Posts Tagged ‘predators’

Hello September!

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Well, my little August break was nice, but now it’s back to work. I mean, it was still back to work in terms of the chickens, since I couldn’t just go on a vacation from feeding them without any repercussions, I was just taking a break from talking about them. Not from talking to them, though, which I find myself more and more aware of now that there are sometimes people in the house next door. I suppose they’re the ones who need to get used to it, not me. I’m so used to it I don’t even notice I’m doing it half the time.

chicken talk

They don’t talk back . . . yet.

Beyond my own experiments in inter-species communication, things have been pretty good with the chickens lately. The mites still seem vanquished, and butt feathers are still sprouting. Maybe not as fast as I’d like them to, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned since getting chickens, it’s that everything ends up taking way more time than it’s supposed to. Case in point: building the coop. Hopefully that was a one-time event. As I predicted, molting season may be combining with butt feather regrowth season, since I’ve been seeing a fair bit of Mandrell Sister plumage floating free in the coop lately. I suppose seeing it early is better than seeing it later, since last year they all molted quite late, and it was a very cold time to not be fully feathered. I figure if you’ve got to grow some feathers back anyway because of the mites, why not just dump a bunch and totally start over? I’m not sure that’s how it actually works, but I need to impose some sort of logic onto all this.

chicken butt

Guess What? Bald, but recovering chicken butt!

We haven’t seen much of the turkeys lately, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around. I suppose since August is when many people take vacations, who’s to say turkeys don’t do the same? Probably people who study turkeys. But since I’m throwing around hare-brained ideas, I might as well get this one in there too.

idea bag

I’ve got bags and bags of these things.

One big event that happened during my hiatus is only marginally related to the chickens, in that it only happened because I was going out to the coop to feed them. But if they weren’t there, I wouldn’t have been out there alone in the dark, so I guess it’s totally related to the chickens. So let’s proceed from there. I’ve mentioned before that where we live has basically every predator that you can get in New England. I haven’t seen them all personally, but the farmer down the street has, and so I am generally quite vigilant about keeping everyone safe. In the winter, I always look for tracks around the coop in the snow, but so far I haven’t seen any. Either the animals can tell the electric fence, much like the Wu-Tang Clan, is not something to mess with, or they just are really bad at figuring out that there are chickens in there. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying I’m a little surprised that we haven’t seen more break-in attempts. But the other morning as I was coming out with breakfast, I saw a set of eyes reflected in the light of my headlamp. (Sadly, those glorious weeks when it’s light when I get up have passed.) Normally, if I see some eye reflections, they turn and disappear as soon as I approach. This time, not so much. In fact, the eyes began to approach me. This was not good. I quickly began to make out the shape of the creature, and I began to worry that I was looking at a baby bobcat, which could possibly mean that there was a mama bobcat nearby. As my bowels contemplated voiding themselves, I happened to catch a shadow of a tail in the ever-shortening distance between me and the eyes, and thankfully realized that it was just a regular cat, and one we see pretty often. I joke that he’s one of our cats’ boyfriends, since he sits outside the sliding door and looks in at her, but she seems to hate him, so I guess maybe he’s more of her stalker. Either way, if he’s trying to get in with her, I recommend he knock off the scaring me in the morning. He stopped walking towards me when he got to the steps of the sliding door and assumed his place, gazing indoors at our cat who clearly was not pleased about having a visitor. The chickens were safe, and ⅓ of the cats were annoyed. A pretty typical morning.

kitty love

If I’d noticed the eye reflections were shaped like hearts, I’d have figured it out sooner.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Snake Rag by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band)

More New Friends!

Friday, July 31st, 2015

The turkeys aren’t the only new friends we have around the yard these days. The plum tree is overrun with aphids and Japanese beetles, as well as ladybugs that I introduced to eat the aphids. The ladybugs are reproducing like crazy, and it’s really cool to see their eggs and future ladybugs in their various immature states. I just wish I didn’t have to work them into the scheme of things, because the poor plum tree really has it rough these days. I’m not sure we’ll ever get plums with the way it gets attacked each year, but I keep trying. It was during my pruning of the limbs that had been picked clean by beetles that I found out we have yet another friend who has been hanging around.

mystery friend

How I’ve gotten a few friends on the cheap.

I was trimming the branches and sorting them into piles based on whether they were totally decimated, still infested with aphids, or carrying young ladybug types. My mother-in-law got home and came over to see what I was doing, and I was more than happy to gripe about the state of the tree. I was probably happier about it than usual because it was really hot, which made the task even more of a chore. I don’t know why I picked the hottest part of the day to do it, but I usually have to do these things when I think of them, otherwise they never get done. So there I was.

Chickens, as you may or may not know, aren’t always the quietest animals. Ours have a tendency to get quite rowdy early in the morning, which makes us lucky to not have anyone living in the house next door. Someone has bought the place, and is in the process of renovating, but they’re not in there yet. Recently, they were running some loud piece of renovating machinery after 9 at night, and I was contemplating whether or not to go tell them to knock it off. I worried that I shouldn’t play the noise card so soon, given the chickens’ propensity for morning songs of joy. Thankfully the neighbors stopped right when I was having this conversation with myself, so fights about noise can start later. But the point I’m trying to make is that the chickens do enjoy making a good old fashioned ruckus from time to time, and usually when they do, it’s no big deal. It’s more of a “if you want to sing out, sing out,” sort of thing. If they want to express themselves, that’s cool with me, man.


Sometimes they prefer to express themselves through dance.

So, when I was trimming the plum tree and regaling my mother-in-law with tales of pestilence, and a wave of raucous bawking came wafting over from the coop area, it was not initially a big deal. The chickens were out foraging, but that doesn’t mean they were going to be quiet. It was only when I realized that they were all joining in that it struck me as odd. Usually it’s one or two being loud, but for such a group effort to go down, I figured something major must be going on. I was worried they were killing a snake. We have a lot of garter snakes around, and I’m paranoid they’re going to peck one to death and it will just be awful, so I headed over to where they were, hoping that it was not a reptocide going on.

The official flag of the Garter Snake Party.

The official flag of the Garter Snake Party.

It wasn’t. As I approached the coop, I saw that three chickens had headed into the big pricker bush to hide out, and the others were inside the run. And then a large hawk in the tree next to the coop took flight and disappeared into the woods. I kept counting the chickens to make sure they were all there, and they were. That was a big relief. I put them all back in the run in case the hawk came back, and then started to think about what had happened. Did they make the ruckus to scare the hawk, warn the others, or to call for help? Did they know I would come over to investigate the source of the noise, or was it simply what they do when there’s a threat? I’m not sure, but I’m glad I didn’t ignore it, thinking they were just being loudmouths. I saw a hawk again today, and I’m going to have to be extra careful with free-range time now. We hadn’t seen any all summer, but they’re out there, and I’m not taking any chances. I should probably warn the turkeys about this. We can get a whole neighborhood watch thing going on.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Lucille by Wilbur C. Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band)

Everyone’s Hungry!

Friday, April 17th, 2015

The other night the pizza guy remarked on how our house is the only one in town that still has big piles of snow in the yard. I was aware that we are always the last house on the street to still have snow every year, but it’s nice to have confirmation, however unscientific, that we also smoke the rest of the town in this regard. It’s nice to be number one in something, no matter how unpleasant that thing may be. I’m sure there are worse things to be number one in than lingering yard snow, so I’ll take it. Part of the issue is that our house has these 100 foot tall pine trees out back that block out the sun in the cooler months, and this inhibits our thawing. Unfortunately, these trees were part of what sold us on the house, so they’re not going anywhere. And hey, if they keep the yard covered in snow, that postpones mowing, which is perfectly fine with me.

pizza pie

It’s time for pie!

Now that the snow is on the wane (or possibly gone everywhere else but our yard), the chickens are getting plenty of yard time. They’ve gone from having a small strip of ground to pick at to having far too many choices. It’s like going from a restaurant with one item on the menu to the world’s biggest all-you-can eat buffet. How do you decide what to eat? If you’re a chicken, you would seem to wander around with a dazed look in your eye, scratching one spot for a minute or two, then sprinting across the yard to another spot, scratching for another minute, and then sprinting to a third location, and just repeating this over and over so many small spots get worked over, but there’s no real system. I’ve tried pulling them aside and explaining the importance of breaking jobs down into actionable items, but they hate the term “actionable item” almost as much as I do, and so they run off without listening. I’ll have to put it all in a Powerpoint presentation and then really bore them.


I can’t even think about Powerpoint without dozing off.

The chickens aren’t the only ones overwhelmed by all the sudden new food options. It was slim pickings for predators for a while. The bunnies in our yard had a tunnel system under the snow to rival the sewers of Manhattan. But with the snow gone, they, and many other animals, are now again out in the open. This has not escaped the notice of the local raptor population, among others. We’ve been seeing a lot of hawks all of a sudden, and if I had night vision, I’m sure the owls are out, as well the coyotes, fisher cats, weasels, possums, and pretty much everything short of the Chupacabra (and I’m not 100% certain we don’t have those around here too). It makes me, the owner of a small group of prey animals, slightly nervous. However, eternal vigilance is the price of chickens, and I’m ready.


We spoke to an actual Chupacabra about this.
(Chupacabra means “Goatsucker”.)

Last weekend we had considerably more snow than we do now, and my son and I were out in the yard with the ladies, enjoying the weather. I was watching the chickens, and my son was making the most of what was left of the snowbanks by rolling down them and yelling a lot while he did so. I would glance up at the sky every so often, but I figured we were out in the part of the day that was not prime hawk hunting time, so all should be well. And of course, as soon as I had that thought, a large hawk cruised through the sky above the field across the street, and started to turn towards our yard. I assumed the chickens had been spotted. I sometimes have a hard time getting them back in the run under low-intensity conditions, and now I needed to do it quickly. “Buddy, buddy, buddy!” I yelled at my son, and he obviously could tell by the tone of my voice exactly what was wrong. He leapt off the snowbank. “Hawk?” he responded. I said yes, and asked him to herd the chickens towards me, and I’d direct them into the run’s door. He held out his arms just like I do at herding time (it at least gives the illusion that you’re directing them), and guided them back to the coop. I blocked the usual escape route, so they went right in no problem. The whole thing took about 10 seconds. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten them put away so fast. We high-fived, and then my son looked up at the sky. “Where’s the hawk?” he said. It was nowhere to be seen, but it had definitely been there a few moments before. Perhaps it was waiting, possibly in disguise, for me to make one small mistake, and then he would strike. Well, he may still be waiting, because that was Sunday, and there usually isn’t free-ranging during the week. Hopefully he’s moved on, but I’ll continue to watch the skies, just in case. In life, someone’s always trying to eat your chickens. Tread lightly, and keep your eyes open.

hawk in a wig

Keep a lookout for bad wigs.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Pick A Chicken by Jaudas’ Society Orchestra)

Chickens and Electric Fences

Friday, November 7th, 2014


Right about the time I was putting the finishing touches on my coop, I got a phone call from my mother. My uncle in Buffalo has a bit of a livestock menagerie, and thanks to a very determined raccoon, that menagerie had just gotten a little smaller. The raccoon had gnawed its way through the side of his coop and gotten in and killed all his chickens. It was the kind of thing where it just seemed like senseless violence, since they weren’t all eaten, but they all were dead. I’m not going to try to understand what was going through the raccoon’s mind, but I think it’s easier to accept a murdered chicken if it at least got eaten as part of the bargain. My uncle came home to his flock being scattered all over his driveway, and no longer an active flock. He told my mother about this, and that he now felt electric fences were the only way to go if you were serious about protecting your chickens. I wanted to be serious about protecting my chickens, and even though I was just about to put them out in the coop after a lot of effort in building the thing, I ordered a small electric fence. They could wait a few more days, if it meant being totally safe.


Is this the face of a killer? Yes it is, actually.

My main concern was that I was going to fry some poor animal that just came sniffing around because it’s natural for predators to want to eat chickens. I luckily could only afford a fence that ran on two D batteries, so that didn’t seem like a killing jolt to me. It turns out this model is meant to just give the animal an unpleasant enough sensation that they decide the coop is not a fun place to be, and they move on. A friend of mine in Alaska knows people who use the same one to protect their tents from bears while camping, so this seemed like it went high enough up the food chain that I’d feel safe, but not so powerful that there’d be bodies to dispose of.

electric fence

See me, hear me, feel me, touch me. Or maybe skip the last two.

Of course, having technology always opens you to the worry of whether or not the technology is working. Luckily, there is always more technology to be had, and so I also bought an electric fence tester. You hook one part over the wire carrying the charge, and then put another part into the ground, and a little light flashes if all is well. The charge isn’t always going through the wire. It’s more of a little zap that gets sent through every few seconds. I was already learning things! And the flashing of the tester was vaguely hypnotic.

fence tester

The flashing light makes any electric fence a rave-like environment.

I used the tester for about a week before the temptation to see how bad it would hurt if I touched the fence overtook me. One night, I eventually decided to just hit my knuckle along the side of the wire as the charge ran through and see what happened. It felt a little like a static shock you’d get from walking on the carpet and then touching a doorknob. This undid any sense of fear I might have had toward the fence, and I ditched the tool and went to knuckle-only testing.


Not the actual sound it makes.

Shortly thereafter, I was latching the run door while the fence was on, and the back of my hand grazed the wire. I then learned that the more skin you have touching the wire, the worse the shock is, and my respect for electricity returned.


What electricity actually looks like. Fear it.

So far, I haven’t any any signs of animals trying to get into the coop, but I don’t know how much of a role the fence even plays. I still do my best to make sure it’s functional, in case it’s doing a great job. This means making sure things stay off the wire. In the winter, I shovel the snow away from the sides of the run so there’s clearance, and in the fall, it means having to go out every night and pick leaves out of the way. Things that touch the wire and touch the ground will short circuit the whole thing. I know when this happens, because I can usually hear the short. It makes a faint popping sound. Once I even had it happen because I pulled the wires too tight and it was arcing onto the hardware cloth. That’s rare, but the leaves are a constant battle. And it gets even worse. When the leaves are down, and it rains, the slugs come out. The slugs will climb up the leaves onto the wire. Remember how I said the fence wouldn’t fry an animal? I wasn’t broad enough in my definition of animal. I have had slugs melt on the wires, and it’s both sad and gross. I’ll hear the familiar popping sound of a short, and then I have to turn my flashlight off so I can see where the flash of the spark is. I’ll find it, and then I’ll find a blob of matter on the line that I now have to clean off. A few shudders later, and everything is back up and running. Slugs were not what I expected to deter with the fence, but this is where I have found myself. I may put a fence around my cucumbers next summer. The slugs pose no real threat to the chickens, but I had but one viable cucumber this summer thanks to slugs, and while I don’t like killing anything, I do like cucumbers. It might be time to break out the nuclear cucumber option.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Four Little Blackberries by Thomas Mills)


Chicken Backsliding

Friday, May 17th, 2013

(Broadcast 5/17/2013)

When we first started letting the chickens out in the yard, it was sometimes kind of a headache getting them back into the coop. It’s not really a surprise that given the choice of the great outdoors or a confined run, they’re going to choose the great outdoors. Unfortunately, the great outdoors is also fairly fraught with peril, if you’re a chicken, so we like to get them back into a safe area once chicken recess is over. You can’t really explain to them the different things that would like to eat them if they don’t go inside. Well, you can try, but they don’t listen. It’s a little like having an argument on the internet, just that the other person isn’t fighting back by blaming everything on Obama. Maybe it’s more like arguing with a feathery wall. However one chooses to describe it, the end result is that nothing changes no matter how persuasive you are. I went through all this trouble of making them a nice coop, and this is how they thank me. I have had some successes in the past year with getting them back in with less effort, but lately we’re slipping back into the bad old days.

chickens running away from me

Run away!

        When they were young, it was very difficult to get them back into the coop. They could possibly run off in any direction if I approached, which always made me think they would run off in the opposite direction from whatever direction I needed to them go in. I began to approach them with my arms out wide, in the hopes that I would make myself appear larger. This is actually what you’re supposed to do if you’ve encountered a mountain lion, but I was putting a new spin on it. I could sort of direct them as a group this way, and at least get them in the general vicinity of the run. If I was lucky, I could get a few into the run, close the door, and then go after individuals. Have you ever chased a chicken? If you have, you know how stupid you feel doing it, and how hard it is to catch them. This is why in Rocky II, Burgess Meredith says of a chicken, “If you can catch this thing, you can catch greased lightning!” The easiest thing to do was corner them, then grab them and put them back. This is assuming they didn’t put up too much of a fight. I’ve had times where I held them close, only to get thrashed to bits when they made a break for it. My arms began to be monuments to the power of chicken claws. I needed a change.

chicken tattoos

Chicken tattoos

The change came in the form of “The Chicken Stick,” which is the long wooden rod from our closet. We put in a whole new system for hanging stuff, so we didn’t need it, but it’s about 8 feet long and seemed useful to me. That was a good hunch. I took it outside, and used it to steer the chickens in many different directions without even having to get too close to them. I am the shepherd of the chickens and now I had the correct accessory. It also made me feel a little like a ninja or wizard. How could I lose? Well, when the neighbors saw me following around a bunch of chickens with a giant stick while talking to them. “The guy next door was totally watching you out there,” my wife told me one day, somewhat deflating my feelings of success. But I stuck with it. I could steer them between the open door and the stick, and funnel them all right into the run easily.

the chicken stick!

The Chicken Stick!

        This was until I discovered mealworms. The mealworm revolutionized the chicken re-cooping process. Once they got a taste of these, if they so much as heard the bag crinkle in my pocket, they would stay so close to me I would trip over them. A few times they heard it right at the beginning of recess, and it killed the free ranging. They knew I had better stuff than what they’d find in the undergrowth, and it was less work. I stuck to bringing the bag out only when it was time to go back in, and then they’d run right into the coop without a fuss.

mealworm chicken treat

Don’t believe his lies. He does smell nutty, though.

        Until they started not to. Lately they have grown tired of this mealworm ruse, and they’ll follow me with the bag, but they won’t go in the run. When I do get them in there through some means, they fight over the worms, so those haven’t lost their charms. It seems to be me that’s lost charm. My guess is that everyone likes sticking it to The Man, and I am The Man in this scenario. They’ve apparently had it with me, and despite my gifts, they’re going to give me a hard time about everything. I don’t know how our relationship deteriorated to this point. Until we start counseling, I’ll have to use a combination of the Chicken Stick and treats until they find a way to rebel against that. It’s going to be a constant struggle, but I swear I will win out over these chickens.

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Predators To Watch Out For

Friday, February 8th, 2013

(Broadcast 2/8/2013)


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.

Look both ways before crossing, please.

Look both ways before crossing, please.

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.

Do I feel like chicken tonight?

Do I feel like chicken tonight?

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.

"I think I'll go next door and bestow unto them my feces."

“I think I’ll go next door and bestow unto them my feces.”

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.

Body by chicken.

Body by chicken.

(thanks to for all the images)


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