As those who’ve followed us on Facebook for a while will know, our 4 hens were massacred in July 2014 by ‘free range’ local dogs. Although the hens were kept in a secure compound which not even the foxes had managed to get into, these dogs succeeded in opening the fastening on the gate, broke it down and got in. I found the bodies of two of the hens. The other two were taken. They were only 2½ years old and at the peak of their laying. It was a sad loss.
It was all the more upsetting considering the effort put into building a really secure compound for them. I’d catered for large ‘free range’ dogs in building the compound, but not ones with door-opening skills. This forced a major rethink on how I was to keep and protect poultry going forward. It came back again to the initial conundrum I’d faced.
Tractoring poultry isn’t the easiest thing to do on these narrow terraces and uneven, sloping ground. Any tractor-type structure light enough to be hauled 3-5m from one terrace up to the next by one person doesn’t provide much protection against determined predators.
The idea had originally been to base the hens in a permanent compound, but tractor them about the place from time to time during the day. I built a geodesic dome chicken tractor which was very light and easy to move, but awkward to get the chickens out of, needed resiting too often because of its small size, and couldn’t be used around trees. So the tractoring never really happened in the way it was intended.
The compound though was a huge concession to safety over quality of life, and also meant I wasn’t employing the hens on the quinta in the way I wanted to, using them to clear pests like codling moth larvae under the fruit trees in the winter, or prepare new ground for cultivation. And any permanent compound suffers from overuse sooner or later.
Clearly I needed a better kind of tractoring system.
I also want to add ducks to the flock. Ducks would need separate housing to the hens. Ducks would also need access to water.
So the plan is again to have a permanent base for the poultry on the bottom terrace, complete with duck and hen housing and duck ponds, but to use electric poultry netting to contain them. In this way, the electric fencing is both flexible fencing for the compound and a tractor to move round the quinta so I can put them to work. Whether they return to the permanent coops every night and the fencing is moved back with them to deter foxes and the like, or whether I construct some portable housing for them which gets moved around with the fencing remains to be seen. It’s a work in progress.
The electric fencing also won’t protect the birds from sky-based predators, but I came to the conclusion there’s only so much protection I can offer before it becomes completely uneconomical. Instead I will maintain a stock of birds which takes predation into account.
The first thing to do though was to make accommodation and ponds for the ducks in the area designated their permanent base.