The Accidental Smallholder Forum

Livestock => Poultry & Waterfowl => Topic started by: Fleecewife on December 25, 2021, 11:36:20 pm

Title: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: Fleecewife on December 25, 2021, 11:36:20 pm
We are down to 9 birds now, egg layers except 'that cockerel' those with long memories might recall arrived here as a 'poor abandoned wee hen' then grew hackles and big male legs, strutting around crowing.


Anyway, 9 birds and reducing, aiming for 3 or 4 ultimately, minus the cock.  I usually house them in my veggie polytunnel for bird flu winters, but I'm pretty fed up with losing my winter crops and early plantings, so I'm looking for a flexible housing system to allow them to free range in summer and be under legal cover but able to scratch about in winter.


I've been looking at mesh sided polytunnels, small ones, the idea being to somehow allow access to the tunnel from their house (6'x8' adapted garden shed) in winter, without stepping outside, but closing it to them in summer, when I could grow tomatoes or similar in there.  Or rather I would have been looking at mesh sided tunnels if only there were some sturdy ones to look at.  There are monster calving and lambing versions but apart from being way too big they tend to be open to wild birds, with large-mesh sides and no doors, just hurdles across the end.  Poultry versions are dark and would boil the hens in sunshine, plain mesh tunnels seem to be really flimsy and look as if they can't be tensioned properly.  There are lots in the States, but here in the UK so far I'm unimpressed with what I find.  I could perhaps stretch to a larger version not attached to their shed so they could live permanently in it in the winter, but again small tunnels are very flimsy and we suffer from wind here....  I'm sure the big polytunnel manufacturers used to do a mesh sided version of their normal tunnels in garden sizes, but I can't see anything that fits what I'm looking for.


So does anyone have any bright ideas for flexible, sturdy, bird'flu-proof housing for normally free ranging hens? Or does anyone have experience of mesh tunnels and mesh-sided tunnels which might help, please?  I'm not looking for a makeshift 'chuck some polythene sheet over a fruit cage' option - this really does have to be weather and wind proof to survive in our position on a windy hill.
Title: Re: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: Anke on December 26, 2021, 07:54:49 pm
Well the smallest tunnel of First Tunnels with mesh sides is 16ft by 18ft - not small, but you could have doors either end with wire doors on the inside (you would have to design the inner doors yourself, but probably not difficult). If you are looking at less than 6 hens usually you could also get a smallish henhouse on wheels (a "chicken tractor") that you can just wheel inside for winter. But it would not be cheap... First Tunnels (as long as you include the storm braces etc are very good in windy conditions.


And it would be ideal for tomatoes etc in summer. I also now grow all my runner and climbing beans, plus courgettes/pumpkins/squash in my big polytunnel.
Title: Re: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: Fleecewife on December 27, 2021, 12:02:57 am
You're right Anke - it's not cheap  :o .  I mean it's a good price for what is a well made tunnel, but for the sake of 9 birds and shrinking, I'd never get away with it  :tired: .  Which brings me back to the cheap and nasties which I can't see lasting a winter, or trying to continue with our existing tunnel, which is w21'x l42' x h12' and has 7 hoop sections lengthways.  I'm thinking now of sectioning off a couple of hoops worth at one end, which would include the greenhouse which is where they sleep. There are crop bars at 8' height and I doubt they could fly over, so netting could be attached to those.  That would have to be for next year though as all my winter brassicas are up that end, currently netted off. Once I'm down to 3 or 4 hens, they would fit in my spare hen house which fits (just and wobbly) on a wheelbarrow to go inside, then I could have my greenhouse back.


I suppose being logical we need to build something of wood with a mesh end to let the air in but keep wild birds out. Something like a mini version of the turkey barns my father built.  We'll discuss it but that wouldn't be before next winter as we still have a bathroom to rebuild.  I was hoping for something multi functional to make use of all the droppings as fertiliser for a crop.


I rely on making early sowings of garlic, broad beans, salads, brassicas, and hardening off various other veg and flowers inside the tunnel, well before April.  Like you Anke I grow just about everything in my tunnel as there's no space in the house for starting off so many plants.  The only things I routinely grow outdoors are potatoes, peas, broad beans, beetroot, jerusalem artichokes and fruit.
Title: Re: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: Anke on December 27, 2021, 08:41:37 am
Yeah either sectioning off an area or building an aviary are probably more cost effective.... However I have found that I can easily fill my Keder and my polytunnel with crops... but the Keder was a luxury that's true. (Other people get cruises in their 50s as big presents...).
Title: Re: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: Fleecewife on December 27, 2021, 12:38:56 pm
A cruise is my very worst nightmare, genuinely  :roflanim: :roflanim: :roflanim: . All those unwashed hands.  All those Norovirus opportunities.  Hundreds of people suddenly descending on some tiny village, then all rushing off again after the permitted hour ashore.  All those jolly singalongs.  My family have been well warned not to bother with a surprise cruise for us.


I'm itching to get on with this new season's sowing and planting and I'm blocked by hens  :o .  Actually there's more than enough to be doing in the flower garden....


I'll see what The Man can come up with - already too many projects on his plate I expect, which is why an alternative needs to be cheap and simple
Title: Re: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: Anke on December 27, 2021, 01:10:40 pm
A cruise is my very worst nightmare, genuinely  :roflanim: :roflanim: :roflanim: . All those unwashed hands.  All those Norovirus opportunities.  Hundreds of people suddenly descending on some tiny village, then all rushing off again after the permitted hour ashore.  All those jolly singalongs.  My family have been well warned not to bother with a surprise cruise for us.


I'm itching to get on with this new season's sowing and planting and I'm blocked by hens  :o .  Actually there's more than enough to be doing in the flower garden....


I'll see what The Man can come up with - already too many projects on his plate I expect, which is why an alternative needs to be cheap and simple


I am just simply unable to cope with that many people in one place...


But I think you may well be able to make a case for a second polytunnel/greenhouse - I could probably fill another one just with flowers... and then would have a place to just play... but seriously a 2nd - good quality - polytunnel will add value to your smallholding - in the long run we will have to grow much more veg under cover here in Southern Scotland even (and have undercover spaces for our poultry every winter...
Title: Re: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: doganjo on December 27, 2021, 03:32:04 pm
How much space do they need?  You have me worried now.

My hens are in a weldmesh run (old dog runs from when I had 8 dogs), 1.5 inch squares, with a chicken wire roof and a tarpaulin over the top; with an old two level rabbit hutch inside to sleep in and lay in.  The run is about 3 metres wide by 6 metres long and 2 meters high. It's on bare earth now, and sometimes is damp due to the weather

Is that enough space for two standard and two bantam Wyandottes?  They have straw and hay inside the hutch (edit - they have spread that around the run too so they're not walking on damp ground all teh time) and plenty food and water with clumps of grass thrown in every day for them to snack on greenery and beasties

When bird flu is gone they have an additional area almost twice that size just fenced with chicken wire to keep them safe from the dogs and usually it has a lot of grass
Title: Re: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: Fleecewife on December 27, 2021, 04:42:11 pm
My father kept battery hens for eggs in the 50s.  My Mum and I hated the system and eventually he stopped and concentrated on the barn turkeys.  But 2 hens per 2 foot sq cage was legal back then. So anything from the current legal size of cages (are batteries still legal?) up to what our hens have in summer which is basically the whole wide world, should they choose to wander (which they don't, they tend to keep to about 3 or 4 acres).  Your run sounds fine Doganjo, for hens used to that.  Ours are used to free ranging so being shut in could be horrible for them.  That's why I have so far kept them in the approx 230 sq metre tunnel, where they can scratch to their hearts' content.  They truly don't object to that, and I'm sure they're perfectly happy being under cover through the wet and snow of winter.  I'm not sure how happy they would be in an empty pen which is much smaller than that - the crop debris gives them lots to investigate.


@Anke - the case would have to be made to the one who has to do all the work these days.  I would love another big polytunnel, but I'd need a volunteer to put it up and to work it, and no-one's volunteering round here  :D
Title: Re: Bird 'flu - looking for bright housing ideas
Post by: Penninehillbilly on December 27, 2021, 07:14:14 pm
We have a 25x25ft polytunnel. Mesh sides. For years we kept our few hens in there.
Difficult to explain, but looking at the front, to the left of the door, the wood frame created 2 'panel's, about 4ftx2ft high, the one nearest p/t side had a hole in it. Going in through the door, over next to the left side, was a mesh run, access to the outside through the hole which was meshed off at night. Other end of the run went to a 4ft long weldmesh cage, with an upper layer and perch, so they couldn't get to the rest of the p/t, plenty of light and air, a box in the run for them to lay in, feeders fastened to the weldmesh with lids I just flipped closed at night.
Worked well till hubs fed them for me one night, didnt close the access off and I came back from other jobs to find badger eating little Blackie alive. Awful awful sight.
Since then they've been in big dog crates inside the p/t, letting them out to roam p/t during the day, but like FW, I don't want to lose another growing season. But i can't bear to see that sight again. :'( . But the idea worked well, just need hubs to concentrate on what hes doing.