Friday, February 7, 2014

Chicken keepers beware: the Predators are HUNGRY!

I have a sad tale to tell you. It begins in the dawn of a bright new year when everyone is looking forward to new beginnings. It has a chicken owner carefully plotting her breeding groups for the new year. Matching up pairs and trios of Silkies. Feeling satisfied with last years results in the Marans. Confident about the color changes in the Guinea flock  and watching the little d'Uccle cockerel grow into a great looking little roo. Then the weather in this winter got colder and colder. The snow built up deeper and deeper. The farm entered a deep freeze and chicken care took on a whole new level of difficulty. It was ok, farmers adapt and every chicken made it through the bitter cold snap. Unfortunately though, the wildlife didn't do as well. They went hungry when it was too cold to come out and hunt, or when nothing else was out for them to hunt. Then they found the chickens.

chicken predators in winter

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.

~L 

2 comments:

  1. Oh dear, so sorry for you, your chickens and even for the wild animals. Winter is hard. Thanks for the reminders.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. It has been rough, that's for sure! Hope your critters are all doing well!

      ~L

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