Predator Resistant Breeds

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by BekisarBengal, Sep 7, 2016.

  1. BekisarBengal

    BekisarBengal Just Hatched

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    As a novice on the Back Yard Chickens forum, I'd like to pick the brains of more experienced people and share some of my own experiences.

    I've been raising chickens off and on for decades, and in the last several years, I've been breeding toward more predator resistant birds. Here in Central Florida, we have raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, snakes, various birds of prey and probably the most devastating predators of all - loose dogs.

    Thus far, I've achieved some success with hybridizing red jungle fowl with domestic laying and dual purpose breeds. I've discovered that using silver spangled hamburgs, brown leghorns, and speckled sussex hens mated to rjf cocks produce birds quite capable of evading just about everything. When I breed back to the hens in the f2 generation, achieving birds that are one-quarter rjf, I have somewhat greater losses, but better egg production. In the f3 generation, the wild element seems too diluted. Egg production is excellent, but predation starts to hit pretty hard again.

    By starting with literally dozens of breeds of egg layers and dual purpose chickens, I've found the best performance from silver spangled hamburgs, brown leghorns and strangely enough, the speckled sussex. Speckled sussex in my experience have an uncanny ability to make themselves scarce when there is danger, even though their flight skills aren't very good.

    I'd be grateful to anyone who can advise me about their own experiences, particularly in regard to laying breeds that have proven abilities to evade predators.

    I've also developed an interest in breeding long crowers and hopefully, one day, some laughing chickens in this hemisphere.

    Thanks for any help you can lend.
     
  2. 0wen

    0wen Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Half of the predators you listed are likely to take your birds at night. In that instance, your birds are basically there for the taking. "Flighty" birds may have a better chance at avoid predators, but I suspect it's all going to be luck of the draw. All things being equal, I'd take a Leghorn, or Campine, or Hamburgh over an Orpington, Jersey Giant, etc just for the microscopic advantage they'd have at escape. Realistically, I don't think it matters at all. I don't think we can overcome, with a breeding program of even the most alert birds - the generations of perfecting survival and predator skills that various beasts and birds of prey have developed...
     
  3. Ole and Lena

    Ole and Lena Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Our Americaunas have been very predator savvy. I live near a 600 acre wetland, my ranging area abuts it, and haven't lost a single Amc to any predator. Have lost some of the BOs, SLWs and BRs. The Americaunas, in addition to wearing pretty good camouflage, seem to exhibit more wild behavior. They stick to cover, put themselves in earlier, and know when to bunch up or scatter. Not that they are any faster or fly better, they just seem to stay below the radar better with less flapping, noise and running about. That being said, the AMC rooster is pretty worthless. Our Wyandotte was a much better sentinel. Also seems to help since we started keeping a couple of veteran dry hens in the flock. They are the first to sound the alarm and seem to train the younger birds.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2016
  4. BekisarBengal

    BekisarBengal Just Hatched

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    It goes without saying that sheltered chickens need to be protected at night.

    Over the generations I have definitely noted better survival rates in some breeds and hybrids that are statistically significant. It's too early to reach conclusions, but in just several years it seems clear that a breeding program improves the chances of birds living to reproduce in the next generation. This would make sense given the density of predators in my area. Essentially a genetic bottleneck is created every generation. I don't expect to breed 'predator proof' birds, but 'predator resistant' ones. I know carnivores and herbivores are adapted to make a living and will continue to do so. I only hope to achieve a bit more of a balance with nature seen in many landraces that can be found in developing countries, rather than a supermarket for foxes and dogs that our modern breeding programs have provided.

    Although protection at night is essential, I have made some interesting anecdotal observations regarding night survival in two areas. First, nearly all of us have had coop breeches resulting in night attacks and sometimes the loss of many birds. Twice, I've had instances when every bird in the coop is killed except the single melanistic Indonesian chicken in the cage, once a Black Sumatra and the other time an Ayam Cemani. I've also observed that when I'm moving chickens at night, ordinary birds tend to wander and perhaps vocalize a bit when disturbed, while the Indonesian melanistic birds freeze. As I said this is completely anecdotal and I don't know if this is an actual adaptive behavior, but it is interesting.

    The second exception to protection of birds at night is in slowly developing a semi-wild chicken for my specific area that can also be used for domestic purposes. In this case, some of the population would roost in trees at night. Each bird's success would depend on its instinctual ability to select a safe roost. I currently have a Rosecomb Brown Leghorn x RJF pullet that is semi-wild and I have no idea where she's roosting. If she continues in this way, she may become the maternal genetic founder for some landrace birds.

    I've had experiences with Americaunas that are similar to Ole and Lena. Americaunas do pretty well. In fact, one of my ten or so surviving fourth generation hens has some Americauna genes, she even has whiskers. I have some primitive rumpless Aracaunas that I'm hoping to incorporate into my crowing and landrace breeding programs, so I'm continuing on the Americauna/Aracauna track. I'm also interested in other breeds raised by the Mapuche and Quechua speaking peoples (especially the Quetro), as well as Oceanic breeds such as the Ponape, Rapanui and Marquesas.

    Please continue to pass on your ideas and experiences. Thanks to Owen, and Ole and Lena.
     
  5. FarmerTony

    FarmerTony Out Of The Brooder

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    First, you need to define those traits that make the wild types more predator resistant. Then determine if those traits are sex linked or autosomal (not sex linked).

    Back of the envelope, I'd start with a foundation of Wild Type and throw in a leghorn rooster every couple years to get egg production up. I don't think you will be able to get a dual purpose breed that is highly predator resistant, the heavy birds just cant get high enough into the trees or run fast enough. One of the major advantages wild type has is its ability to escape by simply flapping to the next tree over, while the coons have to take the long route. Smaller birds have the advantage here.
     
  6. BekisarBengal

    BekisarBengal Just Hatched

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    Precisely, a solid approach Farmer Tony. The traits for which I select are the ability of sustained flight, wariness, high activity, good foraging skills, camouflaged coloration and perhaps that intangible something that adds more evasiveness as in the Speckled Sussex.

    Of course the clearest sex linked characteristics among all jungle fowl are bright coloration in cocks along with a bolder and hence more self destructive temperament and usually somewhat reduced flying skills. This is one of the reasons I'm looking for breeds that have more "henny" cocks like the Quetro. The question will be how sex linked traits are passed along from generation to generation. That will take time to determine.

    An interesting aside is that the RJF x Hamburg birds have sex linked coloration, and it seems, temperament as well. The cocks look almost indistinguishable from the hamburg cocks and are more lethargic and man aggressive than either the RJF or SSH. The hens, however are nearly perfect. They are drab brown and possess almost every trait I'm seeking. Small eggs are the only problem, but perhaps that can be mitigated by mixing in some Brown Leghorn.

    I agree that trying to breed toward a survivable dual purpose breed is probably not achievable, but using dual purpose breeds that show some desired characteristics in the breeding program can be valuable. I've seen Sussex x RJF hens fly in circles for a quarter to half a mile over the pine tree line of my woods when startled by a predator. Their only drawback is that they tend to have lower egg production than I like and are too broody.

    I appreciate your suggestion of fielding a laying cock in the mix periodically. I hadn't thought of that. I've been mostly breeding back to hens. Thanks very much for that advice.
     
  7. FarmerTony

    FarmerTony Out Of The Brooder

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    When breeding any animal, its usually best to have a clear and limited goal for the breeding program. Don't try to improve every aspect of the breed at once. Focus on one specific goal.

    That said, if you are just trying to maintain your own flock, i.e. not creating a new breed, it is common practice to change out the rooster each year. e.g. using a leghorn to get egg production up, and using a RIR to get pretty much everything else up.

    Broodiness is not a negative trait. I'm actually trying to get broodiness back to wild levels in my flock, as I like having tons of baby chickens running around. The plus of that is, broodiness tends to breed itself back in.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  8. BekisarBengal

    BekisarBengal Just Hatched

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    Right. I have a very clear focus. My first and foremost objective is that I want live chickens and not dead ones. My long crower and laughing chicken projects are completely separate.

    I'm not trying to create a breed. I just want to have the ability to maintain a good free range flock. If over the years, a specific type or types begin to emerge, I might tinker with some aspects, but I'd be content with a collection of varieties that live.

    As I said, I like the Idea of changing out a laying breed cock every year or so for increasing egg production, but if I let it free range - it's dead. I'll have to keep it in a coop and breed it from there. Even all the Hamburg breeds, every type and color of Leghorn, Rhode Island Reds and a laundry list of others bit the dust. I do intend, however, to select out my best surviving hens and breed back to a laying cock while I continue breeding in the opposite direction as well. If I ever had a laying cock that could survive out here, I wouldn't change him out. I'd crown him king and let him rule the roost until his fertility dropped.

    In case you're wondering what's so tough about this area, the biggest problem is a whole lot of hog hunting with dogs. Poachers make it a year round affair. The dogs lose their way and wind up here. Pit-bulls, American Bulldogs, Catahoulas and mixes are superb at killing chickens.

    In regard to broodiness, I like it too, but only moderate broodiness. I incubate my eggs, but I want to maintain the capacity for broodiness. If hens are too broody, like the Sussex x RJF, egg production drops more than I'd like. I'm trying to achieve a balance.

    In my perfect surreal dream, my RC Brown Leghorn X RJF pullet that has turned semi-wild, will emerge with a pack of chicks after I thought she was dead, while her sister that free ranges during the day and is protected at night, provides me with maybe 100 eggs per year. In my experience so far, that particular cross, especially if taken out to F-2 and is only one-quarter RJF, can possibly achieve that. We'll see.

    Still open to everyone's ideas and suggestions. I've been doing this for a long time, but I haven't tried or thought of everything. Thanks for your help.
     
  9. 0wen

    0wen Chillin' With My Peeps

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    What's your plan for dealing with illness and disease in your mixed scenario or allowing some level of integration of tame birds and wild/semi-wild birds? In your last scenario of a hen occasionally popping in with new chicks (if she'd even have the interest to do so after being out), there seems to be a high possibility of random illnesses finding their way into your otherwise healthy birds. I still don't know that I'm sold on the idea of birds being predator resistant so much as having enough birds to stave off a direct attack (cannon fodder if you will) - this seems more expensive that poultry netting in the long term, if you're always having to repopulate your flock due to losses. It's an interesting enough concept I suppose, I just don't see the practicality of it all. That being said, if the biggest predator problem in my area were domesticated hunting dogs (or anything) I'd start laying them down. Spend enough ammunition into putting them down and they'll get the hint (or at least get tired of replacing dogs). It's on this forum a thousand times - Dogs are a pet on your property. Dogs are a predator on my property - they get the same treatment as Coyotes, Foxes, Bear, Raccoon, etc...
     
  10. BekisarBengal

    BekisarBengal Just Hatched

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    I'm glad you brought up disease Owen. In my mind, 'predator resistance' is a very broad concept. To me, predators range from viruses to bacteria, on through vectors like mosquitoes all the way up to hog catching dogs. By now you may have a notion that I'm not thrilled with what human beings have done to the chicken in the past century or so, particularly in the West. I think that very much like our friend canis familiaris, the chicken originally played a role in societies that was interdependent rather than dependent. Dogs and chickens were useful companions and tools, but they retained qualities that enabled them to function independently, or at least semi-independently in regard to disease, predators and other environmental challenges.

    The chickens and dogs I've been acquainted with over the years living in the States bear little resemblance to the chickens and dogs I've seen while living three years in the Azores and in my travels in South and Central America, as well as the Philippines. This piece of land I'm on now actually is both burdensome and delightful, because it's driven me to work towards a more natural synergistic, sustainable relationship with the chicken - but not the dog. (My dogs are quite dependent.). I regret the casualties in getting this far, many modern breed variants have been my "cannon fodder" and I wish that wasn't the case. The good news is that the ones I have left were quick and survived the cannon attacks.

    When I lived for a few years in Missouri in the late 80s, I had terrible disease problems. I was taking a similar approach to chicken breeding, but with much less of a predator problem. Eventually, I ended up with a cadre of excellent disease resistant birds, but over the years, I lost the line and had to start fresh.

    This time, early on, I had a couple of waves of diseases, but they burned out with a larger group of core birds than the last time. There are, however, certain breeds I expected would have valuable genes I could use, like the Egyptian Fayoumi that just doesn't do well here. It can't survive free range due to its color, and it can't bear even large cage life because of disease. Perhaps it's too wet here. In my experience, cage and coop life breeds far more disease than free roaming birds. I try to field birds that are resistant to both.

    My fantasy of the little pullet being the mother of a race of palmetto fowl is not probable, because of the likelihood is that something will get her before she reproduces; but when it comes to disease, I'd bet she'd be more likely to catch a disease from the cages than the other way around. She's resistant to the cage environment anyway because she was started in one - so she's not pristine. Kids in the classroom catch more flu bugs you know. You still my have a point though It'll be hard to track where diseases come from, but I'll try to be observant.

    My viewpoint in another area is 180 degrees away from yours. Absolutely she'd have an interest to do so! In the developing world, that's what they do! In the wild, that's what they do! They don't mate, brood and raise chicks because we want them to, they do it because that's what they do! It's their genetic imperative.

    What I'm doing - practical? Oh no, I don't think so. Expensive? Oh, you bet, but getting cheaper. I always get birds of prey getting caught in my poultry netting and dogs tear through all but the very expensive stuff anyway. The bottom line though, is that it's rewarding. It has intangible benefits.

    I'm mixed on the dog thing. No one's ever called me feint of heart. I've done it, and I'm not saying I'll never do it again. Not on this property, but I've put away dogs when I wanted to end the killing, however ironic that is. There's a part of me that agrees with you philosophically and a part of me that doesn't. I guess it's just not my style.

    Hey Owen, thanks for making me think. That's really why I joined.
     

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