird’s reaction between getting kicked, and getting slapped upside the head.

      Slapping is probably a more effective teaching tool. The kicks are to put a quick end to a leg-beating incident.

  12. Allen W. says:

    I would suspect the rooster who got his leg caught was leaping up to spur fight and snagged the net. Punting works up to a point but the hatchet works a whole lot better. Also regarding the idea that most aggressive makes the best breeder, well it all depends on what you are breeding for. If you are raising roosters for cock fighting then you want agressive, if you want meat and egg birds you want calm and easily managed. Just my experience talking, feel free to ignore it ;-)

    We never ignore experience when it comes to raising chickens. We’re newbies.

  13. Toni says:

    This reminds me of when my parents had chickens. The rooster (we named him Cornelius) was a pretty mean guy; my parents and older brother had to carry a two-by-four to go gather the eggs. I was about 11 at the time. When I wanted to go gather the eggs, my mom followed. And watched Cornelius allow me to pick him up, hold him, and feed him grain out of my hand (okay, the folks weren’t fatheads, but nobody’s perfect). From that point on it was my job to gather the eggs.

    We also had a few pigs over the years and a steer at one point. Yes, growing up raising livestock (I wouldn’t call our setup a “farm” exactly) you get over any illusions about where your bacon and ground beef came from. My parents did worry the first time they brought home one of our pigs wrapped up in neat little packages of butcher paper, but neither my brother or myself had any qualms about eating that pig. We had named him Bacon, afterall. We knew he wasn’t exactly a pet. Our dog, OTOH, had gotten quite attached to his friend, and did seem kinda sad (looking for him and whatnot). Though, he certainly didn’t hesitate to take whatever table scraps made their way to him :)

    You were like the Rooster Whisperer. When our rooster attacked me, you can bet I wasn’t whispering my reply.

  14. Firebird7478 says:

    Roosters can be rather annoying:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ethugA-VVk4

  15. Pat says:

    “Well, he’s the strongest and the most aggressive. So he’ll probably do the best job of protecting the flock and mating with the hens to make more chickens.”

    Evolutionary biologist in the making. ;-)

    But behaviours are genetically influenced too, aggression to humans is not necessarily a trait to be encouraged.

    True, but aggression takes many forms. Starting a war is driven by aggression. So is starting a new company.

  16. I think you need a second shed. For obvious reasons.

    As long as people don’t ask about the two sheds when I’m being interviewed about my film.

  17. Melissa Cline says:

    I love the farm updates. I am in the wishing stage, still. I’m hung up on having a dairy cow, though. Will your farm include other livestock in the future?

    Definitely. The long-range plan is get the placed properly fenced in, then look into sheep, goats, pigs, a dairy cow — whatever combination we ultimately decide is best.

  18. Elenor says:

    “I wonder what people would think of us, seeing us chasing roosters around the yard and slapping their heads. We must look like rural versions of the Three Stooges.”

    YOUTUBE!!!

    Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk.

  19. Dave says:

    My main experience with chickens comes from living in the Caribbean. The birds roamed loose in the small coastal town I stayed in. The only predators of significance were feral dogs that would sometimes gang up on a bird and kill it. Of course, the dogs would disappear sometimes after such an incident. There was a small Chinese restaurant there too….

    We’ve met people in our area who let their chickens run around on their land. They just accept that some of those chickens will become dinners for hawks.

  20. Jeff says:

    It looks like you have a real “Foghorn Leghorn” on your hands. It makes me think the cartoons really captured the essence of the dominant rooster in the yard. P.S. kicking back at the roosters may work to a point but remember they have very tiny brains.

    Whoever created the Foghorn Leghorn character must have had chickens.

  21. Ed says:

    I guess “Raising Chickens for Dummies” will be your next DVD?

    As a dummy raising chickens, I’m certainly qualified for the job.

  22. Cord says:

    I’d love to see how it works out with mean rooster. Four of my chicks turned out to be roosters, so I got rid of the two meanest and the one most friendly, kept the “middle” personality, and so far, he’s worked out really well. Looks after my five free-ranging hens very conscientiously, and never offers violence to me, my husband, or the toddler (though he does occasionally have a go at my father-in-law).

    We may go that route as well. One of the other roosters appears to be an enthusiastic breeder (based on how he’s always chasing the hens) without being mean.

  23. Galina L. says:

    Tim, did you ever come across the name Paul Wheaton?(http://www.richsoil.com/paul-wheaton.jsp) He is my heirloom cast iron authority, he also has several pemaculture articles about how to rise chicken.http://www.richsoil.com/. I think his common-sense approach should resonate with your take on different issues.

  24. Boundless says:

    > … found a 50 x 50 net available online.

    Any further info on that? We ended up stitching together 14x45ft panels, with cable ties, and I don’t want to do that again. 50×50 is perfect for the 40×40 electric netting/fence we have, and plan to use as a portable paddock.

    Also, how large can the cells be and still deter raptors? I’m thinkin’ that anything smaller than the wingspan of the smallest threat would do, perhaps up to 10x10inch squares. Nor does the net have to be stout, just visible to the keen eye of a bird working up a meal plan.

    Here’s the net:
    http://www.amazon.com/Netting-Bird-Poultry-Aviary-Game/dp/B001W2AG2M/ref=sr_1_1?s=pet-supplies&ie=UTF8&qid=1389980955&sr=1-1&keywords=bird+poultry+netting

  25. John S says:

    Wow Tom, showing the black chicken, mentioning that he listens to rap music and sags his pants. Hmmm, now just what could you be implying I wonder?! Why don’t you just get it over with and name him Trayvon.

    Serious question for a quasi-racist libertarian like yourself – what would you do if in 10 years, your daughter takes a black man to the prom? (Assuming they exist where you live)

    I see you’ve uncovered my secret racist agenda. Dang, I thought I was being subtle.

    Because as you’ve clearly observed, we never see white kids listening to rap or wearing their pants down around their asses.

  26. John S says:

    Right, because when you mention rap and sagging pants, everyone’s first though is “white kids”.

    You didn’t answer my question, Tom. Would you let your daughter take a black man to prom?

    I don’t dignify idiotic questions posed by idiots (who think they see racism in a picture of a rooster) with an answer.

    Your attempt to equate libertarianism with racism (via a description of a rooster) reminds me of a chapter in the terrific book “Understanding Post-Modernism,” written by a philosophy professor named Stephen Hicks. He explains how leftism is based on emotions, not logic (in fact, the intellectual forefathers of leftism were specifically anti-logic), and therefore can’t be debated logically. So he described one of the favorite plays from the leftist playbook like this: “If you can’t debate your opponent using logic or facts (which you can’t), change the argument by accusing him of being a racist.”

    It’s laughable, but that’s how you morons think — to abuse the word “think.”

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