Over the past couple of years, our flock of poultry has grown from a very manageable 12 hens to 25 hens and 4 ducks. We keep the ducks separate from the hens as we have one drake and he is not kind to the chickens. My son owns 6 of the chickens, and to make the process of separating his chicken’s eggs for sale, we house them separately too. Some weeks ago we had to move the remaining 19 chickens out of their original digs, a 100-year-old chook shed with a hardwood door that some romantic soul had carved a heart-shaped viewing hole into, and into a prefab, flat-pack balsa wood construction designed for a maximum of 12. And that suggestion was being overly optimistic. Life was squishy, the ladies were distressed, they needed a bigger abode asap.
I had toyed with the idea of making the chook shed ourselves with the doors from the old homestead, but as I have no construction skills and a lack of power tools, that was shaping up to be an impossible task. Instead, I was pinning my hopes on finding a pre-loved chook pen on Gumtree. Something that had stood the test of time and could be dismantled and reassembled relatively easily. They were proving, however, very hard to find. At least anything of value, just a whole lot of prefab, flat-pack balsa wood numbers. Finally, at the end of last week, I found a cedar wood chook pen large enough for the hens, providing they free range during the day, which is how we managed them previously.
Our Gumtree find was dismantled in panels and reassembled in the reverse order once we got it home. It has a hardwood floor which will make cleaning a much easier process and also provides excellent predator protection, and the cedar wood cladding will repel insects like lice and looks beautiful. With its peaked Colorbond roof, it allows easy access into the pen. No stooping, no hitting your head, no crawling through poop. Aviary wire panels make up the front section of the pen, which provides plenty of ventilation and keeps the native birds out.
My son’s chickens, who had been housed in a modified pet crate, have been moved into the balsa wood number. They are content as the space is completely adequate for 6. I am hoping that all of these changes will create happy and healthy chickens.
The cedar pen and the ducks’ pen, which I bought many years ago from a lady who handmade pens from recycled hardwood, will require maintenance to keep them in condition and weather resistant. I have applied a coat of Organoil Garden Furniture Oil to nourish, preserve and seal the timber, and to provide some protection from the weather. It was an oil suggested to me by Adrian Iodice of Beekeeping Naturally as it is natural and non-toxic and is harmless to native and European honey bees. While we don’t have bees in our hive at the moment (thanks to a 49-degree celsius spike in our devastating summer of 2019), we want to ensure that anything we do in the garden supports bee, and other pollinating insects’ health.
The chickens will, unfortunately, have to huddle together in their new space for a few days without the freedom to access the outdoors, as they need to establish a connection to their new home. Otherwise, they are apt to lose their bearings and we will forever be hunting them out of hiding spaces. But after 4 or 5 nights locked in their new pen, I find the chickens are usually settled and just get on with things.
We are very happy with this new installation as it is sturdy, provides adequate space and protection for the chickens, was affordable, and satisfied the principles of reusing and producing no waste. That it is also attractive is a bonus.