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Unprotected free ranging in very rural areas?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Sessie, Apr 2, 2016.

  1. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

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    I’ll relate some of my experiences growing up with free ranging chickens on a farm. Some slept in a hen house, some slept in trees.

    From the time I can remember until I left home at 18, we had two predator attacks. One was a fox that was taking one chicken every morning until Dad figured out its pattern and shot it. The other was a dog that killed several before it was also shot. We had lots of hawks and other ground based predators around, we occasionally saw them. We just didn’t lose a lot of chickens. Broody hens regularly hid nests and brought chicks out without predators killing them while they were on the nest. I consider this a general pattern that small farmers have used to raise chickens for thousands of years.

    There is some luck involved but a lot of that is luck that you make yourself. We did not always have a dog around but usually we did. That dog was not a house dog but was left outside 24/7 where it could be a deterrent. It’s not that the dog went out of its way to protect the chickens, it just didn’t like other critters invading its territory. We did a lot of hunting, mainly rabbit and squirrel. If we saw a critter that was a danger we’d shoot it. Fence rows, pastureland, and fields were generally kept cleaned out so the critters did not have a lot of hiding places yet there were plenty of trees and bushes to provide shelter for the chickens. You need to look at the entire system, not a tiny portion of it.

    Lots of critters like to eat chicken, but just because a hawk is flying over doesn’t mean it will take the first chicken it sees. But it can. I don’t know what motivates one critter to take a chicken while others just ignore them. Maybe some luck, maybe how plentiful other game is. From what I’ve seen it is quite possible you can go years without a predator attack, but it is also possible you can be wiped out at any time. With you only having a handful of chickens a loss is going to be more significant than someone with dozens of chickens running around.

    Some people keep Llamas or donkeys to help keep the other farm animals safer from canines, dogs or coyotes. Some, not all but some, llamas or donkeys will attack canines. Some don’t. It’s not that they have bonded with the chickens or sheep and are trying to keep them safe, some just don’t like canines. But if they are grazing at the far end of the pasture when a coyote shows up, they won’t know it is there.

    No one can give you any guarantees about any of this. You may be fine free ranging your chickens for years. But they are always at risk. You just don’t know.
     
    2 people like this.
  2. varidgerunner

    varidgerunner Chillin' With My Peeps

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    First thing to understand, is that there are less predators in "rural" areas than in urban areas. I live in a rural area. I have done animal control in an urban area. There are 10 to 1 more potential chicken predators in an urban area, hands down. There is more food, more cover, and no large predators, including people, to keep them in check. Bears are seldom interested in chickens, they might knock down your chicken house and eat a few trying to get to un-secure feed, but that's about it.

    Another thing to consider, when your friend had chickens, not everyone had chickens and the people that did were capable farmer types. Now , with chickens being fashionable among transplanted suburbanites, there are generations of predators imprinted on chicken as a food source. In the past, the fox that strayed to close to the house, died. The pretty, old, dead tree in the back pasture was sawed up for firewood, instead of being left for it's charm to provide a hawk observation post. Den trees and animal burrows were recognized as such, their inhabitants removed, then cut down or filled in. Chickens that just happened to die, were thrown to the hogs, as well as scraps from "processing day", instead of being buried nowhere near deep enough in the back yard or mulch pile to teach every passing vermin that chicken is good food. North American wildlife doesn't automatically know that chickens are something to seek out. Minks play along creeks and look for crayfish, foxes hang out in grassy areas to look for voles. They have to learn that the henhouse is a good place to eat. One learns and it's no big deal, maybe a loss every once in a while until the problem is dealt with, but whole generations who have been taught by parents to check every place they smell chickens, then you have something resembling an obstacle to free ranging.

    It is very possible to just open the henhouse door and let them go, I do it every day, but it takes some degree of dedication and knowledge.
     
  3. kybyxbee

    kybyxbee Out Of The Brooder

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    Depends on where you live, I open the coop in the morning and close it at dusk. No loss of chickens except when I did not make it home to close the coop early enough and a opossum or raccoon got to my roo. I trapped a coon a couple of nights after. They do great and run to me when I open the back door. They run to the coop when a large bird comes overhead. I have 5.5 acres. With my new coop most will be in enclosed runs just for breeding true. But free range is the what to go for me.
     
  4. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Overrun With Chickens

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    I agree with this. I live in a rural area, we have a large grove of trees on one side of our property, and a very large slough right across the road where my husband has trapped many mink, so we know they're around. We also have weasels, skunks, raccoons, hawks, and a nearby nesting pair of bald eagles. My most recent predator loss (to our local wildlife and not my dumb dog) was a few years ago when a mama raccoon and her four babies got into my coop and killed my broody hen, leaving her 4-week old babies. (Fortunately, they had already been integrated into the flock so they were fine). The coon got into the coop through the pop door because it was daytime so the other chickens were all out free ranging. We do tend to have coyote problems when we have corn next to where the coop area is. I think the coyotes live in the corn field because it's good cover. Other than that, I think we have few problems because they have more natural food sources available to them so they don't have to come up to our building site. I think most wild predators prefer to avoid contact with humans or dogs. In urban or suburban areas, they really don't have anywhere to go and have become acclimated to human scent an activity.
     
  5. SJ

    SJ Chillin' With My Peeps Premium Member

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    Dumb lucks beats Vegas every day.
     
  6. SJ

    SJ Chillin' With My Peeps Premium Member

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    Really...? North american didn't have any kind of chickens?
     
  7. blucoondawg

    blucoondawg Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Chickens were domesticated in East Asia
     
  8. blucoondawg

    blucoondawg Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I agree as well, in very rural areas predators aren't often going to mess about places of human habitation, the most likely animal I am going to encounter on my property a few times a year are skunks. We aren't close enough to water to have mink or coon and there aren't any oak trees near by which draw coon to acorns. There's weasels around but never had a problem even if I leave the coop door open at night. The wife saw a fox run out from under the coop once I started watching for it and carrying a shotgun around but never saw it again. Coyote don't come around my place, I did see a bear track next to my run once but they didn't bother anything. Have lost a few to owls and a hawk that's honestly the most feared chicken predator around my place but it only happens in the fall after leaves are off and I'm still free ranging, my run is covered with net the chickens are safe when left in there.
    I feel other than raptors the biggest problem is humans which are present in populated areas along with their roaming dogs and cats, strays that get dumped off and abandoned, and thousands of garbage cans full of food to draw coons and who knows what else. I would hate to have to keep chickens in a town setting, the domestic dog is probably the biggest threat for chickens in any area with many people.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2016
  9. SJ

    SJ Chillin' With My Peeps Premium Member

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    I got hear ya. I just wonder about how one could think our native wildlife would not instictive understand that chicken like animals=food or seek them out. Granted jungle fowl aren't native but we have plenty of species that are native to the americas that resemble a chicken and some were domesticated pre-Columbus. So wildlife should equate people and poultry somehow by now.

    Americas early chickens:
    http://www.academia.edu/1074480/Pre...the_hypotheses_and_evidence_for_their_origins
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/05/science/05chic.html?_r=0
    http://news.discovery.com/history/us-history/native-americans-turkeys-domestication.htm

    OK no true chickens but consider the family tree and close relatives...?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galliformes
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phasianidae

    Native to north america and closely related to jungle fowl and resemble chickens.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_(bird)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_turkey
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocellated_turkey
    http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/EndangeredResources/Animals.asp?mode=detail&SpecCode=ABNLC13010
    http://www.fws.gov/greatersagegrouse/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharp-tailed_grouse
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruffed_grouse
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spruce_grouse
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendragapus

    The world of fowl is diverse and our predators have had thousands of years preying on these native birds. Our chickens are close enough to a native prairie chicken or a young turkey, wild or domestic, that wildlife does and always has sought out domestic fowl.

    Raptors have to be to biggest issue for very rural areas because the larger predators avoid people for the most part.
     
  10. blucoondawg

    blucoondawg Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I agree, a prey animal especially a bird is going to be recognized as such by any local predator and most certainly always has especially considering chickens are usually kept in flocks which means more noise, smell, etc to attract the predators. I don't know that a predator associates humans with chickens or vice versa but I most certainly believe they associate chicken with food and always would have
     

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