Monday, January 21, 2013

Missing Hen :( Predator-Proofing our Coop

We had a hen go missing recently :(  We came home one night and there were only 6 hens in the coop with Reggie. When she didn't appear the following night, and the chickens were acting particularly strange by not leaving their coop/pen to forage and frolic in the woods, we knew something was wrong.

A day or two later my husband went walking around the woods when it was light and found a couple of clumps of feathers--not a good sign. He found another little clump over by our neighbors yard. It seems that some sort of predator caught our hen and then carried her off somewhere, because we never found her body.

Why is it always the sweetest ones that get taken?

There is no guaranteed way to totally prevent predators from getting to your chickens, especially if you allow them to free range, but there are some things that you can do to make the casualties a little fewer. We know in the back of our minds we will probably lose one or two a year to predators, and that is because we would rather them be allowed out to free range getting healthy greens and bugs, rather than be relegated to the pen and coop all day. They live far happier lives and to me that is worth it.

So far, to secure our pen and coop and deter predators we have:

1) added a carabiner latch/hook to the back door (so raccoon hands can't undo the latches!),

2) surrounded the pen with a solar-powered electric fence,

3) topped the pen with netting,

4) placed an owl on top of a little stand to ward of hawks in our backyard,

5) raise Dominiques partly because of their feather patterning that blends in more with the landscape, making them less visible to predators,

6) Keep the chicken feed in a separate spot from where the chickens are

Additionally, you can:

7) Consider burying underground piping at the edges of the coop or pen to discourage predators from digging underneath in order to get inside. You can also bury hardware cloth several inches under the ground.

8) Build strong, sturdy walls of the coop and pen (use hardware cloth) and make sure the supports and strong as well so that they can't be torn apart by larger predators. 

9) Invest in a wildlife camera. These are not very expensive, and you can spot from the footage what comes around at night so that you will know how best to deal with the problem. Remember, everybody wants a chicken dinner! 

It is so important to take steps to keep your flock safe from predators as much as you can, and it is important that the chickens know and understand where their "safe spot" is. For ours, it is underneath their coop in their pen.

Honestly, as much as I have enjoyed raising our last batch of chicks by hand and love how they are so friendly with us, we can tell a strong difference in safety instincts between them and the ones that were raised by their mama hen. The ones raised by their mama hen around grown-up chickens are faster to run from predators and much more skittish with us, and I think can detect overhead predators as well as ground threats a little better. They are better foragers and have more "street sense" if you will.

the hen with the hurt foot/leg...notice that it is curled under. She is also molting :(

In other chicken news, we have a hen with a hurt leg/foot. I noticed her limping pretty badly over the weekend, so we isolated her into the brooder coop and pen. We aren't sure if anything is broken, but it doesn't feel like it. Perhaps she just sprained something and we are hoping in a week or two she will feel better. I put some crushed baby aspirin in her water and I'm going to give her vitamins and electrolytes. She also happens to be molting, poor baby :(