Raising Chickens, Part VII: Predation!

Unless I luck out prior to posting items and can have my own photos; however the photos here of most predators are from public domain sources (usually Wikipedia).  Although maybe if I actually see one on my property I’m not so lucky?

chickens, homesteading, hawk, predators, predation

Hawk, circling overhead, with an eye on my coop. He was up there quite a while.  (But not long enough for me to remember to grab the telephoto lens.)  Ended up not being a threat.

Here I will discuss fencing and watching your flock.  At the moment of posting, I’ve not lost any poultry to predation (knock very HARD on wood).   None free-ranged until July of 2018, however.  Many people in my area have lost a severe amount of chickens due to predation, so I should not relax my guard!  I will also discuss potential predators possible in my area of Zone 5 New England.  Since so far I haven’t lost any – this does NOT mean I don’t need to make further improvements.  Sometimes it’s a matter of chance.

Major Potential Mammalian Predators

predator fox crossing

Predator fox

The Fox:   Where I live, this is probably the most common non-avian predator, although raccoons are also pretty interested.   Foxes are carnivores.  I’ve seen a few of these beautiful animals strolling along roadsides up here.  Indeed, they are stunning to look at, but I don’t want them drooling at my chickens!  They come out any time of day they choose.

The Raccoon:  I’ve seen their tracks, and their scat, on my property.  Once last summer I came home with chicken feed in the car, left the stuff in the car overnight, and since I’d been driving on a really hot day, one of my car windows was left an inch or so open.  The next morning my car was covered with raccoon tracks as one or more tried to force a way in.  Thankfully, it didn’t happen, but now I make sure the feed gets into the house, or at least down to the chicken bin, before nightfall.  And yeah, if the car isn’t garaged for whatever reason, the windows are SHUT.  Raccoons are omnivores, and they do have a taste for eggs.  They are nocturnal, but I’d suspect any you see in daylight stand a good chance of being rabid.

Fisher cat, public domain photo

FIsher Cat (Martes pennanti). Photo public domain, New York State.  One of these ran across the road while I was driving back in November; about 3 miles from my farmstead.

The Fisher Cat:  This is not a cat, but is in the weasel and mink family.   The one I saw was about the size of a small coyote.  They can be very nasty.  As you can see, they’re pretty adept at climbing.  While they’re not a lot of them, they make up for the lack of numbers in persistence and agility.

The Coyote:  I’ve learned there up here, though I have yet to see sight of one.  Being as I’ve heard them at night back down in my less rural Connecticut, I’m sure a few range around here as well.  Being a larger animal than a fox, there will be less of them per square mile.  But, they like (just like the rest of us, practically) a good dish of chicken.  Coyotes are pretty strong, and will try to dig under the run or coop if they can, to get in.  They’re nocturnal.  My run is protected underneath.  This particular summer/fall, they’ve been singing a lot.

The Bobcat:  As adults, they’re pretty much loners and roamers, so there will be even less of them per square mile than the coyotes.  The above photo is one I managed to snag of one sauntering across my back yard down in Connecticut a few years back.  He was easily twice the size of the 18 pound housecat that was at that moment sitting on my sofa.  They love poultry.

The Skunk:  I haven’t seen or smelt any sign of skunk in my region of Massachusetts, but I’m not going to say there aren’t any.  Maybe ours don’t like letting loose with their scent glands as frequently!  I’m sure they are here.  Their favorite is the eggs, but they can certainly kill the chickens, too.  They’re nocturnal.

The Opossum:  I haven’t seen signs of these here, either.  They mostly content themselves with eggs and younger (smaller) chickens.

Homesteading, predation, black bear

Photo by Harvey Barrison, CC By SA 2.0, via Wikipedia. My photo adaptions: resizing and cropping. This black bear (Ursus americanus) is eating berries. They love berries and apples!  I know they’re in my woods.

The Black Bear:  While they hibernate in the winter, and they’re usually not a problem with chickens (more often hunting down your trash or bird feeders), it does pay to keep an eye out.  They’ll be more after my apple trees and any honey I may be producing here in the future, however.   They’re probably the most mellow of the bears in the bear world, still, don’t get between Mama and cub if you value your physical health.  They’ll hibernate during winter but they’ve known to get up on occasion.  (Yeah, I can get restless, too…)

The Neighborhood Dogs:  These can be packs of wild dogs, or an improperly-contained dog or three that your neighbors may own.  Or your own pooch — if you don’t watch, train, or control him or her properly.  No one in my immediate area has a dog, or at least one that is allowed to roam far enough or bark loud enough that I know that he even exists.  Dogs may want to “play” with chickens, or outright kill them.  I have a friend in Virginia who had dogs that if they got into the wrong part of the yard, would lick chickens to death if not caught in time.  (Too much lovin’ is a dangerous thing.)

The Neighbors???:  Hopefully not.  Around these parts I haven’t heard of any livestock-motivated criminal trespass.

Dealing with Mammalian Predators of Poultry

You have several options:

  • A large enough coop and enclosed run you don’t let them outside.  Of course, then they don’t get the benefits of free ranging grubs and grasses and whatever else they thrive on.  (In the winter with snow cover around here, they won’t get those bennies either,  and I wasn’t able to let them out (nor did they want to walk on snow).   However they may get bored… I had a couple birds “hen-pecked” by late February.  To keep them safe from animals that may burrow underneath — you can have wire going all the way under the coop, or you can dig down say 8 inches or so and place protective wire there.  By the way, chicken wire is essentially useless.  Too thin, too many gaps for small inquisitive predator hands!  You really really want a stronger gauge wire!
  • A chicken tractor.  This is more practical with a hen house that does not have a coop with a set of laying boxes.  Everything you add to the tractor adds weight.  You can adapt a motorized tractor or UTV to pull the thing around, however.  Another problem that one YouTube homesteader had to address was his extremely hilly grounds, so he found other options.  I used this last year for my broilers.  The hen house, however, ain’t movin’ nowhere!
  • Electronet fencing.  This won’t do much with snow on the ground, but is highly effective against predators during the rest of the year.  Some birds will however fly out over the top (Celeste, my rescue hen, has been known to fly up onto my shoulder, and I’m six feet tall.)  Electronet for chickens is typically sold at 4 foot heights.  {But, look into wing clipping.  You can clip one wing (it would just be feathers and won’t hurt the chicken as would, say, declawing your cat).  Learn online via videos how to do it right…} Buy enough fencing that you can move it around as the chickens will rapidly kill off the growth surrounding your coop.   The fencing works on solar with self-contained batteries.  I’m still working out the details for here.
  • Let them free-range (daytime only).  I did this last year for the layers.  They went home at night, or whenever I knew I was going to be away from the house for more than an hour.  I also have a rooster for them – roosters WILL protect their harem.  He’s even taken to attacking me sometimes when they are outside the run/coop.  (If yours does that, stand your ground.  You wanna be Boss Roo.)  This year, I’m setting up the electronet.

During the day, the major concern is the fox, hereabouts in my region of the planet.

Major Potential Avian Predators

 

Homesteading, barred owl, chicken predation

Absolutely a beautiful bird. This image of a barred owl (Strix  varia) came from Wikipedia via Peter K Burian, CC By SA 4.0 — no changes to the image other than sizing.

The Owl:  Primary owl predators that just love chicken around here are – the great horned owl (bubo virginianus) and the barred owl.  Owls are nocturnal, get your poultry back into their coop or enclosed run and coop before nightfall.  If you follow this primary common sense procedure, you should NOT ever have to worry.  Your chickens will want to roost at night, anyway, and there should never be a need for them to free range 24/7.  You can find out more about owls residing in this region via the Audubon Society.  I’d be more worried about the great horned owl than the barred owl – due to sheer size of the former.  The barred owl will most likely be satisfied with young, very immature chickens.  I really love the call of the barred owl, which I’ve only heard a couple times to date at my home.  Owls, to repeat, are nocturnal, and my chickens are safe at night.  There’s typically no reason not to enclose your flock at night.  They wanna roost anyways…

hawk, chicken, poultry, predator, predation, homesteading

The Hunger Games.

The Hawk:  Primary hawk predators around here include the Accipitors:  sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, and northern goshawk.  Also the Buteos:  The red shouldered hawks, broad winged hawks and the red-tailed hawks.

Hawks are diurnal, they thrive in daytime.   And, alas, they can swoop down from air above, make a raiding run, and take off with your prized Henrietta from your well-enclosed outdoor run.  (They might well also make off with your cat or small dog, too..,  Depends on species and size.)

Dealing with Air Strikes from Above

First thing you need to know – you cannot set about to kill ANY hawk or owl or other raptor anywhere in the United States.  Federal statute.  Fines and prison time.  Totally illegal.  No excuses accepted.  Your defenses have to remain that:  Defense without Offense.  Even if hawks wiped out half your flock.  Sorry, Charlie.  You can’t even displace them; this is also illegal.

Since your poultry is diurnal and owls are nocturnal, chickens can be gotten into their coops with those roosts they sleep upon available.  Yes, this won’t help guinea fowl who are harder to herd back indoors, but I’ll deal with this if I do eventually get my planned guinea fowl.  Right now, it’s chickens…

For one, I’d not let the hens free range until they got used to the idea of going home at night.  This can be from their immediate run.  They do get to know where they roost, and when dusk falls… they pretty much have a thought to elevating themselves appropriately.  Still, this may take a week.  Or two.  I also use the Bribery Technique.  (I do understand that if you are raising Cornish Cross meat birds, they’ve lost much of that roosting instinct.  I don’t plan on getting these.)  Much as I’d love my chickens to eat nearly entirely a foraging diet other than in winter, they really do like some grains, and shaking the container they associate with Awesome Treats/Foods will call them home.  Mine actually recognize the container I use any time I give them store-bought feed.  Chickens are not entirely dumb, at least when it comes to following the dinner bell.  (They don’t seem to understand the protective wiring in place from the far side of the run when they see food on the near side… that’s an interesting thing.  Finding doors… this doesn’t come naturally!)  But these girls really don’t have “bird brains”!

As for the hawks:

homesteading, chickens, poultry, predator, predation, hawk

Fly free! But please, please, fly away!

Some people run fishing line or ribbons over their open-air runs / electronet.  Some people hang up old shiny silvery CDs or DVDs in strategic spots.  Some rely on that rooster (if you can have one) to protect the flock.  A mature rooster is not going to cotton to a hawk taking one of his ladies without at the very least raising a noisy ruckus.

I’ve been told that hawks that have learned about crows or ravens (who really do fight back and make very unsuitable prey) may interpret black chickens for crows and leave them alone, preferring food that doesn’t counterstrike.  I had four black broilers last summer, and two black Australorpes among the future laying hens.  And there are a number of real crows who live around here.  I believe this had to have helped in retrospect.  Also, light colored birds are easier to pick out among the grasses, but having some potential “crows” around sounds like a good plan to help protect the others.

homesteading, poultry, chickens, predators, predation, hawks

Pterodactyl heritage!


PS, baby chicks here never go outdoors.  I figure at least a month old before I let them out.  And later, depending on breed.  Besides, they need warmth as they mature.  (Broilers mature faster, so keep that in mind.)

PPS, should the worst happen and a predator get a hold of one or more of your chickens – remove the dead birds, if parts are still present – you can bury them, put them deep down in compost, or however you choose.  However, with a severely injured chicken – well, this is one reason I learned last summer how to harvest or euthanize a chicken.  It wasn’t only for knowing about filling my freezer.  You do want to do this as swiftly and painlessly as possible.  I seriously recommend finding someone who can show you how in person (their own broilers if you’ve no plans on having meat birds yourself) for the first time.  There are YouTube videos, and those are often good, but there’s nothing like having a human next to you who can take over if need be for that first time.

[Editing Notes]:  This summer I did lose one young cockerel, presumably to a hawk as there were no feathers anywhere showing a fox-chicken struggle.  Only the one taken.  Since that particular event, I did have another hawk come circling down around my chickens, with an eye for his/her dinner.  I happened to see this raptor while looking out my kitchen window.  I ran out to the deck as the hawk settled down on a boulder overlooking the treats…  and somehow spontaneously I emitted a low and loud owl-like cry.  He /  she vacated to the woods!  No harm to the hawk, no harm to my poultry!  Raptors are lovely and gorgeous birds, so I very much appreciate why they are protected species.


Past Posts in this Series:

  1. Raising Chickens Part I: Intro & Overview
  2. Raising Chickens Part II: Welcoming Baby Chicks
  3. Raising Chickens Part III: Trekking to My Chickens in Zone 5 Winter
  4. Raising Chickens Part IV: My Chicken Run and Coop
  5. Raising Chickens Part V: The Bin, or Storage at Your Coop
  6. Raising Chickens Part VI: Feeding Those Layers
  7. Raising Chickens Part VII: Predation!
  8. Raising Chickens Part VIII: Is Organic the Way to Go?

Future Posts:

  • Medical supplies and treatments for your chickens.
  • Broody or Not?
  • Recommended book, magazine and online sources for chicken learning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

About goatsandgreens

The foodie me: Low/no gluten, low sugars, lots of ethnic variety of foods. Seafood, offal, veggies. Farmers' markets. Cooking from scratch, and largely local. The "future" me: I've now moved to my new home in rural western Massachusetts. I am raising chickens (for meat and for eggs) and planning for guinea fowl, Shetland sheep, and probably goats and/or alpaca. Possibly feeder pigs. Raising veggies and going solar.
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7 Responses to Raising Chickens, Part VII: Predation!

  1. Pingback: Raising Chickens, Part VIII: Is Organic the Way to Go? | Of Goats and Greens

  2. Pingback: Raising Chickens, Part II: Welcoming Baby Chicks | Of Goats and Greens

  3. Pingback: Raising Chickens, Part I (Intro & Overview) | Of Goats and Greens

  4. Pingback: Raising Chickens Part VI: Feeding Those Layers | Of Goats and Greens

  5. Pingback: Raising Chickens, Part V: The Bin, or Storage at Your Coop | Of Goats and Greens

  6. Pingback: Raising Chickens, Part III: Trekking to My Chickens in Zone 5 Winter | Of Goats and Greens

  7. Pingback: Raising Chickens Part IV: My Chicken Coop and Run | Of Goats and Greens

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