The battle of the runner beans

Regular readers will know that Aliss the hen has turned out to be some sort of reincarnation of a velociraptor… but with a taste for vegetables rather than people. This is something of a relief – I wouldn’t want to take my life into my hands to go out and collect eggs, and the cost of a rifle might outweigh the savings as a result of not having to buy in so much protein – but there is now something of a battle going on as regards the vegetables.

The reason for growing vegetables is so that (mostly) Mr Snail-of-happiness and I can eat them. Aliss disagrees. She is not content with left overs – lettuces running to seed, weeds, peelings, slightly manky kale leaves – she wants the good stuff. And she wants it fresh off the plants. The answer, therefore, is to place the vegetables out of harm. I want free ranging chickens to keep the slugs under control, so the hens run free whilst the vegetables are confined.

Runner beans, denuded to a height of four feet or so

This approach worked well with our previous little flock, but Aliss is wily… like a coyote as well as a velociraptor. In the past the hens were allowed in amongst some of the vegetables once they reached a suitable height. Runner beans were great – none of the old hens wanted to eat them and they provided shade if it was sunny. So, this year, once the beans were well on their way up the bean poles, we opened the area to the hens. All went well until…  Aliss developed a serious taste for runner bean leaves. And not just one or two, and not just up to a height of a foot. Once she’d stripped the bottom leaves, she started jumping up to get at leaves above chicken head-height.

Anti-Aliss barrier!

Enough was enough, so we reinstated the chicken wire… it’s about two feet high and is usually enough to put them off. Not Aliss, though. She simply jumped over it. And then beans started appearing, so she decided to try those… and found them to be delicious. So, I erected an extra layer of chicken wire… four-foot high now. Aliss managed to breach the defences and also use the structure to reach beans that were otherwise out of her reach. By this stage, she’d also convinced Perdy, her partner in crime, to join in too!

A new use for a clothes airer

I reinforced the barrier – ensuring that there were no handy chicken foot holds, holes, gaps, points of weakness or nearby launch pads. I realised that the adjacent lettuce cage provided a location to jump down from so employed an old clothes airer as a barrier, balanced between the lettuce enclosure and the beans. And finally, I think I have won… a whole day has passed without the cry of  ‘she’s bloody well in there again’ ringing through the house. Perhaps my beans are safe… perhaps I will get to eat the whole of some beans rather than just the top half that she couldn’t reach… and perhaps I’ll go out there tomorrow and she will have organised the others to form a chicken pyramid from which she can flap over into her favourite place in the whole garden…

Jurassic chicken

Throughout the film Jurassic Park there are allusions to the fact that dinosaurs are more like birds than reptiles. I think that we have one of their descendents in the garden. Yesterday Aliss was found excavating the root parsley, having somehow got in to the vegetable enclosure. She was removed, the netting examined for gaps, and any sources of weakness dealt with.

Juvenile delinquent chicken

Ten minutes later she was back in there. Additional barriers were added at the points we thought she might be entering.

Five minutes later she was back in there, having flapped over the barriers.

Netting was placed over the top of the target area.

Ten minutes later, she was in there again. Busily excavating.

The netting was rearranged – corners were tucked in, gaps were blocked, canes were used to secure edges of mesh. We watched what she would do.

She began by examining the place she had entered previously – stretching up, trying to poke her head through the mesh. She then moved on round the enclosure. There is a scene in Jurassic Park where Muldoon, the game warden, explains that the raptors

never attack the same place twice. They were testing the fence for weaknesses, systematically. They remember.

And so did Aliss… working her way round the perimeter of the entire area – testing for weaknesses. It took her quite a while, but eventually she returned to her starting point, having been unable to gain access anywhere. And at this point she gave up and went away to investigate another part of the garden.

We should be careful of when we give names. Black Aliss is living up to hers, just as Esmeralda has turned out to be top chicken. I wonder if Perdy will start singing opera next!

-oOOo-

And a slight aside – today is the first day we have had four eggs, one from each chicken. A couple of weeks ago there was a day when we had four eggs, one each from two chickens and two from one chicken, but that’s another story…

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