Predators To Watch Out For
I was looking forward to snow this year, which is very rare for me. It wasn’t so much that I was excited to go out in it, but I was very excited to see what sort of footprints turned up around the coop. I figured this would give me some sort of indication that all the measures I have taken to protect the chickens have been working. There are a lot of critters where we live, and they pretty much all agree that chicken is delicious. Not half a mile down the road is what amounts to a raccoon graveyard, which most people just call route 110. The raccoons don’t seem to have an easy time of making it across, but I know they’re out there. On a recent hike, my mother-in-law saw a fox hanging out fairly close to our house. You know when you walk by Subway and it’s like getting punched in the face with bread smell? This fox was close enough that if the wind blew the right way it would have been like that for him, but with chicken whiff. In my own travels I have seen weasels and fisher cats, both just a couple of houses down. But with the snow came no evidence of anything poking around the coop, except bunnies. I feel like I’m tempting fate by even bringing this up, but so far we have been lucky in terms of predators. This may change. I would imagine it will totally change. The word probably just hasn’t gotten out about the chickens yet.
There’s a farmer on our street who has sheep and chickens, and he told me some stories about the things that have tried to eat his animals, and it got me pretty nervous. On the other hand, he also has so many animals that it must be like a neon sign for varmints. The smell of potential food permeates the air, and they descend upon his farm. I like to think that the aroma of big game down the road draws a lot of the fire away from us. It probably doesn’t work like this in reality, but this is how I sleep at night. Well that, and remembering that I set up an electric fence.
What you find out from reading about chicken predators is that often we worry about the wrong things. Sure, there are coyotes and weasels and snakes and possums and raccoons and maybe bobcats and definitely hawks and owls and I’m sure I’m forgetting some but they are all there just waiting to eat my ladies, but the number one killer of backyard chickens is dogs. We batten down the hatches expecting the big bad wolf to blow the coop down, and meanwhile Fido comes loping through like Genghis Khan. It’s definitely something to worry about. We do have dogs in the area, but the immediate ones are a small yappy one that’s usually tied to the porch across the street, and our next door neighbor’s labs. The labs do tend to wander into our yard from time to time, but they have never shown any interest in the livestock. When they appear, it’s almost always to leave us a present on the lawn. I’d rather that than them killing the chickens, and I like these neighbors, so I’m not going to sweat it too much. But what’s cause for alarm is the size of these gifts they leave us. Seriously, I’d say they’re human sized, but they’re bigger than that. Hills Like Brown Elephants. One day one was deposited at the end of the driveway, and my parents came to help out in the yard. I found my father standing in the road, staring at it, speechless. He turned to look at me, but still could only get it together enough to point at the monster and squeak out, “Who?” I pointed at the neighbor’s house. His eyes bulged out of his head, and I realized he now thought that a human had come over and done this. “No, no, the dogs,” I said. They don’t eat our chickens, but what DO they eat? I know the point of warning people about domestic dogs is that you don’t expect them to be as murderous they are, but I have a hard time shaking the idea that these guys aren’t actually killers, they just need a spot to go, and since I spend less time on my lawn than their owner, I’m the easy target.
Predators are out there though, and I haven’t been doing this for very long, so I’m sure I’m experiencing some beginner’s luck. There was a hawk a while back that ate an entire family of wrens that had nested on the side of our house, and washed them down with a big helping of bunnies. This sort of thing is one of the reasons I like to be out with the chickens when they’re loose. I can only do so much, but at least I’m one more set of eyes on the sky. When they’re in the coop, my hope is that they’re secure, but animals can be crafty, or in some cases, just really strong. Two years ago there was a warning in town about some bear sightings. The wisdom about bear proofing your coop is that if a bear wants your chickens, a bear gets your chickens. That seems easy enough to prepare for. The rest of the time, I will stay vigilant. You can have my chickens when you pry them from my cold, dead hands, neighborhood dogs.
(thanks to vintageprintable.com for all the images)