Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tied to a Chicken Coop

For the first six years that we kept a flock of laying hens they roosted at night in a permanent coop and roamed during the day on about half an acre of ground fenced in around that coop.  For six years, morning and night the chicken coop had to be opened and closed.  When we went out of town it meant that whoever took care of the animals for us had to make a separate trip to the farm in the morning just to open the coop.  Not being tied to a chicken coop door was one of the more appealing aspects of putting our birds in a mobile coop and rotating their pasture.  Now our birds have been on  pasture for two and a half years.  They roost inside a trailer with a coop built on top.  Their pasture is surrounded by electric fence which does a really fantastic job of keeping out predators.

A year ago in January the battery went out on our fence charger and it took almost two weeks to get it replaced.  During those two weeks we lost almost one hen a night to any number of predators.  I believe it was multiple predators because we've found over the years that different predators have different patterns of behavior in what they do with the birds.  For instance, a hawk will eat almost every part of a chicken.  They leave only a backbone attached to wings.  Raccoons and possums tend to eat a large part of the bird and almost always try to drag the bird back through the fence to a treeline. Owls on the other hand eat a chicken's head.  And that is it.  To me they are the worst kind of predator because of the waste they create.  They are also the worst kind of  predator because they mean we have to be tied to the door of a chicken coop again.

Last year after we replaced the battery in the fence charger we continued to lose a bird every couple of nights.  The difference this time was that on all of these birds, only the head was eaten.  At the time we had little experience with owls and were still guessing at the predator.  Until one night we got a few inches of snow.  I had closed the coop door that night and went out early in the morning to open it.  In the middle of the fenced in chicken yard started one set of large bird tracks.  It walked to the front of the coop and then all the way around the trailer.  After a little more research we were pretty sure we were dealing with an owl.

Eventually as spring came around we started taking chances again leaving the coop door open in the evenings.  We didn't have a problem again until about a month ago.  Always in the evening, always just the head pulled off.  So once again we are tied to the door of the chicken coop.  Hopefully just until spring rolls around and other prey become easier to find.  Until then, I'm greeted with relief every morning as I open the door to the trailer and chickens begin to roll out.