Nicola’s Ark

The Plan

By mid December 2007, we came up with a Cunning Plan: we would try to convince Stewart’s parents and sister to have chickens. That way we would be able to see them regularly, and know that, if things didn’t work out, they would come back to us! Genius!

Over Christmas we made several opportunities for Stewart’s family to fall in love with them. Our baby girls were all gorgeous, and super friendly – sit down anywhere in their run, and you’d be mobbed. And, sure enough, when we put the hard word on at the end of January, Stewart’s sister Nicola was unable to resist.

Now we just had to build her a coop for two girls. And transport it, and the two chooks, to Dunedin …

The Ark of the Quite Lovely Covenant

After much consultation, we established that the best sort of coop for Nicola and Kevin would be a nice, portable ark. Dunedin has all sorts of restrictions regarding the sizes of animal housing, and the garden in question was quite small. An ark it was. Easily movable, so that they could be shifted to different parts of the garden as needed (either to save the grass or for best access to sun or shade or shelter from the elements in general).

We’d never made a triangular chicken structure before. It meant that things like doors and access panels were going to be restricted to the ends – too damn difficult to work out how to get a side panel to hinge under the roofing materials. Oh, and there was one other limiting aspect: we needed to restrict the size of all the individual bits to something that could be fitted into our car for transport to Dunedin … and no, we only have a Honda Civic. What joy.

One constant theme in all our chicken constructions has been a complete inability to estimate how long a given construction will actually take up. Not helped by our both being prone to flashes of retrospective genius, that invariably result in the thing being redesigned as we go. This project was no different. Taking a week off work immediately after Easter, we set to work.

It took us the whole seven days. But we got there. At the last minute we had a stroke of luck – Nicola’s parents were driving down to Dunedin a week before we’d planned to arrive, so they were able to transport some of the bigger pieces down for us, along with things like bags of sawdust, and tubs of chook food. Which meant all we had to do was fit the rest of the stuff into our car, along with the two of us and the two girls; drive for five hours; unload; (re)build the ark in situ; and free the chickens.

April 5th, 2008 was the day. And it all went remarkably well. We’d planned to stop every hour or so and give the girls some water and a chance to not have road noise. After the first hour, they really didn’t seem bothered at all! Not interested in water, but had fun scoffing whole apple and fresh corn-on-the-cob, which seemed to provide them with plenty of moisture and sustenance. Not to mention entertainment. Madame Cholet even laid an egg en route!

When we arrived in Dunedin, we put up a small 1m square yard on a patch of lawn for them to stretch their legs in. The building progressed well, and we were able to install them in their new home well before nightfall. They both received new names: Jennifer is now known as “Gytha”, and Madame Cholet as “Esme”. (The names suit them!) Gytha laid an egg from the perch overnight (presumably help in from the trip), and both laid the following day.

There were problems – the nestbox wasn’t well enough defined. We wanted to be sure that they would be warm enough at nights, so everything had been kept snug and well sealed. And the angle of the triangular roof made perch placement a bit hit-and-miss. Never mind, all these things will be modified by Nicola and Kevin to suit themselves.

A month on, there’s no suggestion that the girls are likely to be returned any time soon, so I think we can call it a success. There has even been some discussion of the possibility of getting them “chook nappies“, so that they can come inside of an evening … a nice open fire, a bottle of wine, and chicken for every lap. Sounds pretty civilised to me!


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