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Managing the threat to free range chickens from hawks, foxes, and other predators  RSS feed

 
Posts: 13
Location: Howard County, Maryland
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There are lots of hawks in our neck of the woods. We have five acres without any substantial barrier to the rural community around us. We're about to start raising chicks. I would like to free range the chickens within and around our property. I've seen several hawks and a few foxes on our property. We don't have a livestock guardian dog or fencing yet. I plan on getting a coop and securing the ladies every night. Am I naive to think that they'll be fine on their own during the day? Or is free ranging them just putting up a buffet for local predators? Will I need to give up on free ranging and keep them in a chicken tractor or portable fence system constantly? Portable fences also don't seem like they will help manage the threat from hawks. I'm sure this problem has been addressed millions of times. Anybody got any effective, low-cost solutions?

Thanks in advance,
Dan
 
Posts: 19
Location: Texas
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I am very interested in an answer to this as well. I have not been able to free range due to losing my girls to coyotes and possums and hawks. I was wondering if outcomes would be better with electic fencing. Right now I have them in a fully enclosed coop with fencing evem over the top and haven't lost any since they went in, but I am sprouting grains, cutting fresh hay a couple of times weekly and feeding scraps and feed. I would like to do less work when I move and am thinking of tractoring the girls
 
Posts: 1947
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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In my experience, living in a place with many predators, free ranging is a managed buffet for predators. Having a rooster helps, only letting them out under supervision helps, but it is a dangerous world out there and chicken is delicious.

It is frustrating.
 
steward
Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Protecting from birds of prey:

Chicks are very vulnerable to hawks, owls, etc.
Once they are adult sized, the risk is greatly lowered.

Having a rooster (or 2) amongst the flock is wise in free range situations.
The hens are interested in what they can find on the ground, so that is where their eyes are focused.
The roosters are the ones looking skywards. They will sound the alarm when needed.

The birds need cover to hide under. Bird netting is expensive, and difficult to keep moving.
Also, the hens will not recognize it as protection.
Having a tarp raised 12-18 inches above ground gives them a visible sanctuary to run to in times of danger.

You can get a 7'4" x 9'6" tarp from Harbor Freight for $4.99
Make a quick framework to elevate it from 2x2s, or PVC pipe.

 
gardener
Posts: 705
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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We use portable shelters for all our chickens because of the flying predators. The shelters are ~10 X 12', are on wheels, and contain all the necessary infrastructure like feed, water, perches and nest-boxes hung from the supports, but it is still a major job to move the fleet every day! (My partner keeps expanding and is up to 5 shelters - we keep the hens in groups of about 18 with one rooster in each shelter.)
I would like to move to more of a rotational paddock system and the things I've seen or read that seem to make a big difference are:
1. Chicks are an absolute magnet - worse than adults - but if the chicks are raised totally enclosed they aren't going to learn either, so having at least some portable shelters as "brooders" would help!
2. Chicks raised by good moms have much more sense than hatchery chicks. In the past I've tried putting a pair of "Auntie" retired chickens in with hatchery chicks but this only helps up to a point. If I were to get to the paddock system, I would definitely want to start with good moms.
3. Include a lot of "hidey holes" the birds can run to when the alarm is raised.
4. Do anything you can to make it more dangerous for the predators - like fishing line strung between trees to interrupt flight paths - and move them around and change them as the predators adapt to the obstacles.
5. Having at least some small paddocks that are fully protected with fencing which you can use as "protective custody" when losses seem to jump and you haven't figured out who the culprit is or how to deal with the issue. (Eg. Following a mink attack at a friend's place, I put her few surviving birds in protective custody at my place. The housing wasn't ideal, but better than the alternative and I knew they'd go home in 3-4 weeks after things were dealt with.)
Alternatively, consider doing what we're doing, but don't get too big. One or two shelters for a total of 30 to 36 birds moved daily will add a lot of "fertilizer" well spread out that the worms adore, but may give you a little income and food while working on the bigger plan for the 5 acres that can include designs to thwart predators and a dog!
 
Posts: 44
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A good German Shepherd does wonders! You just need to make sure she knows not to eat the chickens. Ours keeps out EVERYTHING. Squirrels, deer, rabbits, coons, foxes, etc. She even tangled with coyotes one night. She was limping the next few days, but they didn't come back.

Couldn't be any happier with Katie on many levels.

-TH
 
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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I agree, you need a good dog. That will work wonders on any walking critters. Turkeys are pretty good at fending off hawks, especially if they were raised together with chicks. I've heard stories about a few turkeys beating a hawk nearly to death.

Some breeds are much more stupid than others. A few game birds or Easter Eggers will warn the others when they see danger and send them all running for cover. In my experience they are the smartest and most alert. Tho even with them they sometimes learn by seeing a friend die, so there have to be enough of them that you have some survivors left after they learn the ropes of surviving the predators in your area.

Big chickens aren't carried off by hawks nearly as often as smaller ones. But smaller ones can fly into trees to escape foxes, etc. We have a mix and so far the medium-sized ones (game and Easter Egger) survive the best but there is a remnant of the bantams and we have a few big ones that have lasted a few years. I think the night-prowling raccoons and opossums were to blame for the loss of most of our bantams - they climbed up into the barn rafters to eat them where they slept.

Cover is a double-edged sword - it can provide predators places to hide and sneak in close to your hens as well as a shelter for them to run to when a hawk flies over. I think what works best is some cover but an open area between it and where any predators would come from. Some blackberry bushes left to grow messy makes great cover from hawks. A bramble thicket makes great cover for foxes.
 
Posts: 165
Location: Slovakia
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The two things that have worked perfectly for me have been fishing wire strung so as to make a grid with openings 3 feet wide or less and our dog.

The only problem with the dog is that he kills non-normal chickens and birds-- so the south American "Easter Egg" hens we lost a few to him, and then the two Guinea fowl I had for all of a week until he found his way through the fence to kill them... But, the "normal" chickens we have (barred rockish and reds) he doesn't attack. As long as he has been in the yard with the chickens, nothing has gotten them. And there are hawks just waiting for the chance-- last summer we let him into another yard away from the chickens for an hour or so and within that time a hawk came and got one.
Our dog isn't big (maybe he has terrier in him), nor a livestock guardian dog, but foxes and hawks stay away when he's out there.

The fishing wire also worked while we had it strung up. 3 feet is what I read to be the maximum size of opening and still keep hawks out. Of course, it won't help with foxes. Also, may be hard to do over five acres!

If y'all are around out there with the chickens during the day, and get them locked up before dusk, then they might be OK. Otherwise hawks will pick some off, and foxes may take quite a few-- make sure at least that the coop is high off the ground so foxes physically can't gain access if you don't get out to close it before they come.
 
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@ Dan...

We have our fowl free range over 12 acres with a semi-open coop located at the rear of livestock barn for them at night. They stay mainly inside our protected meadow, fenced yards, and fenced paddock. They tend to stay close to our goats an alpacas; even to the point of hiding under the belly of our buck when scared or startled. We have hawks circle all day, every day; and, occasionally a pair of eagles. We have not lost any birds to hawks or raccons (also on property). We have lost many mainly to a pit bull and foxes. a total of 3 rosters lost to a coywolf and pack of coyotes. We have not found a perfect solution. We plan to add a pair of geese and a mini-jenny or molly to our crew. We have three giant breed dogs that are kept inside and inside our fenced yard. They help scare the foxes away. I do advise you consider doing what we did; start with unwanted pet cockrels as you go through your property's learning curve. We have had up to 13 at a time without any fighting; not so many now after the predators and selling off those that were not a good fit. We have had several diffent breeds that were fierce defenders of their "flock" (cockrels). However, the Ameraucanas have been the most aggressive towards predators. While I like the hens blue eggs (grew up with them), the extras are not good sellers here...hence, on hens, we mainly have comets that lay large or jumbo brown eggs that are worth a premium around here.
 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Dan...

Just a quick update / add on about our situation. Our nieghbors across from us are loosing chickens to the very hawks that circle us. He also has problems with raccoons and possums. We swaped game plans and we both concluded that running mixed livestock and poultry is what is saving our birds from hawks (and the like). In his case, it is mostly all his half grown chicks that are following the flock at the rear.
 
Posts: 63
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Andrew - that worked for me when nothing else would either. Cool you thought of the same idea.

I had a lot of cover in my chicken yard, shrubs and bushes - the pair of hawks still got them. I usually lost 2 a day.

The more docile breeds tended to go first, and the roosters went right along with the hens.
One rooster fought pretty hard, lost almost all his feathers, along a 100 foot struggle path, but his skin turned blue-green and he was dead in a few days.

I had a very large chicken yard off my hen house, a 4 sided, but no two sides the same length - a bit cattywhampus, enclosure.
The longest side was perhaps 70 feet.
It was far too big to cover with purchased netting.

In desperation, my son and I went out one day and began criss-crossing the top of the pen with fishing line.
I think we went horizontal, vertical, and two diagonals in opposite directions.
I think we made sure there was no opening greater than 8 or 9 inches.

The sunlight glints off the line. It worked for a couple of days, then the hawks tried it anyhow.

The feathers told the tale....

A hawk did indeed come through and you could see the usual clump of feathers on the ground where the snatch took place.
From there, you could see plainly where the hawk had slammed against about 9 places all over that yard trying to escape with his prey, leaving feathers and chicken bits in each location.
He did get out, with the chicken... but he never came back. LOL

We had to restring every couple of years, as the line deteriorated, but it was the only solution I found for when hawks set up residence.
 
Posts: 109
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There are lots of hawks in our neck of the woods. We have five acres without any substantial barrier to the rural community around us. We're about to start raising chicks. I would like to free range the chickens within and around our property. I've seen several hawks and a few foxes on our property. We don't have a livestock guardian dog or fencing yet. I plan on getting a coop and securing the ladies every night. Am I naive to think that they'll be fine on their own during the day? Or is free ranging them just putting up a buffet for local predators? Will I need to give up on free ranging and keep them in a chicken tractor or portable fence system constantly? Portable fences also don't seem like they will help manage the threat from hawks. I'm sure this problem has been addressed millions of times. Anybody got any effective, low-cost solutions?



This may be a little late, but we had the same problems with hawks and we solved it by developing what we call a Chicken Sanctuary.

To see details, go to: www.ChickenSanctuary.com
 
pollinator
Posts: 415
Location: Upstate SC
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I find bamboo groves are great for providing a haven from predators for chickens and I have them scattered across my property in the areas that the chickens frequent.  My chickens are strongly attracted to the groves and like to spend most of their resting times in them.  Bamboo canes grow so close together that they serve as a sieve against aerial attacks and the tightly spaced maze of canes in the grove make it very difficult to impossible for a fox, coyote, dog, or bobcat to keep up with a chicken fleeing through the grove.  Considering that bamboos are a common floral component in the red jungle fowl's native range in SE Asia, its not surprising that chickens like to spend time in the groves and their instincts are fine tuned to using the groves to avoid predators.
 
Posts: 15
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I have probably lost 4 or 5 birds over the years to hawks. Every time it was a Coopers hawk which I found surprising at first. I even saw one in action on my backyard security camera which was enlightening to say the least. I interrupted a hawk battling with my rooster. (The hawk was winning). A determined and experienced hawk will get one of your chickens. A younger inexperienced one is generally not as much of a threat. Obviously if you are there you are not going to let the hawk kill your chicken, but most times you go out after the fact and see the hawk fly up at your approach. (They will generally return to a kill as long as it is still edible. ) I know the hawks are smart and will actually wait til they see you go before they attack. I still let them out every day. I am not going to let them languish in their pen if they can be out in the sunshine... but it is a reality of chicken keeping. You can minimize exposures and provide lots of cover but still here and there the hawk might get one. They especially like young pullets which I found out the hard way. I used to fly roller pigeons which I gave up because of the hawks. They were far more aggressive with the smaller albeit faster pigeons. They are amazing flyers too. Roosters help. A smart dog will recognize them as a threat. Lots of cover. Lots of obstacles for the chickens to hide under... But nothing is foolproof except keeping them in their pen.

Here is one sure way on how to keep hawks away from chickens
 
Drew Blak
Posts: 15
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If the chickens are that valuable, then it's worth investing some money to protect them. Killing the hawk doesn't solve the problem...the problem is that the hawk has access to the chickens. Chickens are easy prey for raptors (and just about any other predator), and although the initial investment to keep them properly protected might be high, it's an investment that keeps you out of jail, and it's a more permanent solution.

I dabble in nuisance wildlife control...the best thing the guy can do is install a fence and bury it 6in. into the ground along the sides and put fencing on top to keep raptors out. Either you do that, or constantly battle with predators of all types (raptors, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, domestic cats, dogs, etc.).
 
Coralee Palmer
Posts: 109
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We have used what we call the day time chicken play pen for the last 5 years and have not lost a chicken to a hawk or an eagle.   We have over 150 chickens in 18-day pens.  To see day pens
Click Here

We move the pens weekly, which give the effect of free range.
 
Posts: 52
Location: Alekovo near Svishtov, Bulgaria
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Although here in Bulgaria there is a huge and healthy hawk population, where we live the main threat to our poultry are foxes and byalkas (a ferret like critter with a penchant for ripping the heads off of any birds it can, leaving the bodies and stealing eggs - bloody destructive!).

Our growing flock of chooks, Indian Runners and geese free-range from sunrise (or as close to sunrise as I manage to get up) and whenever the ambient light makes the chickens take themselves to bed.  Many locals (there are only 500 families in our little village) keep dogs on chains close to their poultry - having said that most locals keep their chickens in cages although ducks and geese often free range around the roads and on common land.  We have 4 dogs but they are not trained or trusted to interact with the poultry, but most nights after the birds are locked up the dogs free run or patrol during the evening and night around our barnyard and poultry "pasture" and pig paddocks to mark the property boundary. My son and I also regularly take a "pee" around the edges of our property - well they say that human urine can be a deterrent to foxes.

We also have lots of trees around the edges of our pig paddocks and in the barnyard and our chooks often roost in the lower branches especially in very hot weather which surprised me.  The ducks and geese are very adept at hiding in the overgrown "weed" edges to our yard and we usually have at least two pig paddocks that have been sown with random seed, which they (a) graze on and (b) can hide in/under.

Our geese are very protective of the whole poultry flock and give the best alarm - our gander "Brian" has taken on a dog fox, who dropped the hen he had caught and was carrying away - the hen survived!!

The other critter we originally thought would be a threat, especially to chicks/ducklings/goslings were feral cats... until our boar and breeding sows were seen catching, killing and eating feral cats who chose to walk through their areas.... we do have a tom and 2 she cats (feral) who live in our hayloft, but they only seem to live there when breeding and we haven't seen them go into the poultry accommodation.  Rats were a real threat in the early days of us raising poultry offspring, but the cats living in our hayloft have pretty much eradicated them from our feedroom and poultry areas.... we also have a parliament of owls about 150m from our barnyard and they regularly come after moles, mice, rats - the rats regularly took eggs in our early days.

Although we did once lose 9 birds in one night to a byalka, we have been very very lucky (and we know it!).
 
pollinator
Posts: 368
Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
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We get a hawk "visit" on a more or less daily basis here, year round. I saw one the other morning before the sun was up, which surprised me...I always associate hawks (technically Australasian Harriers) with keen vision and have thought of them as daylight dependent, so seeing one when it was still twilight was a new twist. They fly over the paddocks, make a few slow circles, and sometimes drop down low but don't often stoop to make an actual attempt.

We have lots of cover and well-treed margins for the poultry to take refuge in. The rooster is good at setting up an alarm and everyone dives for the bushes. We lose about one chook every 3-5 years, which I can live with. Their main diet in these parts is roadkill possums, and those are embarrassingly plentiful so they're well fed. Maybe that's why they don't try too hard with our chickens and ducks.
 
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