My partner, Jeannie, and I are finally keeping our own chickens. We have a mixed breed flock of laying hens along with a few roosters. After much discussion about the land we have and the life that we want to offer our chickens, we decide on free ranging during the day and housing them in a moveable coop at night. We know that one of the main challenges with this system is dealing with predators.
When our chickens were about a month old they graduated from a brooder box to an outside coop. We contained them in a small run for a few days until we were confident that they recognized the coop as their home. Once we set them free unto the world, they immediately spread out and explored the yard. We had no problems for about a month, until we came up one short during our morning head count. I looked around the yard and in the coop and found no trace of the hen: no feathers, no blood no nothing. She was just gone. I hoped that she roosted somewhere new and would return later in the day. I headed inside to do some research on predators. I found that without evidence there are three likely suspects: foxes, humans and hawks. I was pretty confident that this happened during the previous day and we were dealing with a hawk.
The next morning brought no miraculous return of the missing hen. Fortunately we lost no other birds. The day after that, we were outside splitting wood about 100 yards away from where the chickens frolicked. Since the pecking order changed there had been more squabbling and fighting. I noticed two of them bowing up at each other. There was an awful cluck and I realized that one of them was not a chicken but a hawk. I screamed and we ran as fast as we could to the battle. The hawk was small and unable to fly off with our chicken. When we arrived she was bleeding with an injured leg and shaken up but very much alive. We brought her into the house, set up a recovery crate and made a splint for her leg from a toothpick, a cotton ball and a paperclip.
The next day we let the chickens out and kept a careful watch for the hawk. Right before dusk as we sat in the living room watching the chickens, Jeannie saw the blasted hawk again. We ran outside just in time to watch the hawk fly off with a chicken. The hawk couldn’t fly far with its prey. As we rushed to where he set down we saw him fly off. I picked up the chicken and she died in my arms. So now in four days we had two dead chicks and one in the medical coop. Oddly none of our white chickens had been attacked. We decided that free range might not be the best plan. We reattached the original small run to the coop and added a layer of chicken wire over the top and continued watching the sky for the hawk.
I admit to anthropomorphizing all of our animals, but the chickens seemed miserable. Some paced the fence and the others just looked listless. This was exactly why we didn’t want to confine our birds in the first place. We decided to leave the chickens penned up until we could deter this hawk. Our hope was that the hawk would be frustrated by the lack of an easy meal would leave our birds alone. After a few days of total confinement, we let the chickens out whenever we were outside doing work. We kept an eye on them and then rounded them up into their enclosure whenever we headed into the house or left the farm. After about a week and a half of this and no hawk sightings we let them free range again.
Free Ranging Chickens Sans Hawk
Happily, this happened two months ago and we have not lost another chicken. I still see hawks around so I’m not sure if our chickens have just gotten wiser or if they are just lucky. We do share credit with a strong flock of crows that hang around our farm. As for the injured one, we named her Peggy (peg leg). We reintroduced to the flock after a few days of rest and recovery and now we can barely tell which one she is.