Chickens love to be outside. They get a thrill from free-ranging in the yard and garden. They love to explore, scratch in the grass and hide under large plantings for afternoon naps. However, sometimes it is not feasible for the chicken to be allowed to roam freely where they want to go. The reasons are many, including when you are not home or on vacation, poor weather conditions, and nearby predators. It is always a good idea to have a safe run enclosure for the chickens attached to their chicken coop even if they don’t use it very often. When considering design, one of the most important things that you want to think about is how to predator proof the run. Here are some of the things I did when I designed my chicken coop and run.
This past spring, one of my newest sponsors, Omlet, sent me one of their chicken fencing kits. Having moved to a new place with more predators and more areas for the girls to get into trouble, they quickly realized that they had a solution to one of my very essential problems. Despite supervising their free-ranging, I was yearning for a way to keep my girls contained in a single area while I could continue to work in the yard nearby. My problem was solved when their fencing arrived on my doorstep.
Yesterday, the girls were tormented by a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk for a few hours. Either myself or one of the contractors would chase it away, only to find it returned and perched upon the coop. Finally, I had remembered something that I had seen and learned about from Terry Golson during her Chicken Workshop. She had strung old CDs across her pullets’ open top run to ward off flying predators. It had worked beautifully.
My neighbor called me today and told me of an animal he saw in his backyard yesterday around 3pm in the afternoon. At first glance, he thought that it was a ferret, as it moves very similarly. However, it was the size of a raccoon. My worst fears were confirmed. I had seen them in the night but never in the day. I never thought that I would have to worry about them during the day, but apparently, this one was out hunting bunnies in my neighbor’s yard. It was a fisher cat in broad day light in the middle of the day.
Known to be vicious members of the wolverine that can even eat and kill porcupines, the only real threat to this animal is man. They tear through chicken wire with their sharp claws. Eat through wood and love poultry. My worst nightmare has come true. I am a nervous wreck. I wonder if an electric fence would work?
For more information about fisher cats, click here.
Terrible news has come from across town. Three chicken coops have been invaded by a weasel and the flocks had been wiped out. I got news yesterday from Viola that her flock was attacked in the night. She had a mixed flock of about 20 girls. Only 3 escaped harm. When she arrived at her coop, she noticed bodies and feathers everywhere. Thankfully, the children were not home. Not knowing what to do or where to start, she ran to her neighbor’s house.
Together, they began to clean up the coop and run. As she was picking up the bodies, she had discovered that her beloved rooster, Dusky, was still barely alive. Slowly dying, she held him. He was probably responsible for saving the lives of her three remaining girls, her Hamburg and two buff Orpington pullets. Dusky had always had a sweet spot in Viola’s heart and now, he was near the end. He passed on as Viola was desperately trying to reach her husband and physician friend to help ease Dusky’s transition.
Thoughts are that the same weasel is responsible for Viola’s tragedy. The birds were left, no bodies were taken. As I have been talking with Viola, she believes that the weasel was able to access the chickens through their pop-up door. You see, Viola and her family are moving a few streets away. She had been busily setting the new coop at her new location and the old home is now vacant except for the chickens out back. The dog is away and so are her cats. They are already at the new house. The night of the attack, she did not lock the girls up.
Viola’s loss is a terrible reminder on how important it is to lock-up our flocks and do our best to prevent predators. Weasels can be tough. Even with doors locked, they can fit through 1 inch openings. Please take the time today to examine and investigate any tiny openings in and around your coop and run that you have been meaning to fix. Your flock’s life may depend on it.
Today, I am helping Viola to rebuild her flock. Her remaining girls are safe in her garage. She is taking the Hamburg to the vet today for a foot injury that most likely occurred in the invasion. She is placing an order for new chicks and we will be taking a visit over to my friend’s farm where she raises Silkies. I am happy to be there for Viola who inspired me to take the first step on my own adventures with backyard chickens.
|Cooper’s Hawks, like this one, used to be called|
“chicken hawks” in the days of the early settlers.
Are you nervous to let your flock free range for a number of reasons? I too find that I need to supervise the girls whenever they are out. Here on Cape Cod, we have many predators including fisher cats, coyotes, raccoons, fox, hawks and weasels. I find it entirely sad when my chickens come to the run door and ask to go outside. They come and snuggle with me and sometimes the little Silkies pop out between my legs! However, I usually cannot let them out unless I have about an hour to give to them while I babysit, standing by on predator watch. The other issue that I have is that not all of the chickens are as easy to catch. In the past, I have spent over 3 hours trying to catch a rouge chicken. As the days get longer, it is nice that the flock has so much daylight. In fact, it seems to be getting dark around 8 pm lately. At that time, the girls go into the coop and roost for the night.
Well the flock will be one year old in June. We have survived our first Northeast Winter and we just just hatched our own eggs. I think it is now time that I write the final chapter in my guide to raising chickens. I’ve touched upon these topics now and then with some of the blogs over the past few months. For some of these topics, I am going to refer to previous posts as added references for you. I am by no means an expert in keeping chickens. I am also positive that I am not going to cover all the ins and outs of keeping backyard chickens. However, I do know what I have discovered along our journeys and I am happy to share them with you.
|Don’t worry Mom, it was only a dream!|
Last night both kids were up at various intervals of the evening. One was up with a dry hacking cough, the other kept wanting tissues to blow their nose. It was also a night when I had a very strange, weird and disturbing dream that I actually can remember.
Chicken predators have been on my mind an awful lot lately. I have been seeing more road kill these days and I know the wild animals are hungry. They are taking risks. Their food supplies are running low and I think they are hoping for Spring’s arrival more than myself.
It was an culmination of dream styles. It was in color. It was an opera, stop animation and at the same time, felt real. A raccoon was after my chickens. The coop was now in my backyard next to a swing set on AstroTurf. It was nighttime. If I had to guess somewhere between dinner and bedtime. I saw a raccoon skulking around my coop. I watched from the door. Strangely, I did not do anything. I did not try to scare it away. In fact, the dream jumped ahead. Suddenly, I felt anxiety. I ran to the door. The light was off. I turned on the light. Both side coop doors were open. Pine shavings were strewn all over the ground and there I saw Sunshine maimed in a very cartoonish way; whimpering. My eyes were then drawn to the hill. The raccoon was now very cartoonish. Sitting on his rump, Tilly dangled from her neck in his tightly clutched hands. He was singing to her. His eyes were dancing. Then to the racoon’s left, I saw the rest of the flock huddled together, alive but still as stone statues…
I was abruptly awoken at this point. Someone needed a tissue. I returned to bed and lay there thinking, should I do more to predator proof the flock? Maybe I should reinforce the latches.
Last night when I arrived home, it was around 5:30pm. The flock was in for the night. Quickly, I refilled the water bowl for inside the coop, slid it in and tried to shut the door. Oyster Cracker came off the roost to see what I was doing. Unfortunately, the chickens can’t see well in the dark and she was so confused. Interestingly enough, as I peered into the coop to try and settle Oyster Cracker back onto the roost, I noticed that the sleeping positions on the roosts had changed.
Usually on the front roost, I find Oyster Cracker next to Sunshine; next to her is Tilly then Chocolate. Well tonight was different for some reason. All four silkies and Tilly were on the front roost with Chocolate. Six were so tightly squeezed together that I wondered how they could be comfortable. However, apparently they were. They were all nuzzled and fluffed up together fast asleep. I finally locked them inside and rechecked all the doors for security. I find it funny that instinct tells us to do certain things. I am not sure why I did that, but now I know. My intuition was trying to tell me something.
Around 2 am, I awoke from a very deep sleep. I heard some sort of eerie yelling noise. I heard it again. It was a high pitched howl coming from the side of our house near our bedroom. There was no mistaking what I had heard. We had a visitor; a coyote again. I leapt out of bed and put the lights on in the front and the back of the house. I heard the howl again but from the other side of the house. I checked on the coop through the window. All the doors were closed. I did not hear the rooster so, I assumed that they were all safely locked inside. In fact, they were probably sleeping unaware of their unexpected guest.
I looked all around the yard and never did see the coyote. I waited for about 5 minutes and then I turned off the lights and went back to bed. My heart was still beating like crazy. I laid there. In the distance, I could hear the coyote howling. It was gone but my mind was awake. Finally after what seemed an eternity, I did doze back off to sleep. When I went outside this morning, there were no signs of the visitor. My chickens happily came out into the run and started to scratch in the dirt and it was just like nothing ever happened.
I knew that it would happen eventually. I’m not actually saying that this happened for the first time yesterday. I just happened to see it. Both kids were home sick with that horrible cough that sounds like a barking seal. The little one also had pink eye. Needless to say, instead of braving the crowds and getting a little more shopping done, I was on home arrest, noticing every little dirty thing, clutter, and feeling like I was waiting on two little members of royalty during their recuperation.
If I do say so myself, we have a really nice set-up for feeding the wild birds in the winter. Our set-up allows the birds to have a smorgasbord of sunflower seeds, nyger seeds and suet all at the same time. However, the best part of the arrangement is that it is completely squirrel proof! This is entirely another whole blog entry as it took us two years to perfect.
So yesterday, as I was emptying out the dishwasher, I caught a large bird sitting on top of the feeder’s arched pole. At first, I though maybe it was a blue jay. No, it seemed a little bigger. Maybe it was a large woodpecker that we typically get; like a flicker or a hairy woodpecker. No, it was bigger than that. As I walked over, it dawned on me; it was a hawk.
My husband happens to be a birder, so I have become pretty familiar with the local birds that visit our yard. I knew that it was either a red tail hawk or a Cooper’s hawk. Upon closer inspection, based on the size, tail pattern and breast coloration, it was definitely a Cooper’s hawk!
I was shocked that it was just sitting there. Of course, the feeders were all empty except for the rotund happy squirrel on the ground gathering the discards in his cheeks. I was surprised that the hawk did not go for the squirrel. I was even more surprised that the squirrel seemed to know that the hawk didn’t want him. You see, Cooper’s hawks love chicken. In fact, early colonial settlers called them chicken hawks. Apparently, the squirrel and the hawk knew something tastier was in the yard.
The hawk flew from the top of the feeder pole to a rustic chair that I have on the front lawn. It sat and glared over at the chicken coop. It was only 14 degrees yesterday due to the Alberta clipper we were experiencing and I am sure that he was hungry. I’m not sure if the flock saw him. They were not free ranging yesterday, as it was even a little chilly for them. They spent most of the day in their coop coming out in the run for water, scratching a little then returning inside. He sat perched on top of the chair for about five minutes and just as I thought to grab the camera, turn it on and line up the shot, he flew away.
I had seen hawks circling over the yard. I had seen hawks fly over the yard. I now know that they know about the chickens. I am sure that they will be back knowing a chicken buffet exists in our yard. In fact, I thought that I would have seen one in the yard sooner. This was my close encounter with a chicken predator. I’m sorry Mr. Hawk, for now, something else will have to be on your menu.