Mother Earth News Blogs > Ask Our Experts

Ask Our Experts

Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.

How Can I Protect My Free-Range Chickens From Predators?

By Bryan Welch and Oscar H. Will III

Tags: chickens, predators,

HawkWe are new to the free-range chicken world, and had 12 chickens that were very happily ranging about the yard. The eggs were delicious! I say “had” 12 chickens, because a hawk recently killed two of our chickens (including one of my best layers). Now the 10 remaining birds are not-so-happily fenced in. Do you have any helpful hints about flying predators? Or do we just have to expect either to pen our chickens in or have some lost to predators once in a while?

Hawks are a tough problem. We lose a few chickens a year to them. I think cover — bushes, picnic tables, shade arbors — really helps the chickens out. I have open fields around my home, and I can go out on the deck and make a red-tailed hawk whistle and the hens all charge over to the garden and hide in the asparagus patch.

— Bryan Welch, farmer and publisher

I think it is impossible to raise chickens on range without incurring some loss to predation. My only aerial losses came from night attacks by an owl — we tended to lose white chickens that way. Hawks are thick here in Kansas, but we have lots of trees and shrubs. Our birds head for cover whenever a hawk is overhead, and to my knowledge they have never been attacked by one.

Having written that, I think that pasture pens and the presence of dogs, humans or other large creatures in the area will deter the hawks. I suggest you let your birds range again after about a week to see whether the predator is still around or has moved on.

— Oscar H. Will III, editor, Grit magazine

Photo by IStockPhoto