… From the desk of Mark Battey

I looked down at my iPhone and saw the email subject line “Sad Chicken News” and thought, “This can’t be good.”

It wasn’t. Jayne had walked down to see the chickens and at first just found feathers. After some frantic searching, she found five of the chickens hiding. But one, Penny, was gone – a victim of a likely aerial attack. It was our first loss, but probably not our last. It was a reminder of how good it is to be at the top of the food chain rather than at the bottom like our new chicks.

Penny’s demise led to some expected finger pointing … “I told you they were too young to be let out of the coop” … but also some eventual resignation that we were just learning this whole micro-farm stuff, and that we would certainly make more mistakes.

The aerial attack also led to a spurt of innovation. The first step was to build an expanded run. After a few runs to our local hardware store and foraging through our scrap lumber, I built a 4’ x 8’ run that we could attach to the coop. Farm Photos - 11 The remaining five chickens now had an expanded area to scrape and peck – safe from a hawk attack.

But that was only the first step. There were two problems. First, we had to jerry rig a system to pull the run away from the coop, open the door, and then push the run back and use a rake to hold the door open. The second problem was that the chickens were quickly devouring the 4’ by 8’ space – turning the field into desert in front of our eyes.

Technology came to the rescue for problem one. I searched the web for solutions and came across www.chickendoors.com, home of the “Pullet-Shut Automatic Chicken Door!” I read a few reviews, whipped out my credit card, and soon the “unchallenged BEST automatic chicken door on the market” was on the way to Half Moon Bay.

A few days later, I had installed the solar powered, automatic door on the coop.Farm Photos - 07 I scheduled it to open at 6:30 in the morning and close around 7:30 in the evening. It took some adjustments (i.e. 7:30pm was too early as the chickens kept getting locked out) and training (for the chickens), but in a few days it was working great. No more cumbersome moving the run and using a rake to keep the door open.

 

Now it was time to tackle the desertification problem. We thought about how to create some way to move the run around while still attached to the coop. Jayne said, “We need a tunnel. Something they can walk trough to get to the run.” Soon I was back on the web looking at children play tunnels. I eventually bought the “See-Me” 9’ Long Tunnel from Discount School Supply and waited for the UPS delivery.

A few days later I knifed open the box, untied the ties, and our potential chicken tunnel sprang to life. It looked ridiculous, but it also looked like it could work. After a few trips to the hardware store for materials, and some adjustments to attach the tunnel to the coop and run, we were set. The Miramar Farms chicken tunnel was ready. Farm Photos - 18

The only question, of course, was whether the chickens were ready to use it. The automatic door opened and I waited. And waited. The chickens peered out curiously and clucked. Eventually one tentatively stepped out, but quickly retreated. They needed encouragement. They needed a bribe. I laid out a line of lettuce leaves to entice them into the run. It worked. Within an hour, our chicks were scampering back and forth through our own Rube Goldberg contraption, and we were able to move the run around and keep desertification at bay.

Our neighbor Louie stopped by, looked at the tunnel, and said “You are real farmers now.”

I think he meant it as a compliment – that we had come up with an innovative (and cheap) solution to a problem. But he also could have meant that we had gone crazy. That would fit with the #myparentshavegonecrazy hashtag that seems to accompany many of our daughter’s Instagram posts.

IMG_0935Innovative or crazy? Probably both. All I know is that we can’t rest. We have a new visitor/resident at Miramar Farms and he looks hungry. I look at Jayne and ask, “You don’t think the fox can get into the chicken area, do you?”

Time will tell. And I’m sure we’ll have some more innovative/crazy stuff to do soon. Welcome to farming!