After losing most of their ornamental pheasant flock to coyotes in the spring, Ponoka County residents Sandy and Barrie Meyer’s remaining birds are now without their coop as well after a fire in the early hours of Dec. 31.
“This year has been hard,” said Sandy.
“We went to great measures to protect our coop and were trying to build up our flock and then this happened. What a way to wrap up 2020.”
Although both Barrie and Sandy work off the acreage and the pheasants were not their main source of income, the loss is still difficult.
“It’s a devastating loss when you come out in the middle of the night and everything’s on fire.”
The aviary, which was about 10 ft wide and 20 ft long, is believed to have caught fire from a heat lamp. The lamp was tightly secured and it’s unlikely it fell over, but it’s possible mice chewed through the wires, causing a short.
Once there was a spark, the straw on the ground was the perfect tinder.
The exact cause was ruled undetermined by the insurance company’s fire investigator.
“I’m just glad no one was hurt and no birds perished in the fire,” she said.
It was their neighbours who noticed the flames at 2:30 a.m. and notified the Meyers. The neighbour’s hay bales for their horses had been stacked on their side of the fence, next to the coop, and they were lost as well.
The Meyers were able to move their birds to keep them safe, so thankfully, none of them were lost in the blaze.
“We were lucky,” said Sandy.
“I just feel horrible for my neighbors and the loss of their hay. I’m so thankful that they noticed the fire at that time of the morning. It could have been so much worse.”
After coyotes decimated the flock, getting away with 20 of their 23 birds, worth $500, the couple added tin with spikes around the perimeter so the predators couldn’t dig underneath.
They started to rebuild, however, and had nine pheasants and two pea hens before the fire.
Although no birds were harmed in the fire, their ringneck male has gone missing and their two lady amherst males won’t come down from a tree on the property.
The Meyers have only tried their hand at raising pheasants for about a year and a half. Before they had chickens, which Sandy says were much easier to care for.
Although she’s not sure what they could have done differently to prevent the fire, she is warning other poultry keepers to check any heat lamps they have frequently and to make sure they are secure and in good repair.
They had last checked their heat lamps at 5:30 p.m. the evening before but didn’t know anything was amiss until they were alerted by their neighbours.
Their flock is now being housed in a smaller shed, huddling together for warmth, as the couple is too scared to have a heat source and risk another potential fire.
Although she hopes they can rebuild, it will all depend on what the insurance will cover and what they can afford.
A gas heater may be a safer option, but a larger building would be needed, and it would be much more expensive.
“I don’t really know exactly what we’re going to do,” she said, although she says the first priority will be repairing the fence.