By Frederick J. Dunn
As I went out with a bucket to feed my Australian Emus, there arose a raucous ruckus in the nearby, freshly hayed field. Cheee-cheee-cheeeeee! This is the alert of the guineas. Being a dutiful poultry keeper, I investigated and there it was ... poor thing! A small red fox was being routed by my guineas. Snatching up my digital camera, I ran out into the field to snap some shots of this common chicken predator. It’s one thing to say that guineas are the first alert system on any poultry operation; it’s another to see it. The photo shows the sad little fox making a dash home with no chicken dinner.
The first line of defense against poultry predators is well-constructed housing. I have no protected run for my chickens, as all my birds are free-ranging. In more restricted areas, you’ll need a run or portable coop for your birds during the day. High chicken-wire sides and netting on the top are adequate to curb birds of prey and rascally dogs in your neighborhood. At night, all poultry should be in a locked and secure roosting area, winter or summer. This is a necessity. Most predators visit at night — just at sunset and prior to sunrise. Leave no food or scraps around that would attract predators of chickens to a free meal. It’s best to feed your birds inside their enclosures, as they are also vulnerable when gathered at feeders.
Elevate your buildings. A coop constructed on stilts or a truss, such as those decks are built on, will prevent problems with mice and rats. Elevated structures also provide shelter for hens to run under in the case of a storm or high-speed flyby by a Red-tailed Hawk!
Guineas are a good first line of defense, as they fearlessly chase off dreaded squirrels, deer, stealthy cats, and — as of 20 minutes ago around here — a fox. Unfortunately, they also sound the alarm when they see the mail carrier, a new car, or their owner walking out of a side door to sip coffee in the morning sun! Their reputation as the noisiest barnyard residents is well earned. In exchange, they eat every imaginable bug.
This leads to a related topic ... snakes. Some perceive snakes as pests, or threats to their chickens: the dreaded egg-eaters, chick-snatchers or hen-stranglers. I understand that it’s easy to give a snake a thwack and appear the hero of the neighborhood. But consider what sort of snakes are actually in your area. Are they truly a threat to your livestock or to you?
Unless you live in Africa or Australia, chances are good that most snakes in your part of the country are helpful rather than detrimental. Consider the common garter snake (there are many sub-species). It eats slugs, worms, tiny amphibians and other creepy crawlers that most people want to eradicate. They don’t eat warm-blooded anything and cannot swallow a chicken egg. So, if you choose to be a meanie, then do what you will.
I say, “Save the snakes!” I leave you with an image of a little brown snake (also known as DeKay’s snake). It was under a water bucket, and I decided to photograph it for your viewing pleasure. It’s fat with slug supper, garnished with a worm or two. I picked it up and parked it neatly on this moss. Please focus on real pests and let nature benefit us with species already in place designed to do so.
If you'd like to learn more about raising chickens, check out the DVD, Regarding Chickens.
Photos by Frederick J. Dunn