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

 
Dan Ellis
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
 
April Swift
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
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1969
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.
 
John Polk
master steward
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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.

 
Jay Angler
Posts: 125
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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!
 
Tony Hill
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
 
Renate Howard
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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.
 
Andrew Ray
Posts: 162
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.
 
Cortland Satsuma
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.
 
Natalie McVander
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.
 
Coralee Palmer
Posts: 74
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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
 
Mike Turner
Posts: 309
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.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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