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Suggestions for keeping chickens safe

 
pollinator
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Yes, everything loves chicken (even me).

I'll be moving into an area with lots of predators (no bear as far as I know, but coyotes yes) but I want to keep both egg layers and meat birds. I also want to let the egg layers free range.

I need some help brainstorming, with the understanding that no serious suggestion is off the table when brainstorming. An off-the-wall suggestion may trigger ideas from someone else.

If you're in the habit of saying "you can't," you're not helping.

My ideas so far:

Chicken tractor in with cows (a neighbor runs cows)
Geese as an early warning system
Chicken tractor with an electrified fence on the ground around the tractor
Chicken tunnels
Plants and trees for cover, but that will take time to develop
Develop a breed that hides more easily and is more wary
Chicken coop with 1/4 inch hardware cloth buried down a foot and out a foot
 
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How about a livestock guardian dog?  Combine that with electronetting and the chickens should be pretty safe.
 
gardener
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I don’t raise chickens, but my neighbors did and they basically had 2 approaches.

1). Barriers.  Lots of chicken wire.

2). Roosters.

I don’t know how many chickens they lost but they always had eggs.

Eric
 
steward
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I haven't kept chickens yet, but am considering getting some soon.

Has anyone grown large bushes in the paddocks or run, for overhead cover from predatory birds and for cover that they could get in to hide from other predators?
 
pollinator
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Steve Thorn wrote:Has anyone grown large bushes in the paddocks or run, for overhead cover from predatory birds and for cover that they could get in to hide from other predators?


Yes, and it helped! I had two chickens lost to a hawk two days in a row. I noticed after that that the chickens were watching the skies more, and were taking cover under a few bushes when they saw other large birds like crows.
 
gardener
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Hi Lauren,
I think free range is a great concept, but I also don't know of anyone who does true free range chickens for long. Everyone always switches to something else due to the losses. I worry if you breed some chickens that are good enough to get away and live... you probably wouldn't find any eggs anymore :)

I raised chickens as a kid and my parents did the whole buried wire thing, which generally worked well. I raised chickens myself as an adult for a couple years before having to get rid of them. We didn't have huge pressure, but definitely a coyote or two, foxes, racoons, hawks, etc. I used a mobile coop on big wheels so the chickens could go under it for shade and shelter. I had a rooster and also an electric fence that I would move around. The only chickens I lost were a couple young chicks who could fit through the holes in the fence, and a couple hens that I forgot to clip the wings of, that were smart enough to fly over the fence, but too stupid to fly back. I got back after dark, and didn't realize the hen had gotten out, and the next morning, I found a bunch of feathers by some bushes. However, the chickens that stayed inside had always been just fine. I'm a big fan of electric netting as a deterrent.
 
pollinator
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I lined the bottom of my chicken tractor with pvc conduit (uv resistant) then electrified the steel fencing on the tractor.  It has worked well for many years.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Gray Henon wrote:I lined the bottom of my chicken tractor with pvc conduit (uv resistant) then electrified the steel fencing on the tractor.  It has worked well for many years.

I had a chicken tractor that I built last year but never used--it had skis on the bottom. I bet that would work as well.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Matt McSpadden wrote:Hi Lauren,
I think free range is a great concept, but I also don't know of anyone who does true free range chickens for long. Everyone always switches to something else due to the losses. I worry if you breed some chickens that are good enough to get away and live... you probably wouldn't find any eggs anymore :)

I don't think "free" chickens in the woods would necessarily be a bad thing. While that's not my goal, it's definitely something to think about for the future.
 
Matt McSpadden
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I don't think "free" chickens in the woods would necessarily be a bad thing. While that's not my goal, it's definitely something to think about for the future.



Haha. Yes. While introducing a new wild species to your area would be an interesting thought... It definitely sounds like you want to utilize the eggs and meat, which means at the very least, training them to come back to a coop, and possible some sort of fencing.
 
pollinator
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I truly free range. I have a big barn they can stay in and it is fully fenced but the chickens aren't contained by that fence. They jump over it or go through the slats on the gate. It is important that they return there every night, and they do.

I've had tons of losses from various predators. This is going to sound super weird but you know what has totally eliminated my losses? I got pigs. I have a giant black tusked boar living in the barn with them and I haven't seen a raccoon or coyote come close to my barn since. (prior to the pigs arriving we did have a raccoon that game and fish was advising us on how to get rid of.) We had a crazy great horned owl experience where it would wait, in broad daylight, for us to open the barn door before swooping over our head and ripping the heads off our birds. It was wild.

Anyway, free range is possible but you have to accept losses if you do.
 
pollinator
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Lauren, I use a portable chicken tractor that is an elevated mobile coop surrounded by Premiere 1 electrified poultry netting.  I have been using this system for 1.5 years and am really happy with this it.  I can take down the fence and move their operations to a different patch of ground in about 15-20 minutes.  I also like the elevated coop because they can get shade and hide from potential areal predators.  I also have a blow-up beach ball "scarecrow" that is hanging by their coop to deter areal predators.   I'm also super glad that I invested in the automatic door for the coop.  This really comes in handy when we are gone from the house for a few days.  Good luck with your chickens!
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pollinator
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Living in S. Colorado, at 7400' elevation in the mountain front range, everything is a predator; I think I've seen frogs carrying off my chickens. Couple that with more protections on predators than on your livestock, it's a losing game if played the normal way. Most folks play the game based on acceptable losses, but one slaughter scenario, and that game is done.

We love chickens (for all the systems they participate in, like compost, recycle, etc) and the eggs, so we went the *Taj Mahal* route. Predator-proof chicken coop, coupled to a predator-proof (even against bears) 8'x8'x8' cage, as their main stomping ground. Took awhile to build, but this is a secure home base for them.

Layered defenses after that ... more cross-fencing to surround the secure home base and free-range areas, w/ LGD's in that. The pack kind that will attack and drive off a bear, not pansy ones.

No normal free-ranging for the chickens, as that was the equivalent of "ringing the dinner bell" ... we are planning to add moveable chicken tunnels to moveable free-range cages, both of which can be positioned as needed to work the land. Hawks & such are the most protected predator I've ever seen, and they defeat most other systems, especially where free-ranging is involved; this should defeat them.

Like they say in the movies, "there will be blood" if you raise chickens. We are hoping that the secure home base will cut the losses down to close to zero as we can get. Because, after that, I have to move in with the chickens ...
 
pollinator
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For aerial predator protection I've found fishing line with flagging tape tied to it has been very effective.  I run the lines about 10-12' apart and put hot pink flagging tape every 10-15' along the run of fishing line.  Hawks, raves, eagles, etc want an easy, low risk meal.  So all you need to do is make it seem too high risk for them to nosh on your poultry.  A bunch of ribbons seemingly floating in mid-air (they probably can't see the fishing line) makes them wonder what's holding it up and they don't want to risk breaking a wing going in for a meal.  I was losing close to 10 broilers a week (40 out of 100 overall) until we put up the fishing line.  No problems with raptor/raven predation since then.  

Note, if you do this make a loop in the fishing line to tie the ribbons to as otherwise the ribbons will slip down the line to one end or the other.  You can use t-posts, trees, or anything else that's convenient.

For land predators (coyotes, racoons, etc), good fences make good neighbors.  You'll keep a lot of such predators out if you have fencing appropriate to your situation.  If bears are a big concern then a HOT wire fence will do wonders.  We used "no-climb" horse fencing with hot wire above to a total 6.5' high.  Not the cheapest, but it's tight enough to keep the birds in (once they're at least a pound live weight) and will keep out anything besides a bobcat (they climb so well there's almost no fence that will keep them out unless it covers the top too).  
 
pioneer
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I tried to separate the males and female egg layers.  Into two separate cages, the roosters in a big dog kennel with 1 x 2 and 2x 4 for perches, built a box too for roosters.  The  females live in a chinese made cage, built out of hardware cloth,  I find the females digging holes to dust in each corner of cage, Have moved them over a half dozen times, they decimate grass in about 2 days.
 
master steward
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We use portable chicken shelters with electric fencing on the outside near the bottom for Hubby's professional egg layers. We've also got a couple of geese who free range during the day. We still loose some of the birds that aren't contained now and again - spring is bad as the predators are all feeding hungry babies.
My long term goal is to have a series of reasonably secure paddocks that are large enough for serious chicken shrubs/small trees and other forage and Fort Knox for night time. I absolutely want more chicken forage that they can forage for themselves, but they will still need supplement if I can't come up with a good insect production system to go with the paddocks.

Yes, you can't let them out too early or they'll decide to lay where you can't find the eggs - life is all about compromises!
 
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Our hens are entirely free range, yes we lose one or two a year due to predation (other critters gotta eat too, right?) but I feel with a vigilant watch and staying active on our property tends to keep most predators at bay (coyotes, fox, hawks, bobcats, bear). Wouldn’t recommend this method for everyone , but if your home a lot it seems to get the job done.
 
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great approaches here. you can see what we do in this video, and we added a trio of geese to the mix which keeps a lot of predators at bay. there’s a great deal of cover for our chickens here, someone went a little mad with the bamboo (actually the geese curb that too) so they can hide. half-inch hardware cloth all over the run and buried, too, means they are safe from dusk til we let them out — about 8.30, which is following the rise in human activity. the roosters really help too, as does learning the language of the birds so we can come running if needed.

https://youtu.be/z_u78eXEJjA

and for good measure, the geese…(who are just coming off broody season which has its own challenges! this was made when they were younger and the gander was in his gentlemanly phase. gander-wrestling is a spring sport! better than chasing hawks…)

https://youtu.be/HUvbeb0B4RM

lastly, the broody hens raise the chicks and they are fierce and skilled! but we do keep tight supervision on free ranging until they are a few weeks old and have learned from mama to watch the skies and heed papa’s warnings.

https://youtu.be/M3vYT4BYJ88

hope it helps to visualise. we have neighbours with dogs, on the other side of the fence, which also matters. and we do live a homebased life, plotted around evening chores happening well before dusk. best luck!
 
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We had freerange chickens and goats in a very large fenced área. A donkey lived with them and was great protection. Many ranchers put a donkey in their herd of gotas or sheep in Spain.  They are great against foxes, wolves, wild boar and dogs.  
 
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Still getting set up for chickens, but my plan is bear-resistant perimeter fencing and a LGD. Also, I have a lot of raspberry brambles that I think the chickens will love and be protected in.
 
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I must suggest perennial sunflowers for the easiest to grow shelters for chickens. My friends had a greenhouse/market garden and gave me some started sunflower plants from Johnny's Seeds. They are called Maximilian and are listed as perennials. These were a bit slow to get started and I did have to fence the small plants to keep the chickens off them the first season. By the second year, they had grown to about four feet tall. I am going to try to attach a pix of the poultry yard after 4 years.

Don't seem to be able to load the pix. Sorry...

Over time, the plants grew to over 12 feet tall. When the plants bloom, they have many flowers, each coming from a leaf joint. The weight of the flowers bent the plant over, creating a tangle of shelter where I raised many broody hens with chicks. My neighbors called my poultry yard "The Golden Arches". Without these plants, it would have been impossible to keep the chicks from the overhead predators.

I discovered Red Twig Osier dogwoods will create a nice hedge that offers excellent shelter in heat and from predators. They are a shrub, so they go wider than taller. They have lovely umbel blooms that feed pollinators and berries in fall. They are easy to start from woody cuttings in the fall.

I grew milkweed in stands, too. While offering flowers for pollinators, they were a fav among my turkeys.

By the way, I discovered that my Narragansett turkeys LOVE Gypsy Moth Caterpillars and moths. I collected and fed them often to my turkeys. Ducks and chickens were NOT interested in these furry bugs.

I made some interesting POP-UP shelters from a discarded 4X8' piece of plywood and a piano hinge. Cut the plywood into 2 4' pieces. Join them with the piano hinge and set it up. An A frame shelter!

I used some discarded sliding glass doors on top of several stacks of cement blocks. During the summer months, I put pieces of wood on top of the glass to offer shade. I put several of these up and they were well-loved.

I found several discarded truck caps, set them on cement blocks and the birds would shelter in summer and winter under these. I added hay bales around the base of the truck caps in winter, leaving the south side (the side where the tail gate and glass window are) exposed for solar warmth. During the winter, water seldom froze under these truck caps.

While none of these will offer shelter from 4 legged predators, they did offer great shelter from all the Cooper's Hawks we had coming out of the swamp and during migratory times.

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I read somewhere about making a fishing line net, running/weaving fishing line above the field where you want to let your chickens range for hawk protection. My guinea hens kept the neighbors dog at bay the other day, 50 guinea hens can make enough noise to disturb almost anything.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Rachel Jones wrote:I read somewhere about making a fishing line net, running/weaving fishing line above the field where you want to let your chickens range for hawk protection. My guinea hens kept the neighbors dog at bay the other day, 50 guinea hens can make enough noise to disturb almost anything.



See my post further up.  You don't need a "net".  I just put a line every 10-15' and tie high-viz ribbons to it (also every 10-15').  I don't bother crossing the lines.  It's worked very well so far for me.

That's great that your guineas were able to deter the dog.  I wouldn't count on that, especially with coyotes.  Lots of canids will just go after the guineas instead.
 
Michael Moreken
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Might tomorrow with a friend harvest the roosters, all but 2 of them for now.  Found a dead female yesterday in cage?
 
pollinator
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I have 6 foot tall poly deer fence around my quarter acre chicken pasture to keep them in, and 3 electric fence lines on the bottom to keep predators out. So far so good, except for hawks. For those I have a scarecrow but it has failed me before. I tend to forget to put it out in the fall, and move it regularly.
 
master pollinator
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This is sort of OT (maybe a different topic?) but I'm curious what precautions people are taking to prevent transmission of avian flu into their chicken coops or tame ducks. As I understand it, wild ducks and geese are carriers. It can be tracked in on boots (poop) and clothing. Anybody have biosecurity measures in place?
 
pollinator
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First line of defense that I've had moderate success with is the 32 inch tall Premier 1 Poultry Net, but from time to time something gets under or over it. It doesn't work great if the grass grows up into it, if the soil is dry, if it's grounded out or arcing to something, or if a wire comes loose or you forget to plug it in. It also is a hassle to use around trees, as it gets hung up on twigs and branches when you move it.

Second line of defense has been the Chickenguard automatic door opener/closer. If you set it to open at least an hour after the sun has come up, all the racoons, foxes, coyotes, and other nocturnal predators will have gone to bed for the day.

I use the poultry net and the automatic door opener/closer for my winter coop, from like November to March.

For the summer I put my chickens in a pretty standard Salatin style chicken tractor which I move down my orchard rows. To keep anything from digging under it, on the ground around each side I lay down an 18 inch wide piece of remesh panel that has been wrapped in chicken wire. I attached some plastic insulators to the sides of the chicken tractor, and wrapped a bunch of wraps of braided poly hot wire around it, attaching the ground connection to the remesh panels and to the chickenwire of the tractor itself. So far I've had no losses out of the chicken tractor with this setup.
 
Michael Moreken
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Sold the roosters (5) for $50.  kept one.
 
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