Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lines of Defense

I've read way too many horror stories online of chickens being killed by predators, so I knew once we moved out to the middle of the woods that extra protection would be imperative. First, for nighttime protection, we have a very secure coop.

The above picture was actually taken at our old house! We got this coop even before we had plans of moving. I thought it was the cutest thing ever, but more importantly, it's predator-proof. There is a tiny little door, also known as a "pop door," that you can see in the photo below on the bottom left of the back wall. This is the door the chickens use to go in and out of the coop. At nighttime, they all go in on their own when the sun starts to set, so I just close and latch the pop door and they are safe.

Of course they need protection during the day as well, and I've read too many stories about raccoons ripping apart chicken wire that I knew to go for 1/2" hardware cloth. It is more expensive than chicken wire, but we've never had an issue so I know it has been worth it.

It's also important to fend off the predators that like to dig and get to the chickens that way, so to combat that we sort of splayed out the hardware cloth on top of the dirt around the run. Most predators will try to dig right up next to the run, so just having a sheet of hardware cloth on top of the ground about a foot away from the run on all sides is effective.

Now that we had a predator-proof coop and run, we were all set. However, I was a nervous wreck most of the time, so I thought we needed even more protection. First order of business was to get a rooster!

One of David's students gave us this rooster a few weeks after we moved out here. He was hatched in April so he was still small, but now he's a giant! I've read numerous accounts of roosters fighting off predators and even sacrificing themselves and standing in front of the hens if a predator attacks. They will give a warning call if they sense a potential threat and the hens will stop what they are doing and pay attention to the rooster for further instructions. And of course, what's a farm without a crowing rooster? :)

Once we had Cam I felt a little more safe, but I knew we needed to bring out the big guns. Enter Duchess!

A livestock guardian dog (LGD) is the ultimate protection against predators. Duchess has been amazing in scaring off anything that doesn't belong. Case in point - a couple of weeks ago I came home to find a huge indentation in the fencing on the door to the chicken area. I quickly counted all the chickens and inspected Duchess to make sure they were all fine. We told our neighbor about what we saw, and she said that a stray dog had killed a couple of her chickens on the same day that I saw the fencing pushed in. Duchess saved our chickens that day!

In addition to Cam and Duchess, we also have guineas that are great "watchdogs" as well.

A few days ago I was outside with the chickens and noticed how effective our system of protection actually is. Cam gave his warning call and the hens froze and watched him to see what to do. The guineas began screaming, then Duchess started barking without actually looking to see what the threat was. She knew that when Cam gives his call and the guineas start screaming that something is awry. I was so happy and proud in that moment knowing that our system works! We have a triple threat when it comes to protection. Come to find out, they were only freaking out about a stray cat that was on our porch. Probably not much of a threat at all, but it shows that they know to be on guard when anything out of the ordinary happens which is exactly what we need.

Last night David pointed out that Baby, our outside cat, is another line of defense. She gets rid of all the rodents! Not much of a threat to the chickens (I have seen them tear apart a live mouse and believe me, it wasn't pretty) but she does her part, too.


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