Letter from Birdland: The battle for egg supremacy continues

In Birdland, the saga continues. We thought we hit upon a method — if not the perfect solution, then at least a stopgap measure — to keep Ursula from eating all the eggs my chickens lay.

My dog recently discovered the treasure trove of golden deliciousness hiding in the nesting boxes in the coop. Instead of finding eggs in the coop, I'd find empty shells near the kitchen door, just taunting me.

In the morning, after letting the chickens out, we decided to lure them into the garden coop with a big scoop of pellets. They ran happily in and began scratching at what I spilled there, and I went out and shut the door.

We originally built the garden coop to protect the garden from the chickens' beaks. It works well for tomatoes, cucumbers and greens, but after the frost, we encourage the chickens to spend some time there to cultivate the soil, eating grubs and bugs and scratching up any weeds that come after the last harvest.

It's a great way to get a jump-start on preparing the ground for spring planting and to fertilize the soil. Well, I figured if we put the chickens in the garden coop for the day, they would lay their eggs in there, safe from the dog.

The first day, everything was fine. They laid their eggs in the corner, and Ursula looked sadly from the yard as I collected them in the afternoon and then let the chickens out to wander a little before dark.

The next day, I led them out there again, and all was well when I left, but when I arrived home after work, I was met with two half eggshells on the front walk and another next to the walnut tree. How did Ursula get the eggs out of the garden coop? I went around the house to find the garden coop door was open, the chickens scratching in the spinney of woods nearby.

Did Ellis open the door and let them out? He said no, maybe I forgot to latch the door.

The next day, I arrived home to a repeat of the previous day: empty eggshells on the ground, garden coop open, chickens at large, dog fat and happy in the sun.

Ursula had figured out how to open the door by pulling with her claws, despite a latch. Well played, puppy. Well played.

We needed a new plan. I thought about making a dog excluder in the regular chicken coop. She can get into the coop through the door, so Michael screwed a bar across the opening, cutting the space in half. Still big enough for the chickens to get in and out, but too small for a silly black dog to squeeze through, especially one who has grown fat on rich egg yolks.

I got three brown eggs and a tan one that day. All was well. Problem solved. Or so we thought.

The next morning was Saturday, and I slept in a little. I let Ursula out and went to make my coffee. When I stepped outside with a scoop of food to let the chickens out, I couldn't believe my eyes. They were about 100 feet off, scratching in the beanfield. Did I forget to shut them up the night before? No. The door was still shut.

I investigated to find that the whole back end of the coop had been peeled away, two layers of chicken wire and some fence wire. Did coyotes come in the night? No. They would have eaten not just the eggs, but the chickens. The chickens were all still with us.

We stapled back the chicken wire and got out the big guns: our behavior modification system.

We have a little device we call the "bad dog egg." It is how we got Ursula to stop chasing the chickens. It emits a high-pitched sound that we can't hear, but is apparently very unpleasant to Ursula. One beep from the bad dog egg, and she stops whatever it is she is doing. The drawback is that it requires someone to constantly monitor her behavior.

Luckily, it was the weekend, so we could devote some energy and attention to making sure Ursula stayed away from the coop. For now, it seems to be working out. Yesterday's egg count was Mary — 3, Ursula — 0.

Walk in beauty; work in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in food justice in the world and in her own backyard. You can read more of her writings and see photos at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Hays can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of The News-Gazette, 15 Main St., Champaign IL 61820.

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rsp wrote on December 02, 2012 at 12:12 pm

You can almost see it happening as you read it. At the same time I wonder, could the dog in it's motivation to get the eggs be demonstrating the weaknesses in the coop to keep out coyotes? Coyotes can be motivated too.