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

Your Chickens - - Contents -

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.

Elec­tric fenc­ing

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.

OTHER THREATS

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

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