Sunday, October 5, 2008

Flotsam #1 How to build a chookpen.

I messaged Shark this morning,"I've run out of things to write about."
My real agenda was to get out of going to sea. It was hailing sideways bullets of ice and Old Salt wanted to go fishing, as he frequently does when it is hailing sideways.
Shark's response was immediate and comprehensive,not bad considering it was early and he had the flu.

"Rubbish. Write about Albany's nude beach or how hard it is to give away a stove or finding possums or someone who lived in a storage unit or how to build a chicken coop. Or Buswell's announcement that Homeswest homes in wealthy suburbs will be sold off and the people relocated to somewhere more appropriate or what you would put in a suitcase if you had to live in a light house. Or the Shed jam sessions or write a recipe for stingray. Or the warrior painting."

Okay... one thing at a time. I think it is chicken coops today but stay tuned for other subjects on this list to appear.Think of Shark's text as a contents page of flotsam, strange wreckage to be found floating on a wine dark sea.

I come from a long line of chook pen builders. So about ten years ago when the Ranger began his regular visits to my front door,(think Chuck Norris style Ranger without the mustache and a leery eye) I knew it was time to put my birthright to the test and contain those feathered vagabonds.

These chickens were feral. Oscare Wilde once wrote, "If you want to see pure evil, look into the eye of a chicken." These girls roosted on my bread maker because it was warm and it smelt good. They also roosted in the bathroom. A nice time to experience true evil is at midnight, having a grumpy chicken watch you toilet.

I enlisted the help of Our Sunshine,who is also a chookpen construction blue blood. We spent the best day building the most kick ass chook pen you have ever seen, such a great day in fact, that I forgot my sisters graduation and she still hasn't forgiven me.
At the end of the day we shared some beers and looked at our creation, our power tools hanging from our hands, feeling that glow of a job well done and a girls can do anything kind of macho cool."Let's go into business," said Our Sunshine."You and me. Let's take our chookpens to the world."

It was a better business proposition than the one I was working on, creating custom scarecrows. I was trying to educate the public in the kind of scarecrows they really needed but people were slow to catch on and sales were down. Looking back, I think I was the Kate Bush of scarecrows and way ahead of my time.There simply wasn't the demand for scarecrows dressed in petticoats, stockings and high heels back then.

These days the Rangers and I have a jovial relationship based on jokey reminiscences of those days when I tried to exist a block away from the main street with eight chickens and a brindle kangaroo dog who was hip height with raised hackles. There was also a fraught exchange over my 'supposed'ownership of some Damara sheep. (Damaras are like goats in their contempt for fences and their culinary delight in other people's washing.) They were $100 on retrieval from the pound. ("What, are you saying they are MY sheep?") The last time I saw all the Rangers together I was waitressing at the annual dog catcher's convention. Now that was a fun afternoon.

Bob always attacked the building of chookpens with prolific industry. Despite me finding six chookpens here and currently discovering the remnants of more, he and I spent many a happy day crashing through undergrowth, chasing down feral chooks and their babies, trying not to crush them underfoot.When dismantling the defunct chookpens recently, I discovered that most of them were held together with rusting bicycles,baling twine, electrical conduit and double bass strings. Plus the one that leant against the true blue still, of moonshine origins.

I decided to build a new, really great chookpen.
The Secret
Just do it. Buy a brand new roll of chicken wire. Go on.
Always dig your corner strainer posts really deep, so they don't sag inwards.
Always dig in the bottom of the chicken wire, or peg it down.
Always put the top nail too high on the strainer posts, so you have to stretch the wire up to meet it.
Always put the gate posts leaning slightly outwards, like a victory sign. Then.
Wrap some wire between the gateposts, a few layers, and twitch it, just like the snake bite tourniquet used before pressure bandages became fashionable. This pulls the gateposts together until they are parallel and tensions the rest of the fence. Clever huh? Then hang a beautiful gate, something really pretty. Your chickens will thank you for it.

I told my son, the heir to the chookpen throne,"If anyone asks you what your Mum does, tell them she builds kick ass chookpens ... And also mention that she has some surplus scarecrows for sale - on special this week."


  1. Harmonica and warm blankets. (In answer to the light house question.

    Chooks are the most rewarding pets ever. "Chickens in choppers" :)

  2. Oh aren't they? True moments of happiness are to be had in a chookpen, chickened with chooks. And they give you eggs! (If the crows don't get there first)

  3. well, a year ago i would have bought one of your scarecrows. They would have reminded me of my ex wife.

    Funny stuff sarah, the dog-catchers convention sounds like a hoot.

  4. Yeah ... dog catchers really know how to party.