Kid-friendly hawk management for free-ranging flock?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by lceh, Mar 1, 2013.

  1. lceh

    lceh Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Oct 15, 2008
    Central Virginia
    I've tried to find the answer to this with no success. Here's the scenario: we have several flocks of birds. We also have 5 young kids ranging in age from 10 down to 6 mos. My kids' show birds (bantams) are all kept in enclosed, movable coops and locked up at night. We also have a free-range laying flock (mostly large fowl plus ducks) fenced with electric predator fencing and locked up securely every night. Yesterday we suffered our first hawk loss, a free-range bantam. I am very aware that if we free range we can expect to lose a bird once in a while, so the kids are not supposed to name or get (too) attached to them (ha). I feel like it's worth the risk so long as it's an occasional occurrence, not a regular one, and I'm hoping that this hawk might just be interested in the few bantams and leave my big girls and ducks alone in favor of the THOUSANDS of squirrels around here.

    So, like many others, I am considering flock protection in the form of geese or turkeys. That said, my kids love their birds and love to bring them treats, check for eggs, etc., as well as hauling water to the ducks and doing the lion's share of the poultry care chores. (The kids start competing in showmanship at 6 and are also 4-Hers so they do know how to behave around poultry!) I have had too many sketchy experiences with LF roos -- I've had to re-home 2 now -- to risk one of my littles getting a spur in the face or being terrorized when they go out to do their chores. I've read in several places that Tom turkeys and ganders will discourage hawks, but I'd really rather not have aggressive males around during breeding season. What are some large bird options that are also relatively kid-friendly? Is it simply the size of the bird that is a deterrent? Or is it the willingness of the males to actually go after a hawk attacking the girls? Are males better at alerting the flock to danger than, say, a turkey hen or a female goose? I've been thinking of Sebastopol geese, who are supposed to be especially docile, but man, are they pricey! Dave Holderread recommends Embden for flock protection but I know they are not temperamentally suited to kids and are way too big. I wonder if a turkey hen would alert the flock of anything overhead. We are not willing to get a guardian dog at the moment. We do have a wonderful English Shepherd and I think he would go after anything attacking the birds, but when we put up the electric fence we also effectively fenced him out. The birds range in a young orchard so a goat/sheep/donkey/llama is not an option as they would eat my baby trees.

    The kids and I did take a break from morning lessons to throw CDs on the roofs of the chicken and duck houses, and to build several little "branch shelters" for the hens to scoot under if a hawk threatens and they are too far from the coop.

    Advice please?
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2013
  2. Horizon Structures

    Horizon Structures Official BYC Sponsor

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    Jul 1, 2009
    Atglen, PA
    Our company offers coops and runs; however I also love Premier 1 Fencing and refer people there a lot. One suggestion Premier recommends with the electric fences is to keep it more in the open rather than under trees or shelters. They seem to think that a hawk looks at the electric fence as a cave and is more cautious when it (the 'cave') is out in the open vs around shelters. Sounds sketchy to me, but...

    As far as other protectors. Donkeys (yes, I saw it's in an orchard - donkey is not an option for you **[)
     
  3. redsoxs

    redsoxs Chicken Obsessed

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    North Central Kansas
    Really good questions and I'm not sure if there is a great answer. BYC is replete with stories of heroic roos taking on various predators....and there are also a lot of stories of roosters being "every man for himself" when a predator approaches. So, I think it must be bird, not breed specific, when it comes to whether a roo will be protective or not. I have a huge GL Wyandotte roo who is a great flock master but I know he will turn tail and head for the bushes when a hawk is around - regardless of where his ladies are. The closest I've had to any kind of a flock protector is when I had a trio of drake pekins. I had a neighbor who had two enormous Black Giant roosters who would come over to visit my hens. Unsure how my ducks recognized them as interlopers but they would run them off - and often the roosters would have left behind a mouth full of feathers!! That being said, I don't know how they would have reacted if a red-tailed hawk swooped down and pinned one of my hens to ground. The biggest problem with the a turkey or other fowl as protectors is that, unless they share they same pen, the damage will likely be done before (and if) the watch turkey or goose or whatever, could get over there to do anything about it. My chickens free range in different areas and in different groups - making tending them that much more difficult. Sorry I'm not much help but good luck to you!!
     
  4. lceh

    lceh Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Oct 15, 2008
    Central Virginia
    Just to clarify, the geese/turkeys would be free ranging with the rest of the flock. Also I'm thinking less of a bird that will actually attack a hawk, and more along the lines of a bird that will alert the flock to a threat and give them time to hide. Is it true that turkeys are forever scanning the skies? If the mere bulk of a big bird down there encourages a hawk to go elsewhere for easy pickings, so much the better. I'm not really looking for an "attack bird" (read: male), because if it will attack a hawk as a threat, it may see my kids likewise. Not good.

    Thanks for the responses so far!
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2013

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