Episode 12 – In this episode we discuss ways you can protect your flock from predators.
Suzy recently discovered an article describing the meat chicken industry’s practice of injecting chicken meat with saltwater to increase the flavor of an otherwise bland product. It’s called plumping.
Plumping creates a few problems for those of us who see chicken as a healthier meat choice than other option. By adding saltwater, the sodium content is increased as much as six times the level of natural raw chicken. In fact, a four ounce portion of plumped meat has more sodium than a large order of french fries from a fast food restaurant! If you are trying to watch your sodium for health reasons (as we all should), this is one way it could be sneaking into your diet without your knowledge.
To us, it’s just another reason to pursue raising our own meat birds so we can control what we are eating. If that’s not an option for you, you can avoid chicken that had been plumped by looking for tiny print on chicken packaging that says “May contain up to 15% saltwater.” You can learn more at www.saynotoplumping.com
Protecting Your Flock from Predators [05:12]
One of our very good regular customers had a bad experience with her flock this last week. Many of her five-month old Golden Laced Wyandottes were destroyed by a fox over a period of several days. Losing chickens to predators is always devastating, but more so when you have been raising them for five months, you are anticipating their first eggs, and then you have to start over again from scratch.
So today we are going to discuss ways you can help protect your flock from predators. There are many high tech gadgets and toys that claim to help with this, but we are going to look at the basics.
Whether you are going to build your own coop or buy a pre-built one, here are some things you should look at.
Don’t Use Chicken Wire [08:23]
It is easy to understand why so many people use chicken wire for their coops. It’s right in the name! Unfortunately, just about the only animal that chicken wire will stop, is a chicken. Almost everything that’s eats chicken can rip through or pull apart chicken wire like it was crepe paper.
Instead of chicken wire, use 1/4″ or 1/2″ hardware cloth. This welded wire mesh is strong enough to stand up to most thing that want to eat your chicken. It is more expensive than chicken wire, but it is a good investment in the longevity of your chickens.
Use the hardware cloth to cover the run, windows and any opening bigger than 1/2 inch.
Don’t Use Staples [12:00]
Okay, so you bit the bullet and bought the expensive hardware cloth to protect your chickens. You will be tempted to take a staple gun and staple the hardware cloth to the coop. Don’t do it! Staples don’t get far enough into the wood and they don’t have the grip to prevent a raccoon with OCD from pushing and pulling on the mesh until it pulls the staples out.
Instead, use screws and fender washers to secure the hardware cloth. Fender washers are a wide, flat metal disc with a small hole in the center. Once screwed in tight, the wide surface area of the fender washer will help hold the mesh in place and the screws will not pull out.
Think Low [13:26]
If they can’t go through the coop walls, many predators are willing and capable to dig their way under them. Employ anti-digging techniques to keep them from doing so.
If you have a permanent coop, dig a trench and extend the hardware cloth boundary 12 inches below the surface.
If you have a chicken tractor, burying hardware cloth is not an option. You can, however, create a hardware cloth skirt that lays on the ground surrounding the tractor. The skirt will prevent animals from digging down near the tractor. Extend the skirt out 18 to 24 inches.
You can also run a single strand of electric fence wire along the perimeter of the coop near the surface. Predators who go to dig will get a little shock that will send them away very quickly.
Finally, build a sold, raised floor in the coop portion of your permanent coop or run.
Think High [16:51]
Most people never think about predators getting in from above. Hawks are big predators of chickens. A solid roof on the run will prevent them from getting to your flock.
If you free-range your chickens, provide some improvised shelter the chickens can hide under for protection from hawks.
Use Complex Latches [18:10]
Many predators, raccoons especially, are pretty bright and can easily figure out simple to moderately-complex latch mechanisms. Look for latches that require at least two-movements to operate.
Even better, find latches that allow you to use a snap lock on them. Snap locks will make it so that only humans can open your doors.
Use Livestock Protection Animals [20:35]
Roosters are one animal that will protect your hens. If they see a predator, they will alert the flock and push them into the coop or other safety zone. Unfortunately, roosters are not a fool-proof line of defense. Once the hens are under cover, a rooster will often return to fight the predator off. This may work sometimes, but larger predators will easily dispatch the rooster, living the hens unprotected.
Dogs are the more conventional livestock protection animal. Some breeds, like Great Pyrenees were bred specifically for this purpose. If you can’t afford a purebred, trained livestock protection dog, non-conventional breeds and mixed-breeds can accomplish the same thing.
Our three dogs are all mixed-breeds. The oldest, Max, is exceptional at chasing animals away from our property. He is also very friendly with the chickens ad they can literally walk on top of him and he will just lay there and let them. For any dog to be effective, they need to have access to the part of your property where the chickens live 24 hours per day. If you dog is locked inside at night, he can’t protect the chickens from a evening raccoon raid.
Not all dogs are suited for life with chickens. Make sure you observe for yourself how your dog reacts to chickens (especially when he doesn’t think you are around). Also, not all dogs are good at chasing animals our of your yard. A lazy dog who isn’t territorial may be a very good pet, but don’t count on him to be part of your chicken protection plan.
Lastly, donkeys are great livestock protection animals. They bond well with whatever animals they live with. They eat mostly grass and are very low maintenance. And, most importantly, they will fiercely defend their territory from even the largest of predators.
Final Thoughts [28:44]
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See you next time!