Tiptoeing through the ‘Tatoes

An early start this morning saw me down the allotment and sorting out Roxy and Trixy wondering how on earth the nest box would be moved. To be honest, this is the panicked thought that has haunted me over the past few weeks. Will appeared around the shed door and said he and Cliff were ready so I needed to move Leia and Lilja. Leia is easy to catch being slow and rather podgy. I deposited her in the greenhouse and went back for Lilja. Swedish Flower hens are a hodgepodge of different breeds but judging from her long legs and speed, I think Lilja has got more than a fair share of leghorn in her. Eventually, I cornered her and put her into the greenhouse with Leia. Instantly, they jumped into my new raised bed and began digging. With soil flying in all directions, I headed off to Rachel’s plot.

Will and Cliff were trying to work out the best way to take the coop when I arrived. Between us, we decided to carefully go across Jim’s then up the path to the back. Next, along the back and down Liz and Sarah’s path. It sounded so easy. But I was still wondering where the rest of the guys were. Surely it wasn’t just going to be the three of us? Will had brought a sack trolley and wedged the bottom ledge underneath the nest box. As he lent the trolley back, Cliff and I heaved the nest box up. Miraculously, with just the three of us, we were on our way!

Getting across Jim’s plot and up Phil’s path was relatively easy and we stopped for a rest break after we turned right onto the back path. I ran ahead to clear the way, making sure the entire path and plot were uncluttered. Cliff and Will got the nest box back up on the trolley and walked carefully towards me as I threw the last few bits out of the way. Turning the corner onto Liz and Sarah’s plot was tricky but we managed it. Our main worry now was getting it between the greenhouses. With the path narrowing, I stood back and let Will and Cliff steer it through without incident. There was a collective sigh of relief!

Our final hurdle was how to get the nest box across to the run. The sides of the path were too high to use the trolley and there wasn’t nearly enough space to wheel it down to the bottom of the plot because the Community Garden fence was in the way. Luckily, at this exact moment Phil appeared and offered to be an extra pair of hands. The general consensus was that we would have to abandon the trolley and lift it into place. Between us we heaved the nest box up and very very carefully stepped between the rows of potatoes, simultaneously making sure we didn’t drop the nest box or disturb the potatoes. It is at moments like this, when my brain should be focusing on the job at hand, that I found myself thinking about the song Tiptoe through the Tulips, substituting tulips for ‘tatoes.

The instant we could put the nest box down, we did. Cliff and Will then got busy fetching tools to alter the roof. Phil helped detach the roof from the walls as I got busy hoeing the soil between the rows of potatoes. There were two conflicting opinions a out how to best alter the roof – cut the roof in half and add hinges or keep the roof intact without hinges and just find a suitable stick to keep it propped open. The compromise was that the roof would stay intact but there would be hinges at the run end to help raise the roof. All this discussion was temporarily halted to rotate the nest box and settle it on four concrete blocks. Again the slant of the plot made adjustments necessary and we evened it out with a half brick and plank of wood. Cliff and Will then disappeared off to go and find some hinges while I got busy cleaning out the nest box.

When they returned, Mick the Greek appeared and offered his help to the nest box alterations and security. The nest box is on a pallet which a fox could easily get under. He suggested additional wooden panels to block access to the underside of the box. Sawing underway, Cliff and I began to go through the remaining wire and plan how to attach the nest box to the run. This is often the weakest point in a chicken run. Fortunately, Cliff had saved an old door with thick wire on. Using a screwdriver, he removed the wire and once the nest box was turned, we could use it to join the top of the nest box to the run. The bottom was also a concern because if the fox can get under the nest box, you need to be confident that there is no way it can get into the coop from below. We used the one remaining concrete block and two large sections of wooden sleeper to block off the bottom.

The sides were more difficult. Cliff had two sections of green wire which were almost the right size. The first side had some wire from the run which overlapped the new wire. This ensures there were no gaps and we used two brackets to screw the wire securely to the nest box. Using half a hundred weight of cable ties, I secured the wire to the run. Now for the second side. This was more difficult as there was a definite gap between the green wire and the thick wire protecting the top of the nest box. We attached it to the front of the nest box with a couple of screws and I used the other remaining cable ties to secure the wire to the run. But what to do about the gap? Then I remembered that I had used a small bit of wire to stop the chicks escaping last year. It was too thin to be effective for large areas but folded several times, it would do for a small gap.

Running over to Rachel’s plot, I brought the wire back and cut it into two. Next, I folded it twice and wedged it into the gap. With a little bit of persuasion, it filled the space perfectly. Screws and cable ties came out again. It’s not the prettiest, but it will provide a difficult challenge for a fox. For good measure, I also used the remaining wire to block a tiny gap on the other side of the nest box. Declaring the chicken coop complete, Cliff took a well deserved break and I disappeared off to sort out the food and water bowls. Moving the chickens was interesting. Mainly because the ungrateful birds had been having too much fun destroying my new raised bed in the greenhouse. Once Leia and Lilja were in their new home, I walked to the main coop and collected Sadie. I put her up on the perches so she was out of beak range.

Suddenly an idea struck me and I ran back to the main coop. Snap is our oldest hen and seems to enjoy Sadie’s company, often joining her on top of the nest box. It took some doing to catch her without Tommy working out I was stealing another girl from him. In the new coop, poor Snap was hounded by Lilja who is clearly trying to establish herself as top hen. I grabbed Snap and put her up on the perch with Sadie. I brought in a small feeder and hung it from the top of the run, near the perches so the girls could eat safely without being on receiving end of Lilja’s wrath.

Seeing they were all happy in their new home, Cliff went home and I finished up feeding the chickens in the main coop. Triumphant but exhausted, I set up the stove and made myself a hot chocolate. As I was about to take my first sip, my husband arrived and we piled into the car to go to Lea’s. On our return, I put a new hanging feeder in the coop on Liz and Sarah’s plot whilst my husband did the same for a small feeder for the Omlet coop. Before we left, I dragged my husband to the new coop and waited while he made suitably appreciative noises.

Over the weekend, we will drive back to collect another load of concrete blocks to finish off the outside around the nest box. These blocks are so heavy there is no way a fox could move them. I will also need to pick up some compost now that the greenhouse is finally free from chickens! In all the excitement of upgrading sheds, putting in solar electricity and new coops, it’s easy to forget about the plants!

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