Anticipated ree range loss in Fairfax Station VA -thoughts?

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by mfh, Mar 3, 2015.

  1. mfh

    mfh New Egg

    Oct 23, 2011
    I have been reading and reading and we are very torn on if we should free range in our area.

    After years of talking and not doing..we are going to have a flock of ~15-20 RIR and Barred Rocks this year. Primarily RIRs. If we free range we will keep a roster for flock protection (or two if they get along).

    We live in an area where most of the properties are five acres and wooded (part of a watershed area of the Potomac).

    I completely understand the tradeoff of a fenced run vice free range. I can not fence a huge paddock area - not really feasible because of property use and cost. We would like to free range but I am trying to understand the predator loss that I can expect.

    We certainly don't view chickens as disposable and are not being flippant about their safety, but we would rather see the chickens forage and eat "naturally" if we can. We could accept a loss now and then in order to provide a free range environment. At night they would be locked securely in a coop. I would NOT leave them out overnight. They would be out during day ours only.

    We have fox, hawks, coyotes, snakes and raccoons - all the prime thiefs and killers.

    I would like to have a coop that has a sizable 12x15 covered run in addition to the coop (probably 8x8 with walk under space beneath). On most days I would like them out and about…of course, if predator loss is one a day, clearly they would not be sustainable. Even one a week would be too many.

    Clearly its not ane xact scince…but I was hoping if there was someone in the area or set up similarly could share thier thoughts on if we should try free range or just keep them in the covered and fenced run.

    Any thoughts on what I can expect?

  2. heiditam

    heiditam Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 8, 2014
    It is a good Q-and one I had in the beginning... I certainly did not want any losses, but I figured that with free ranging it was an occasional thing I had to accept in trade for giving hens that freedom. Only problem was that it was not occasional. And it can be so very personal for each individual hen owner, even in the same area-I have a friend that lets her hens range and did not have any problems for YEARS. YEARS! And I know a breeder here that has never had a racoon issue at night. Me? My free ranging all day dreams quickly ended. I was OK with an occasional loss, but some predators will come back every. single. day. once they find your hens. Hawks do this as well. In the Fall, I had to keep them locked up nearly all day because they would swoop down and perch, waiting for them. I know that a fox will take out an entire flock at one time, or come back every day. We have a stray cat that was stalking the girls every day too(until husband scared it with an air pellet gun). After about a year, we have had losses- a racoon took out our entire first flock when it ripped into the wire like it was paper. :( Free ranging, we have had 2 confirmed hawk kills, and 2 mystery disappearances. good advice except this....

    You won't know how serious your predator risk is until you start ranging them. And, you will quickly learn just how much wildlife there is when you do.

    I would build a coop and run large enough to lock them in when the risk is there. I have had to keep them locked up for days to wait out a predator threat.

    If you can get a guard dog and rooster, that helps. I cannot, so I have to rely on my run.
  3. JackE

    JackE Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 26, 2010
    North Eastern Md.
    A rooster may, MAY help, in the case of airborne threats. But that is not guaranteed. As far as ground threats go, like a fox, roosters are nothing more than feathered speed bumps. And like heitam said, a fox sometimes won't take just one. They can wipe you out in a couple of hours. I got away with freeranging for almost a full year, until the fox discovered my flock. I lost 9 out of 11, while we were away for just a couple of hours. And one of the survivors was the rooster. So much for that. The answer for me, was electrified poultry net. I have 650' of it. The chickens have a pretty good sized area to roam around in. They get out everyday, and I don't have to worry about them.
  4. WildfireSmitty

    WildfireSmitty Chillin' With My Peeps

    Poultry netting is prob your only option if you want to leave the house with out worrying the whole time.
    You could always get a llama. I kept a llama with my free range meat birds and it seemed to keep the ground preds out fairly well.
    If you still run into ground pred problems, you could always become a certified "fur trapper" lol.

    Clip their wings, stop em from flying up too high and attracting anything from a distance.

    I hope you don't have any minks or ferrets in your area, because that is one slick pred. I had one get in my barn and bleed out all my hens (30) Those are a hard pred to deal with.

    Once your flock is discovered, you need to put them away for at least a week. A pred will keep coming back multiple times a day, especially a yote with some young pups.

    With that, all you need now is an anti-air missile defense system and your all set.
  5. Monguire

    Monguire Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 18, 2014
    Manassas, VA
    x2 re the suggestion of poultry netting. I went with the electrified from Premier1 (US-made is important to me). I have yet to actually hook up the charger to the fence, but I am ready at a moments notice to wrap my beloved flock in the warm embrace of 7000 volts should the need ever arise. A properly installed/maintained electric fence will be THE best ground-threat deterrent after a secure run. The poultry fencing is easily moved/reconfigured to the size/shape I need for my pasture at any given time. There have been a few instances of hens spooked up and over its 4' height but once that happened they freak out and hug the fence line trying to get back in to the flock. After 6 months of happy usage now, they see it as a 10' brick wall and won't even attempt to cross it.

    There are low-cost things you can add to your pasture for help with aerial predators. Planting ground cover is a cheap albeit non-timely solution. Another option is temporary/movable lightweight shelters you build and strategically place around your pasture to allow the chooks to break line of sight with any aerial predators once the alarm is raised.

    As to what to expect from predators in our area? As with all things, I try to defer to my elders (and a simpler, more wholesome time)...hope for the best, plan for the worst.
  6. mfh

    mfh New Egg

    Oct 23, 2011
    Thank you all for your replies which pretty much validates what I was thinking with respect to it really depends.

    We have family dogs that could help as a deterrent which we have been socializing with the chickens. They are labs and we will test to ensure they don't cause harm.

    We would never leave them out if we weren't home. My intention is to build a run large enough that if we are not home they can have an outdoor area big enough for them.

    The coop will be tight-I have a tendency to go overboard with building things...I figure if I am taking the time I want it there for a long time. Will be only using the tight 1/4 cloth. For run are it will be same up to a coupe dee and then the large gauge chicken wire.

    I guess we will play it by ear and start with them out while I am out to help minimize a flock loss at once.

    Thanks again...I am sure I will have many more questions!

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