I almost stepped on this pair of copperheads when I went to feed the chickens on Thursday morning. Luckily, they were so focused on each other, they didn’t even flinch when I did a sort of skip-hop over their heads.
Based on their patterns, these are not the same two that my wife found last week. Apparently, our garden is serving as some sort of copperhead love hotel.
My wife thought she had found one very long copperhead when she went out to water her kale seedlings, but it turned out to be an amorous pair. According to Reptiles of North Carolina by Palmer and Braswell (University of North Carolina Press), copperheads have been found mating in April and September, so this seems quite late in the year.
For the past two years, Youngest Offspring has been arguing in favor of backyard chickens, and her long campaign has finally been successful. My garden project this summer was building a coop and run next to my greenhouse, and on September 24, three pullets from a local farm moved in.
1. The coop
Since we have never kept chickens before, it took us a long time to decide exactly what to do about a coop. We considered various prefabricated coops but eventually decided to build our own. I purchased plans for the Basic Coop from TheGardenCoop.com but modified them to make the coop slightly taller and 3′ x 4′ instead of 3′ x 3′. This made the materials somewhat more expensive, but should allow us to keep up to five birds.
2. The run
The run is about 10’ x 20’, half covered with transparent corrugated polycarbonate and half open to the elements. I built a rough perch from the trunk of a young black tupelo tree (Nyssa sylvatica) and threw in some rotten logs for scratching and grub hunting purposes.
We decided not to allow the chickens free range in the garden, because of the danger from predators. The birds are basically Youngest Offspring’s pets, so we want to protect them as well as we can. Raccoons are probably the biggest threat, but other predators in our area include foxes, coyotes, dogs, cats, skunks, opossums, hawks, and owls. There’s an outside chance of weasels or bobcats, or perhaps a mink following the creek up from the Eno River. Rat snakes probably aren’t a threat to adult chickens, so I’m not worried about excluding them—we’ll just remove any egg raiders we find.
At night, the chickens are confined to the coop, which will hopefully exclude nocturnal predators. For maximum ventilation without sacrificing security, the coop has a ceiling of heavy galvanized hardware cloth topped with corrugated polycarbonate. The large cleanout door and small door connecting to the coop are both secured with swivel hasps. I use carabiners to “lock” the hasps at night, because they’re easier to remove than padlocks but hopefully will be too difficult for dexterous little raccoon paws
The sides of the run are welded wire fence, and the part that doesn’t have a roof is covered with chicken wire to keep out hawks. Around the perimeter, we placed a horizontal apron of the same fencing material. When hidden beneath mulch it will hopefully slow down any dogs or other diurnal predators that try to dig under the fence.
So, fingers crossed. I hope we haven’t set up a buffet with free chicken dinners.
4-6. The girls
Hähnchen is supposed to be an Ameraucana, but the farm said it is possible she is an “Easter Egger” (Ameraucana hybrid). Pollo is a cuckoo Marans. Kylling is a Red Star. In November they will be joined by a barred Plymouth Rock and an Easter Egger. Youngest Offspring has reserved the names Frango and Kuritsa.
The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday. Head over there to see his Six for this week and find links to the blogs of other participants.
A male reddish-brown stag beetle (Lucanus capreolus) was wandering through the vegetable garden on Tuesday evening, presumably looking for rivals to duel. The mandibles of L. capreolus aren’t as large as those of the giant stag beetle (L. elaphus), which also lives in North Carolina, but this guy still put on an impressive threat display when I rudely prodded him with a finger.
The scientific names of L. capreolus and L. elaphus cleverly refer to the relative size of their antler-like mandibles. L. capreolus is named for the European roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, a species with modest antlers, while L. elaphus is named for the much larger red deer (Cervus elaphus). It is unclear to me why Linnaeus and Fabricius referred to European deer when naming North American beetles.
Despite my practice of leaving piles of rotting logs as habitat for beetle larvae and other small animals, this is the first stag beetle I have found in my garden and the first L. capreolus that I have ever seen. Once or twice I have found L. elaphus under street lights a few miles from our house, so I have some hope of attracting them to my mouldering beetle and termite palaces.