Thursday, 23 January 2014

Building a Fox Proof Chicken Coop

Unfortunately for all Australian landholders, some thoughtless person (who obviously didn't have an ounce of foresight or any understanding of foxes' natural habits), decided to bring a little bit of Ol' Blighty to the shores of colonial Australia and introduced the fox to our beautiful country. Farmers and stock owners have been cursing this misguided person ever since. Really, you couldn't have done without fox hunting in your new land? 
Foxes are pretty and sweet to look at and who doesn't admire their glorious coats, but they are so destructive to the native wildlife and to small farm animals from coast to coast, that they simply need to be culled whenever they are seen. Don't feel sorry for them- although they are not responsible for being bought here, they are responsible for the damage they cause now they are here. We can't take back the introduction of this animal, but we must all try to correct the mistake. Our native wildlife is depending on us! Foxes are not native to Australia and they have been eating their way through our small native marsupials, reptiles, birds and insects ever since their unfortunate arrival on our shores. They are an environmental disaster.

If you want to have poultry, even if you are in the city, you will need to provide your birds with a fox proof enclosure for the night. During the day fox activity is usually low, but you may find that you still have birds taken in day light if they are left to free range outside of their enclosure. But it is from dusk to dawn that foxes prefer to work and this is the time your birds will be most vulnerable. This is when they need to be securely locked away, imprisoned for their own safety! Foxes don't just kill one bird and then set off with their meal in mouth. A single fox will kill dozens of your birds, possibly all of your birds, if he gets inside your enclosure. He will not eat them. He will chew off their heads or take a piece of their breast and then leave the rest of the bird on the ground. He will, after he has had his fun, then leave with a bird in his mouth. Foxes enjoy hunting and killing. That is what they do. Like cats, they seem to kill for the pleasure of it. It is heartbreaking to go to you poultry pen in the morning and see your birds torn up all over the place, some still alive but with terrible injuries. See this a few times and you start to dislike foxes, even if you are an absolute animal lover to the core. Don't believe me? Look at the pictures below. This is just a small number of the birds killed by a fox in one night when he ate through the wire and broke into the pen. He killed 14 birds- Guinea Fowl, Muscovy ducks and 2 of my big geese. All left dead but mostly uneaten. Some more of the Guinea fowl died from fright or from smashing themselves against the wire in panic. An absolute waste of beautiful birds' lives. You do not want this to happen to your birds!





The enclosure we have built below protects our birds from dusk until dawn and we let the birds out to free range through the day. We still lose a few birds here and there, some to eagles, some to foxes, some to wild dogs and even neighbours' dogs who are allowed to freewheel about the place because their owners are effectively brain dead. "What do you mean my dog killed your prize winning rooster? He's been asleep by the back door all afternoon". Yes, fool, asleep because chasing my birds all morning is quite bloody exhausting actually.



Let's get started.
Using a post hole digger, drill the four corner post holes for your pen. Here are the guys putting in fencing posts- but the principle is the same. You will need a larger drill for the thicker poles of your poultry enclosure. 






 You must first measure out where you will put your external poles- that is, the size you want your pen to be. Run a straight line from one end post to the other to ensure all the poles you put in the right position and straight. 



Using a post hole digger, dig you post holes for the post that will make up the side and centre supports of the pen and place the poles inside. Do the same for the row of inside poles which run along the centre of the pen to hold the roof up and create the peak. You can see the side posts and centre posts, as well as the two doorways, in the photo below.



Fill in around the poles, tamping the ground down as you go to compact it around the poles, and leave the poles for at least a week to settle and allow the earth to harden up around them. Cut all the poles to the same height using a chainsaw (outside poles are one height- around 1.5m, inside poles are kept higher for head room for people- around 2.0 metres)


Then you will need to dig a trench to bury the rabbit wire into the ground. Use rabbit proof wire as it has a thicker gauge than chicken wire and is stronger- strong enough to resist foxes pulling it with their teeth. Putting the wire a metre into the ground stops foxes and other predators digging their way under the wire and into the pen. Get as close to the poles as you can without causing them to fall over.


The cows were curious about this big hole in the ground


Run the wire out on the ground next to the trench and then lift it up and place the wire in the trench. Secure it to your poles with wire and fencing staples.


Tighten (tension) the wire using wire tensioners.





Secure the tensioned wire to the poles with fencing staples before releasing the tensioners.

Fill in the trench all around the pen, except for in front of the doors and entrances.


 Attach roof support wire across all outside poles and then back and forward in a criss-cross pattern to the centre pole. This will ensure the roof wire is well supported and will not sag.



Poles in the ground with rabbit proof wire in place. The poles are lower on the outside, higher in the middle to allow head room for people. The entry door is in the centre.


Fencing staples hold support wires onto poles



 Connecting support wires using 'Gripples' and a grippling tool. Once you have completed your pen you will be able to give the wire a final strain to get it as tight as possible and then tuck the ends of the wire sticking out of the gripples into plastic protecting tubes that you can buy as an accessory to the gripples. These allow you to take the protective tube off and restrain the wires at any time in the future.



 External support wires (anchors) for the roof wires




 Corner strainer


 Making the entryway. Run the wire across the entryway and around the entire enclosure.


 Once the wire is strained and the trench filled in, staple the doorway wire to the doorway poles with fencing staples to secure it and maintain the tension in the rest of the wire. Then cut the wire across the doorway in the centre.


 Secure the wire buried in the ground to a plank of wood that you have screwed to the bottom of the doorway.



Once the wire is completely secured in the ground and around the posts, fill in the trench in front of the doorway.


Tie the loose ends of the wire off to the wire on the opposite side of the posts- for aesthetic reasons and to prevent birds injuring themselves on jutting out wire.




Roll out the second strip of wire- we use ordinary chicken wire for all the rest of the wiring- lift it and secure it to the end post by wrapping the wire around the post, tying the wire end to the outside wire and stapling the wire to the posts. Pull the wire completely around the enclosure and tension the wire. 




Connecting the second (and subsequent) runs of wire using netting pliers and clips


Roll out the first run of roofing wire.


First run of roofing wire before tensioning


 Rope 'lacing' used to pull roofing wire tight, so next run of wire can be attached.




 Finished product



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