We have had two chickens die from aerial predator attacks in the last few days. Both times the farm dog fought off the predator, and thus the predator left the scene with no reward. But both times the chickens died from their injuries.
The first one was our daughter’s pet Silkie chicken, Esther. She was found dead in the barnyard Saturday, her body being guarded by the dog.
The second attack happened this morning. We found a piece of chicken skin, feathers on it, just outside the barnyard. We were sure the predator must have made off with the chicken this time and just dropped part of it on it’s flight out, but we were wrong. We found one of the Marans hens, named Redneck (because she had a red ring of feathers around her neck), huddled with the other chickens in the pen looking miserable. Her chest feathers looked strange. We picked her up and as we pulled back the feathers we found that her whole chest was torn open and exposed. There were talon scratch and puncture marks all over her, including inside her chest. We put her out of her suffering.
This is very distressing.
First of all, the farm dog is extremely aware of aerial predators. He takes note whenever they fly over and herds all the chickens inside the pen, and he doesn’t allow the predators to roost in the trees in the barnyard. He barks and jumps and hassles them until they leave. And he wont let the chickens out of their pen until whatever it is has left the area. So this bird of prey, whatever type it is, must be hanging around in the trees surrounding the barnyard, waiting for his opportunity…like maybe when the dog goes into the stall, or dozes off in the sun. And then it is swooping in, but not fast enough to have a chance to actually leave with the chicken before the dog hears and is on it. (LOVE our farm dog…he is so excellent!)
Secondly, the fact that it came for a second chicken after not only NOT getting rewarded with the first one, but also after having an altercation with the dog shows a boldness that is alarming.
The answer to this problem is “simple” – don’t let the chickens free-range, keep them closed in their pen. This is exactly what we are going to be doing at first, for the next few weeks. BUT that doesn’t help long term, since it is important to us that the chickens free-range.
AND it doesn’t help with a very important worry that’s time is quickly closing in on us…lambing. Since we don’t know exactly what type of bird this is, we don’t know how much of a worry this is. We have everything from Great-Horned owls, to Red Tailed Hawks, to Bald Eagles here. If it is one of the larger birds of prey then our lambs are at risk for the first few weeks when they are very small. If it is a smaller bird of prey then it isn’t a concern.
Plus, we are a bit nervous about the potential injury that could happen to the farm dog if he has to continue to fight off this predator, especially if it is a bigger bird. We really don’t want his face getting torn-up, or him losing and eye, etc from one of those sharp talons.
We are still contemplating our plan of attack. It starts with keeping the chickens inside for a few weeks, which will hopefully help the bird become uninterested in this location and move on…of course if it is nesting nearby that wont help. Secondly, I think we will try some fishing line strung from the barnyard trees and the roof of the barn etc all over the barnyard as much as we can do at a height that doesn’t disrupt humans moving around the yard. Apparently this deters flying predators. Lastly, we are going to put up several pairs of reflective circles on the trees and barn – another recommended deterrent. We will continue to research other options as well.
We are very glad to have made it this long without aerial predator issues due to our wonderful farm dog, Tundra. But with this persistent bird hanging around, already robbing us of over half a dozen eggs a week, and threatening our lambs and the well-being of the farm dog, we need to take some more steps to make it stop.