Magnificent Birds: Free-Ranging Chickens, the Threat of Hawks and Choosing Freedom Anyway

| 5/15/2013 10:54:00 AM

Tags: backyard chickens, raising livestock, hawk predation, Anna Alkin,

It’s been a one-step forward, two-steps back, kind of week here on the farm. The electric poultry fence gave us fits for most of the week. Actually, it gave me fits; everyone else handled the shorts, shocks, and the process of working out the bugs just fine. So far, Will’s been shocked by the fence, our neighbor has been shocked by it, our dog Sirius has been shocked by it twice, and I’ve been shocked four times, though it was only the last one that was strong enough to make me yell out loud. But the fence works at last. Good, time to move on.

But not so fast.  A hawk started hanging around within two days of our free-ranging the chickens in theMagnificent as they are, free ranging chickens need protection from hawks. pasture. I was looking out our second floor back window, wondering why all the chickens were in their tractors — save Little Red Hen, who is a bit of a loner anyway — when the phone rang. It was my neighbor, who was shocked by our shorted-out fence just the day before. “Do you see the hawk in the tree back there?” I couldn’t. “Walk back behind the fence where the chickens are, on the path. You’ll scare him away if you get close enough.”

I carried the phone with me as I walked. “He’s really beautiful,” my neighbor said, with admiration in his voice. Suddenly, big black wings appeared before me as the hawk took off from the top of a tree about 20 feet ahead. “That’s him!” my neighbor confirmed through the phone. The hawk flew a fair distance and settled in the branches of one of our towering Douglass Firs. It really was a magnificent bird.

Back at the chicken ranch, three hens braved the outdoors and were happily dust bathing in the dirt when I returned. These, too, are magnificent birds, so full of energy, spunk, and personality.

Sweet Pea, the Buff Orphington with very little neck, who has always been the hen to greet me, allow me to pet her, and makes a special “heeeellllllloooooo” sound in my presence, now attempts to follow my every step as I get fresh water and feed for the chickens. She wants to follow me right out of the fence and into the house, it seems, so she can be with her flock, the people.

There’s Little Roo, our rooster without tail feathers thanks to the larger rooster, Cecil. Both the same age, it’s a blessing that Little Roo is smaller, and thus less inclined to fight to the death for dominance in this small flock of fifteen chickens. He struts about, a truncated version of his former self, but is still very much alive and seemingly happy about it.

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