Hello from the Sunny HillTop!
There are so many happy aspects to having a backyard flock. The happy sounds and colors they bring to your yard as they move around eating bugs. The fact that they keep the tick and other bug population at bay. Your ability to feed them leftovers and other kitchen scraps to lessen your household waste. Along with the main reason any of us have a backyard flock, for the fresh eggs!
With so many benefits to having backyard flocks, with any variation of chickens, ducks, turkeys or guinea fowl, flock keepers tend to forget the dangers that are can be in our own backyards. Chickens, and other backyard birds, fall into the pray category and easily can be lost to animals that can come across your yard nightly.
My husband and I have been raising meat chickens for three years, this upcoming summer will be our fourth. We really enjoy raising our own food and meat chickens have become a large part of it. As soon as the chickens are able, we move them out into a mobile hoop house that allows us to provide fresh grass every few days.
Our hoop house had worked well for two years before ever having an issue. In our third year, we lost two chickens in one night. I found remnants (aka a foot and feathers) outside of the hoop house one morning. I counted and found another one was completely missing. We had missed a small hole, that an animal reached up under and pulled the two chickens out, and injured another one (discovering that as the day went on).
After setting up a trail cam we found a raccoon had been visiting, even climbing up over the hoop house looking for an area to penetrate. You have to be cautious with your flock setups. Make sure to walk the perimeter of your setup and look for access points that could be problematic. Raccoons are curious and problem solvers. You have to remember, they don’t have thumbs, but do still have a hand able to grip. Some locks on pop doors can be opened easily.
My parents had a small flock of ducks. For the first year or so they lived in a barn, but when the barn was torn down, the ducks were moved into a small duck hatch. They adapted really well and my mom would free range them daily. The ducks really were only in the building during night hours.
As winter turned into spring, rain came and unknown to my mom, the backdoor door (when down doubled as a ramp), warped with a slight bow. Not even enough to put a hand into it. However, a weasel did get in. In one night, it eradicated the entire flock. If you know anything about weasels, they are known for being blood thirsty and can travel in families. The poor ducks did not stand a chance.
She felt like she trapped the ducks in the duck hatch.
It devastated my mom. She felt like she trapped the ducks in the duck hatch. Weasels are not an animal you think would cross your back yard, and yet they do. Weasels have long thin bodies, that are used to go after prey, even into long narrow passageways.
Two winters ago, when the days started getting warmer, but there was still snow on the ground, I walked into the coop late afternoon and there eating a suet block was a young opossum. Just staring at me, a little startled that it had gotten caught. My dad kindly came and helped retrieve the opossum from the coop.
At different times we knew opossums would come in close contact to the coop, but never during the day and never in the coop. While opossums are omnivores and seem to go after the eggs mainly, the point is they can and will go after the chickens. This was a very young opossum, but it seemed to open up the floodgates of opossums hanging around. We ended up catching a several with a live trap over the spring months.
While the snow was on the ground, I made sure to walk the exterior of the run and coop looking for footprints. That way I’d be alerted to the opossums claiming the fence. We would try to rehome the ones that we caught in the live trap.
When you live rurally there are always whispers of bears. On our road, knowledge spreads fast of when bears are moving through the area because the garbage of half the neighbors are strewn about. We have lived in our current property for over five years, typically having our garbage thrown about every other year and have caught young bears at our bird feeders at night on the trail cams.
This past summer, I went outside to grab a tomato at the garden and in my peripheral vision I saw a large something. That large something was a newly kicked “cub” (typically around a 1-1/2 year old bear). This bear decided to roam the yard, while my chickens were free ranging.
Honestly, we were fortunate. It was still summer and food for the bear was abundant. Bears are omnivores and will eat chickens if necessary. I recently was told of a bear that broke into a local chicken keeper’s coop to eat the feed. Bears are large, strong and have extremely strong noses. While we have not lost chickens to bears, they are still an predator to be aware of.
Getting a flock of chickens can be extremely exciting. Especially when they are old enough to go out into their coop. You need to remember though, having a live animal in your backyard may also be exciting to some of your neighborhood dogs. Dogs can terrorize your chickens. Just because your neighbor’s dog is nice to you, the same treatment may not be offered to your new feathered friends.
We have had one chicken killed by dogs, ironically our own. When we first got chickens we had a really small coop that we got from a local feed store. To give the girls more space, we surrounded the coop with a larger run, (approximately 10’x10′), made with chicken wire. The chicken wire was only 4′ high. The girls in our first flock would get very excited and sometimes could run and clear the fence.
One time they accomplished this high jump at the same time we had our boxers outside. Dogs will kill for sport, and did so to our young Welsummer pullet. We had to invest time with our dogs and chickens to get them to understand that they were not targets of sport for them. It took about the first year, and since then they’ve had an amicable relationship. However, I don’t know if it would be the same for a neighbor’s dog. You need to be cautious of what surrounds your property.
Chickens can charm themselves into your life, but the reality is, they are prey for many animals. This is a serious area that you need to keep in the forefront of your mind when keeping backyard chickens. It seems the longer we keep chickens, the larger range of predators we find ready to pounce.
Do not let this concern stop you from starting a backyard flock. In fact, having a knowledge of what can come around your coop will aide you in fortifying your setup and keep a vigilant eye out. Living among these animals with chickens is absolutely possible with a little preparation. So, focus on the happy and enjoyable reasons of having a backyard flock and simply be prepared.