Hello! I’m new to the forums and to farming in general, so be forgiving of my inexperience.
My husband and I just bought a 12 acre farmette in south central Pennsylvania (we have not actually moved in yet – we will be doing so at the end of the month). The property already has a very nice chicken coop so we are interested in getting chickens as soon as possible. There is also a fenced area of about 1-2 acres around the chicken coop.
My question is with regard to letting the chickensfree range during the day while my husband and I are at work (we teach in Baltimore, about 45 minutes away). We would love to allow the chickens the freedom to roam within the fenced area during the day, but have concerns about possible predators. Again, we have not actually moved in yet, so when we do we will speak with our neighbors and find out what the most prominent threats are. Based on the geography though, I don’t think we should have issue with large predators, probably just dogs, cats, weasels, skunks, hawks…that sort of thing.
I’m interested in considering a guard animal to protect the chickens while they are out in the field. Based on what I’ve been able to discern from my research so far, the most reliable choice seems to be a guardian dog. However, I am not sure we have the time/expertise to train an LGD at this time. I’ve heard conflicting ideas about donkeys and llamas protecting chickens. Some sources say they will guard them just fine, others warn that they will step on the birds (intentionally or unintentionally). From what I’ve read, it seems that donkeys and llamas (once source even suggested a buck goat) will not necessarily bond with the chickens, but it will go into alert mode and protect its territory from a predator. One source suggested a goose or turkeys, and another suggested guinea fowl (although I’ve also heard they may bully chickens).
One source suggested a rooster to watch over the chickens. This makes a lot of sense to me, but everything I’ve read about newbie chicken ownership advises against getting a rooster (at least at first). From reading previous threads, it appears that there is no perfect solution, but I was just hoping for a little insight so we can start to plan our new farm.
A rooster is likely your best bet - he will keep an eye out for predators and do his best to deter them. Your biggest risk during the day will be hawks, I'd think. Does the fenced in area have plenty of cover, or is it just a big pasture?
The trouble with roosters is they can attack you, but most roosters aren't like that. You might even be able to find someone with a partially socialized rooster that needs a home. See if you can find a local email list where people talk about their chickens. Since you are near a lot of population centers, you might even have luck on a national website like backyard chicken.com Once you have a rooster, it's important to have enough hens that he doesn't hassle any individual hen too much. 8-12 hens per rooster. I'm trying to remember what Geoff Lawton said about this, he had upper and lower limits as to the numbers of hens and roosters. You can actually have multiple roosters if there are a whole lot of hens.
If that was my situation I'd probably go for a combination of dog and rooster. However, a dog that guards chickens is an unusual thing. Many of them are as likely to chase, bite and shake them--they're pretty irresistible that way to dogs. (When a hen is scared, after squawking and running, she flattens herself to the ground.) You might be able to adopt an adult dog that already knows poultry are to be guarded and not played with. In my own experience a female dog has worked better than male, but YMMV.
Thanks so much for the reply. I’m starting to really enjoy the idea of having a rooster, and I actually have seen ads for people trying to re-home “friendly” roosters. A few follow up questions though:
Does timing matter (as far as when I acquire the birds)? We are thinking about getting pullets instead of chicks so that we can make sure they’re good to enter the coop long before we have to go back to school at the end of August. Should we get the ladies first and let them get comfortable before adding a rooster, or does it matter? Also, I assume the rooster should be from an un-related flock?
Finally, should I be concerned that the rooster may attack our cats and dog (a beagle)? The cats are probably smart enough to stay far away from him (I think), but the beagle might not be. Granted, we don’t plan on letting any of these animals anywhere near the chickens, but should such an encounter occur, should we worry about the damage a rooster may do to them? (I figure the dog is at least probably fast enough to run away if he has to learn the hard way that the chickens are not toys.) Any experience in this area?
A rooster will help somewhat, but won't save them from foxes, which there are a lot of in our area. But they are good for sounding the alarm, so the rest can run for cover.
But a good dog will deter everything.
If you get a rooster, I wouldn't worry much about being attacked. Never be intimidated, always hold your ground. If ever you are attacked, all you need is a switch. Pull a switch off a tree, and strip the leaves off. When the rooster comes at you again, give him a swift slice across his rump (or wherever happens to be closest) with the switch. And don't be shy, really slice him good! He will be shocked at first, and then bristle at your insolence, and probably come at you again after he gets his wits back. If so, then you do it again, this time YOU being the aggressor. Chase him and give him 4-5 good slices, then allow him to escape.
What you just did was put yourself at the top of the "pecking order" as you rightfully should be. It is unlikely that ANY of them will bother you again, at least for a long time.
Stories about hitting roosters with 2x4's and so on always end up with the rooster coming back on the attack. But for some reason, perhaps because the sting from a switch is memorable, or because the rooster was never unconscious, so the the lesson has time to steep in his brain- either way, the switch trick seems to work. IF you do it right, he will NEVER challenge you again. If he does, use the switch on him harder and chase him longer. All of the hens will follow and watch, and with every "SWISH!" of the switch, and following yelp from the rooster, they will ALL understand who the boss is.
Easy, simple and no permanent damage to anyone. Works well with all sorts of other livestock, too.
I have had great success over the last 2 years with my dogs. I have about an acre fenced in for various reasons. Two of them being keeping the chickens in and giving the dogs a safe place to run. The dogs have done a great job of running the fence and smelling it up like dogs and slobber. The chickens since about last spring have not been locked up, night or day. The dogs sleep in the house at night. I see foxes in my neighbors yard, raccoons along the road and possums and owls fluttering about at night. Oh and bear, stray cats and dogs and deer. None the which have ever stepped foot in my yard. Well there was once a raccoon during the day though it was quickly cornered for a moment by my two dogs and never to be seen again. I would take the dogs out on a leash while feeding and caring for the chicks when they were young. Making them sit and watch. When they appeared ready, each on there own time, i let them off the leash. The last dog to join the pack is a 6 month old plot hound mix. Every thing I read says they can not be trusted, i have had her since 7 weeks and I am very comfortable with her outside with them. She has destroyed my couch and that is a different story. Long thought short, They make a great match. All of mine are rescues and come from different backgrounds.
Mobile Chicken house build-
If you keep them confined to the coup for a week, they will return every night to sleep. Once you understand that concept you can control how long they are out and exposed. At first you'll let them out for the last hour before dark and progressively longer as your comfort level gets better.
Using this method you can have your chickens and not have to get in a hurry to get a dog, rooster, lama, etc.
Night is when I have lost chickens. Predator proofing the coup would be goal one.