It’s been the plan from day one to keep chickens, though it’s taken rather more days than that to get around to it. Keeping chickens is one thing. Exactly how to keep them is another. Free range? Tractor? Permanent pen? All have their fans among the chicken-keeping world and all for persuasive reasons. I thought I had it sorted in my head many times, but then I’d come across an advocate of another method or someone’s bad experience with the method I’d decided on and it would send me off back to the drawing board again.
Back in Scotland, our chickens there had a permanent pen we inherited with the property, but most of the time we let them out to range free around the garden. The Portuguese, on the other hand, almost universally keep them penned into permanent compounds with thick wire and often solid concrete bases. This seemed a bit brutal to me. Left to their own devices, chickens spend a lot of their day scratching up the soil in search of larvae and worms, or sculpting out dust baths. They can’t do that on concrete. Coupled with the frequent presence of guard dogs chained nearby, their imprisonment seemed to epitomise the more utilitarian attitude that prevails in respect of domesticated animals here.
But the proximity of the guard dogs is no accident. Chickens are a favourite on the dinner menu for rather too many of the wild and semi-wild animals that hang around the periphery of human habitation here, and there are a lot more of them here than there are in Scotland. Not just foxes and the odd free-ranging dog, but mongoose, pine martens, genets, wild cats, hawks, eagles, rats, snakes … If I wanted to keep chickens, with the emphasis on keep, then they would need predator-proof accommodation.
So a robust and permanent coop was required, even if I free-ranged or tractored them during the day when our presence on the land would deter all but the most ravenous of predators. At the beginning of last May I decided the bottom terrace would be a good location for permanent housing for them. I picked a north-facing spot which gets the least amount of direct sun in summer and started work on the base of a coop, putting in a level platform and the beginnings of a supporting framework. Then, what with the building and the garden and everything else, it got put to one side and mostly forgotten about until New Year when once again I started to think about chickens.
A week ago some friends went to visit a local chicken breeder and I tagged along. There were chickens ready, a month or so off point-of-lay. The perfect number for all of us to have the number of chickens we wanted. So that was it. I had to finish the coop.
The chickens are due to arrive on Thursday. So I have 3 days in which to fence off a compound for them for use when they’re not being free-ranged or tractored. Yes … in the end I decided on a combination of all 3. At least until we’ve discovered what works best for us and the chickens.