Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Originally written as a letter to Mother Earth News
As long-time chicken keepers, we have had to deal with predators of all kinds - foxes, dogs, cats, birds of prey - you name it. It seems that anything would love a bite of juicy chicken.
We free range, which of course exacerbates the losses to predators, but the overall pros of free ranging are so evident that I truly believe it's the only practical way for us to keep chickens. Not only do we save a bundle on feed as our chickens forage and find their own food, but we get the benefit of a pest free yard and can get away with a smaller coop - it's OK for chickens to be a little crowded some of the time if they mostly have the whole yard to themselves.
Having said that, however, we do need to balance our losses so that we still have a growing, self-sufficient flock, with enough replacement layers at the end of the season, and hopefully some extra birds to sell or trade. So what do we do about this?
First off, one needs to know one's local predators. I know we have foxes in the area, generally speaking, but they don't all swarm to our coop at once. From my experience, usually a fox will come a few times to check out the terrain, and if I'm vigilant and listen to the alarm sounds our chickens make, and go and shoo the fox away, more often than not it will give up eventually. Foxes are clever animals, and if they see free dinner is not to be had around here, they will try for easier prey somewhere else.
Chicks raised by broodies sleep on the coop floor during their first weeks of life, and are therefore especially vulnerable to snakes. Due to constraints of time and budget, our coop has a dirt floor, and therefore it's almost impossible to make it snake-proof. What I did last year was take the broody and chicks inside in a cardboard box for the night, every night, until the chicks were old enough to find their way up the perch. It was a hassle, but it dramatically improved our survival rates.
The funny thing about chickens is that when it comes to the garden, they turn from prey to predators. Chickens are well-known garden destroyers - even if it's something they won't eat, they will dig in the garden bed, dust bathe, throw the soil out of the bed and uproot the plants. So we saw two ways out: either we fence in the chickens or the plants. We chose to cultivate our herbs and vegetables in small, concentrated protected areas (as you can see in the photo). Fruit trees coexist with chickens quite well, from our experience.
A patch of herbs fenced in against destructive chickens.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.