• On Free Range Chickens and Predation

    by  • January 27, 2013 • City Chickens, Featured • 14 Comments

    chicken memories

    Rosetta Rose, a hen of unknown breed, died Saturday January 26, in the mouth of a fox. She was ten months old and laying a brown egg a day. Rosetta spent her days pecking at weeds, dust-bathing, and digging for worms. She is survived by chicken companion Austra and her people, Lillian, Rachel, and Alex Tayse Baillieul. A private memorial service will be held January 27, 2013. Rest in Peace, Rosetta.

    The Risk of Free Range

    Our chickens enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom. It’s the way we believe chickens should exist – foraging for their own food, enjoying sunlight and fresh air, and fertilizing our group as they move around. The chickens seem to want this too: they pace the edge of their run chirping to hop out and exercise their beaks. Because free-ranging seems to suit both parties, we allow them out of the coop for a few hours every day.

    As with all freedoms, the payoff is negotiating some risk. In this case, chickens wandering around the yard are unprotected from predator attacks by anything other than their own slim sense of self-preservation. Our hens have always tended to stay close to buildings and under the cover of bushes. Snow tracks indicate that at the time of her capture, Rosetta was hanging out under our pickup-truck, a reasonably safe area. or so we thought. Rosetta paid the ultimate price for the freedom of free-ranging.

     fox footprint in snow

    Protecting from Predators

    Predation is, and will be, a continuing challenge on this property. Thanks to snow trails, we knew a fox was lurking at the back of the property. Hawks squawk at us from tree tops. Though we haven’t seen any evidence of them, we expect raccoon and possum live nearby. All are known to hunt and kill chickens.

    Our long-term plan to place a deeply embedded, tall fence around an orchard containing a walk-in coop just became a short-term plan. We have the coop and will be calling fence companies on Monday. Any suggestions for reasonable rates in Columbus Ohio? Leave your ideas in the comments.

    We will plant fruit trees within the area that will eventually grow enough to provide cover from swooping hawks. Fencing the orchard will also hopefully prevent deer from munching on tender fruit tree limbs. Until the trees grow, we will run rope across the top to deter flying predators.

    Beyond protecting our livestock, we are also thinking about the food we wish to grow. Deer traverse our yard daily, bedding down under trees at night. Rabbits, squirrels and raccoons will likely want to help themselves to our heirloom, organic salad bar too. We’re considering a variety of physical and psychological barriers to prevent wild animals from eating our produce.

    Lil is angry and wants to kill all foxes. Alex and I take a broader view, recognizing that hunting fox is not legal all the time, nor do we want to kill a majestic animal just for trying to catch a meal. We will do what we can to prevent predation but we know that there will be losses occasionally.

    Ours is just another song in the perpetual tango for mutual survival that mankind and wild creatures have always danced.

    About

    I live to eat and eat to live, planning every meal to include as much local and seasonal abundance as possible. My favorite color is purple, my favorite vegetable is whatever is fresh and local, and my favorite drink is whatever you're pouring. Follow me @racheltayse

    http://www.harmonioushomestead.com

    14 Responses to On Free Range Chickens and Predation

    1. Cindy L
      January 27, 2013 at 11:25 am

      So sorry to your family on the loss of a beloved chicken. When you raise animals as livestock, you hesitate to call them pets or consider them a part of your family, their lives are still entwined with yours and their passing matters and hurts.

      • January 27, 2013 at 11:43 pm

        You’re absolutely right, Cindy.

    2. james taglia
      January 27, 2013 at 11:32 am

      sorry to hear about your chicken, i was considering ordering more day old baby chicks soon, if you guys want a few i’d be glad to include them in my order i’ll even raise them until you are ready for them if you want

    3. tash
      January 27, 2013 at 11:54 am

      I had chickens as a kid and we lost most of them to possum, racoons, and the occasional stray dog. Some were at night (racoons and possum dug under the coop, good reason for an apron) and some were daytime. I don’t remember any having died of old age. There had to have been a few though.

      Now that a fox knows there is a fairly easy meal at your place you will probably have more problems.

      When I get chickens I would like to semi-free range. I want a nice totally enclosed run they can let themselves into in the morning, and then when I get out there sometime later (I am NOT a morning person) I want to let them into a fenced orchard area. They can help keep pests out of the orchard and the fence will keep deer and hopefully reduce predators. The orchard is 100’X45′ or so, plenty of room for a few chickens to wander.

      • January 27, 2013 at 11:45 pm

        I’m not letting Austra out until we build the fence and new coop. The idea of chickens in the orchard seems symbiotic and works for Stratford Ecological Center.

    4. January 27, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      So sorry about Rosetta. Lee’s Fencing did a great job for us, which was ~$5,000 for a really big yard. http://www.leesfencing.com/

      • January 27, 2013 at 11:45 pm

        Thanks for the recommendation, Becke!

    5. January 27, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      My brother lost his chickens his last year; worst part was they were in the coop and something still got inside. They’ve refortified and have more chickens; so far so good.

      • January 27, 2013 at 11:46 pm

        We lost one in the coop in the spring, now one out. It’s a battle either way.

    6. January 28, 2013 at 9:33 am

      So sorry to hear about your chicken. We have had a few issues with hawks, but nothing major. I know you were wanting permanent fencing, but we love the moveable fencing from Premier. It is electric and solar powered and allows you to move pastures while keeping the animals safe. We have coyotes around us and we’ve heard them hit the fence in the attempt to get the turkeys and squeal and run off. No losses to date from using it.

      • February 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

        Thanks for the Premier recommendation, Melissa. We’re going to order some!

    7. Craig Bickle
      February 12, 2013 at 7:47 am

      Was this at your home in Clintonville? The only concern I’ve had in the city are raccoons. I know other predators are around (plenty of hawks, e.g.) but there doesn’t seem to be enough room without human detection for them to hunt my urban chickens. And deer in your yard?

      Just wondering. Sorry to hear you lost a bird. I’ve been lucky so far.

      • February 12, 2013 at 9:08 am

        Craig, this was at our new place off Cooke Rd. There are definitely more predators out here.

        You may need to watch out for dogs in Clintonville. While I agree that hawks are unlikely to swoop around all the human activity, dogs can and do attack chickens. Ours and our neighbors’ dogs were fine but I’ve seen others instinctively attack.

        • Craig Bickle
          February 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm

          Oh right! I forgot you moved to more of a spread on Cooke. Now I see.

          Hey, something occurred to me as I was once again buying cans of black beans at the store this morning. I cook with beans a LOT. And when I think to plan ahead I use dry beans, either soaking overnight or pressure cooking. But it’s so much simpler just to open a can when I need to, I often resort to store-bought.

          What I really need to do is pressure can my own in batches. That way I could buy dry in bulk and fill Ball jars with cooked beans. But I haven’t found a good source of directions for doing so. Have you done this before? Might make a good workshop.

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