First disaster with free ranging 4 month olds.....

tari

Chirping
May 26, 2019
42
64
64
Waterbury Center, Vermont
Hi All Experienced Chicken Keepers...I have had my first disaster with my flock of 16 hens, 4.5 months old. (Black Australorps, Barred Rocks, Cuckoo Marans, Easter Eggers, Ameracauna, Buff Laced Polish). They've been free ranging during the day, between 10-4. I was gone for 1 hour today and came home to find feathers everywhere, one dead hen, and five hens missing. The 11 I have now came trickling in from the woods throughout the day. I assume a fox....but I also saw a large hawk circling this evening. I know to expect losses with free range....and I've been waiting to see if I have a rooster. None seem to have appeared yet. I have no dogs or other beasts to protect the flock. I guess my question is....always keep them inside the electric fence? Any brilliant ideas out there about free ranging? I'm pretty sad about it all and wonder if I should even have chickens. I lost a Golden Laced Wyandotte, 2 Barred Rocks, and two Polish.
 

ashlierami

Songster
Feb 9, 2017
871
1,553
232
Alabama
Hi All Experienced Chicken Keepers...I have had my first disaster with my flock of 16 hens, 4.5 months old. (Black Australorps, Barred Rocks, Cuckoo Marans, Easter Eggers, Ameracauna, Buff Laced Polish). They've been free ranging during the day, between 10-4. I was gone for 1 hour today and came home to find feathers everywhere, one dead hen, and five hens missing. The 11 I have now came trickling in from the woods throughout the day. I assume a fox....but I also saw a large hawk circling this evening. I know to expect losses with free range....and I've been waiting to see if I have a rooster. None seem to have appeared yet. I have no dogs or other beasts to protect the flock. I guess my question is....always keep them inside the electric fence? Any brilliant ideas out there about free ranging? I'm pretty sad about it all and wonder if I should even have chickens. I lost a Golden Laced Wyandotte, 2 Barred Rocks, and two Polish.
I am sorry for your loss! I went thru this my first year of chicken keeping. I lost 18 over a year. They would disappear or I'd find feathers. I only free range while I'm at home. Even then I listen for my roosters to give the alarm call and I go check on them. It can be very frustrating because sometimes it's nothing at all and I drop everything to run and see what's wrong. I've had Hawks, dogs, feral cats, racoons, and an eagle that have bothered my flock. It's so devastating. If you want them out eating grass you need a covered run. One that's predator proof below and above. If you ever leave them alone out free then they are free game and you will continue to lose them.
 

Folly's place

Enabler
10 Years
Sep 13, 2011
23,605
39,741
1,106
southern Michigan
I'm so sorry for your losses!
Electric fencing will be a huge help against many ground predators, if it's legal where you live, and set up properly. Premier1supplies.com and Howard E on this site are very helpful.
Hawks will take one bird, not groups in one day. this was more likely a fox, dog or coyote.
This predator will return!!!
Lock your pullets in their safe coop and their run, if it's predator proof, until this is resolved.
Any tracks to be seen? On bodies, the distance between the marks from the canine teeth gives information too.
Set up a game camera if possible.
Only trap if you will shoot the varmit; relocation is generally illegal, and bad for everyone.
No rooster can fight off a fox or larger predator! They will give warning calls, which are helpful.
Your survivors are luckier, wiser, and have learned that it's a scary world out there. They will be more careful too.
Free ranging is always risky, and yet it's good for the birds to be able to be out there.
All the best,
Mary
 

Peppercorngal

Crowing
Feb 5, 2018
2,647
6,105
391
Feather Falls, CA
I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. We used to have predator fox and coyotes that would run in from the woods, grab a chicken and run away. All during the daytime. Actually some stray dogs would do that too. We bought 4 foot farm fence and put that up to enclose the free range area and have had no problems since. Of course the chickens are put in a totally enclosed run and coop area at night. A fence may be all you need . . .??
:hugs
 

tari

Chirping
May 26, 2019
42
64
64
Waterbury Center, Vermont
Thank you so much for your reply, Mary. I do have a Premier 1 electric fence that they are in most of the time. I'm going to leave them in there for now all the time. Their coop is pretty spacious and the fenced in area also....so they have room. No free range for now....until I can understand more about keeping them safe. I like the idea of a game camera, too. I know we have bobcats, coyotes, fox, fishers, weasels, bear,...you name it!
 

tari

Chirping
May 26, 2019
42
64
64
Waterbury Center, Vermont
I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. We used to have predator fox and coyotes that would run in from the woods, grab a chicken and run away. All during the daytime. Actually some stray dogs would do that too. We bought 4 foot farm fence and put that up to enclose the free range area and have had no problems since. Of course the chickens are put in a totally enclosed run and coop area at night. A fence may be all you need . . .??
:hugs
The farm fence is a good idea, too. I'll look into it. Thanks
 

Folly's place

Enabler
10 Years
Sep 13, 2011
23,605
39,741
1,106
southern Michigan
Weasels might not be deterred by that fence, but others will be!
Our worst one day losses were once to a fox, and this spring to one of our dogs, when their fence failed. Horrible! And the dog killed four of our six roosters too, a very bad day all around.
Mary
 

tari

Chirping
May 26, 2019
42
64
64
Waterbury Center, Vermont
Weasels might not be deterred by that fence, but others will be!
Our worst one day losses were once to a fox, and this spring to one of our dogs, when their fence failed. Horrible! And the dog killed four of our six roosters too, a very bad day all around.
Mary
Years ago I had 20 month-old chicks in our workroom, growing up nicely and separated from our adorable but troublesome basenji dog. My inlaws came over...and while I was in the other room, opened the door and in a matter of 5 minutes the dog had decimated the entire population. Another bad day!
 

Shadrach

Roosterist
Premium Feather Member
Jul 31, 2018
17,889
142,344
1,592
Catalonia, Spain
My Coop
My Coop
You can't do anything realistically about hawks if you free range.
While a rooster should give the hens some warning and may become the hawks target instead of a hen, he's not going to be fighting with a fox and winning.
An electric fence properly erected and maintained is the best option for ground predators.
If you have a long term view of chicken keeping I've found here that each generation becomes more predator aware and learn to move from cover spot to cover spot.
Good cover in the end is the best predator defense. If the predator can't see the chicken, or get at it if it does see it your losses will be less.
 

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