Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Patrolling the Perimeter

My observations on Cosmo the cat and the unnamed thrush who shares his meals elicited a warning from one reader: not to get soppy about... well, if not cat–bird friendship, then at least apparent non-enmity. Any cat is a predator when it wants to be, she said.

Don’t I know it.

When we adopted our chickens towards the end of ’09 they were a bit on the small side, tending more towards chick- than pullet-hood. The run had been built for larger birds but the palais de poulet where these six growing girls slept, though roomy, was not large enough for them to spend every waking hour there. We needed to deliver them the world, or at least a bigger bit of it.

So any broad-mesh wire that was within fluttering distance we lined with layers of finer stuff that the girls couldn’t wriggle through. The thick broad-mesh wire already went high enough (seven feet or so) and low enough, too, to prevent opportunistic dogs or cats from gaining entry.

Houdinia the First, the largest chick in
the flock, and an escape artiste.
One chicken managed a brief escape — from that point we called her Houdinia — but then we rechecked and sealed all potential exits. I patrolled the perimeter. Feeling that the pen was secure, and the flock safe enough for us to leave it, we went out for a while.

We came home to five chickens, not six. Houdinia must have got out again, I thought. We searched the environs, asked our neighbour, called Chook, Chook, Chook. Nothing: not even a feather.

My partner Carol was upset. She had especially selected Houdinia (Houdinia the First, not the Light Sussex introduced earlier as Emmeline Houdinia) because she saw a promising future for this chicken — one involving a lot of eggs. Australorps are good layers. Nevertheless we still had five birds in hand, and none of the others had shown an inclination to venture into No Chook’s Land. Just in case, we constructed further fortifications.

Dorothy the Gold Laced Wyandotte may be
kicking up her heels — boot-scooting, even —

in Kansas.
Days later, we went for a drive in the country. When we came home, the flock was four, not five. The missing member was Dorothy, a Gold Laced Wyandotte and beautiful to boot. Perhaps she’d clicked her heels, wished to be in Kansas, and magicked herself there.

Or perhaps we had a predator. I’ve said our wire walls were enough to deter opportunistic cats or dogs. Opportunistic ones, maybe — but not the truly determined. Within hours of Dorothy’s disappearance I saw a loitering cat: a grey and white creature whose dimensions have since grown, in my mind at least, to those of a small panther.

Certainly it was willing and able to scale the sturdy posts that held the wire in place, because I saw this too. I chased the cat away, locked the remaining four birds into their now somewhat roomier palais. Carol was very upset: we’d lost our only Gold Laced Wyandotte.

The next morning she and a friend strung bird netting across the top of the run, securing it with wire ties. This reversed the viticultural practice of using it to protect vines against birds, keeping the latter out. Carol planned to protect the birds against a clever climber by keeping them in — and to make sure that that cat had grabbed its last chicken takeaway. It had.

But I saw the grey and white monster frequently after that. It would nimble along the fence between our place and the neighbour’s, its tail in the air. From inside my own palais I would shout, and bang on the window. The cat would stop and stare, then resume its patrol of the perimeter.

Oh, yes: I know what cats can do.


  1. Replies
    1. Indeed.

      You must tell me sometime how chooks get on in Norway. I understand it gets cold up there.