2.17.2013

Poultry Predators And What To Do About Them

I have a heritage of chicken keeping in my family. I have memories of caring for chickens as a young child with my grandmother.  I even remember taking baby chicks home to feed until they were ready to go into the larger pen at my grandmother's house.  There were many years between that time and when I would own my own chickens, so you can imagine my learning curve.  I was blessed though, with a friend who knows much about chicken keeping. I am thankful for his help on so many questions. He also gave me my start in chicken keeping (at least my semi successful start anyway.)
It all started for me as an adult when we were looking at buying a new home, in a new town, for a new job.  The home we found had many pens and several animal sheds along with a barn and a bit of land.  In those pens were 100's of birds of many types.  There were dove, chickens, peacocks, quail, etc.  Quite frankly it scared me a bit because I wasn't sure I was up to the job.  We made a deal on the house minus the majority of the birds. (Oh how I wish we had kept them all now. Oh well...sighing.) The owner, kindly, left me 4 little bantam hens, 2 diamond dove and about 4-6 zebra finches.  I wish I could say that I took to birdkeeping like a duck on water, but that isn't so.  I came out one morning to find all my chickens dead and the poor finches met their demise one day when an avian flu swept through town (not the bad one thankfully, unless you were a bird that is).  It was almost enough to make me not try again and it did make me cry, but thankfully, I didn't give up.
 I did much reading and I began to ask my Colonel friend about chickens.  I mentioned to him that I was thinking of giving it a try again.  It was a few days later when this gruff tough fellow who had been a Colonel in the Marines for much of his adult life melted my heart.  He and his sweet wife came to my front door with a little cardboard box full of some baby chicks. That day changed my life.  I learned how very fun it is to keep chickens.  That flock was one of my favorites (until a crew of raccoons devastated them that is).
I have had many chickens. ducks and other birds since then. I have learned much about the predators that threaten our poultry and how to recognize what predator you are dealing with.  The reality is that as a general rule, you will not always see what predator is getting your birds. Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way what devastation most of them leave behind but my Colonel friend has helped me to understand which predator it was each time.
Please excuse the graphic nature of the following but here is what I have learned:
When it is a skunk problem you will find the birds laying dead with their throat or belly cut.  Skunks are kind of like the vampires of the predators.  They like to eat the blood and entrails of the birds.  My first bantam chickens fell to this predator. I have also lost eggs to this predator.  They love to eat the eggs. Skunks hunt at night unless rabid.
When it is a dog problem you will discover lots of dead bodies, feathers everywhere, possibly injured birds, and sometimes one bird body missing.  This is because dogs kill primarily for sport and they like to take a trophy.  If you find where the dog lives then usually you will discover the missing chicken body. Dogs will usually do their damage during the day.  One morning, I went to let my ducks out to free range and  discovered all my ducks were dead except 2 injured ones, and 1 that was missing.  It was some dogs that belonged to some distant neighbors.  The larger gate to our property had been left open and they dug their way into this pen that did not have cement around the bottom.  The missing duck body was found in their front yard.  The owners had let them out that morning to run and the damage was done.  It was my fault for leaving the gate open. Dogs will also steal eggs.  I once caught Red Dog eating an egg when I was headed out to get the bucket of eggs that I had forgotten.  He ran to try and beat me to the bucket and snatched another.( Bad dog!!!)  Thankfully he doesn't eat chickens...(at least not live ones) he likes to help me round them up instead.

Bobcats, coyotes and foxes,  on the other hand, swipe the chickens.  You may just find some feathers and a missing chicken but sometimes they will kill several and and carry them off 1 by 1 to bury for later. This can happen over a period of several nights as well.  Once on a night check of my chickens, I found a mama bobcat and her cub having their hunt in my chicken pen.  They escaped and I found a place where the pen had a gap that they had pushed down and wiggled through. These critters usually hunt in early mornings, evenings and sometimes at night. but I have found Bobcat in my yard on dreary gray days too. Foxes will rarely enter coops but it is not an impossibility, coyotes on the other hand will try if given a chance and they will all definitely snatch a free range snack when possible.
A view of the back of some of my pens
Opossum will only eat part of the bird (usually the belly or thigh area)  and leave the rest to lay.  They will sneak into the pen, catch the bird and eat on it while it is still alive. (ewwwwwww, I know but true.)  I went out one night in the rain to find one of my sweet roosters being eaten alive by an Opossum who was later shot by my son.  He had found a gap at the top of my pen and squeezed in. The poor rooster was not able to be saved unfortunately. Opossum like to hunt at night.

Raccoons usually only hunt at night (unless rabid) and they will take their food to a water source to eat.  If they snatch an entire bird then you may find the body where ever they drug it to.  You may find one or more dead birds missing some parts.  Raccoons have been known to reach into the fence, catch a chicken and take it one piece at a time right through the fence.  I can tell when a raccoon has been visiting because I will catch them at night or I will find their telltale paw prints in the bottom of a nearly empty water dish that had been full the day before. Raccoons will also steal eggs.
Silly chickens get their water dirty...thinking of trying a new watering method
Snakes are a problem too.  I once nearly kissed a rattlesnake because I saw what looked like a birds nest down in one of the little bushes near my chicken pen.  I parted the branches to look only to find a rattlesnake curled up.  Thankfully he had just eaten an egg so was not in the mood to strike. (He lost his head after I found my hoe.)  Snakes will sometimes steal right into the nest under a laying chicken to steal eggs or baby chicks.  This is reason to be very careful when gathering eggs. My husband's aunt discovered this one evening while gathering eggs in the dark. She couldn't figure out why it felt so funny under one of the chickens. She called out to my husband's uncle about it saying, "something is wrong under this chicken." He realized what the problem was and calmly told her to slowly back out. She enquired, "why?" He told her, "It is a snake." which frightened her so badly that she ran and hit her head on the top of the short coop two times before she could get the presence of mind to duck (Ouch!).
The Neighbor's cat or Family Cat is not going to kill full grown chickens but they are able and quite willing to kill baby chicks or young small chickens.  You will find lots of feathers and maybe a few parts left. I once caught my sweet little 8 week old kittens having a snack on my little baby chicks. (Devastation and tears...Bad kitties) They got what was coming when they tried to stalk my full grown chickens...one swipe with their paw and the chickens gave them a bit of a flogging and the fight was over.  The cats keep their distance and the chickens go merrily on their way.
 Rats can be a problem for baby chicks and eggs too.  My Colonel friend had this happen to him.  He kept having baby chicks disappear and was mystified until he caught the culprit in the act.
Birds of prey such as hawks, owls, or eagles:  I won't pretend to know much about these but I have read they will definitely snatch a small chicken.  I did once catch a hawk having an unsuccessful go at my bird aviary.  He had an eye on my dove for a snack.  You can read more about these and some other predators that I know little about at Grit.  They give a few other details that I didn't know about and you will also find many tips to protect your poultry as well.
I have found that my best protection has come from having covers over my pens such as game bird netting.  It looks really light but it actually holds the predators out.  My cats love to take a snooze right in the middle of it on sunny days.
I also use a plastic fencing like material.  This is heavier than the previous net but not as pliable.
 Wire fencing is another way to protect your chickens.  On these pens it is used on the sides and on top. The edges are clipped together with aluminum wire and hog rings.
A shot of the cement footer under some of my pens.  It extends to both sides of the pens.
I have also had the best results with my pens that have a cement footer under the fence to discourage digging and a smaller wire fencing material at the bottom of the other fencing.  This helps protect from paws reaching in after my chickens.  I have learned that it is important to make sure all gaps  and loose spots are wired together or clamped together with hog rings or heavy plastic zip ties.  Those predators can be wily critters so you have to stay one step ahead of them. I make sure to only let my chickens out to free range on sunny days and I definitely put them up at night. My other security measure that has helped immensely, is Red Dog.  He takes security around the place very seriously and is very vigilant to chase off anything that doesn't belong along with a few kitties who do belong (naughty dog!) I hope this helps you if you decide to give chicken keeping a try.  Maybe some of my mistakes can help you avoid some of the pitfalls.
Until Next Time
Debbie

Linking Here:

Pin It

4 comments:

Kathy Shea Mormino said...

Hi! New follower by way of

The Homestead Barn Hop and I’d like to invite you to join me at my weekly Clever Chicks Blog Hop:

http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2013/02/clever-chicks-blog-hop-22.html



I hope you can make it!



Cheers,

Kathy Shea Mormino

The Chicken Chick

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week; I hope you’ll join us again!


Cheers,
Kathy Shea Mormino

The Chicken Chick

http://www.The-Chicken-Chick.com

Karen Bates said...

Love all the advice...as you might remember I am new at chicken keeping but I love it. I built my own chicken run and it has been a safe haven for my girls. There are lots of predators here but I took extra pains to make sure I ran the chicken wire down under the ground all around the run and so far it has worked. I do have to keep an eye out for hawks, as they sometimes look interested in my girls when they free range. I now have Michelangelo to keep an eye out for them...hope that works too. Thanks for visiting my blog. I will be back.

Diane Haggart said...

Here in Utah the skunks go after chickens bad you can always tell the skunks have been into to the neighbours chickens cause we can smell them at night they hang out with the feral cats.