Avoiding A Cat-Astrophe

Avoiding A Cat-Astrophe

The practice of brooding day-old chicks has always been enjoyable for our family. Even routine preparations are pleasant and stress-free. However, all of that changed when our two house cats came to live with us. 

One spring afternoon, I prepared my brooder for eight Cochin chicks scheduled to arrive the next day. After a thorough cleaning, I set it on top of an old microwave stand in our utility room. The brooder was a clear plastic storage tub, installed with feeders and a heat lamp. My young daughters loved it, for they could peer eye to eye with the cute little puffballs. 

As I layered the bottom of the tub with pine shavings, my wife walked into the room and casually asked how I planned to keep our cats out of it.  

“The cats!” I remembered aloud, clapping my hand to my forehead. “Uggh!  I forgot all about the cats!” Our daughters had received two kittens the previous Christmas, which had since grown to be quite large and insatiably curious. So much for the preparations being routinely pleasant and stress-free. This time around, they looked to be irksome and nerve-racking.    

In my mind, I could see the helpless chicks being whacked across the tub floor like tiny hockey pucks, amidst the girls’ screams as they watched the devastation unfold right before their eyes. My wife must have experienced similar mental imagery, but she was sure that I would appropriately handle this change in circumstances. “Oh well,” she said with a smile. “You’ll work out a solution.” Having created a few mishaps over the years, I was surprised by her confidence, but I was not about to depose her of it. 

“Absolutely,” I replied, doing my best to put on an air of confidence. “Those eager cats are no match for me.” I had hoped that some great idea would come to mind as she walked away, but such was not the case. As I stood, thoughtfully staring at the tub, there did not seem to be any good options. To brood the chicks somewhere outside would be ideal, but there was no safe space available. Inside the house, the utility room seemed to be the only appropriate one, yet two open entryways made it nearly impossible to keep the cats out.      

I have since learned that there are at least a couple of methods to keep cats away from brooding chicks effectively. Harmless repellents can be sprayed indoors, even directly onto furniture, to keep cats in check. The best method, I later discovered on my own, is to keep the chicken brooder inside a dog crate. However, on that day, my train of thought did not leave the station.   

Fixated on making some form of progress, I resolved to set up the brooder lamp. The procedure is usually quite simple, but that day it only led me farther down the road to disaster. I always attached my heat lamp to one end of a lightweight chain, but when I tried to connect the other end to the ceiling, the ancient hook overhead broke in half. As frustration mounted, I remembered that there was another ceiling hook elsewhere in the house. Positioned above a tight corner between the bathroom and the patio door, it would be a terrible place for the brooder. Access to both the bathroom and the patio was sure to be hampered, but moments later, I wheeled the old microwave stand out of the utility room, down the hall, and into that new location. 

Feeling ill, I turned it every which way, hoping to salvage the use of both doors, but to no avail. Ultimately, I had to choose whether to block the patio door or the bathroom instead. Ensuring access to the bathroom seemed a no-brainer, perfect for my low mental aptitude on that day. Then, in a matter of moments, the lamp was in place, ready to warm the chicks. It was a positive step, but I still had not figured out how to keep the cats away.   

Then, from the dim recesses of my desperate mind, an idea began to form, one so ridiculous and unsightly that I dared not bring it to the forefront. Having considered myself one with moderately good sense, I was dismayed to find that such an absurd design could ever originate in my brain. However, the times were dire, and, still, no other plan had materialized. Feeling rushed and out of options, I allowed myself to flirt with disaster.   

 The next thing I knew, I was walking out the door and in the direction of our shed. As in a dream, I watched myself pick up a large roll of chicken wire, along with some tools, and carry them into the house. I unrolled a 4’-long section and cut it away with my fence pliers. In disbelief, I stretched it across the front of the microwave stand as well as the patio door. Then, picking up my hammer, I pounded long nails into the door trim and bent them over the wire at a 90-degree angle, crudely securing it. The other end of the chicken wire I fastened similarly, leaving sufficient space for entry into the bathroom.   

Finally, after attaching another portion of wire just above it, the formidable fortress reached above the top of the brooder. Taking a step back, I observed with a heavy sigh the profound mess I had made. It was hideous, to be sure, but at least I was confident that it would keep the cats away … and indeed it did.     

Now, as I begin to wrap up this true tale, the reader may wonder about my wife’s reaction to all of this. I had just finished my work when she turned the corner, stopping dead in her tracks. Instantly, her eyes grew large, and her jaw dropped to the floor in speechless awe. She scanned the wire, the nails, and the blocked patio door with fascination. For a moment, I thought that I might receive her approval, but her silence spoke otherwise.   

Fortunately, time heals many wounds. We can now laugh about that preposterous brooding experience as we lounge on the patio that is once again accessible. The brooder, the microwave stand, and indeed the chicken wire are all gone. Only the nail holes in the trim are left, but I don’t point them out.   

Originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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