Predator-Safe Free Ranging in Rural Areas
Living in a rural neighborhood, it can seem like free-ranging your chickens is the ideal existence for your birds. . My chickens' feed consumption is lower if I free-range them, and they are happier than they are in their coop and run and pen, even though the pen should feel just like free-ranging.
But then a predator comes along, and suddenly you are down a bird or two. How do you prevent this from happening?
What I have found works best:
1. Know your predators.
Most of us have four or five specific types of predators that commonly lurk around our area. For example, I don't have a ton of smaller predators (Raccoons, ect.), in my specific neighborhood. Bears are one of the biggest threats. I know bears typically don't bother anyone in the summer, but in Fall, they need more food so they can go into hibernation, and they are hungry in Spring once they return from hibernation.
So in order to minimize what threat I have from bears, I keep the chickens in their coop and run most of Fall and Spring. Summer is actually pretty safe in our neighborhood, because the large predators have plenty of food without having to raid chicken coops.
Another example: Somebody told me that there was a cougar around, because deer were sleeping right in the front yard. I now know--if the deer are getting brave and coming closer to humans than they should, that means there is a cougar around. The deer know that cougars don't like getting that close to humans, so they stick around houses as much as possible.
If your predators are nocturnal, free-ranging only during daylight hours--letting out the chickens late and putting them up early--is probably a good solution. Be sure you know the various wildlifes' habits, so you know when and how to let your birds free-range.
2. Give your chickens boundaries.
Most chickens are very good at sensing exactly what parts of the yard they are not supposed to play in, and heading straight there each time they free-range. Those of you with gardens know this.
Many of us with big yards have trouble keeping your chickens where they need to be. I have a nice big front areas and a smaller back area I am fine with having the chickens play with, but there are woods on all sides which the chickens wander into from time to time, and which are not very safe for them. I keep them out by
-Chasing them out repeatedly and persistently.
-If there is a path they are sticking to, block off the path
-Call the chickens and distribute treats.
Eventually, the chickens will get it that this is not a good area to play in.
Additionally, keeping chickens together as a flock while free-ranging (Especially with a rooster!) is safer than individual chickens roaming around.
3. Talk to the neighbors
Both of our closest neighbors had chickens, and one fall, we lost five collectively to a fox or bear or both. If the neighbors have a predator problem, it is very likely it is time for the chickens to take a break from free-ranging. It doesn't even necessarily need to be an attack on the neighbors chickens; if their birdfeeder or trash is being invaded by animals, your birds should be kept in their coop or run for a while.
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