By Frederick J. Dunn
Predators, prey, dangerous or friendly, how to deal with visitors to your hen yard...
As the deadline drew near for this month's E-zine, my eyes and ears were open as I gave considerable thought to what I should be writing about.
As I went out with a bucket to feed my Australian Emus, there arose a raucous ruckus in the nearby freshly hayed field... "Cheee-cheee-cheeeeee!!!" for those familiar, this is the ear drum altering alert of the African Guineas. Being a dutiful poultry keeper, I investigate and there it is... poor thing! A small red fox is being dutifully routed by my guineas... snatching up my digital camera, I run out into the field to snap some shots of this common event. You know, because seeing is believing? It's one thing to say that guineas are the first alert system on any poultry operation, it's another to see it. So, I submit my photo of the sad little fox making a dash home with no chicken dinner and with some nut dashing across the field with his camera to boot!
First line of defense for your birds is of course, well constructed housing. In my case, there is no protected run, as all my birds are free ranging. In more restricted areas, you'll have a run or portable coop for your birds during the day. High chicken wire sides and bird netting on top are adequate to curb birds of prey and rascally dogs in your neighborhood. At night, all poultry should be in a locked and secure roosting area, winter or summer, this is a must. Most predators visit at night, just at sunset and prior to sunrise. Leave no food nor scraps around that would attract predators to a free meal. It's best to feed your birds inside their enclosures, as they are also vulnerable when gathered at feeders.
Elevate your buildings off the ground. A coop constructed on stilts or a truss such as decks are built on, will prevent the habitation of mice and rats. Elevated structures also provide shelter for hens to run under in the case of a storm or high speed fly by, by a Red Tailed Hawk!
Guineas are a good line of defense, as they fearlessly chase off the dreaded squirrels, dear, stealthy cats, and as of 20 minutes ago around here... a fox. Unfortunately, they also spread the alarm when they see the paper boy, or a new car, or you walk out of a side door to sip coffee in the morning sun! Thus, the well earned reputation as the noisiest barnyard residents. In trade, they eat every imaginable bug without ceasing.
This leads to my last subject of the month... some perceive snakes as pests, or threats to their chickens. The dreaded "egg eaters", chick snatchers, "hen stranglers"... now I understand that it's very easy to give a snake a thwack and appear the hero of the neighborhood. I ask that you consider something broader... think upon what sort of snakes are actually in your area? Are they truly a threat to your live stock.... To YOU?!
Unless you live in Egypt or Australia, chances are most snakes in your part of the country are helpful rather than detrimental. Consider if you will, the common garter snake (there are many sub-species), it eats slugs, worms, tiny amphibians and other creepy crawlers that most want eradicated. They do not eat warm blooded anything and cannot swallow a chicken egg. So, if you choose to be a meanie, then do what you will, I say save the snakes! In closing, I leave you with an image of the little brown or also known as the decay's snake... it was under a water bucket and I decided to photograph it for your viewing pleasure... it's fat with slug supper, garnished with a worm or two. I picked it up and parked it neatly on this moss... please focus on real pests and let nature benefit us with species already in place designed to do so.
Frederick J. Dunn is a retired Navy man and a life long poultry man. He raises bees, emu and chickens in rural PA and is the author of the DVD Regarding Chickens. Fred is a contributor to Mother Earth News. Check out his website: www.fredsfinefowl.com to learn more about him.
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