The first warm day dawned bright and beautiful and our flock owner let the Silkies into their run for the first time in weeks. They needed the fresh air and though the run wasn't covered, it had never been breached before. No one gave a thought to the several inches of snow built up around the fence that allowed a hungry fox to jump it with ease. The farm lost their oldest Silkie hen that day, an adorable Cuckoo. The rest of the flock was inconsolable for a whole day as the massacre had occurred inside the coop. The fox had waltzed right in, picked his dinner and started eating!
The phone calls started coming. "my daughters favorite chicken was killed right in the yard" and "my rooster died fighting off a predator". Everybody had a story, and most had pictures of tracks in the snow. The deep freeze started again. The wildlife hid for awhile, but soon they were back. Tracks in the snow, birds of prey in the trees. Then the flock owner found a pile of feathers right outside the d'Uccle pen. No tracks in the fresh snow. Hawk. The one she had seen that morning during chores, more then likely. The only chickens small enough for a hawk to take. The cockerel was gone. That was the end of this breeding group for the year.
That was yesterday.
Why did I tell you this sad story? The birds of prey are starving, there are no chipmunks and mice scurrying around for them to eat. The foxes are hungry, the rabbits are hiding and things like birds and squirrels that don't have to come down to snow level....don't. They have nothing to hunt. The coyotes, the racoons....whatever predator you have is HUNGRY right now. They are swooping down right into runs. They are waltzing right into coops. They are eating their kill in the middle of the backyard with a house 50 feet away in the middle of the day! Hunger has cause them to lose a lot of their natural fear. This puts your flock at a greater risk right now. So what to do?
1) Shovel snow outside of run fences if they're not covered. A few extra inches of snow can be enough to allow something over the fence that normally couldn't jump it.
2) Check snow and cold damage. Has snow pulled down a fence? Did freezing and thawing cause a space something can squeeze in? Did snow and ice press against the side of runs or fences and break holes through the chicken wire?
3) Consider adding netting on top of uncovered runs. I know it's a pain in the butt with snow piling up on it, but it might just save your flock.
4) Consider bunking together. Can 1 set of birds in an unsecured coop move in with another till the threat has passed?
5) Be vigilant and don't feel guilty! If they can't go out and play because you won't be able to watch, it's ok. As long as they have the necessities inside their coop they will be fine. I gave some examples of good winter coops to be well....'cooped up in' here: Winter Chicken Coops: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Hopefully the winter will end soon. The wildlife will resume their regular routines and everyone will fatten up. Predators really don't like to come out of the woods into your wide open yard to feed. They'll do what they have to though and until winter thaws out, we do what we have to to keep our pets safe.