What to do with the rest of the day was decided for me as I stood at the back door looking over the croft.
I’d taken on six six week old chickens and a similarly aged cockerel recently and had them safely ensconced in a new hen run. 5.5m X 5.5m of sturdy nylon netting, with holes 5cm squared to a height of 24 inches and then 10cm squares hioles to twice that height. The bottom of the netting was securely pegged into the ground by over a dozen tent pegs and weighted down by stones.
Their new wooden chicken coop was fenced in further by some green, plastic netting on all sides and above to keep the chicks safe until they grew old enough and brave enough to venture further without being lifted by airborn predators like crows, seagulls and our local birds of prey.
So I considered it to be a Fort Knox for fowl and lazily looked on from 30 yards away as they squeaked and pecked in their well protected haven, feeding and drinking from the three bright orange feeders I’d placed in the run…
There should only be TWO.
And there, just inches from the new birds, separated only by the inner wire of the green plastic mesh was Weasley, the feral ginger cat I sometimes give bed and board to. The wee blaggard had somehow got through the first perimeter and was now studiously assessing how to get through the second and help himself to some fresh chicken.
So I legged it down the croft waving my arms like an irate rooster, yelling at him to get the fleek out of there and watched in wonder as he leapt onto the roof of the coop and bounded clean over the netting, landing on a raised bank of turf on the other side. The raised bank was the weak spot, by standing on it he’d given himself another couple of feet of height. And the chicken coop roof was right on the other side at a similar height and so it took no great leap of feline imagination to make a great leap into the run.
My thinking had been that the bank of turf would provide some shelter from the wind and had moved the coop close to it so it lay in its lee. As it was it simply gave sly ol’ Weasley a launch pad for his hunting endeavours.
So out came the spade and scythe and I set about levelling the offending turf. Pretty soon it was flattened and I tensioned the netting even further to make sure it was at its full height all around. Then I grabbed some more tent pegs and secured the bottom even further. All the while Weasely sat watching passively, waiting for me to finish. And when I had done so he set about trying his luck a second time.
For the next hour, in full view of me, he paced the fence line looking for chinks in the armour. Time and time again he returned to the spot where the turf bank had been, head swaying from side to side to analyse heights and distance, slowly raising up on his haunches to see if the larger holes were within reach. He chewed at the nylon and tried to poke his head underneath in dozens of spots, all to no avail. At the point I thought he’d surely have to give up he paced away some half dozen yards, a supposedly defeated cat, but before I could raise a smug smile he turned and ran full tilt at the netting…
With a leap that had to be seen to be believed he pounced himself through a netting hole some 36″ off the ground. Clean through, front paws first, head and shoulders and up to his rib cage. With his claws he grabbed onto the roof of the coop, which was still within a few inches of the fencing, and hauled the rest of his skinny body through. It was like something out of The Matrix. A gravity defying jump of pinpoint accuracy, perfectly finding his mark with the form of an Olympic diver. Within a few seconds he was back in his spot, staring at the final barrier to his prey, trying to work out how to best me a final time.
Again I seized him and threw him out of the chicken camp and set about moving the wooden coop well away from the sides of the netting. Again he watched.
By now he was clear on the effacy of his method but knew he had nothing to grab hold of on the other side. Could he make the leap again and get himself through alone? He weighed his odds, found them worth the risk and went at it again.
This time the jump was the same, millimetre perfect, an arc of grace and aplomb, beautifully executed and scarily accurate in its aim. But with only half his torso through the hole he quickly found himself undone. With nothing to help pull his second section through the small hole he just hung there, trapped like a herring, wriggling and meowling in great discomfort, completely caught.
Mercifully, I walked over, laughing all the while, to release the sad feline from his ignomy, pulling him backwards by his back legs like a breech birth. Free again, he sheepishly padded away into the long grass, defeated. Triumphantly, I returned to the house, pleased that once again man had bested beast, the human genius outwitting the lowly animal, the greater mind had won.
The next morning I found a very cat-sized gap under the netting at the spot of Weasles last stand, the tent pegs lifted clean out of the ground. Touché Weasely. Thankfully the chickens had been locked in their coop for the night and until such time as the cat fathoms how to undo a door catch and open the dashed thing then they are safe, at night at least. However I suspect it won’t take him too long…