I love building animal houses with Julian. It’s such fun puzzling out all the questions that must be answered each time we build a new house. What shape and size do we need for this particular species? How big does the door need to be? What kind of access do we need to the interior? How are we going to clean it? What kind of floor does it need? How much ventilation? Does it need to be fox proof – what a silly question – everything needs to be fox proofed!!! What are we going to build it out of? And how much will THIS cost!?!?!
We built our original six Indian Runner Ducks a sweet little A-frame. However, we came home from collecting the Guinea Keets with a beautiful breeding pair of Appleyard Ducks (hello Flora and Reuben!) and come the Bega Young Poultry Auction, we found ourselves with two more dear little chocolate Runners (hello Alfred and Gretel!) and three gorgeous geese (hello Guiseppe, Madonna and Francesca!). That little A-frame was just too little. The ducks no longer liked going in at night and there was no room for a nest for their prodigious egg laying. Flora took to hiding her eggs around the garden (she lays huge eggs almost every day) and the Runners were simply dropping theirs near the duck pond! As for the geese – phht! – no hope.
A new house was needed – one with ample room for now and plenty of room for little ducklings come spring. But the building supply pile was looking skimpy as were the building funds. Hmmm. Serendipitously, Mum found the solution! Being an avid gardener, she often hangs out at her local garden centre and knows the owner well – he was lamenting that he had a huge pile of hardwood pallets that were taking up way too much room so Mum asked if we could have a few and he was more than happy for Julian to visit with the trailer! Woot!
Pallet building has surely become an “in-thing” – look on Pinterest and you’ll find heaps of furniture built out of the humble pallet. However, these misguided carpenters appear to mostly rip apart the pallets – a lot of effort for some pretty crappy timber. We wanted to use ours whole – fast and sturdy. So – two pallets for the floor, two for each long side, one for the back and two for a ramp – all screwed together. A big hinged door made out of hardwood fence palings we sourced from the dumpshop. Corrugated from the dumpshop for the roof – mounted on a bit of our building timber left over from the chicken house. And the whole thing was mounted on besser block footings that Julian spent hours carefully digging into the ground and levelling. This means the straw litter will filter through to the ground and all we’ll have to do is keep adding fresh straw to the top! Works a treat in the chook house.
However, pallets are NOT fox proof. The author of my favourite chicken book – The Small Scale Poultry Flock – says he keeps the skulls of the few predators that have breached his defences – so that he can push them through gaps in his building to see if they fit! I reckon foxes probably have pretty flattish skulls so I’m into filling in every nook and cranny. Julian thinks I should get myself a dead fox, let it decay and then test that bloody skull just to make sure! He’s quite sure foxes are no where near as flat as that. I don’t know. There’s a reason so many stories and nursery rhymes have been written about foxes and their fondness for stealing poultry.
Anyways, the pallets lack of fox proofing meant I had to completely mesh the inside of the duck house with poultry mesh. It didn’t take as long as I thought – but it was rather cramped and arm-exhausting work, stapling all that mesh on. There sure won’t be any foxes dining at my duck house tonight :-)
But the BEST bit about building animal houses is that I get to decorate them when done :-) As I’m sure you can guess dear folk, I loooooooove that bit. And on Tuesday, after having a complete hissy fit and floods of tears over the rats eating my arrowroot, echinacea and elder, rather than spending the morning ranting at Julian and Noah about the unfairness of nature, or stewing on the porch, or sulking in my bedroom, I gathered up my paints and headed down to the duck house. There was that beautiful big fencing paling door just wanting for a spot of prettiness.
I never really know the details of what I shall paint before I start. I’m a bit like that. I knew there would be a tree – with blossoms and apples and leaves all at once :-) I call it the Hayao Miyazaki art style (Japanese filmmaker – always has all his favourite flowering plants in flower at once no matter what the time of year ;-). I knew there would be ducks. Runners? Appleyards? Whatever was right at the moment.
And I have to say, I am utterly thrilled to pieces with this work. For the tree’s trunk and branches, I took my inspiration from the cherry tree that shades the duck house. Then added my details – I’m especially pleased with the leaves – I managed to achieve a build up of colour that from a distance looks appliqued! Grass underneath – with fallen blossoms and fruit. Then Reuben and Flora – the runners always run about as one flock so I couldn’t just pick a couple out. Whereas Reuben and Flora – well, they’re like an old married couple :-) So identifiable and so much character. Perfect for painting. The other side of the tree needed something but there wasn’t enough room for more ducks so I thought about what the ducks love – their feeder! Even though they spend most of their day foraging around the garden, they do love to greedily guzzle up a slurp of scratch mix as soon as they burst out of their house each morning. And finally, one of those pesky Rosellas. They ate all our cherries and apricots last spring. And now they love to hang out on the roof of the duck house and in the bare branches of the cherry tree, waiting to swoop down and have a little nibble of the scratch mix. Buggers. They’re exquisitely beautiful – but they are buggers.
I also feel, with this piece, that I’m really growing a style I love and that feels doable. I want to paint much much much more. Julian loves it so much, he went straight to the workshop and put together a big “sign” made out of marine grade ply with a rustic paling frame (he even mitred the corners) for me to paint “The Duck & Goose” on – we’ll hang it on the front of the house like an old fashioned English pub sign :-) You see, we were hopeful our three geese would move in too – but they are so bolshie and just won’t. Means the electric fence has to stay up – and means they are not as safe as I’d like, but what can you do. Geese that refuse to go inside and Hamburg chickens that sleep in the gum tree!
We’ll have to come up with a different style house for the geese – I’m thinking an on the ground kind of lean-to that has a fox-proof floor and a very very easy to navigate door – they’re a bit dim those geese. Oh well – whatever, it is, there’ll be more gorgeous opportunities to keep working on my painted farm.