Cat in a Chicken Run: Reasons to be Awakened at 1:30 a.m.

So, a bit of background…

We have a raw-fed Westie, that greatly enjoys salad, cucumbers, and pretty much will do anything for a tomato.  We even have to spell the word, “tomato.”  And we’re reaching the point where we have to spell the spelling of tomato, which gets very confusing.

And, we have a pair of self-indulgent, sweet, but highly demanding cats, that after packing on the kitty-pounds have been placed on a canned food diet, fed twice a day–first when the first person wakes up in the morning, and it has reached the point where, at the first sound of movement from any bedroom, the incessant caterwauling begins.  I’ve even had to change my alarm tone to try to forestall their demands.  This is highly irritating, but I do admit to being particularly amused by the game of walking obliquely towards the stairs to the basement, and watching them tear down the steps like bats (or cats) out of hell.  The pitter-patter of little feet is not the operative description.

As a result of their weight-loss, however, they are behaving more like cats, but they still think they must be fed.  Often.  Incessantly.  Repeatedly.  And much more than they are going to be getting any time soon.  And perhaps they think we don’t know it, more likely they don’t care, but they leap onto the kitchen counters, the kitchen table, the dining room table,  to forage for food; the tell-tale sound of little cat feet alighting on the kitchen floor is a dead-give-away.  And they are getting more uppity, more bold, and more demanding as they are slimming to actual cat-like proportions.

Finally, we have chickens.  I’m not saying that they are spoiled, but… we toast frozen waffles (organic) for them; we cook rice for them; they get the leftover salads that our dog doesn’t scarff down.  When they hear the back door open, they come a-running.  Or a-waddling.  The sight of a chicken sprinting across yard: tough to describe, harder to forget, and hysterically funny.

Cat, chickens, dog, enough said.

Cat, chickens, dog, enough said.

It’s not unusual to look out the window and see two Welsummers, two Rhode Island Reds, a Westie, and a cat foraging together in the back-yard. I wonder at times if the hens are part of a weird pack, or the dog and cat part of a freaky flock.

Have I mentioned that the cats are getting uppity, bold, and seem to think that all the food in the world is theirs by right?  The male, Simon, in fact, has taken to sneaking into the chicken coop to snack on the bird’s grains.  I’m not entirely sure that Simon is actually aware that he is, indeed, a cat.  I’m not sure he’s a cat.  More like a stomach, with legs.

Anyway, I told you all that, so I could tell you this.

We recently replaced our old chicken coop, and (not that we are spoiling the chickens) attached a covered run for them, so they aren’t always cooped up in the morning, while they not so patiently wait for us to come release them to free-range.

Well, to keep them comfortable and protected from inclement weather, I fashioned together a nifty roof for the chicken run–corrugated UV tinted plastic, so they have a nice amount of shade, and so that their food stays dry in case of rain.  Karen lets them out in the morning, as I leave for work in the pre-dawn; as she works later into the afternoon, I lock them back in at dusk–and thanks to the wheel in the sky keeping turning, dusk is getting later and later.  It’s a beautiful thing.

So, last Saturday, we’re a bit late on the animal feeding game, as the day got away from us (weeding the front yard and then taking a nice walk; love a sunny day).  But, with only a slight delay, and only slightly after their accustomed feeding time, and only slightly after dusk, the dog is fed, the cats are fed, Simon is let out to do a bit of whatever it is that cats do when they are outside, and I lock up the girls.

Hours go by. I let the dog out into the back yard for her evening potty run, expect the cat to come back in. He doesn’t, but that’s okay.

I wait for the dog to come back in–it takes her awhile because she is foraging for snackage; which may, or may not, include chicken poo. I try not to think about it.  Or let her lick my face.

A few more hours go by; no cat. Karen and I retire for the night, still no cat. And a few more hours go by.

One-thirty a.m., the daughter comes to our door; a tiny voice says: “I went to get Simon to come inside, and he didn’t, and I can hear him meowing, and he’s trapped somewhere.”   Karen leaps into action; I move a bit slower, and take some time to look for a flashlight–which by the time I locate and head outside Karen has found Simon.

Who was locked in the chicken coop.

And had been for at least 7 hours.

I’m not sure how I managed to not see him in the chicken run when I locked the girls in.  I’m not sure why he did not meow when the dog went out to go potty; I’m not sure why the dog didn’t bark at the cat locked in the coop.  But what I’d really love is to be a chicken-whisperer so I could know what they thought about it–and the biggest regret that we have is not taking a photo of the cat in the chicken-run… though we prepared for when it happens again.

Because it will.

Simon: chicken-food eater, late-night prowler



Adventures in Raising City Chickens

At work, my teammates jokingly refer to me as “The Crazy Chicken Lady”.  I have to admit, I kind of like it.  When we’re younger, we strive to fit in.  I’ve finally reached a place in my life where I embrace my eccentricities, and feel sadness for those who are in their 40s, still trying to “fit in”.  Let your freak flag fly, I say.  (Channeling my inner Portland…)

Miss Cleo, City Chicken

Miss Cleo, City Chicken

I did not enter into the decision to raise chickens in the backyard of a city lot lightly.  For me, pretty much everything requires hours of research.  I worried about the neighbors, about how the dog and cats would get along with them, but from the time I was a little girl, I always wanted to live on a farm, and something called to me.

I’ve heard chickens called the “gateway animal”.  Once you have chickens, you might as well have goats.  Hmm.  I would love goats!     Not sure they’re legal in my city, but one day, with a plot of earth…. maybe.  Rabbits, perhaps?

“The Girls” free-range in my backyard during daylight hours and have a small coop I ordered online and assembled, that they really only sleep in and lay eggs in.  If I had it to do over again, I would have definitely built something, but I do like it this way.  They are not confined, and had I built something from scratch, I think I’d feel the need to enclose a run.  This way, I felt guilty with their small accommodations and let them have the run of the yard during the day.  I get up, have my coffee, get ready for work, and let the girls out.  Thankfully, it’s now light when I leave for work.  There were days in December where I had to open the coop for them in the wee dark hours before sunrise.  Thankfully, our city raccoons have had their instincts bred out of them. I close the coop at night after they’ve already put themselves to bed, and they keep my backyard grub-free, and the grass nicely trimmed.

There are drawbacks, of course.  I love flowers.  So do chickens.  I spent days researching chicken-friendly landscaping, logging my botanical discoveries on a spreadsheet.  I long for more than the standard Rhododendron/Camellia landscaping that is so prolific in the Pacific Northwest.  Last spring, I planted New Guinea Impatiens, which they’re supposed to dislike.  They left them alone for a month, then I came home from work one day and they were devoured down to the dirt..  Russian Sage is another plant that is supposedly distasteful to them.  I planted it along the fence, and it lasted through the flowering season, but as soon as the weather started to turn in September, they devoured every leaf on it. I hope it comes back.

I’m listing the plants that have survived my free-range chickens below.  Several are noted to be poisonous, so not necessarily “chicken friendly”.  At least I have smart chickens.

Plants that have survived my chickens:

  1. Azalea
  2. Hyacinth
  3. Daffodil
  4. Lilly of the Valley (inherited it with this yard, and is fairly prolific)
  5. Daylilly (planted last spring without barrier/protection, and they haven’t touched them)
  6. Heath
  7. Columbine
  8. Pansies (a weed in my yard that they won’t touch)
  9. Euphorbia (they leave the leaves, but do eat the flowers)
  10. Hydrangea
  11. Bleeding Heart
  12. English Ivy
  13. Forsythia
  14. Chamomile (planted last spring, and they have left untouched)
  15. Rose Campion (commonly misidentified as “lambs ears”)
  16. Pittosporum
  17. Cotoneaster (their favorite hiding place)
  18. Peony