Beat the Predator
Kim Stoddart outlines some of the biggest challenges that poultry keepers everywhere are most likely to face and how to beat them
Kim Stoddart investigates
No matter where you live; be it in a bustling town, or on the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, there are threats and challenges for which you need to be prepared. Nature is wonderful, but it’s an eat-or-beeaten world out there and so if you’re not careful, your flock can be easily at risk from common pest or predator attack.
Fear not, however, as knowing thy enemy and the likely problems that can occur enables you to prepare and outwit, keeping your birds healthy and protected for the long-term future:
THE PREDATOR LINE UP
Mr (or Mrs) Fox Top of the pile has to be this canny creature, which will most likely patrol the border around where your chickens and ducks are kept every night, looking opportunistically for a possible weak spot or opening. Anyone who has ever experienced the aftermath of a fox attack will know how brutal and relentless this poultry killing machine can be. Rather than taking just one or two birds, they will slaughter as many as possible, possibly a whole flock even, with the intention of coming back and burying those not already eaten.
It’s heart-wrenching in the extreme when this happens especially when you consider that any poultry remaining are also likely to be extremely traumatised as a result.
HOW TO ‘OUTFOX’ THEM
Fox proof fencing A fox can dig down and under netting so it’s essential that any enclosure includes fencing which has been securely buried to a depth of a foot or so. Height wise at least 6ft is also recommended.
Otherwise, I’d highly recommend using stones around the inside and outside of your fencing. A lot of farmers clear field stones off their land and will be pleased for you to take them off their hands. This way, with heavy stone keeping fencing firmly in place there’s no chance of foxy digging its way in. I had many fox attacks over the years as even fox proof fencing can loosen when the ground gets wet over winter. Applying the stone surround has prevented this happening as you’d be hard pushed to find a fox that can lift a heavy stone into a wheelbarrow to move it out the way.
This is another popular option for chicken keepers enabling you to have moveable protection all year round. If you plump for this solution, do be vigilant if it’s standard battery charged as you really don’t want to leave your birds unprotected even for a day. Foxes do patrol the same route
night after night, so I’m afraid it just takes one evening when the battery has run out for them to work their way in.
Automatic door openers Most foxes strike at dusk, when the poultry are getting sleepy and are all tucked up in their house. These predators are clever and know that this way their prey is much easier to catch. So, this valuable device ensures that your birds are safely locked away in their house at dusk each evening without your having to step outside. It provides extra peace of mind protection and means you don’t always have to be there of an evening to shut them in. Ratty Mainly interested in poultry food left lying about, these creatures are a health hazard to adult poultry and need to be kept at bay. In the case of young chicks however they can become brutal killers, burrowing their way into your enclosure and dragging out young hens or ducklings in the most innovative of ways.
HOW TO PREVENT PROBLEMS
Don’t overfeed your birds Whether you use feeding trays or scatter grain on the ground, it’s when there are leftovers lying around that rats will be particularly drawn into the area. If your birds haven’t eaten all their food then it’s a clear sign you are giving them too much in the first place, so do cut back. During the summer months free ranging birds will forage and graze a great deal so don’t require a lot of supplementary feeding.
Look out for signs Unlike foxes, rats can easily dig into any enclosure if they so desire, as they are adept at tunnelling long distances underground. The key therefore is to look out for signs of activity (any holes in your enclosure) and immediately block them. If there is no food to scavenge, there is no enticement for them but blocking holes can also act as a good deterrent and ensure that they are kept firmly out.
Protect chick housing Like foxes, rats tend to strike at night time and this means ideally breaking into housing when birds are asleep. In the case of these cunning rodents, even the smallest gap will suffice so it’s essential to make sure housing is 100% secure.
Get a bigger predator on board Most farm cats will have a field day chasing rats away.
Polecats These creatures can climb up and over even the tallest fencing, so if they strike your best bet is to include roof top netting to keep them out. If you have chicks or ducklings then top cover is also recommended to stop magpies or crows from picking off young birds.
Dogs Unfortunately some canines will at best chase and harass your poultry and at worst, actively hunt down and kill them. We all know our own dogs and can keep any tendencies reeled in, so it’s neighbours or visiting dogs that you need to be careful with. If you have concerns about dogs living nearby, your best bet is to keep your poultry in a protected area out of reach.
Anyone who has ever experienced the aftermath of a fox attack will know how brutal and relentless this poultry killing machine can be
ABOVE: Rats, a health hazard to poultry
TOP: Keeping poultry safe ABOVE LEFT: Field stones around poultry enclosures ABOVE RIGHT: Keeping the ducks safe from Mr Fox