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Friends and Foes: A Guide to Keeping Free-Ranging Chickens Safe From Predators

friends-and-foes
March 29, 2023 969 view(s)
Friends and Foes: A Guide to Keeping Free-Ranging Chickens Safe From Predators

It’s every flock owner’s worst nightmare; a pile of feathers and a missing bird. As organic farmers, we want the best for our flocks in a natural environment, which often means free ranging during daylight hours. However, these birds are easy targets for predators looking for a quick meal. While there are many resources out there for predator-proofing your coop or run, here are a few natural solutions for protecting your flock during their free-range time.

Foes We Would Rather Stay Away

Predators are simply doing what is natural for them, and while it can be both financially and emotionally stressful, it’s important to consider ethical, humane options for preventing attacks. So, what are a few predators to consider?

Stray Dogs

Probably your most common daylight predator, stray or unfamiliar dogs can be incredibly detrimental to your flock. If they have never seen a chicken before, they may find it fun to play with, causing stress to your chickens. More aggressive dogs may kill chickens if given the chance.

Bears

Not common in all regions of the US, bears still pose a threat to your flock. The best deterrent is to ensure your operation doesn’t look like a buffet. Secure feed inside of a locked barn or shed, and don’t leave garbage out. If you compost, move it as far away from your coop as possible, and collect eggs daily.

Foxes and Coyotes

Usually nocturnal hunters, foxes and coyotes often hunt during the day in the spring/early summer when rearing pups. They will also hunt at dawn and dusk, so make sure to lock up when they start heading to the coop in the evenings.

Bobcats

Crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dusk and dawn, these cute but deadly predators are ambush hunters with quick reflexes.

Weasels, Stoats, and Minks

Mainly nocturnal, these predators are diurnal during the summer months, meaning they hunt during the day. when raising young. Fast and with a fierce streak, they can easily cull a good number of chickens.

Birds of Prey

Spanning the entire US, hawks, owls, kites, and eagles can easily snatch up a chicken, especially those roosting in the shade of trees. Depending on the region you live in, your birds of prey could be nocturnal or diurnal!

Raccoons

They’re cute and probably in your trash, but also extremely likely to go after chickens. The good news is they are mainly nocturnal and usually hunt during the darkness when your chickens are safe in their coop.

Skunks

Yes, you read right, skunks. These opportunistic hunters are also nocturnal but are known for killing chickens and not consuming the meat. They will wipe out an entire flock in one night if given access.

Friends You Can Count On

Preventing predator attacks in natural ways without chemicals, killing, or maiming comes in the form of animal friends! While not every animal solution below may be right for your flock or operation, there are several options for predator prevention.

Livestock Guardian Dogs

These large breeds are the perfect companion animal to ensure your flock has a watchful eye on them during the days and nights. Bred to be attentive guardians, they are both a deterrent for predators and can easily provide counterattacks to strikes from hungry opportunists.

Donkeys and Alpacas

For those that have the land, donkeys or alpacas are wonderful guard animals known for their loving demeanor towards farm animals and humans. Fiercely protective of their friends, it’s not uncommon to see donkeys or alpacas kill large predators such as coyotes and bobcats.

Geese and Guineas

If a livestock guard dog or donkey is not feasible for your operation, consider adding geese or guineas to your flock! These noisy birds won’t fend off attacks, but you’ll hear them from great distances and so will your chickens. Easily integrate them into your flock. Plus, if you decide on hens, you can collect the eggs.

Crows and Ravens

There are some farmers who swear by having at least one Australorp in your flock. These large, black chickens can resemble crows and ravens and deter predatory birds. While these chickens are a beautiful breed to have, why not attract the crows and ravens yourself? Some of our NCO team members have had success making friends with the crows by feeding them. They love peanuts, any type of meat (think the fat you trim from your steaks), and corn! In return, the crows keep hawks away from their flock by making a ruckus and diving on the hawks when they get too close.

Cats

These are more for our egg-laying flock owners. A good barn cat is worth their weight in gold when it comes to keeping snakes away from your coop. Plus, when they’re not stalking snakes, they’re excellent mice and rat hunters to keep your feed safe.

Friendly, Final Thoughts

Free-range chickens enjoy an enriching life and have a greater variety of feed and foraging. While spending time, resources, and money on predator-proofing your coop and run, don’t forget about protecting your flock during their daytime activities. Your chickens will thank you for it!

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