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Unattended Livestock? (Besides bees)

 
Ken Clark
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I have 12 acres of land about 20 miles from my house. Part of it is our organic vegetable farm, part of it is being rotated into some field crops, part of it is just being left as pasture for now. I could fence part of this land in if needed.

But the problem is that we're only out there once a week. That works OK for vegetables and fine for our bees, but I'm wondering if it there are any animals we could keep out there on that schedule. We'd want them out there for meat and weed control, and because it seems a bit of a waste to have that much land without some animals on it besides woodchucks, raccoons, and deer. (Already hunting those.)

Any suggestions?

Thanks,
Ken in Michigan
 
Tyler Ludens
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My neighbors had hair sheep on their place without care from one weekend to the next, they provided water (automatic waterer on well) and in the winter, an automatic feeder. They had one fatality that I know of when a baby lamb fell in the water tank and drowned. People in this region often run goats, sheep and cattle basically wild on fenced land with just water provided. I've saved a few goats caught in fences, and seen some who weren't saved but who died because they couldn't get free from the wire. So my caution would be make sure you have fencing which won't catch horns, it has to be small enough the animal can't stick its head through.
 
John Polk
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Most range animals need little supervision. You do need to consider whether the pasture has sufficient, and proper feed available throughout the year, and if there is easily accessible water for the critters at all times. Will they have ample shelter from the summer sun, and winter conditions?

During extremes in weather you may need to make special trips there to make certain that all are OK. While they don't require 24/7 baby-sitting, a once per week visit falls below the standards of 'good husbandry', especially if your visits are primarily to tend vegetable gardens. A lot can go wrong in a week's time without proper supervision. If one doesn't have time to properly take care of livestock, I believe that they shouldn't even consider it.



 
Ken Clark
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Ample shelter from sun is no problem - there are trees overhanging our property from the woods next door. I could rig up water. And we certainly could make special trips. We do that for spring planting and some other times. But my concern was that since we aren't going out there that much, there would be a good deal of mayhem they could get into.

What about things other than mammals? It would be better to have something that likes pasture, since we have it, but there are plenty of weed seeds and bugs out there, and I could also rig supplemental feeding for ducks/turkeys/geese. Anyone know of some kind of poultry that could manage with weekly visits? The other nice thing about that is that we would just slaughter the birds in the fall - no need to worry about winter that way.

We've tried the wild animals - deer are out there of course, and I harvest one most years. We put pheasants out there and they promptly took off to neighbors fields. We put in northern bobwhite quail, but I don't think they established. There are woodchucks, some raccoons, and a few rabbits too. I'm just looking for something a tad more reliable than those.

Thanks,
Ken
 
Tyler Ludens
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Poultry are too vulnerable to predators to be left alone, in my opinion and experience. They need daily, or more properly twice daily, care.

 
Ken Clark
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Thanks for the responses! Looks like we'll be sticking with the wild critters and vegetables then.

Ken
 
Jay Green
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Young cattle...weaned off and on grass. Just put them out there to fatten on grass for a couple of years, then butcher....keep what you need, sell the rest of the meat to others to fund getting more calves. Sheep/goats are more vulnerable to coyotes unless left with dogs or donkeys to guard them. With only 12 acres you could put a small amount of weaned calves on that and watch them grow.
 
Ken Clark
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Muscovy ducks? Anyone know anything about them?
 
Jay Green
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Yep...ducks are the first to disappear when left unattended. They cannot fly aloft into trees as easily to escape predators(although I had a Scovie that did at times)...if they can get to water they can swim out into the middle, but they eventually have to come back to land and preds like foxes know that. When left in a mixed flock of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys....the ducks are always the first to get taken by preds.
 
Ken Clark
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Thinking about it some more, I should word this question differently. I have some ecological niches to fill on our organic farm. There should be some ground birds that eat weed seeds and insects, but there are no birds filling that niche. It's too important a niche to leave unfilled.

I introduced pheasants, but they didn't stick around. We hear them calling frequently, but not from our fields. I introduced northern bobwhite quail last fall, but there's no evidence that they are still there. They may not have survived the winter, or they may have wandered too. The farms around us are a real wasteland for natural weed/bug eaters.

So what would you do to fill this niche? The deer will browse the pasture, so that's covered enough. What should I get to eat the weed seeds and insects? If not chickens/ducks/pheasants/quail, then what? I'm willing to go through some trouble to help make it work for them, but I'm much more interested in filling empty niches than worrying about whether a particular animal/species survives in any particular year. In the natural environment, not all animals survive, and if we lose all of them to predators by October, they still will have served their purpose. What should I introduce to fill the ecological hole?

I'm thinking more in permaculture terms than in homesteading terms. If you have a guild missing a member, you attempt to fix that problem. If you fail in your first few attempts, that doesn't mean you give up. You have to figure out a way to fill that hole. The pheasants didn't work out, the quail didn't work out. What should I try next?
 
Dennis Mitchell
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How about just changing the habitat to attract pheasants. Maybe add a pond to attract ducks.
 
Joshua Finch
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What about, in conjunction with what Dennis Miller said, investigating local bird varieties that are known to eat seeds and finding out whether or not they take to man made shelters? You could try building them nesting shelter and start collecting their droppings too.
 
Ken Clark
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According to various sites on pheasants, there's nothing to change. Here's our Michigan DNR:
"After their introduction from China in 1895, it didn’t take long for ring-necked pheasants to become one of Michigan’s most popular wildlife species. Because pheasants thrive in a mix of cropland, hayland, grassland, wetland, and brush, populations exploded in southern Michigan. Much of the farmland in the 1940’s and 1950’s provided outstanding pheasant habitat. At that time, farms had small fields from 10 to 20 acres in size surrounded by brushy fencerows and diverse crop rotations."

Cropland, hayland, grassland, wetland, brush, 10-20 acres with brushy fencerows and diverse rotation - we're the best plot of land in the area, checking all of the boxes. Most of the land in the area is rented, herbicide cleared to just dirt, and planted to monoculture crops. We have year-round forage and cover. 12 acres is a bit small for pheasants, however.

But quail is an even better match, and would be the native bird to fill that niche. I spent over $100 and about three hours of my time driving to pick up the quail. We have what's supposed to be ideal match for quail. We had a nice, mild winter, and I provided supplemental feed all winter. No sign of them now.

Chickens fit that niche about as well. I can get them mail-order for half the price of the quail, with no wasted travel time. If they survive the summer, they eat lots of weed seeds and insects, and we get some chicken for the freezer in the fall. If they don't survive, they eat lots of weed seeds and insects, and we're no worse off than we were with the quail.
 
Dennis Mitchell
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Pheasants have practically disappeared here in my part of the world till last year. Farmers let the corn dry in the field for the first time in many years and we actually have seen rosters again. Chickens should work. I've got a pair of free range Sumatran, and a pair in a chicken tractor. I only move my chicken tractors about once a week anyway, but they do need supplemental feed.
 
Jay Green
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Ken Clark wrote:Thinking about it some more, I should word this question differently. I have some ecological niches to fill on our organic farm. There should be some ground birds that eat weed seeds and insects, but there are no birds filling that niche. It's too important a niche to leave unfilled.

I introduced pheasants, but they didn't stick around. We hear them calling frequently, but not from our fields. I introduced northern bobwhite quail last fall, but there's no evidence that they are still there. They may not have survived the winter, or they may have wandered too. The farms around us are a real wasteland for natural weed/bug eaters.

So what would you do to fill this niche? The deer will browse the pasture, so that's covered enough. What should I get to eat the weed seeds and insects? If not chickens/ducks/pheasants/quail, then what? I'm willing to go through some trouble to help make it work for them, but I'm much more interested in filling empty niches than worrying about whether a particular animal/species survives in any particular year. In the natural environment, not all animals survive, and if we lose all of them to predators by October, they still will have served their purpose. What should I introduce to fill the ecological hole?

I'm thinking more in permaculture terms than in homesteading terms. If you have a guild missing a member, you attempt to fix that problem. If you fail in your first few attempts, that doesn't mean you give up. You have to figure out a way to fill that hole. The pheasants didn't work out, the quail didn't work out. What should I try next?


Why not turkeys?
 
Ken Clark
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Would turkeys work? I'd certainly be willing to consider them. The only problems I could see is that turkeys supposedly like to eat vegetables too(!), and keeping them on our property. The wild turkeys don't seem to care too much about property boundaries. Of course, the pheasants didn't either.

I'll look into turkeys a bit more. For some reason I thought they'd be even more of a problem, but I'll check.
 
Shawn Harper
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I have no personal experience, however, I have heard guineas are pretty low in upkeep requirements, and they can fly.
 
Jay Green
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Ken Clark wrote:Would turkeys work? I'd certainly be willing to consider them. The only problems I could see is that turkeys supposedly like to eat vegetables too(!), and keeping them on our property. The wild turkeys don't seem to care too much about property boundaries. Of course, the pheasants didn't either.

I'll look into turkeys a bit more. For some reason I thought they'd be even more of a problem, but I'll check.


You're not going to find any livestock that won't eat your veggies....that's where fencing comes in handy around your gardens. Certain kinds of domestic turkey will willingly go feral in your wooded areas and even cross breed with the natives. They are victim to the same preds that any other birds will be but they can and will fly to the trees except when they are nesting or have poults. They would adapt to your woodlands way better than chickens, ducks or geese as it is their natural habitat and they thrive on that kind of forage.
 
chris cromeens
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Muscovy ducks do well if they were raised free range, electric net fence moved periodically. Fish take little care. Game chickens do well with little care (sleep in trees, fly as well as pheasant, lay 200+ eggs a year). With good fence, a good dog or donkey any of the grazers would work but like said earlier be prepared to go out there more often than once a week
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ken Clark wrote: If they survive the summer, they eat lots of weed seeds and insects, and we get some chicken for the freezer in the fall. If they don't survive, they eat lots of weed seeds and insects, and we're no worse off than we were with the quail.


Chickens will not survive if there are predators such as racoons or foxes. They would be lucky to survive one week.

There are feral pheasants, chukar and peafowl here in my neighborhood, there are no feral chickens.


 
Ken Clark
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Yes, I've already started reducing the raccoon population. They were getting into the garden to go after something - not vegetables yet, maybe voles or toads. I'll definitely want to trap for foxes.

What breeds of chicken have people tried? The funny thing is that most of the world seems to free-range chickens, but the US doesn't. I know I won't want to have anything to do with cornish cross.

So what we've decided to do at this point is first, try again introducing the quail. But this time, instead of putting out adults that someone else raised in captivity, we're starting with 100 day-old chicks. We'll feed them with initially with commercial mash, but pretty quickly move them to the weed seeds and insects they're going to find at the farm (they'll be kept at our house for the first six weeks.) After the first six weeks, we'll move them to an enclosure out at our farm for another 4-6 weeks, transitioning them from the enclosure to the wild. We'll do our best to provide extra cover options and we'll provide supplemental feed from the game feeders over the winter, like we did last winter. I think we'll just plan to do that every year until a population survives.

Next, we're planning to try guineas in the spring (thanks Shawn - another farmer I talked to here mentioned them too. I hadn't really heard of them until the two of you mentioned them.) Guineas are supposed to be pretty well suited to free-ranging. We're debating turkeys, since they're big enough to fight off some of the predators, and the heritage breeds aren't too far from wild. (Thanks Jay for the suggestion.)

Finally, once the guineas are adults, we're looking into breeds of chicken that are recommended for free-ranging. Don't know if we'll ever pull the trigger on that, because we'll have to give a lot of extra thought to a fox-resistant coop arrangement.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue to trap out the raccoons, and just plan to do it on-going. As long as the buggers are bothering our crops/livestock, I can legally take them out. I'll have to keep an eye out for fox, I'd be surprised if they aren't there. I think fox, area dogs, and coyotes will turn out to be the real problems. I suspect Tyler's right, and even working to keep the predators down, we'll lose most or all of the chickens each year if we try that. But we may end up doing it every year anyway, because the free labor dealing with bugs and weed seeds will end up being worth it. As it is, we're spending much more buying and running equipment to deal with the weeds than the chickens would cost.
 
boon skyler
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thanks Ken for starting this tread, i too want to be able to keep livestock unattended for long period of time. i can rig some things up to provide food/water for them for the period of 2-3 weeks but i have issue with keep my chickens alive. i do have electric fence for the coop area, but some of the chickens flew out but does not know to fly back in. my neighbor said to clip their wings but i want them to gather they own food if they wish to during the day and get back in to the coop at night. i have different issue with ducks, the pond get dirty less then a week, i been tried to flood it out and replace with fresh water from the creek but it become a task to do. goats seem to be keep them self well in the wooded area then again i have not leave them alone for more than a week yet.
 
Devon Olsen
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just from reading the OP and not the rest of the thread, a few paddocks might work great for you if youre only raising for meat, just make sure each is the appropriate size to be moving the birds once a week, about four [paddocks] at this density should work great for your situation i would think
this would take care of food, automatic waterers such as the hanging bucket with a nipple on the bottom could take care of water... as well as maybe having a small, clean pond on each paddock, IF APPLICABLE to your situation
 
Peter Janssen
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Maybe pigeons are good. They collect the water and food mostly by themselve.

I also know somebody who has around 15 chickens in the woods (it is a pretty large forest). He sometimes feeds them to keep them coming back to 1 place but they gather the most food an water by themselve. The breed is sabelpoot chicken. They can protect themselve from smaller predators and also can go in the trees and sleep there some few meters from the ground.
But the density cannot be so high if you only feed them once in a month so if you feed them every week you can have some chickens around without much care.
The little chicks are also much hardier and have a much better instinct (for living in the wilderness but also for being a mother) than those that are breeded by humans.
 
Mike Turner
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One way to protect your ducks from predators if you have a pond or lake is to install floating duck houses out away from the shore.
 
Isaac Hill
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I second guineas.
 
Penny Francis
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Ken,

Whe you brought your quail and any other birds yo tried to introduce to the property, how old were they? I belong to a club that does some conservation work but it's all volunteer. we had the same problem you are having with getting the birds to sta. Recently we had a new member join who advised us to buy them young. I think we got the last batch at 6-12 weeks old? When you get them young (as it was explained to me) they are too scared to venture too far out and they have time to 'imprint' (which I take to mean make this new spot home) before they become more adventurous. It seems to be working as they have now been on the property for about 4 weeks. They usually don't stick around for 4 days! We shall see when they get older and more adventurous if they stick around. We are also holding off hunting any for 2 years and will introduce some young every year until they are self sustaining. We also planted alfalfa at areas around the property near the edges of thick forest (they like the thick growth for safety).
 
Jay Green
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Have you considered Boer goats? Meat and weed control~as per your OP~ with little need for intervention. If you have a coyote or bear problem, just provide protection in the form of a donkey...better than nothing at all and will help keep the weeds down. Fence them away from any trees or shrubs you want to keep intact and just let them condition your meadowlands.

No bird is going to take care of your weed problem and they are the lowest on the food chain when it comes to predators...they will always be a target from all sides...air and land, both small preds and large, whereas the goats will only be a target for your larger preds.
 
Stephen Gibberd
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Mike Turner wrote:One way to protect your ducks from predators if you have a pond or lake is to install floating duck houses out away from the shore.


What about geese and a geese house with it's entrance over a dam? We have plenty of grass, snakes, and foxes. Would the geese stay, defend themselves, and be able to feed themselves sufficiently? The dam is about 25 meters diameter - would they mess up the dam over time?
 
Miles Flansburg
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Interesting thread. I have 11 acres and have also been thinking of introducing some sort of fowl. We only get to the land for one week out of each month so they would have to be really self sufficient. Almost wild. Tell me more about the donkey protecting other animals from coyotes and bears.
 
Devon Olsen
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^i hadnt heard about the ass protecting before (but i dont know much) but i do know a lot of people use llamas to protect their livestock, including a few people ive talked to here in Cheyenne...
 
Julia Weeks-Bentley
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Not without some form of supervision



Ken Clark wrote:I have 12 acres of land about 20 miles from my house. Part of it is our organic vegetable farm, part of it is being rotated into some field crops, part of it is just being left as pasture for now. I could fence part of this land in if needed.

But the problem is that we're only out there once a week. That works OK for vegetables and fine for our bees, but I'm wondering if it there are any animals we could keep out there on that schedule. We'd want them out there for meat and weed control, and because it seems a bit of a waste to have that much land without some animals on it besides woodchucks, raccoons, and deer. (Already hunting those.)

Any suggestions?

Thanks,
Ken in Michigan
 
David Livingston
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Hefting anyone?

Hefting is a traditional method of managing flocks of sheep on large areas of common land and communal grazing. Initially, sheep had to be kept in an unfenced area of land by constant shepherding. Over time this has become learned behaviour, passed from ewe to lamb over succeeding generations. Lambs graze with their mothers on the “heaf” belonging to their farm instilling a life long knowledge of where optimal grazing and shelter can be found throughout the year.

I know that its also done with weathers in the lake district UK.

David
 
Guerric Kendall
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Poultry are too vulnerable to predators to be left alone, in my opinion and experience. They need daily, or more properly twice daily, care.


May I ask what sort of care you are referring to? :/

Almost every creature has it's own environment.


Chickens need a forest; trees to hide from ground predators, and bushes to hide from hawks.
Ducks need a pond with a covered raft or other floating isle where they can hide.
Geese need good grass to graze in. The medium or light breeds can survive, given their ferocity towards predators.
Turkeys, the lighter breeds, of course, can forage almost as well as chickens, and given a little while, can survive on their own.

Thick stands of white pine should be given to all of these creature to hide from the rain and snow.
 
Adam Klaus
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I left my chickens unattended for seven weeks last fall. The door to their house was wide open. They foraged for feed in the garden, after everything was harvested for us. They drank water from the creek.

I didnt know how it would go. Many of my friends expressed their doubts. I came home mid-November and all my hens were perfectly fine. No problems at all.

I knew the cows would be fine, but the success with the chickens was a real confidence boost.

Of course, a lot could have gone wrong. But it didnt. This was just one experiment, but I was pretty pleased. Vacation is a joy.
 
John Polk
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For Bobwhite Quail habitat and management, the Univ. of Missouri puts out an excellent series of publications.
Here is a great overview, and the 'Resources' at the end will direct you to more good info.

Bobwhite Quail Management

 
Julia Weeks-Bentley
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The Chickens did what came natural. I do provide plenty of clean water but your experiment shows what happens when you let things do what comes naturally. I gotta tell you though, I would have shad someone come in daily to check the animals LOL



Adam Klaus wrote:I left my chickens unattended for seven weeks last fall. The door to their house was wide open. They foraged for feed in the garden, after everything was harvested for us. They drank water from the creek.

I didnt know how it would go. Many of my friends expressed their doubts. I came home mid-November and all my hens were perfectly fine. No problems at all.

I knew the cows would be fine, but the success with the chickens was a real confidence boost.

Of course, a lot could have gone wrong. But it didnt. This was just one experiment, but I was pretty pleased. Vacation is a joy.
 
Marsha Richardson
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In the United States, try to find some American Pit Game chickens, the kind that they fight in cock fights. We get to our property weekly, sometimes every two weeks. The game chickens are wild and free. They fly very well and roost 75 feet up in oak or pine trees and forage for their feed. We do throw scratch grains out for them whenever we are there and they appreciate it. That being said, everything eats chickens - raccoons, opposums, skunks, hawks, owls, feral cats, neighborhood dogs, bears (we have had a problem this year). The game hens hatch out their own broods in the spring and often again in the summer. We keep trapping out coons, possums, etc. but not a lot can be done about owls and hawks. Once they find the birds they will keep coming back until they have caught them all. We also have chickens in fortified brood pens with automatic feeders and waterers. When they hatch a brood, some of them venture into the wild and have a grand time. You must also be aware that chickens will devastate a garden, eating new plants emerging, scratching up young plants, will eat ALL the ripe red tomatoes, berries, cabbages and squash. If they can fly well enough to escape predators, they can fly over your garden fence. In the winter, the young roosters will mature and if you don't eat them (you will have to shoot them since you will not be able to get near them), will begin fighting until there are none left. Old English Bantam chickens are also very self sufficient and not nearly so destructive. Dark colored ones seems to avoid predators better. They also fly like eagles. I keep chickens though because I love them and enjoy watching them - they can be very destructive though.

It is very easy to encourage native wild birds to hang about and eat insects. If they have nesting places they will harvest many insects for their young. We have perches on tall poles in several places in our garden and the birds use them to launch attacks on insects in the garden. Brush piles provide habitat for predatory wasps and wasps are encouraged to help with cabbage loopers and such. They really hunt among the cole veggies for the caterpillars for their nests.
 
Julia Weeks-Bentley
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I agree, everything eats something and it really is chance....lose some, save some. I guess for me it is worth the risk (as most things are) I do have dogs who wonder about my property with the chickens so I am sure it helps with predators. I have yet to lose any...but am always keeping a weary eye out.


Marsha Richardson wrote:In the United States, try to find some American Pit Game chickens, the kind that they fight in cock fights. We get to our property weekly, sometimes every two weeks. The game chickens are wild and free. They fly very well and roost 75 feet up in oak or pine trees and forage for their feed. We do throw scratch grains out for them whenever we are there and they appreciate it. That being said, everything eats chickens - raccoons, opposums, skunks, hawks, owls, feral cats, neighborhood dogs, bears (we have had a problem this year). The game hens hatch out their own broods in the spring and often again in the summer. We keep trapping out coons, possums, etc. but not a lot can be done about owls and hawks. Once they find the birds they will keep coming back until they have caught them all. We also have chickens in fortified brood pens with automatic feeders and waterers. When they hatch a brood, some of them venture into the wild and have a grand time. You must also be aware that chickens will devastate a garden, eating new plants emerging, scratching up young plants, will eat ALL the ripe red tomatoes, berries, cabbages and squash. If they can fly well enough to escape predators, they can fly over your garden fence. In the winter, the young roosters will mature and if you don't eat them (you will have to shoot them since you will not be able to get near them), will begin fighting until there are none left. Old English Bantam chickens are also very self sufficient and not nearly so destructive. Dark colored ones seems to avoid predators better. They also fly like eagles. I keep chickens though because I love them and enjoy watching them - they can be very destructive though.

It is very easy to encourage native wild birds to hang about and eat insects. If they have nesting places they will harvest many insects for their young. We have perches on tall poles in several places in our garden and the birds use them to launch attacks on insects in the garden. Brush piles provide habitat for predatory wasps and wasps are encouraged to help with cabbage loopers and such. They really hunt among the cole veggies for the caterpillars for their nests.
 
Aj Anderson
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Ken, another year has gone by. How did you fair this year? Did you try one of these suggestions for poultry or livestock? Some other solution?

AJ
Also in Michigan.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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