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How big must a hole be for a chicken to fly into it?

 
jenny stark
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Actually, I want to make a hole chickens CANNOT fly in. I am a volunteer cat feeder for Friends of Culebra Animals in Culebra, a tiny island off Puerto Rico where the chickens could teach Paul Wheaton a few things about world domination. They invade the feral cat feeding stations, eat the food and terrorize the cats. I need help altering the set-up TO KEEP THE CHICKENS OUT.

The basic feeding station design: a 3'x3' covered box on legs 2 ft off the ground with a hole in the floor big enough for the cats to jump in, worked marvelously in the Virgin Islands where IGUANAS are the villains--as long as the entrance is away from the legs (where iguanas could climb up and inside). Now in Culebra, where FCA wants to establish like feeding stations, I'm finding chickens, not iguanas, run wild -- and enjoy "flying" into the entrance holes. They don't really fly: they sort of flap their wings and levitate up. I have asked everyone for help in keeping them out, including farmers, and the best advice I've gotten is to hang a "curtain" of "danglies" (mop strings or strips of old sails) around the hole. Supposedly, the chickens don't like the feeling of anything touching their wings and therefore won't fly in. HA! They could care less---or maybe I've made the hole big enough that the danglies don't touch them enough.... [I need to mention that ANTS are also a terrible problem: feeding station legs are placed in 5gal buckets of water--"ant moats." Nothing touches the body of the feeding stations (like branches or vines) that ants could climb down. And they're placed in the open, so ants can't drop from overhanging structures or trees. Thus, a ladder/ramp set-up which touches the ground--and would confound the chickens--can't be used, as the ants could climb up there as well.]

HOW SMALL MUST I MAKE THE HOLES TO KEEP OUT THE CHICKENS? (Remember, the cats still need to be able to jump into the hole!) Currently they're 5x10" to 8x12" (different sizes from different builders). Would circular holes be better than rectangular?

I need help really badly. Does anyone have any suggestions? Please? Thank you.
 
Miranda Converse
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I don't believe changing the size of the hole will solve your problem but maybe changing the configuration of the feeder might. Chickens are pretty smart when it comes to finding food, so you may have to try a couple different things before you find something that works. And even when you find that something works, they just might not have figured it out yet so don't get too excited after a week of one working and change all of them.

A few things I might try;
Move the entrance to the top of the feeder instead of the bottom. Chickens like overhead cover, they might not feel secure if they are in a box without a top.
Move the entrance to the front and use the curtain of danglies at the entrance. They are less likely to try to fly into something that looks like a wall and they can't just walk through. Make sure you don't have any kind of ledge they could jump onto first so they don't have a way to investigate the danglies.
Add a hinged door (the kind that automatically close) that a cat could push open but a chicken couldn't.
Provide an easier source of food for the chickens. If they have an easy source of food, they will be less likely to fight the cats for theirs, but this just means you will be feeding both...

Good luck!
 
Mick Fisch
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I have not had this problem, so this is purely a shot in the dark without much experience.

I'm guessing that if we can keep the chickens from flapping their wings near the hole we can keep them out. If they can get their claws on the edge of the hole, they will get in.

I would suggest some 'fins' projecting out, maybe 18 inches or so from the side edges of the hole to disrupt the chickens from flapping their wings near the hole. You might need to add a third side and top from the top of the hole to slightly below the hole, turning the channel (formed by the two narrow sides) into a blind tunnel (the box, the sides with the third side forming a tunnel, with the top piece closing it at the top. This should force anything wanting in to come in to leap pretty much straight up and prevent 'cannonballing' in from a distance. at about 5 feet cats should have no trouble jumping up.

I'm theorizing that if the chicken can't flap their wings near the hole they will be limited by how high they can jump.

My chickens seem to be able to jump fairly high, but part of that is flying, so I don't know how high they could jump with legs only. I believe the discomfort of hitting their wings on the fins might discourage them. I don't know if they would want to 'cannonball' in from a distance, but my chickens are pretty stubborn and, for such a stupid animal, surprisingly clever.

Cats should be able to jump pretty much straight up and in. I was try to come up with a simpler, more material conservative approach but this is my first best guess.
 
jenny stark
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Thank you both, Mick and Miranda, for your suggestions. You're right. For such stupid animals they sure come up with some amazingly clever manoeuvers.

In response:
Miranda--TOP ENTRANCE The birds already hang out on the roof (I think they think it's the outhouse). An opening there would facilitate entry, I'm afraid. Also, this is the tropics--our torrential rains would leak through a roof opening. HINGED DOOR: Tried. CATS are not happy with it. They want a ledge to stand on. I don't want a ledge because the peeps fly in through the lattice if there's something to stand on. FEED CHICKENS: That sounds REALLY GOOD! What would chickens like better than cat kibble? They have access to all sorts of bugs, etc. These feeding stations are all in parks: palm trees, bush, beaches, tourists, ground cover, geckos, BUGS BUGS BUGS.... They like kibble so much they will rush me, peck at my legs (STUPID--like that's going to convince me to feed them?). The guy feeding last summer didn't use a garbage bag, just dumped old/ant-covered/moldy/whatever food on the ground and the chickens became addicted. (He's no longer with us...)

Mick--TUNNEL Interesting concept. I'll get out my graph paper and see what I can do. Will get back to you. FINS "discomfort from hitting wings on fins". Do you think if I hung something hard, like dowels or paint stir sticks, in place of soft mop strings and sail cloth, it might discourage them? Maybe danglies should be HARD? Does noise bug them? Like clatter from sticks knocking together? Maybe I should have pointed out that these are HIGHLY inbred birds who don't even know to crow at dawn. They crow all day AND all night. I'm not sure how delicate their sensibilities are.

CHICKEN QUESTION: Do chickens manipulate with their feet like parrots, sun conures, parakeets? Maybe to hang upside down on the opening of the hole and pull themselves in? Or fly high enough to boost themselves in with their feet?
 
Mick Fisch
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Do you think if I hung something hard, like dowels or paint stir sticks, in place of soft mop strings and sail cloth, it might discourage them? Maybe danglies should be HARD?


I was envisioning something like plywood. I think they might grab dowels. Depending on how nice you need these to look you could use scrap sheet metal, cardboard, maybe even old carpet, maybe stiffened by a pvc frame. I think it should be something heavy or stiff enough that it seriously messes with their 'flap'. They shouldn't be able to just knock it aside and keep flying.

CHICKEN QUESTION: Do chickens manipulate with their feet like parrots, sun conures, parakeets? Maybe to hang upside down on the opening of the hole and pull themselves in? Or fly high enough to boost themselves in with their feet?


Chickens will really grab with their feet, but I don't believe they are nearly as good as parrots. I think they would let go and fall if they found themselves hanging upside down. When you carry them upside down by their feet they immediately become quiet. A personal theory of mine is that is because seeing the world upside down blows their little sauropod minds and they get totally confused. I can see them intimidating the cats. They are just little velociraptors that learned to fly a little.

I could see them coming in essentially sideways and then using their wings to bring themselves vertical, that was what I meant by 'cannonballing'.
 
Miranda Converse
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Chickens like all sorts of stuff but they like what's easy the best. If they had the choice between a pile of bugs and a pile of cat food, they would take the bugs. They prefer the cat food because it's all conveniently in one place and they don't need to work for it. Not sure what is available to you but you could put out sunflower seeds, cracked corn, wheat or any grain, kitchen scraps, etc. And you don't have to worry about keeping the ants away because the chickens will eat the ants.

I have not ever seen my chickens use their feet to pick anything up or even hang upside-down. They are too top heavy to support their weight with just their feet. And as already mentioned, they go kind of catatonic when they are upside down.

To add onto the tunnel idea; if you raise the boxes up a bit, and just put a carpet covered (on the inside) tube, straight down below the entrance, small enough where the chickens couldn't flap and long enough they couldn't jump (maybe 10in diameter by 3ft long), a cat would be able to climb up the carpet but a chicken would not be able to.

 
R Ranson
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I don't know the answer to the hole question. I think it depends a great deal on the size of the chicken and the size of the cat.

One alternative is to get a feeder that requires a certain weight to activate.


Sorry, I couldn't find one for cats, but the principle remains the same. Here are some examples of weight activated chicken feeders - you could make one that works with cat weight (that is assuming the cats are heavier than the chickens. Again, it depends on the size of the cat v the size of the chicken).

back yard chickens weight activated feeder - home build

 
Mick Fisch
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To add onto the tunnel idea; if you raise the boxes up a bit, and just put a carpet covered (on the inside) tube, straight down below the entrance, small enough where the chickens couldn't flap and long enough they couldn't jump (maybe 10in diameter by 3ft long), a cat would be able to climb up the carpet but a chicken would not be able to.


Miranda, I think you have taken my suggestion from something vaguely sort of possible to something clear, concise and easy to implement. You are brilliant. To steal a phrase from Winnie the Pooh, I think you deserve a Hero Party!!!
 
Miranda Converse
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Mick Fisch wrote:
To add onto the tunnel idea; if you raise the boxes up a bit, and just put a carpet covered (on the inside) tube, straight down below the entrance, small enough where the chickens couldn't flap and long enough they couldn't jump (maybe 10in diameter by 3ft long), a cat would be able to climb up the carpet but a chicken would not be able to.


Miranda, I think you have taken my suggestion from something vaguely sort of possible to something clear, concise and easy to implement. You are brilliant. To steal a phrase from Winnie the Pooh, I think you deserve a Hero Party!!!


Aw, why thank you! Well I wouldn't have had the idea if it wasn't for your idea so I'll give you most of the credit And yay for Winnie the Pooh!
 
jenny stark
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Again, thank you all for your input! LOTS of things to try...

R RANSOM: That chicken feeder is a riot! But I need a reverse set-up: it won't open with too much weight. Many of the chickens are bigger than the cats... Still, I'm thinking I'd like to make one for the CHICKENS when I start feeding them--to protect the food from rain, iguanas, feral dogs, etc....still a reverse set-up because the dogs/iguanas weigh more than the chickens.

MIRANDA/MICK: The carpeted tube sounds perfect to keep birds out. Easier than "fins" or tunnel. Plan to make/install one this weekend; will let you know the results! THANK YOU!

MIRANDA: Thank you also for food suggestions. Do they eat until the food is gone, or do they get full and come back for more later?

ANOTHER CHICKEN QUESTION: Can chickens be relocated just by packing them up and moving them, or are they territorial like cats who need an organized relocation including confinement over weeks, even months? Googling this doesn't seem to apply to my situation. I'm not worried about them not laying eggs or adjusting to a new coop/cages. I just want to take them from one beach to another, both free range. BUT I don't want them to die from being stressed.
 
Miranda Converse
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They will eat until they are basically full if they think that might be the only easy food they will get for a while. They are creatures of habit so if they know the food will be replenished at the same time every day, they will come back at that time. If they come back a second time a few days in a row and realize the food won't be replenished until the next morning, they will eventually just give up on it and find a new source of food for the evenings. If there's food always there, they will realize and come whenever they feel like it.

How often are you planning on moving them? They seem to adjust fine to moves fairly quickly but if you are planning on doing it every couple weeks to brand new places, it might stress them a bit. If it's for a couple months or a couple hours, they should be alright.
They might be ok if it's the same beaches and just back and forth and if you take them all each time. Keeping them together will lessen the stress because they won't have to reestablish their pecking order each time. The pecking order is probably the biggest source of stress when their flock changes. Any time a chicken is added or removed, the whole order gets re-established. If it's just a couple hours, and they are returned, this won't really be an issue.
Lots of people do pasture their chickens and move them fairly frequently so it can be done.

Out of curiosity, how would you plan to catch them? Do you know where they sleep? It's somewhat easy to catch a single chicken during the day, but not so easy to catch a second one once they see the first one get caught. Easiest way to move them would be to pick them up off their roost while they are sleeping. They pretty much act like they are drugged while they are sleeping...
 
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