Mr. Fox has to be every poultry keeper's number one enemy. Sadly, many people have lost their chickens or other poultry to a fox. When it happens, it can be devastating.
When I was 7 years old, I went down to the chicken house to open the outer run door to let our small flock of hens out for their usual free range of the garden. On opening the door, I saw all of our hens killed inside the house with their heads removed. Only one hen had survived and was petrified, hiding in a tree where she had escaped the attack.
Whilst I love nature and have a live and let live attitude towards most things, this experience has given me a vivid memory of a fox attack and that makes me pretty vigilant when it comes to keeping my chickens and ducks safe. I appreciate that not all of the protection methods here will suit everyone, but I will give you as many ideas as possible to help you keep your chickens safe.
In this article, Jeremy Hobson looks at some ways of giving your chickens space, yet still keeping them free from danger by using a well designed poultry fence or pen.
Some of the heavier breeds of chickens have, over the years, developed in such a way that their wings are hardly capable of doing much more than flapping and lifting a bird a few inches off the ground when danger threatens. Others, usually the lighter Mediterranean varieties, can fly quite well... and certainly into the branches of a nearby tree if pursued by a domestic dog or foraging fox. Many years ago, all types of chicken were able to fly well enough to be able to roost in trees; an evolutionary factor which was obviously essential to their survival in the wild.
A large buff Orpington male who is unable to fly more than a few inches off the ground.
Poultry fencing isn't usually covered in books about keeping chickens, and yet it is a fundamental requirement if you are fencing off an area for your poultry, rather than buying a pre-fabricated run to attach to your chicken coop.
It's a sad moment, even scary when you discover you have been visited by a fox. Foxes can be cruel to us as poultry keepers and as well as the heartache of losing birds, there is also the financial loss. When foxes are short of food or are feeding young, they will hunt during the daytime. A determined fox, can run up and over a 5 foot fence if there is a rigid enough top. Foxes and Badgers will easily dig under a fence that isn't buried or doesn't have an electric wire to protect it so it is best to build a secure run to house your poultry in from day one!
In this artical, I say 'chicken fencing' or 'chicken netting', but the same conditions apply for any kind of poultry which is why I gave it the title of 'poultry fencing'. Ultimately the job of the fencing is to keep predators out and whatever poultry you keep in.
Rats can be a real problem for the poultry keeper. They are a fact of life that cannot be easily avoided and it is important to have a good strategy to maintain control of their numbers.
It is not unusual for a pair of rats to be able to produce a thousand descendants over the course of a year. They will cause an incredible amount of damage to property, poultry, and feed, not to mention the disease carrying potential. Damage to electrical wiring is the number one cause of electrical fires on farms in the UK.
The most common time of year that people notice a rat problem is as the weather turns cold in the autumn. Rats will move in if there is shelter and a supply of food. Rats prefer to live in log piles, mud banks, and under sheds and buildings. Poultry houses that are placed on the ground are a very popular residence for rats and many poultry housing manufacturers make houses that are raised off the ground to avoid this common problem.
Crows and Rooks can be very damaging to your birds. Chickens or ducks that are sitting on a nest, or have young and are not enclosed are particularly attractive to them, however they will also take fully grown birds on occasions.
I have heard of full sized Indian Runner Drakes being killed by crows in the early hours of the morning during the summer months, forcing the owners to house their ducks at night. Crows live in pairs and are territorial birds so if you remove one pair, others will often move into their territory. Crows can quite remarkably pick up on your routines quickly and will soon learn when it is safe to move in closer to your birds.
One of the joys of keeping chickens is to see them wandering around the garden going about their chicken business (or destroying your annual bedding depending on your point of view!), and there is nothing more satisfying than watching a group of stately Orpingtons sailing across your lawn like a determined armada.
They become pets, companions, a source of amusement and a provider of food for our tables, so naturally you want to look after them.
It makes sense then to provide protection for your chickens. You should be aware that by law you must provide your poultry with security from predators and danger; meaning you should not let your birds roam all day to annoy your neighbours and cause traffic chaos, while at night (and during the day) you need to make sure that the fox cannot get to them; remember too that if your pets cause damage to a third party then you will be liable!
There are currently two different licences here in the UK and two methods that are used to get close enough to the fox. Firstly though, you will need to fit a Police approved safe into your house in order to hold your guns when they are not in use.
You will need another safe or separate lockable compartment within your gun safe for your ammunition if you have firearms ammunition. Your safe(s) will need to be inspected by the Police before a certificate is issued. Applications for both shotgun and firearm certificates can be obtained from your local police constabulary.
Stoats and Weasels will not usually attack large chickens but can be a problem with smaller birds such as bantams, guinea fowl, call ducks, quail and many species of wild fowl as well as chicks and growers.
Both have the same diet and similar habitats although they do tend to avoid each other. Visually, Stoats and Weasels look very similar. They are light brown with a pale underside. A Stoat can grow slightly bigger than a Weasel and is usually slightly heavier. The giveaway is a Stoat has a black tip on the end of his tail.
To keep foxes away, some people have used animal repellents successfully. Just like dogs, foxes have a highly developed sense of smell and use scenting from urine and faeces to mark their territory.
A range of approved products are available from garden centres and DIY stores that will work with foxes. These should always be used in accordance with the manufacturers' instructions.
Predators can be a constant worry for many small holders and poultry keepers. A single fox can ruin years of careful husbandry and breeding in a few minutes, and stoats think little of killing a broody hen as she sits on eggs.
We all know the dangers posed by these two hunters, and with a little care and attention, we can keep them back with a combination of electric fences, traps and deterrents. However, an equally harmful predator lurks in the wings for many poultry keepers, and while mink numbers are reported to be falling, the danger remains a serious one.