I wish I could say the headline is a joke, but it’s not. I also wish I could laugh about it, like the saying ‘someday you’ll laugh about it,’ suggests. It’s only been a month since the coop ordeal. I’m sure someday I will laugh, but right now I’m not.
Last month I got locked in the Brahma house. Despite there being six huge Brahma roosters (some just starting to show attitude), and one even huger Cochin rooster, along with the dozen hens, I was not hurt. I was stuck in a hen house, and unable to get out quickly. If something major were to happen on the property during my lock- up, like a hawk or predator issue, I would have been helpless to help the other animals.
My guy is a woodworker, engineer, and craftsman. When he builds something, he builds it tight. His creations are solid, functional, and beautiful. This attention to detail carries over to all the coops, animal shelters, and large hen house on the property.
The 6 x 8 Brahma house is large enough for an adult to stand in and walk around. I’m not good with the names of hardware, but there was a lock on it that would click shut behind you. There was a safety string, which I used many times, that you could tug and the lock would pop open.
That day, when I heard the door click shut behind me, my heart sank. Something felt wrong. I tugged the safety cord, but nothing happened. The door did not pop open like it usually did. Somehow it had gotten wrapped around the door latch. When I realized the door wouldn’t open, I began to panic. Even though the door was solid, and on heavy hinges, I ran into it, hoping it would open. All I managed to do was hurt my shoulder.
My guy was five hours away on a business trip. He wouldn’t be back for two more days. No one else was expected to visit that day. Living in a country setting, it was doubtful that anyone would hear me calling until closer to dinnertime.
I tried not to totally freak as I looked for a way out, but my heart was racing. I was stuck inside, while my dog, goats, ducks, other chickens, and turkeys were outside. The Brahmas would be heading inside come dark. They were normally docile, but would my being in there aggravate the seven roosters? Or would they just not come in, and be susceptible to nighttime predators? I panicked even more when I thought about the other critters. If I didn’t get out, no one would secure the other animals and coops come dark.
I tried everything. The 14 x 21 windows (made for sheds) were screwed in tight, and would not budge. They only opened about 12 inches so squeezing through was not an option. In my panic, I punched out a screen. I poked my head outside to see if there was anything to pry open the door. Nothing. The two chicken doors were also only 12 inches. I tried anyway. I only managed to get a leg through.
I thought that maybe I could ram the door open with a type of battering ram, but roosting bars, nest boxes, and all woodwork was a strong as stone and screwed or bolted down. Even the metal roof was bolted down. Where I had previously loved that henhouse for the safety and protection from the elements it provided the animals, at that moment I detested it for entombing me.
I still don’t know how I did it, but I managed to kick a nesting box hard enough to bust off a (12 to 16 inches?) slice of wood. Thankfully there was a shed window next to the door. After a lot of attempts, and almost dropping the stick many times (one arm extended out the busted screen window, poking the stick at the door latch), I somehow unlatched the door from the outside.
When I got outside, it was on shaky legs. My dog was overjoyed to see me. I’m not a big crier, but I cried. I was stuck in the henhouse for a half hour. Not long in the big picture of life, but long enough that I vowed to never let that happen again. I could have been in there a lot longer. What if I didn’t get out? I might have been stuck in there for 2 days, with no one to feed the other animals. What if it was winter, and my guy had just left for work when it happened? I would have been stuck for 10, 12 hours or more. Too many what-ifs.
As soon as my guy got back from his trip, he changed all the door latches on the coops and enclosures to ensure that neither I, nor anyone else, got locked in again. I also began thinking about the other mishaps, small injuries, and unsafe situations I had faced with the coops, alone on the property.
The day I got stuck in the Brahma coop was a huge farm safety wake-up call.
Up until that day, the emphasis of animal shelters has always been on the comfort, well-being, and safety of the animals who would call these buildings their home. They had to be predator-proof, the appropriate size for the number of animals planned, had to be adaptable (or slightly modified) to the changing seasons and weather of New England. Now we would add another set of considerations when building: Is it safe for humans as well?
I’m sure people have been through way worse ordeals, but this wake -up call for me was a way to hopefully prevent something worse happening. I would love to hear what other issues people have experienced in coop/animal shelter mishaps, and how they fixed it. These are some of the coop issues I have come across in recent years.
As portrayed in my story, doors should not lock behind you. If you have a door that locks from the outside-you could potentially get locked in.
Another door issue I’ve seen (for humans and critters) are slamming doors. I’ve had all types of doors slam on me, narrowly missing my hand or head. I witnessed a chicken almost get decapitated when a small coop door slammed down as she was going outside.
Securing a door open (with a latch or strap) while you work or clean inside a structure is a good idea. Doors that open to the side, instead of top to bottom can be safer for the animals.
A door issue that became huge for me when we began keeping male animals- was the placement of coop doors. We used to only have hens. Then we decided to raise animals that would breed naturally. Roosters, toms, drakes, bucks, and bulls became a real thing. Until ‘keeper’ roosters are chosen, and the rest removed, all our males live with the females until sexually mature. It is the best way for me to determine which males will work out on our homestead.
Where I used to enter the hen houses without a care in the world every morning, bending over or crawling past my girls to let open their little doors to let them out, it became a different story when crawling past roosters. Or hissing drakes. Or puffed up tom turkeys. Our newest structures take this into account. The new challenge for my guy is to adapt our existing coops so I do not have to get right in there if I am unsure how a male animal will react.
Roosting Poles/Nesting boxes/Coop height
I’ve hit my head on roosting poles, the underside of nesting boxes, and interior coop roofs way too many times. Again, everything was designed with the animal in mind, but seriously, I need to start thinking about me. I’m still working on this issue, but keep it in mind if you build or buy a coop. Make sure you can do what you need to do without bashing your head.
A huge fan of movable chicken tractors (made with cattle guard & chicken wire), we make sure there are no sharp edges inside that could hurt the critters. No loose wires or jagged cattle guard injure the precious little babies inside. The outside? Kind of overlooked. Until I punctured my hand on an edge of the cattle guard. Not only did it hurt like heck, but it also made that hand unusable for way too long. Very annoying.
Many of us focus on everything the animal comes in contact with but be aware of coop angles, splintered wood, jagged wire, and anything else that can cause you injury.
We all know that slippery floors anywhere cause accidents. It holds true in coops. A tipped over waterer, way too much poop, or it just being a duck house can make that floor slick. Don’t skimp on cleaning, absorbent flooring material, or shavings. Use waterers that don’t tip, or place waterers in a liner (such as the bottom part of a litter box).
If you live where it doesn’t snow-congratulations! Snow and ice on roofs are things you don’t have to deal with. Here in New England, we have intense weather. One day there could be a blizzard, and days later it starts to melt. Icicles hanging from animal shelters need to be knocked down before they knock you, or one of your critters, out.
The angling of roofs is also something to consider. We have been designing our coops so they angle away from the poultry yards. This keeps rain and snow clumps from pouring onto the yards. Guess who gets all that full force though? Yes, me. Rain pours on me when I open coop doors. Snow slides off the metal roofs, onto me if I’m not careful. We need to tweak future coop designs so rain and snow angle away from everyone.
No lighting when checking on critters at night is unsafe. Even if you have a dog to accompany you, it’s hard to see what ‘s going on if the dog runs into a predator. Just walking across the yard can be unsafe without lighting. I’ve almost killed myself just tripping on doggy tennis balls.
Maybe they made quality, affordable flashlights in the ‘old days’, but now the good ones seem to cost a fortune. Decent headlamps are expensive, too. We use both rechargeable and disposable batteries for the limited amount of quality headlamps and flashlights we had to invest in.
Thankfully, my guy knows his way around an electrical box. He has made our lives so much easier by hard wiring most of the animal shelters and installing outdoor safety lights on the largest hen houses. Keeping the area illuminated around the animal areas seems to have cut down on our predator traffic, and my tripping.
Solar lighting, and long power cords can also be used if one does not hard wire. Always use the appropriate lighting fixture, and cords for outdoor use. Otherwise, you could be creating another safety hazard: fire.
Poultry and farm animals attract rodents, insects, and predators on their own; we humans don’t need to make it worse by attracting them even more.
Not cleaning feces and soiled bedding on a regular basis creates more than just stench, it creates a health and safety issue. By inviting a myriad of unwanted insects, some that bite or leave welts. Bees, hornets, mice, rats, and predators may be enticed to visit if you leave uneaten treats or too much food in and around coops. I was personally guilty of this. I used to toss meat bones in the chicken yards on rainy or snowy days. Gave them something to do when they weren’t free-ranging. They would eat the meat off the bones all day.
Problem was, I would sometimes forget to gather all the bones at night, attracting a slew of unwanted visitors. My stupidity was corrected when I rushed outside at dusk one winter at dusk, to the sound of screaming chickens. A mouse was in the corner gnawing on a picked beef bone. Another very brave mouse was latched onto one of my hens and gnawing on her leg! While she screamed! I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. What if it had gotten in their coop and I didn’t know? That could have been a heartbreaking, and bloody night.
Ever since then, I no longer give bones to the birds. I also do circle checks of their coops and yards throughout the day. Every night when it’s time to secure them in, I check inside their houses.
Once I post this, I’ll probably think of more coop safety issues, but these are my top ones for now. Seems that each day I lam taught more farm lessons, learn more, and think of ways to do things better. I guess the biggest thing I learned through the Brahma house ordeal was that my safety is of utmost importance. If I get hurt and unable to care for my critters, who will?