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Red Tailed Hawks and Free-Ranging

 
Karen Walk
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Location: VT, USA Zone 4/5
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Hi,

We definitely have Red-Tailed Hawks and other birds of prey on our property. We have a nice ridge just to the east that creates a good updraft, and they love circling over our fields.

I have a young food forest and need some birds to help with pest control. I would really prefer to allow the birds to free-range. This will give them full access to the bugs and will be MUCH less work for me than moving a chicken tractor or covered chicken paddock. I have the option to purchase fully-grown chickens. If I give the birds somewhere with a canopy or roof, where they can hide from the hawks, can I let them free range? There are many smaller critters (squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits, snakes) available for the hawks, so my chickens won't be the only snack available. What do you think?

Thanks!

--
Karen
 
R Scott
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You can spend $$$$$ on tractors and time to move them or $$ for extra chickens and expect Darwin to dwindle your numbers.

Not sure if I would get full-grown unless they were already free-ranged. Wrongly educated adults are slower to retrain than than chicks that learn right from the start--just like people.
 
Jeff Wesolowski
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Location: nw ohio
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You might want to experiment with birds that would challenge hawks, like geese and see if it works. I have cooper hawks and my goose kept the hawks at bay for me last year. You could use moveable premier fencing too rotate areas. My 2cents jeff
 
Karen Walk
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Jeff Wesolowski wrote:You might want to experiment with birds that would challenge hawks, like geese and see if it works. I have cooper hawks and my goose kept the hawks at bay for me last year. You could use moveable premier fencing too rotate areas. My 2cents jeff


Good thought. Geese don't achieve my goal of eating bugs, but maybe turkeys would? Would ducks do any better against hawks?
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi All,

Each biome is going to present with different levels of predation, and of course none of us want to lose a single animal to this, yet this must be planned for, considered, and managed as inevitable. Especially in a permaculture format. I would plan for some lose as stated, then consider "support species." Geese are wonderful, yet often more damaging unless closely managed than perhaps my preferred "support species" of Muscovy. Muscovy are great egg layers, present a meat more like beef than fowl, are probably the best bug eaters in a garden, and a single drake can weigh 20 lbs and will defend against invasive predators very successfully. A mixed flock of chickens, quail, pheasant/guinea hen, in concert with Muscovy and Geese is a complete and very complementary avid group that will fair well against many feathered and furred predators much better than by themselves individually.

Complement this with "wild rescue avids" (i.e. blue jay, dove, etc) and you can have a dynamic group that will work well together.

Regards,

j
 
John Polk
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I agree with the above suggestions.

Fully grown hens, that have been raised in a protected pen, have not acquired the 'street smarts' to be survivalists in a free range situation. On the other hand, small chicks will be the first target of birds of prey. Full sized hens are seldom attacked by prey birds, but smaller chicks are 'snack time' targets. If you go with day old chicks, the 2nd day you have them in your brooder, start putting in clumps of sod (with bugs & seeds), as this will help train them to natural foraging. Day olds are typically put 'out' at around 6 weeks of age - still too small to be safe from hawks, etc. Until they reach full size, try to keep them in an area that is at least semi protected. Edge of forest is often sufficient, as most birds of prey depend on having large, open spaces where they can swoop in for the capture. Something to break up the field greatly reduces their advantage.

Guineas are probably one of the most territorial, and the most aware of their surroundings. If anything is out of place, they will notice it immediatly, AND you will hear all about it. They are quite vocal if things are not as they want them to be. If you have tick problems, the Guinea fowl have earned the reputation of being the best at solving that problem.

Wild turkeys are also extremely alert, and smart. However, in domesticating them, mankind seems to have bred their brains out of them. They are dumber than a chicken - and that is quite a feat in itself! They are voracious bug eaters. They need much more protein than chickens, so consequently have become quite adept at foraging for bugs.

Geese. Some people keep them as 'watch dogs'. They are afraid of nothing. They often chase humans and dogs off of property. A single goose/gander combination is plenty for adding protection.

Ducks. Eggs - what more can I say? Many ducks will outlay the better chicken breeds, and they keep on laying when the chickens take a vacation.
 
Karen Walk
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John, thank you!

I'll definitely follow your suggestions about teaching chicks. Great run-down on other avian garden birds. Do you have any experience with guineas? I have heard that they are prone to leaving home unless they are trained to stay. The training process coupled with potential noise issues make them less attractive, although we do have ticks and Japanese beetles, so I would welcome the help on that front!
 
John Polk
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Personally, I have never had Guineas, but have friends that have had them.
Noise: Many people don't like the little 'chatterboxes'. If they are not kept near the house, it shouldn't be a problem. They 'talk' about anything that happens within their territory. They will alert you when the mailman (or anybody else) shows up. If you dig up a flower plant in their yard, when you let them out in the morning, they will gather around the hole in the ground and 'discuss' the change in their yard - they are very observant of any change - nothing slips by them without their notice. That probably has a lot to do with their survival instincts.

Training: Yes. If you get adults, or even grown chicks, their instincts will tell them to go find home. It has been reported that they need to be confined in their coop for about 6 weeks before they will accept it as their home. Even if you start with young keets inside your house, they still need this time period to engrave in their minds that this is home.

We have a few threads here about Guineas:
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/26828#210725
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/30928#240239
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/40/12290#159471

And one specific to hawks: http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/33410#261149

I honestly believe that each species has its own strengths and weaknesses. By combing a mixed flock on the pasture, you gain each of those strengths. Beware however that turkeys are prone to Blackhead disease, which is passed from fecal worms which are common in many chickens. It is generally recommended to not combine turkeys and chickens because of this disease. Many have reported mixing the two without problems - but probably more have reported mixing them with fatal results.

If you do decide to go with Guineas, I highly recommend that you get Gardening With Guineas by Jeannette S. Furgeson . If you buy it directly from her, not will she actually make something from it, but will even sign the book (if you check that box).

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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They 'talk' about anything that happens within their territory.


AND TALK, and talk, and talk and talk....and talk....

If you love them, I think that is great and I support you! They are tasty critters and when they imprint on you as part of the flock will never leave your side (and drive you mad with the talking!)

If you can get involved with a local Wildlife rehab person and take Blue Jays and Doves, you will have a "cross over" support species that is not only charming but more functional than any genuine hen. Dove is good eating (as good as pigeon) and they are very watchful but will also provide a better target than your prime livestock (sacrificial layer to the system.) Blue Jays (my namesake) are nothing more than small "Ravens" with brilliant minds, wonderful personalities and forever vigilant. Unlike the "guineafowl" and other Phasianidae family, Blue Jays will not "RUN AND HIDE," they will tell everyone with a very clear voice of the predator, then go after it in numbers, either driving it away or giving you time to do it with them. When I maintain a complete concert of Avids, I had virtually zero loses to any predators that was not part of the system.

There is much more to all of this than I could share here, yet this outlines the basics of a "stratified fowlery" within permaculture Avid husbandry...

Regards,

j

P.S. If you are a genuine fowl lover (I am) get Acryllium vulturinum (Vulturine Guineafowl) they are much, much better...if you are in a warmer climate...
 
Jeff Wesolowski
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Location: nw ohio
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Wow, lots of good info here, why aren't you guys my neighbors, kinda yanks my chain that ya aren't Important thing here is too keep trying and finding what can work in your area. I had a hawk land on my chicken coop last year but wouldn't attack my hens, the rooster and goose were waiting for him and were going to kick his a$$ if he were to try. I heard guinea fowl hate and will eradicate vermin given the chance. But I also heard they can be sitting ducks if ya can't keep them secured at night. I also heard muscovies make awesome hatchers and moms to what ever they sit on. Keep us posted on your quest, love to hear what works out for ya. Funny story, I kept some new chickens with my goose for protection early in year away from rooster and layers, and as the new hens got older and were merged with other flock, the goose protected his hens from the rooster. Don't know if you ever seen a goose and rooster fight, it can be quite a site. I saved my roosters life this spring when he got too close to the goose and goose grabbed him and rooster went backwards into decorative pond and goose would have drowned him if I wasn't there.
 
John Polk
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One more thing about Guineas: NEVER feed them on your porch.
If you do, they will hang out there all day (rather than eat all of your ticks).
 
Karen Walk
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Location: VT, USA Zone 4/5
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Wow. Awesome thread. Thank you so much. I do have "Gardening with Guineas" somewhere (GUINEAS RULE!!!). I loved the book, lent it to many friends, and moved. I'm not sure where it is - I might have to pick up another copy. I was worried about the noise associated with guineas, but they can live a few hundred feet away from where we sleep, and we do have ticks, so I will give them a try.
 
John Polk
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IMO, I would rather deal with their noise than with ticks.
Each tick they eat, is one tick that cannot reproduce. Yay!
 
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