While I have been planning on getting chickens for several years, we finally decided this was the year. The plan all along was to use the chickens to try and keep the bugs out of the garden beds. I had originally envisioned a chicken tractor that i moved once a week or so, but then I realized I can be super lazy.
With that in mind I set out in search of a better option. After coming across an article on "Manterest" (Pinterest) from mother earth news describing a chicken moat, I knew what I had to do.
I decided I wanted approximately 5 feet between my inner and outer fences and about 3 feet between my raised beds and the inner fence. My outside fence "moat" ended up being 35' x 27' wide constructed of 1" hardware cloth on the bottom 24" and 30" garden fence on top. The inside fence is 4' snow/sand dune fence that I ordered online. Inside this fence contains my garden beds. The footprint for this area is approximately 25' x 17'. I have 5 raised beds that i try to rotate annually. This winter I'm wanting to grow a rye or clover cover crop to try rejuvenating soil.
I read somewhere that birds of prey won't strike within the close confines for fear of getting trapped inside. Additionally,with the close confines of the fences and the surrounding trees, the aerial line of sight is severally limited. And if a bird of prey is able to find a line of sight, the angle of attack is severally restricted. If it becomes a problem then i will add fishing line between the tops of the two fences to create a barrier to the chickens, as of yet it has not been a problem or concern. I've also had friends tell me that bottle rockets tend to make them rethink their hunting grounds. Truthfully, hawks don't seem to be a problem in my immediate neighborhood because of the number of crows we have around.
With the outer fence built, I started building the coop. It was constructed of a 2x4 frame using lumber from a big orange box store that I managed to get culled out because a large portion of their on hand inventory had tree bark still attached, (70% off,win ). I planked it out with 6' western cedar fence boards cut in half. The coop measures 4' x 8' x 3'. The windows are covered in hardware cloth and i cut plexiglass sheets to cover them in the winter that are attached using magnets that stick to the hardware cloth. I built the main windows south facing with a 15" over hang so that the high summer sun is blocked, but the low winter sun is allowed in to help warm the coop. For ventilation I installed a ridge vent that runs the length of the roof and cut 2" vents that run the length of the soffits which are also covered with hardware cloth.
During the building phase i came across another article about an automatic chicken door that operates using a photo cell as the trigger. Being lazy, i knew i had to build one. My dilemma was where to put the door. Knowing that i was going to install a pull out floor pan (poop tray) for easy cleaning, i decided to have the poop tray serve double duty as the chicken door as well. To accomplish this, I used a 12 volt linear actuator hooked to a DPDT switch that uses a 12 volt photo cell as the trigger. This is all powered by a lawn mower battery that is maintained by a trickle charger. When the sun comes up the the photo cell turns off, this in turn opens
a circuit on the DPDT switch, reversing the polarity and opening the door. When the sun goes down the photo cell sends power to the DPDT closing the circuit and again reversing the polarity closing the poop tray and securing the chickens for the night. After the first couple of nights the girls, realized they needed to be in the coop before it closed or the human would place them in there. It's been smoothing sailing ever since. The mailbox is mounted in order to store garden tools and actually came from the house i grew up in as a child. After i found out the house was being demo'd i got in touch with the developer and he gladly allowed me to reclaim the mailbox.
I utilized 5 gallon buckets with nipples attached for waters on two opposite ends of the run and have another 5 gallon bucket with 4" pvc elbows cut in that offers mess free,feeding gravity fed feeding. The feeder holds around 25 pounds at a time.
Unfortunately i learned the hard way that my poodles are not chicken friendly after my kids accidentally left the gate unsecured. I lost four ladies in less than 30 minutes. Realizing that it could happen again, i decided to build some dog stoppers on two opposite sides of the moat so that the poodles wouldn't be able to get around the whole moat if they ever were to get in again. I wanted something that the chicken could run through but the dogs could not.
I ended up repurposing an old trellis i had built for cucumbers a couple of years earlier. The spaces between the rails and stiles are big enough for the chicken to run right through but too small for my standard poodles to follow them. I attached these to the 4x4 post with hinges between the outer and inner fence so that i can get through if needed. They open inward and are hung slightly of plumb so that they close naturally. They are secured against a fence post in the closed position. I tested them prior to installation in the moat with the poodles. No matter how bad they wanted to they weren't able to get through.
I also add a "water hose bridge utilizing copper pipe and quick connects so that i can easily attach to the water hose and not have to drag it in, out, and through the moat every time i need to water.
Future plans include installing another section of fence along the south side of the run. It will run west from from the coop to the end of the fence. Overall it should serve as approximate 4' x 16' isolation run for new/sick birds. It will also allow me to put another gate between the run entry and the dogs.
Im hoping to add between 4-8 more girls by father's day. With the loss of the four, we're down to 4. And since one of them ended up being a he instead of a she. I have three girls that will end up laying and a roo to keep them happy. While i didnt want a he, i dont want to get rid of him. Has anyone had any luck with a no crow collar?
I'd like to apologise in advance for the spelling and grammatical errors. I wrote this on my smart phone and sometimes it makes me sound dumb. I'd also like to apologise for any duplicate pictures. Haven't quite gotten the hang of editing out the duplicates.
Thanks for reading and i hope you enjoyed.
6/4/19- Just took this picture a few minutes ago.
So far the garden moat is working great. The garden is really starting to come in and as of yet i haven't found any pest eating away at my veggies. The chickens regularly make laps around it, averaging between 5 and 20 laps per hour depending on the time of day, sun, weather, etc... It's really fun to watch them patrol. They walk on line until one finds something and then they all attack.
The girls (and boy) are close to 16 weeks old now. While they do fly to the top of the dog stop gates i built, they seem to be more interested in playing on them then they are in flying the coop.
As of yet i haven't had any aerial predator strikes or had any girls try to get out. I'll try to keep it updated as the seasons drag on and post a lessons learned at the end of the fall.
6/11/19- While getting ready for work this morning I looked out of the bathroom window and saw my girls take off running. I then watched as a hawk gently landed on my inner fence, keenly starring at my terrified little ladies as they hid behind the waterer and francis ( my ). I ran downstairs in my underwear and chased it off, thank God no neighbors were outside. As soon as i got home from work I put bird netting over the run area. I'm pleased with how it turned out. In my opinion (the only one that matters)it has not taken away from the overall look of the garden which was my concern in the first place. Additionally, it is stretchable enough that it minimally impacts getting around in the run and as an added bonus I no longer have to worry about the girls flying out.
Bugs Beware; there are chickens in the garden moat