New Flock, a few questions

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by EeyoreD, Mar 28, 2012.

  1. EeyoreD

    EeyoreD Chillin' With My Peeps

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    If this is the wrong forum let me know or move me.

    While I've read up on many things at some point I think you just need to try stuff. However I have some questions.


    I live on several acres and can't see my neighbors so there's more places to roam.


    What I would like to do is get a small flock of chickens to just roam about the swampland and somewhat higher woods (where the night time coop would be). There's tons of space and bugs, ponds and weeds and mice and such.

    But there are also some hawks (red tail) floating overhead and one white feral cat roaming around.

    I have the space to free range and would really like to just let the kids go where they will. I was thinking of putting the night coop in the more wooded area in the summer for shade and moving it closer to the house in winter for greater sun and closer to electric hookups if I need to add heat.


    Are shaded woods ok for a summer coop? Will it help with the red tails to have them in the woods or make it more likely they'll be preyed on (if it would help I would throw some dog igloos or whatever to augment the ample fern and brush coverage). And I guess more importantly but perhaps cold-heartedly will the survivors learn from their less fortunate friends who are caught by daytime predators and thus over time I'll have a flock smart enough for my area?

    Some side questions:

    1) Will a rooster help?
    2) From what I've read Rhode Island Reds seem to be the most equipped for this scenario. Am I mistaken?
    3) Do flocks learn from tragedy what will save them? Or will they all be susceptible to what got the first few?
    4) Pretty much expecting some losses (and knowing that they could be 100%) what would be a good start if I wanted to end up with, say, 4 layers (assuming the answer to 3 is "yes"). Do I get 30 birds and then struggle to have coops for them all (or have 75% empty coops) or do I get 10 birds who might be a bit crowded but expect some to, er, thin out?

    Thanks. Be gentle, I'm an optimistic idiot.
     
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Most cats don’t bother chickens once they get beyond chick stage. I would not be overly concerned with the feral cat.

    You’ll find that they spend a lot of the time in the shade. The brush, ferns and such will help shelter them from hawks, but they will still be at some risk. If you free range, there is no way to get around the risk. In the woods, they might be at more risk from a fox or such during the day, but they will want to spend time scratching in the leaves and resting in the shade.
    I’m not sure how much they actually learn. I kinda think they have pretty short memories. But it is certainly possible the survivors will be better at surviving over time. But I would not really count on that as much of a defense.

    1) Will a rooster help?


    Most roosters are not really great defenders. Mine tend to lead the hens to safety instead of positioning themselves between the hens and danger. But they often are pretty good at watching for danger and sounding the alarm. And if a hen is calling for help, most roosters will go check it out. Sometimes in a flock with no mature roosters, one hen will take on some of the rooster’s watching duties. Sometimes. So a rooster might help. It depends a lot on the individual rooster.

    2) From what I've read Rhode Island Reds seem to be the most equipped for this scenario. Am I mistaken?

    I’d suggest something with more game in them. Old English Game, Cubalayas, something like that. They are smaller and can fly pretty well. They are more skittish and will often forage better.

    3) Do flocks learn from tragedy what will save them? Or will they all be susceptible to what got the first few?

    They remain susceptible in my experience. A fox almost wiped out our flock until Dad was able to wait for it and take it out. That fox would come by every two or three days after Dad had left for work and did not always visit on a weekend. That flock continued to feed right where the fox would wait.

    4) Pretty much expecting some losses (and knowing that they could be 100%) what would be a good start if I wanted to end up with, say, 4 layers (assuming the answer to 3 is "yes"). Do I get 30 birds and then struggle to have coops for them all (or have 75% empty coops) or do I get 10 birds who might be a bit crowded but expect some to, er, thin out?

    I can’t answer this. We all have different circumstances. When I was growing up many decades ago, we would often go many years between predator attacks. We lived on a farm near a woodland many acres big and a long way from town. We had a few hawks but they were not a problem. It was usually dogs or foxes for us. Others will have totally different stories to tell.

    Here I have more predator problems. I went three years and only lost two, probably to a fox. Then somebody dropped two big dogs off in the country for the good life. I lost a bunch of chickens in a short time. I’ve got a whole lot of big hawks here but they are not normally a problem. Others report that hawks are a huge problem for them. We are all different
     
  3. mstricer

    mstricer Overrun With Chickens

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    1. Yes
    2. Don't know about that but they do lay big eggs.
    3. Yes. Last year we had raccoons raid a small coop and murder some Marans, they left the coop never to go back. They slept under a porch light.
    4. No answer doesn't make sense.
    If you set them up by a pond or swampy area you will get coon attacks . Lock them down tight.
     
  4. EeyoreD

    EeyoreD Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you so much, Ridgerunner.

    So roosters aren't necessarily a bad idea but not really much of an insurance policy.

    Do the gamier birds still lay well? What about dual purpose meat options for them?

    I do expect some depredation. I don't actually think I have foxes, I haven't seen any. I know there are hawks, possums, raccoons and cats around. It seems like if I have a secure night coop most of that should be a non-issue, yeah? Also I'm in a bit of a wetland and there are some birds (eastern kingbirds?) that seem to drive the predator birds off, though not always. My yard is full of an amazing number of birds.

    I'm well aware that even putting them up at night could result in some daytime issues. I'm not looking for a perfect situation but wondering if having the coop near/in the woodline would provide cover for summer (and moving it towards the house in winter for electric hookups, sun exposure and better protection). Also I'm hoping they can eat some of the bugs in there that will make it more pleasant for me to hang out back there. (ducks, too?)

    Will the presence of wild turkeys in the stretch of trees behind the house help or hurt a backyard flock? (note my woods aren't real deep or wide, just the acre or 2 behind my land, stretching across some and then there are fields and farms there. But there ARE wild turkeys roosting there and they stray into the mowed part of the yard occasionally, mostly during hunting season)

    I guess your answer to #4 says it all - you really don't know until you know. Is that an accurate assessment?

    Thanks again for taking the time to answer.
     
  5. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I don't raise game birds, just dual purpose. There are some people on here that really like them for free ranging. Wish they would see this thread and comment on the laying and meat.

    Laying well is relative. You were looking at 3 or 4 hens, so if they don't lay well, look at 5 or 6. You can adjust, especially as it looks like you will be eating some. If you find you don't have enough, hatch a couple more or eat a couple less. You'd be surprised how fast he eggs can pile up, though. You may not need as many as you think. I see you are in Michigan. If you free range them, you won't be buying a lot of feed most of the year, but the winters can be more expensive.

    As far as meat goes, you can eat any chicken any age and any size. People clean and eat quail. From a practical aspect, how important is size to you? There are only two if us here and we easily get two meals out of pullets. If it is a bigger rooster instead of a smaller pullet, it just means I eat chicken for lunch a few days as well.

    I lock mine up in a secure coop every night. My losses have been during the middle of the day, foxes and dogs. Securing them at night helps a whole lot, but you never know when or what might get them. To me, dogs are the worst. They kill a lot at a time.

    As long as they can see that woodland, they'll probably hang there. Their biggest fear seems to be hawks and that tree line usually gives real good cover. They also really like scratching in the leaves. My issue with positioning the coop would be drainage. You don't want the coop where rainwater runoff goes in it.

    The wild turkeys should be a non-issue. There is some possibility of parasites or maybe disease transfer, but you can get that from songbirds just as easily.

    I guess your answer to #4 says it all - you really don't know until you know. Is that an accurate assessment?

    Extremely accurate from my experience.
     
  6. cubalaya

    cubalaya Overrun With Chickens

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    my chickens are housed on a hill overlooking a lake on one side and a swamp on the other. yes there are plenty of predators around. coons, hawks, weasels, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and stray dogs. out of all the breeds of chicken that we have had; dominiques, rhode island reds, barred rocks, kraeinkoppes, games, cubalayas, australorps and delawares, i would say the cubalaya will do very well in this situation. they forage good and can fly, they are tame but sometimes fearless. other times they are almost flighty. games and kraeinkoppes would do good too. i think a good dog will keep some predators away. i always keep a hound and a few beagles to hunt with and they bark at anything that comes in the yard. they learn young to leave my chickens alone.
     
  7. EeyoreD

    EeyoreD Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Ha I feel a bit dumb, you're right. If they don't lay well just get more. Duh!

    Size isn't a huge issue for me as it's not like I'm feeding a huge family.

    I was actually thinking of putting the coop right up close to the woodland as they'll get some nice shade during the hottest part of the day and it also seems to be the highest ground. Sounds like it will also help a little with hawk issues.

    The cubalayas look gorgeous! How would they winter in Michigan though? Seems like they were developed warm climate. The breed reviews on here seem mixed on their hardiness.

    In any event, thank you both (RidgeRunner and cubalaya), it's a good point that I should probably be looking at more game-type birds for this situation.
     
  8. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Don't feel dumb at all. The obvious is usually the easiest to overlook.

    My wife used to work at an elementary school when table top computers were fairly new. Part of her duties were to help teachers with computer problems. When she went into a classroom, the first things she checked were Is it plugged in? Is the network connection hooked up? And the really fun one, Is it turned on? It's amazing how many problems she solved with these simple checks.

    That's why I try to never be afraid to ask the obvious.
     
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  9. ButchGood

    ButchGood Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Interesting thread. When I was a kid my dad free ranged all 60 of his birds in SE Penna.. RIR's,Whit Rocks, And a few asst Game hens. We had dogs. 3 beagles, a English Pointer and a sissy little peek-a -poo. These dogs learned from my Dad that you do not chase the chickens without serious consequences. These guys pretty much kept the predators away. But every now and then, maybe once or twice a year we would have an inccedent. Mostly Coons coming after the chickens or Skunks coming after eggs. We never lost more than one chicken per incident.
     
  10. EeyoreD

    EeyoreD Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Actually the Cubalaya seems to be right out regardless on how hardy they would be in Michigan as it seems they're nearly impossible to find. [​IMG]
     

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