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Friday, June 1, 2012

My Chicken Utopia: I Have Never Lost a Chicken to a Predator


So I have been keeping chickens now for four years in a woodsy area of northern Minnesota, and in that time, I have never lost a single chicken to predators.

Mind you, these parts are thick with beasties who enjoy a tasty chicken treat as much as any human being with a hankerin' for a greasy bucket of KFC. That which flyeth above include many variety of hawks and owls. Even a bald eagle occasionally perches in the lofty Norway pines standing sentinel over my yard.

There’s also numerous fox, coyotes, wolves, weasels, raccoons, fishers, mink, bear -- pretty much anything that enjoys the occasional chicken din-din, we have it here. When I first started raising chickens, everyone told me: “Expect to loose a few now and then.”

But I have never lost a chicken to predation, and my theory is that a situation has developed here that makes for a kind of natural chicken utopia.

First, of course, my chickens are protected by night, locked up in the old grain bin I have c around wherever they want, far and wide. I do not keep them behind fences or in pens. I want my chickens to enjoy the illusion of free will.onverted into a chicken coup. But I release them at the crack of dawn, and they get to roam.

I noticed the other day that when a hawk appeared nearby, the chickens saw it from a mile off, and scampered for the shelter of the woods. But what’s more interesting is that as soon as the hawk got close, a cadre of kestrels which nest in some tall cotton woods immediately launched and began harassing and dive bombing the hawk until it F’d off -- you know -- flapped off -- for a less stressful environment.

So the kestrels, which are hawks themselves, called sparrow hawks, are too small to tackle a chicken themselves. But they keep their larger cousins out of their territory, keeping the skies friendly above my chicken utopia.

One of the most efficient predators of chickens are the wily weasel, and I have plenty of them. I have even seen them hanging around in the woods behind my chicken coup. So why don’t these critters score a chicken feast now and then? They’re clever, they can squeeze into small spaces, they’re determined, they’re hungry.

It’s because most them end up dead on my porch step -- the weasel corpses are delivered up to me in a kind of sacred offering on a regular basis by my three cats. A lot of people think a weasel is too tough, fast or crafty for a cat. Not so.

The remainder of all the would-be chicken-lickin’ critters, such as fox, fishers and wolves, must contend with my Australian Shepherd, who likes nothing more than to patrol the perimeter night and day, leaving his golden calling card in strategic locations, and barking his fool head off at every perceived flicker of movement in the woods, or at any snap of a twig he find suspicious.

And so, it seems that a combination of common-sense shelter for the chicken at night, my well-fed cats who enjoy hunting purely for the sake of recreation, the air defenses of a cadre of cranky kestrels, and a restless Shepherd who’s obsessive-compulsive desire to keep all “others” out of his territory makes for a chicken utopia where only the Grim Reaper can claim a chicken soul via natural causes.

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