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Welcome to my Rookie Homesteader series. This is the fifth segment on our chicken coop/run/yard build this summer. CLICK HERE to go to the opening article in the series. Today I’m mentioning the things we have done, or still need to do, to make this area as resistant as possible to our heavy snow loads and assortment of critters that want to eat our egg machines.
You may recall the article in which I discussed developing the one decent semi-flat, semi-sunny, treeless spot on my property (that isn’t already a garden or driveway.) As I earned my tractor-operator experience, I slowly discovered how to not just clear the brush in the area, but carve the ground a bit. I was using the loader bucket to kind of mimic an excavator in that sense. I went and found a couple of rolls of used chainlink fence that I’d traded for years ago. After digging down under the center of the cleared area, my wife and I laid out a roughly 12-foot by 16-foot area of chainlink and then buried it a foot or more underground. We marked the corners with yellow caution tape which aided in finding them later to ensure we built over the fence. [The chainlink in the photo below is left over; we'd already buried at this point.]
Our common predators around here include coyotes, raccoons, poorly-managed dogs, and hawks or eagles. Many of the neighbors on our local community page have mentioned losing chickens to one or more of these. Since we built the coop out of solid construction grade materials, our efforts went to making the run—and the small link between the two—as strong as possible. And while the pre-welded poultry pen is pretty stout, it does have some sizable gaps in between the panels. We’ve started the tedious process of adding hardware cloth over these gaps. We’ll also be wrapping the lowest two-feet of the walls in chicken wire, in a horizontal band all the way around the run. My wife creatively built a “tunnel” out of hardware cloth on all four sides of the small space the chickens cross from the ramp to the coop door. For that we chose the Run Chicken Automatic door, (in "American Flag") which is programmable to daylight or specific hours and can even be run from a phone if you hassle with setting up the bluetooth.
We’ve also ran (Run? Ran? It's hard to tell when you've ran around your run!) hardware cloth all the way around the run, with a small lip going up the run walls, and the rest buried horizontally a few inches under the ground. The whole thing is topped by rocks. Anything digging into the run will hit that hardware cloth, and if they get past that, they’ll hit chainlink fence.
This has held up very well for the few weeks the birds have been out there. We’ll be doing something similar to the outer yard’s fence at all of the low spots/gaps (and around the gaps at the gates) where the uneven ground makes for an easy passage. Raccoons not only climb, but they’re smart. My thought isn’t to try to unrealistically keep them out of the yard. That fence mainly serves to stop dogs and coyotes and keep the birds under the future net.
In addition to adding more H/W cloth, dirt, and rocks around the yard gates and fence, we’ll be adding a piece of heavy wire all the way around the yard at the tops of the posts. The reason is the bird net. We bought a heavy duty one, made out of HDPE, and stout in appearance like 36-pound bank line. You can find it here. I’ll attach it to the top of the coop and run and run custom-cut pieces out to the wire around the tops of the posts. It will drape over the wire and be attached to the fence’s top. The wire will just serve to give us a little head room. I have a feeling this net, if properly attached, will be strong enough to block birds-of-prey. I plan on installing stout eyelets around the run and coop to which to tie the net. Even though everything is constructed well, I chance nothing. I will still need to drop that net and rake the snow off those roofs.
As for the snow load, you’ve probably already figured that out. In the article on the coop construction, I pretty clearly defined the solid design. But that poultry pen, though…
Don’t get me wrong—it’s a good cage. But we get snow measured in feet here near Hood Canal, usually at least a couple of times per winter. I wanted to add that metal roof to the pen because of how much rain we get. It will allow those birds a dry outdoor space during most of our mild rains; and makes for easier rain collection. But that metal roof will also collect the snow. So, knowing I needed roosts… and knowing I needed the extra load-bearing just to go up there and screw down the roof panels… I opted to add wood posts to the interior of the run. I “sniped” the end of each post into a wedge shape to press up into the gap between the roof panels. I buried the foot of the posts into the ground all the way down to the chain link. Lastly I added two roosts to give the two posts some tie-in between themselves. Like all of my fencing, the cross-members between the posts are hammered together with eight-inch spikes.
Let me know in the comments what some of your predator protections are! Thanks for following along on our rookie homesteading journey!