Peeper Problems

By catalyst

For a while there—a good two or three months—the peepers were running the circus in the backyard, flapping and streaking across the lawn from one side of the yard to the other, mowing the grass, dipping in the kiddie pool and lazing in fruit trees’ shade.

By the looks of things, everything seemed hunky dory, especially for the fowl, but the day-to-day reality was much different. The peepers, all of them—geese, ducks and chickens—were becoming a problem.

For two things, there was the poop and there were the flies. Both were everywhere, and a distinct barnyard aroma pervaded. Solution: rake up a lot of poop every weekend. Results: mixed.

Then there was the peeper feed. We leave it lying out of the pen where all the fowl can peck at it, and while we haven’t noticed any vermin frequenting the trough, our dogs, scroungy as most dogs are, were getting the lion’s share of some pretty costly feed, and I became nauseated every time I had to clean up one their loose stool. Let’s just say that it became pretty clear that canine guts aren’t designed to break down 18%-protein poultry mash. Solution: tie up one dog—the ravenous former stray, Ranger—during the day, trusting the other dog, Bodhi, to keep his hands out of the cookie jar, as it were, which he couldn’t. Results: mixed

Then there was the garden. Before planting this past spring, we fenced in the garden to keep the poultry out, with limited success. Our adult chickens hopped the fence into the garlic beds time and again, and they did quite a number on a few pepper and squash plants once when someone left the gate open. The chickens also destroyed a mature and once prolific sage plant and ate all the parsley we planted. Solution: hope. Results: mixed.

But the biggest problem of all has been the ducks. They have ravaged the backyard. See, they have this habit where when they find a patch of moist earth—mostly around their kiddie pool, but also wherever a hose was leaking or a sprinkler head had sprinkled—they dig their beaks down into the mud and filter who knows what—bugs, minerals, land krill?—through their lamellae, small teeth-like things that line their beaks. This creates huge divots in the earth, earth that we don’t own, and I don’t mean that in the Native American sense of like the “earth not belonging to us,” I mean we’re just renters, here, we don’t own this property, and the ducks are gouging wounds in a yard that isn’t ours, meaning we’ll have to repair those gouges and the large patches of ground once verdant but now denuded down to bare dirt. Of all the problems, for me, this was the most concerning. Solution: build a peeper jail. Well, not really.

My thinking was this. First, I assessed all the problems outlined above, and reduced them down to a unifying constant. That wasn’t the dogs. It wasn’t the garden or the garlic or the flies or the pool or the fictitious land krill or the green grass (well, one could of course make an iron-clad argument for green grass in an arid landscape like Salt Lake’s being quite a serious problem indeed, and I would wholeheartedly agree). The problem: the peepers.

So I built a peeper jail. I gathered some t-posts, bought some four-foot-high fencing at IFA, mooched a heavy-duty gate from my mom, and fenced off a portion of the yard that included the coop, which, ironically, we like to call the Big House, and a corner of the yard we and our landlord had selected as ideal for a pond more permanent and suited to a flock of waterfowl than that little turtle-shaped kiddie pool could ever be.

The birds aren’t entirely happy with their new enclosure, and who can blame them? As I said above, they were calling the shots in the backyard, running and flapping and pecking wherever their fowl little hearts pleased. Now they’re caged in, although I’m confident that the space we’ve provided them is sufficient for a flock as big as ours (handy reminder: 14 chickens, four geese, three ducks).

Results: exactly what we wanted. The flies and poop and barnyard fragrance are contained; the dogs can’t eat the peeper food and don’t need to be tied up; we’ve taken down the garden fencing, giving us full access to our crops; and the duck divots are now contained to a small patch of earth around their new pond. More about that in our next entry.

This article was originally published on August 31, 2012.