Does anyone have suggestions for protecting a free range flock from hawks?
I have used scare tape and a number of other shiny/spinning things attached to my egg mobile to varying degrees of success, but I've lost several birds recently. I've never really had problems with dogs or other mammals eating on them here, it's always been raptors.
Is a guardian animal the way to go? Geese? Guinea fowl?
The French often use guineas to protect their chickens from aerial predation, somewhere in the vicinity of 5-10% of the flock. We usually lose quite a few chickens to hawks, even adult hens, but predation was next to nothing on our batch of 100 guineas this year. A large part of that is certainly their vocalization, but I think the fact that they move as a group has a lot to do with that as well. But some guineas in the chicken flock wouldn't hurt.
A single goose might work, but multiple geese would likely be a nonstarter due to their flock behavior. They might drive off hawks, or they might just bunch up and not give a rip about something that clearly can't bother them. It probably depends in large part on how big of an area they all have. If held close together with the chickens, a goose might well keep predators at bay, but with too much room it might just keep to itself and not care. We successfully used an adult gander to protect some turkeys from a predatory raccoon this spring, but they were confined to a pasture shelter at the time.
I'll second on geese. I keep a mixed flock of chickens, ducks, and geese, which free range over ten or so acres, and I have not had any problems with hawks. And we have plenty of hawks. It would be rare to look around and not see at least one. Fortunately, the hawks seem content to hunt mice and voles. Now eagles, I am not so sure about. They are not nearly as common, but when they do pass over, the geese put out quite the alarm and the entire flock runs for shelter. So far that has been enough.
One thing with avian predators is the ability of the flock or parts of the flock to have available cover. Do you have sufficient cover for them to use, or is your area pretty open? Is it possible to add additional cover to the area they are ranging over, probably wouldn't work if they are running over the whole property. An idea there would be to provide a paddock shift area with electro-netting or something similar. The adding in of guard animals may or may not have good effect, although adding them in with more cover could be the ticket for you.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
posted 4 years ago
Different species of hawks have different hunting strategies... What species of hawk is preying on your flock? How does that species hunt? How can you interfere with it's preferred hunting method? Is it a migratory hawk that is only in the neighborhood for a few weeks in the spring and fall? Is it a year-round resident? Does it only visit during the coldest part of winter?
For example: Coopers hawks like to hunt in the woods, so mitigation might involve keeping the flock out of the woods. Northern Harriers like to hunt in marshes and open fields, so mitigation might involve providing more cover. Some hawks hunt from perches, so mitigation might be as easy as removing nearby perches.
I put in a 30 by 30 stand of jerusalem artichokes for them to hide in. Mine are in moveable fenced in area by two hundred feet of premier fencing. I had a goose and I had cooper hawks perch nearby and wouldn't venture into the area. This year, I had no goose but the nice hiding spot with the jerusalem artichokes. No loses so far this year. You can move the moveable fence around with jerusalem artichokes being in the center of the hub. I'm lucky, I haven't seen any red tail hawks to bother my girls.
Location: Vermont, annual average precipitation is 39.87 Inches
posted 4 years ago
I wonder if the guinea fowl need to be relatively mature. Mine were born in late May and we now have some lovely pictures of a Red Tailed Hawk eating one. :/ They have learned the value of good cover and I now know what kind of cover is needed.
Another consideration, though long-term, is breeding your flock for the tendency to evade aerial predators. Presumably, the birds that are alert and active enough to avoid being killed would, if allowed to breed (and rear their own chicks), pass on their behavior to their offspring. Having cover available isn't enough; you have to have birds that will take advantage of that cover--and you probably can't expect hatchery stock to do that as a rule. There is, of course, some amount of instinct and probably genetic memory, but it's not as strong as it needs to be.
Also, I've noticed that there is a significant seasonal variation. We lose chickens to foxes (probably a single vixen) in the spring, when they're raising their young, and lose them to hawks in much greater numbers starting late summer and into fall (which is a bit ironic, since many of the common prey species tend to be at their greatest levels at this time of year). So you may not need to be too greatly concerned with protection year-round, but target your methods based on time of year and likeliest predator.
Further, it's very possible that you are dealing with a single animal who has learned where to get an easy meal. We had a great horned owl attacking our chickens at night, starting spring 2015. This spring, I managed to catch it in a foot-hold trap, and we haven't had a bird killed in the same way since (and I'm talking about several hundred meat birds), despite the fact that we still have an abundance of owls in the woodlot. We didn't have a problem with owls, we had a problem with an owl. Your hawk situation may be similar.
I'll second the natural selection suggestion. Actually I'll second everything Wes said, especially about easy meals.
We have large numbers of Red Tail hawks -- I see them every day. But I've never lost a chicken to one that I know of and I think it mainly has to do with the abundance of cover on the hillsides where the chickens typically are kept. Also, over time our flock has been winnowed down by us and by predators such that the remaining birds are the "smart" ones. The difference between the first generation of hatchery chicks vs. the ones we have now, just in terms of predator awareness, is very significant.
When the birds were in a more open area I made simple teepee-like shelters from branches. It was more a means of getting them onto the hillside where it's more sunny and warm (more eggs) -- like most breeds the Delawares hate open country. But providing cover in general is going to make a big difference.
Also... I think we all have different expectations about what losses are acceptable. In my area it's inevitable and it takes time to get the flock and one's practices adjusted so that's minimized.
This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. Now it's a tiny ad: