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We Have Chooks Again!

This has been practically the longest period in my adult life without chooks!  Back in September, our very large resident carpet snake got the last one.  She had taken to roosting in the bay tree.  I actually saw the snake heading up the tree in the mid-morning, and made a mental note to catch my one remaining chook and give her a compulsory warning not to roost there.  And then, in the middle of the night, I woke with a start  – I’d forgotten all about warning her. I felt so guilty.

Back in the days when I gardened using chook domes, I very rarely lost one to a predator.  But the bandicoot-enforced change to fortress fencing meant I could no longer use chook domes, and the free ranging chooks became vulnerable to goannas, carpet snakes, and wedge-tailed eagles.

Carpet snakes have been the hardest predator to foil.  I’ve never managed to build a cage large enough for chooks and strong enough to keep snakes out, not permanently.  They seem to spend all night going over and over my cage trying to find the weak link. A friend has succeeded with electric fencing, but it means keeping the chooks in a “chook yard” and that limits their multiple uses.

This is the new roost design.  I am hoping that while I can’t win in persistence against a hungry snake, I can win in intelligence (and having opposable thumbs helps a lot).

This one is the pilot “proof of concept” version.  It is made from a recycled market umbrella, painted with some old paint to improve its outdoor lifespan, and with roosts nailed up in the canopy of the artificial “tree”.  The umbrella sits in a galvanised pipe holder donged into the ground, and the leg of the umbrella is wrapped in extra sharp barbed wire, designed to stop a carpet snake from climbing it. I can move the roost around my fenced garden beds, allowing the chooks to refresh them and keeping them safe from goannas and eagles at the same time. That’s the theory anyway.

I have chosen bantam Australorp crosses as the chook breed, because they are a bit flighty and can fly up to roost, hopefully higher than a carpet snake can rear. This snake was very eager to test the theory on Day One.  So far so good.  Fingers crossed.

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{ 40 comments… add one }
  • dixiebelle February 27, 2011, 1:23 pm

    Good luck! Why can’t the snake just eat some rats or bush turkey’s, then he’d be a welcome guest!

  • Linda February 27, 2011, 2:45 pm

    I think caged chooks are easier to catch. But he’s going to have a challenge climbing a barbed wired pole!

  • Cherie February 27, 2011, 6:41 pm

    Everytime you post a photo of that snake I run and get my son (city boy that he is ) and we marvel at it.
    I hope your new design works – I agree life without chooks just isn’t as fun 😉

  • Shangri La February 27, 2011, 8:16 pm

    The barbed wire sounds very clever. We had a chook dome made from the instructions in your book at our last place. Unfortunately we had fairly sloping land so it was limited as to where we could put it so we ended up using it as a night pen whilst the chooks free ranged in a much bigger enclosure. Sadly the eagles found an easy meal and picked off our chooks during the day and we couldn’t see an economic way of covering the enclosure as it was on a slope too. Now we are in ‘town’ and are looking to buy a house in a couple of months. I am hoping we can find a big enough flat backyard to have chooks again as I really miss having them. Good luck!!

  • Andrea Collisson February 27, 2011, 11:29 pm

    Barbed wire is a great idea ( i might have to add it to my chook house for extra security) but what do you do when it rains. Don’t the birds get wet and cold? There doesn’t seem to be much protection from the weather in this roost, or is just for day times.

  • Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial February 28, 2011, 7:22 am

    Hooray! You have chooks again! Clever roost design, but are the chooks only at risk when they roost? How do you keep them safe during the day (or can they fend for themselves when they’re awake)?

  • Linda February 28, 2011, 8:38 am

    In the daytime they’re inside my fortress fenced garden beds, which are designed to keep everything bigger than a little insect eating bird out. It should keep goannas out, but hopefully the’ll be smart enough to fly up on the roost to escape if one gets in. It should keep wedge-tails out. It’s at night they are most vulnerable.

  • Linda February 28, 2011, 8:44 am

    Hi Andrea, here in sub-tropical northern NSW, cold is not such a problem, specially for chooks with their own feather quilt 🙂 I’d have to think of another idea in a cold climate, but then in a cold climate I wouldn’t have carpet snakes to deal with. I have added a recycled tent fly over the top (above my netting) with its silver side up though to keep it cooler in the daytime, and that also works to keep rain off. They actually roost right up inside the umbrella, as high as they can get, so they’re very protected from wind and rain at night.

  • Christine February 28, 2011, 10:09 am

    I love it! You sound so pleased to have chooks back again. Do the barbed wire poles need to be a specific height? I never really know how high exactly chooks can fly (flap?) – although they manage to exit our fruit tree area often enough to meet for important conferences in the haystack. Looking forward to seeing updates on your chook happenings 🙂

  • Ying Tee February 28, 2011, 11:10 am

    love the clever roost design !
    any ideas for keeping ducks n other waterfowl safe from carpet snakes?? our ducks free range around the dam and choose their own resting and nesting sites. i can tolerate some natural attrition of their numbers but we seem to have an extra hungry snake at the moment (who killed a goose but was unable to swallow it)

  • Linda Woodrow February 28, 2011, 11:48 am

    Hi Ying Tee, I used to catch and relocate every carpet snake that killed but couldn’t eat a chook, until I realised that all I was doing was opening up a niche for a new one that would have to learn the lesson all over again. No predator puts itself to the trouble and risk of killing for the sake of it. Once I started leaving them alone after they had tried that experiment, I had a long period where they left the chooks alone, ate rats and mice, and we were all happy. Until they got big enough to eat chooks. Sounds like yours are large too though if they tackle a goose. We were hoping our geese would protect ducks. We have a floating island for our geese to nest on, and so far that has kept them safe.

  • Linda Woodrow February 28, 2011, 11:52 am

    Hi Christine, we just chose a breed that was flighty, then experimented. We started with it a bit higher and watched them, then just cut six inches off each time till they could all happily fly up. Ours can easily get up 1.3 metres.

  • Victoria March 16, 2011, 2:41 am

    It’s like reverse Alcatraz for chickens! I hope it works. Can I ask you a chook-related question? Every day I’m sitting out in the garden with the baby and your book (the former keenly interested in the latter, the pages of which are getting a bit crumpled by her little fists) trying to map out the master plan. My lot is too long and narrow to get a whole mandala on it and still have access to the house from the road. Do you have any experience with doing a half-sized chook dome (and half-sized flock within it)? Would it work to have two half-sized mandalas or is scale of the essence? As far as I can tell, my only potential predators are my two dogs (no chook-eating snakes in this part of Argentina. I think.). Anyway, would love to hear any advice you have. Cheers!!

  • Linda March 16, 2011, 10:06 am

    Hi Victoria, It always surprises me that people take my book so much as gospel! It is a system that worked well for me for years, but even I don’t take it literally. Please, enjoy, experiment, adapt, have fun. I’m sure what you end up with will be an improvement on my ideas. The people at Milkwood have made a geodesic dome, which people tell me is much more stable and a big improvement on the original. I do know people who have made small domes. Electrical conduit comes in 4 metre lengths in Australia, making that a convenient scale. It does mean though that you might need two people to move it from the outside, as it’s too low for someone to stand up inside easily. My fruit trees won’t work in your climate, and my guilds probably won’t work well either, and it will probably take you a couple of seasons of experiments to find ones that work for you. And even then, it keeps evolving. I’d wait a year or two before putting fruit trees or perennials you’re not willing to sacrifice to a design change. Otherwise, my best advice is experiment conceptually first, with a pencil and paper to scale, then experiment on the ground. Keep a diary and let your creative side have fun.

  • Victoria March 16, 2011, 12:41 pm

    You’re too right, Linda. I suppose your readers are all secretly hoping for silver bullet solutions… Ha. The garden will teach us the error of our ways. Thanks for the chook link, I’m going to start getting creative with them and my pencil and paper. And as for climate, so far everything you post as being in season where you are is pretty much the same for me here in Buenos Aires, give or take. It’s so great to find recipes for things the market, my fridge or my fruit trees (I have a motley 30-year-old collection left by the previous owners) seem to be overflowing with, rather than hearing about yummy-sounding dishes totally out of season. Thanks again!

  • Mrs Bok March 27, 2011, 8:33 pm

    Hullo! Just discovered you! How are your chooks going? Hope they’re safe and well.

  • Linda March 27, 2011, 8:56 pm

    They are, thank you! We’ve added a rooster now so we have a very content little flock, and so far so good, no casualties. I just moved them today and I’m really looking forward to planting out the bed they have prepared.

  • Darren (Green Change) May 11, 2011, 10:27 am

    Hi Linda, just came here after you posted a comment on my blog. I really like your perch idea, and I have a market umbrella that’s broken but couldn’t bring myself to throw out (they just look so useful, don’t they?!).

    Anyway, back to my quest to protect my chooks…

  • Brendan @ Merewether Life June 3, 2011, 11:12 am

    Can’t believe the size of that carpet python! I agree with your theory in keeping the chooks in an impregnable overnight coop – but the mental image you just painted of a carpet python slithering all over looking for a weak spot made me anxious!
    In a sort of denial that a python will come to my chickens at the moment, I need some more time to process the whole idea!

  • Linda June 3, 2011, 11:35 am

    luckily, you have the winter to think about it!

  • Bronwyn September 8, 2011, 2:54 pm

    Nine years ago I adapted your dome idea: using bolts rather than baling twine, attaching a hinged door etc. The dome is still operating. Wonderful idea, thanks.
    But bowerbirds may force me to change.
    In your fortresses do you still use lawncatchers for nests?
    And how have you managed human access to your fortresses?
    Within the fortresses do you use a keyhole path system to access the veggies?
    Do you use 40mm polynetting on the top to allow insectivorous birds in but keep bigger birds out?

  • Linda September 8, 2011, 3:10 pm

    Yes, the wildlife forced me to change, first bandicoots, but these days bower birds too. They are a menace! The sides of my fortresses are wire – sparrow wire at the bottom but chicken wire at the top. It lets the little wrens in but keeps bower birds out. I use the fine bird netting over the top. I’ve never come across the 40mm. Gradually as I replace netting I am going for stronger quality. Otherwise I am constantly mending (sometimes I feel like a Greek fisherman!) as the climbers get into it and it tears when I pick. I still use lawncatchers for nests, and I am finding the barbed-wire wrapped single leg roost is working well (so far- fingers still crossed) to keep the chooks safe from carpet snakes, quolls, foxes, cats and other night-time hunters. The fortresses have a metal gate with a threshhold (big lump of wood) dug in to prevent bandicoots burrowing under it. Within the fortresses, the access is stepping stones. I do still miss the domes, but as I get more and more skilled at using climbers, I am starting to really appreciate having ready made trellises. The productivity from vertical spaces is enormous.

  • Bronwyn September 8, 2011, 3:36 pm

    http://www.vinenets.com.au in WA is a really good source for strong netting, many widths, though not the 40mm holes. They sell end-of-bale offcuts (from grapevine netting orders I think) and use Aust. Post for <20kg orders. Prompt.
    You open the current fortress door each evening and the chooks go back to roost in the umbrella?

  • Linda September 8, 2011, 3:43 pm

    Thanks for that. No, I move the roost around the fortresses. I shall have to do a proper post about it soon. I’ve been holding off until I am sure it works, and planning to build a more permanent version. I have a length of metal pipe donged into the centre of each fortress, about 30cm in and out of the ground. The leg stands in it, with a screw to hold it firm. I move it every month or so to the next bed. The laying box and water bucket are on the ground, and a little lean-to that the chooks can use as extra shelter in rain. The chooks clear out spent crops and I throw them the weeds, house scraps, mulch etc, just as I used to with the domes. By the time they are ready to move, the bed is 30 cm deep in sheet compost and ready for replanting.

  • Terry February 22, 2012, 6:47 am

    “I shall have to do a proper post about it soon. I’ve been holding off until I am sure it works, and planning to build a more permanent version.”

    Yes please, a post or a book! I struggle with chook, guinea pig & egg predators here in the bush, so any “ex-dome/Mach-II mandala system” would be greatly appreciated.

    I share you enjoyment and respect for wildlife too and don’t want to hurt them, just keep some food for us and safeguard our ‘pets’. We have a new goanna here this week, much faster than the old one. The children and I hear a screaming guinea pig and run to rescue him only to the see ‘pig’ and goanna run in separate directions at great speed. This happened several times each day over days or so. I have a theory that the ‘pig’ was defending his free ranging mates. Tough hombre or fool?

    BTW I just discovered your blog – thanks and regards, Terry

  • Linda February 22, 2012, 9:58 am

    Hi Terry, much as I philosophically believe that all creatures have a part in the balance, I have to say goannas are my least favourite. They started with stealing eggs, went on to killing baby chickens, and graduated to killing chooks around our place. And, like foxes, they don’t do a nice clean fast kill – it’s horrible to see chooks I love after a goanna attack. And they’re so stubbornly stupid, it’s practically impossible to fence them out. They can climb. They are strong enough to bust through netting or any weak spot in wire. They are persistent enough to spend the whole day looking for the weak spot, then come back tomorrow for another go. I admire your guinea pig. Imagine what a goanna must look like at his scale!

  • Peter Heffernan November 13, 2012, 9:27 pm

    Hi Linda,

    Just a brief note of homage for your chookdome inspiration, after a day shifting and refurbishing our 2 year 5 chook mandala success story (I’ve wanted chooks since age 7, and 50 years later here they are, defying fox and snake to date).

    Garlic and broad beans thriving, and borlotti’s and corn to come.

    You’re a treasure Linda,
    Regards,
    Dr Peter Heffernan
    Flinders, vic

  • Linda November 14, 2012, 8:39 am

    Thank you Peter. I’m very glad they are working for you. I do miss that system.

  • Jen November 7, 2015, 12:03 am

    I have found that those solar snake repellers are excellent.
    Been using them for years now, I find they last about 2years before something gives way. (and not always the battery)
    Get them off e-bay, much cheaper than the produce stores.
    Also stick to the ones that make a buzzy noise – that way you know it is working and after a while you no longer notice the buzz.
    I have used them in areas with carpet snakes, deathaders, tipans ect. clay, regular dirt and both dry and high rainfall areas.
    And I have faith in them (if installed properly) as I have seen snakes avoiding them.
    I do like your chooky roosts, thank you for the inspiration

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