Today we wanted to tell you about a flying-predator deterrent method we are trying out with our chickens, so that they can happily free range, with less risk. It’s not guaranteed prevention to protect our flock, by any means. But designed to merely be a deterrent; to discourage hawks and other flying predators from attempting to fly down and get our chickens.
We had always originally planned to allow our flock to free-range wherever they pleased, when we got chickens. But that intention all changed one day, when our oldest was sitting at the sun room table, eating her lunch, and watching the little birds happily eating at the bird feeder, just a few yards outside of our slider glass door. As she watched, a hawk came down in one fell-swoop, and grabbed a little feeding birdie, right off the feeder! It happened so fast, and left her in such shock and so upset, she could hardly speak at first. Soon, all of the kids were all upset, over the tale she told. We needed a new plan.
We got our chickens as one day old chicks, in July 2014. They grew up, in size and maturity, in their ample-sized, predator proof (for sure!) chicken run, attached to their predator-proof (for sure!) coop. Most every day while they were young through the Fall, they got to come out of their run with the kids or us adults, and free range under our supervision. The chickens also get lots of ‘one-on-one’ time and attention from our kids; being carried around, brought out front to meander, carried inside the house for a visit, etc.
The winter season that followed, the chickens’ first cold season, was a brutal one. Free-ranging was not even an option, since they’d have immediately gotten lost in the snow several feet over their little heads. The temperatures were detrimental, as well. But their run was protected with a canvas over the top, and that seemed to keep most of the snow out enough for them to venture out within that area. The inside of the coop was on a temp regulator, so it never fell below 38 degrees or so. They can actually handle much colder temperatures but, we’d feel bad anyway, and we also were trying to keep their water from freezing. So they went in for a spell throughout the days, whenever they felt the need to warm up, or lay an egg.
Spring finally arrived, and we definitely wanted them to be able to free-range on their own, throughout the day! As we had always planned. So it was time to devise a plan to try and keep our chickens somewhat protected, so they could come out of their run and have the freedom to roam, all throughout the daytime. As chickens love to do! We want our chickens alive and happy, if we can possibly help it.
So first, my husband, Michael, and I agreed that we would fence in the whole upper yard for them, with some wire fencing, and a gate to enter the area. Not ground predator proof fencing; just general 14 gauge wire fencing (with 2×4 holes), to keep big animals out and the chickens in that general area. But that didn’t solve the concern that hawks were always circling around overhead, and hanging out in nearby trees, with their eyes on our chickens, just waiting for the opportunity. We love the sightings and beauty of hawks, with all of their grace in flight. But not their appetite for chickens. We needed more than fencing.
We tossed around the idea for only a few minutes, of covering the whole overhead area somehow, with a light garden netting, which would take a lot of material, at a significant-enough expense. But Michael also did not like the fact that little birds would always be getting caught up in the netting, and possibly getting injured in the interim. We very much enjoy the little wild birds that come and go on our property. So we definitely didn’t want to cause any harm to them.
But hawks are big, with a wide wing-span. They swoop down and go right back up in one motion, grabbing their prey in the process! (Just as our oldest daughter had witnessed, with the little bird on the feeder.). So I had the idea, to just tie transparent string (like heavy fishing line) overhead, from tree to tree, fencing to trees to the coop, or however we could, criss-crossing and whatnot, so that any hawk or flying predator would not really have the room to swoop in, grab a chicken, and fly out. My thought was that a vast aerial maneuver like that wouldn’t be possible, with their wings getting clipped and knocked out of flight. Getting in and out could not be so seamless, without mishap.
Michael liked my idea, but instead wanted the string visible; like white cotton string, to deter any predator from even trying. So that they see that they couldn’t easily get in and out. I saw his point, but I just didn’t want my backyard looking like some kind of contraption. However, his word is final so; he won. He got that done while I supervised. But wouldn’t you know, I was the one that had an accident resulting in an injury! (More on that in a moment.) But here are a few of photos of the strings in place.
(Upper yard to the right.)
(Upper yard to the left.)
(View from my sun room, where I have sat for more hours in a day than I ever hoped to.)
You may also take notice in the photos, of the couple of palette tables set up in the upper yard. Those will soon hold some flats of greens and maybe some flowers, that chickens can treat on, which will make them prettier. But the purpose of them set is for the chickens to have more safe coverage. The rooster, Weymouth, is always looking out for hawks and other predators. So he alerts the girls when danger is nearby, and they definitely listen to him. (It’s so cool to witness his authority over his girls, actually. Except maybe when he is raping them, what seems like every other minute.) So when he shrieks, all of the hen-girls take cover or stay still where they are under something. The palette tables are more protection made available to them.
To reiterate; the upper yard is not completely predator proof, in any way. It’s just a concept that we are trying out, and we’ll keep you posted. The kids are reminded often that, at some point, we will lose a chicken, or more! It’s the cycle of life, and they know that. Be it from illness, an injury, a predator, or some other way we never imagined. It will happen. But this experiment is just an effort to keep it from being such a wide-open yard of fly-through chicken-pick-up. Just to give us a new challenge to remedy, we discovered a raccoon lives in the tree, that is within the big chicken run! While raccoons generally sleep all day and come out at night (when our chickens are very safe in their coop), they have been known to show up in the daytime unexpectedly, and kill chickens. And they don’t just kill what they want to eat. They kill them all, just for the fun of it. So…we’ll be getting that raccoon to another living quarters, or something, very soon.
The chicken’s coop and run, IS completely predator proof. They are locked up in their coop all night. In the early morning, Michael lets them all out into their run. When the kids and I get up, they are let out into the upper yard to free range all day, so they can forge for bugs, scratch around, dust-bathe, etc. When dusk comes, they go back into their run and coop all on their own. Before night falls, we lock them all up for the night.
It’s only been not quite a month yet but, so far so good! Keep following us here on the blog and at our Facebook Page! (Have you ‘Liked’ us there yet, to follow us?) We’ll definitely be keeping you updated if things are going well, or a day of chicken-tragedy strikes!
As I mentioned a moment ago, the day we got all of that fending and string up, all did not go without incident. In fact, I’m still recovering. If you don’t care to hear my sob-story, and are just here for chicken-keeping ponderments, you can skip it all and scroll right down to after the asterisks! ( * * * * * * )
I was standing on these stairs, in the middle of a step landing, facing sideways. In other words, my feet were parallel with the edges of the steps, facing to the right. The fencing was not yet up, and I was talking to Michael, who was up on the yard, with my supervision input. My weight was on my left foot. While talking and not paying attention, I took a step to the right, and unknowingly, the inner edge of my foot landed on the very edge of of the step, with most of my foot off the overhang. And I proceeded to let all of my weight let go on it. Needless to say, my ankle and foot rolled right over, as I descended to the step below, landing on it with all of my weight. I felt a horrible pop, and I went down hard. I was in a heap with my face eating dust….just trying to cope with the pain. Michael and one of my boys saw it happen, and soon the rest of the kids were there. They all got me laying on the deck with my foot elevated. But the fact that I couldn’t stop breathing so heavy, I was shivering (although I wasn’t cold…like in childbirth!), and was nauseous, were all clear signs that there was trauma to the body. There was massive swelling, and almost as much pain. We iced and elevated, and I wondered if it would be fine the next day.
HA!! I spent the next week wondering…another day? Another day? I could not walk and put ANY weight on it AT ALL. Week 2, I finally got it checked, x-rayed (I was sure it wasn’t broken, despite all of the bruising on both sides of my ankle), and finally, an orthopedic doctor. It was a very severe sprain, with torn ligaments and the works. And added, “…which can be a lot worse than a break, and take much longer to heal.” I left with a big bad air-walking boot, which I could only use when absolutely necessary, to be up and get from point A to B. So, I spent the next week moping that it wasn’t going to heal any time soon. By the 3rd week, I had finally come to terms with the situation, and started trying to make the most of it. I’m in week 4 now, with finally some evidence of healing. I am getting around some on my own, bootless sometimes, but limping a lot. My next check-up is coming up. I’m going to admit right now….I have not been proud of my attitude through it all. Pity parties, moping, zero-patience, angry even (very angry….at ME….because I had no time for this injury)…..because I waited for this spring for so long, had all kinds of outdoor plans and was very much looking forward to working in my gardens! Because I wanted to take photos of my kids, and our chickens, and go places with the kids. I could do none of it. And I still cannot drive! I feel such shame now. Because the truth of the matter is, accidents happen, and it is temporary. There are people in wheelchairs for life, battling life-threatening diseases, or dying. I have had my amazing husband (who literally carried me from room to room for a week), and my incredible children waiting on me hand and foot. (Thank God they are homeschooled and around during the day!). It’s been rough, but with so many graces through it all. My family even did my always running to-do list! And God has been teaching me all I needed to be taught, through it all. (Once I opened my heart to hear Him.). I’m supposed to give thanks, for even this. But ummm….well, I’m still working on that part. lol
UPDATE: Turns out, my ankle WAS broken….in TWO places! At the 4 week check-up, when it was clear it was not healing, the ortho decided to take xrays himself. The hospital’s xrays were reviewed and reported as negative. But they were so wrong. I lost a month of healing time, because I was trying to walk on it for those weeks.
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Anyway, I’m glad Michael got the project done though, so the chickens could free-range all over. Because it makes the chickens happy! And also because, I’ve certainly not been able to do much else in the past few weeks, but sit around, and watch the chickens peck the ground.
Again, we promise to keep you posted, as to how this crazy contraption works out for us. And you can certainly look forward to lots of photography of our rooster and hens, as well as long list of more blog posts to come as well.