Chickens are so easy to raise that they fit almost anywhere. Many are in small suburban backyards where predator loads are smaller, and flocks are a little easier to protect. However, some of us live on larger, wilder land and have to deal with an additional variety of predators that would love a good chicken dinner more than is healthy for our sweet egg layers! There are a few things you can do to protect your rural flock from these dangers, though.
I was recently reminded of the dangers our rural flock faces as my husband and I walked the back of the fence-line on our property. In just that one short walk, we spotted a momma bear and her cubs not far from our coop...
... and shortly thereafter heard a hawk screech its shrill warning.
That really brought to mind how I've many times heard the owls hooting in the dark, coyotes crying at the moon, or foxes barking in the woods. We enjoy the wildlife, but these predators are a definite threat to our rural flock, so we have to keep some special safeguards in place to protect them.
The best way to safeguard your rural flock is to be proactive. Here is our best advice.
4 things you can do to protect a rural flock:
- Coop security---of course! ~Making sure to lock your flock up securely at night in a secure chicken coop is naturally the first, and most important, thing you can do. But having a secure coop isn't enough if you don't regularly perform a chicken coop damage inspection, because a secure coop and run won'y stay that way with determined predators around. Keeping your coop and run secure is part and parcel of good coop security, especially for a rural flock. Many times this year I've seen pictures posted by friends of an owl sitting in a nest box... with feathers from beloved pets scattered around. Or they might see a raccoon or opossum waiting to greet them at breakfast time.
- Pee Granules/Dispensers ~One solution to stopping coop infiltration is the use of pee dispensers and granules. This pee is targeted to different predators and lasts for about a month for pee or a week for granules before needing to be replenished. It is a great solution for small and mid-sized plots of land or used around the outside of the coop. Smaller predators smell the danger of larger predators and stay away... and it doesn't seem to bother the hens at all. It even helps deter predators from bothering your flock during the day.
- Portable Electric Netting Fence ~During the day, a portable electric netting fence can protect larger spaces. It doesn't bother the chickens and my girls never seem to get shocked on it--much to my surprise. It's quite effective at keeping out all but the largest, furriest critters and the flyers if set up correctly. Even a bear will respect it if they hit their very sensitive nose on it and get a good shock. The downside of netting is that you need a clear area to set it up and many places have rocks, trees, tall grasses, and more. This can make a netting fence difficult to use, because even having grasses up against the fence can drain the charge and negate the protection.
- Livestock Guardian Dogs ~One form of protection that is becoming more popular for the rural flock is the use of livestock guardian dogs, also known as LGDs. While some dogs are naturally driven to hunt and kill animals, other dog breeds have natural instincts to protect their pack--instincts that can be developed so that they regard your flock as a part of their pack, and objects to be protected. The Maremma is reputed to be among the best LGD breeds to protect the rural flock. Though LGDs require a great deal of training and time initially, they are a low stress, economical, and effective deterrent to predators. Their presence and sheer size---LGDs tend to be large dogs---will stop most invaders from even making the attempt... or at least cause them to think twice about trying to make a dinner out of your flock. For the largest properties in very rural areas this is probably one of the best solutions to predator issues.
Do you free range your flock? Tell us about your solutions to predator problems!