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!”
“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.”
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.