Chickens thrive when they have a clean, safe, natural outdoor place to live and to forage for food during their daytime hours. Foraging will make up 50% of their daytime activities and part of their diet, the rest of their diet will be provided by you in the way of feed.
To listen to the audio for this post use the player below or right click and download – Talk’n Chicken Part 4
What makes a good forage area? Well here is my list of essentials;
– Any place where vegetation grows such as grass, weeds, brush, shrubs or trees
– A place with dirt to scratch in and look for bugs and worms and have a dust bath – cultivated soil is great!
– A place with some shady sheltered areas to rest and take a nap and to take shelter from hot sun, blustery winds, down pours and flying predators.
– Most yards (front, back and side areas), grassy lawns, wooded areas, brushy areas, stands of shrubs, stands of trees, pastures, paddocks, and the borders of fields all make great places to forage.
A Place to Take Cover
Your flock will need an outdoor place to take cover during heavy down pours, high winds and high temperatures. They will want to go under cover for protection from the threat of flying predatory birds like hawks or from roaming dogs. Under shady trees, shrubs, underneath decks or porches, underneath a raised coop or a small shelter just for this purpose will all work well to provide temporary shelter during the day. Sometimes they just want to nap or take a dust bath in a sheltered area so they can relax and not have to be on guard watching for predators. They will also need access to their coop throughout the daytime. Their coop is home base it is their safe shelter and the place where they can go to be safe from predators.
Domestic Dogs, Fox, Coyote, Raccoon, Opossum, Mink, Weasel, Skunk, Fisher Cat, Bear, Hawks, Owls and Human Thieves.
Here is a link that gives more information about chicken predators and what ‘tells’ they leave behind after an attack. http://www.raising-chickens.org/chicken-predators.html
There are a number of fencing options available at home improvement stores, farm and tractor suppliers. Red Brand metal fence works well and the holes are not large enough to allow smaller hens to squeeze through same goes for galvanized chain link fencing.
Chicken or poultry wire comes in different gauges but we would only use the heaviest gauge if we had too. Large predators can break through all but the heaviest gauge. We do not suggest that you use it on chicken tractors because the chickens have open access to their run at night. Keep in mind that racoons and opossums can reach through the circular holes of chicken wire and can grab chickens by the neck (more on that later when we talk about predators.)
Hardware cloth comes in quarter and half-inch mesh and it provides good predator protection. Most professional poultry raisers use hardware cloth for all of their pens but it is pricey and a little harder to work with. It is an absolute necessity to cover open windows (as screening) and for use on screen doors. Hardware cloth is the only material that we would use to cover movable tractors. The reason for this is that most tractors have an open door access to the run that is never closed – not even during the night hours.
Wooden privacy fences work great at keeping the dogs and many other predators out and at keeping the chickens in.
One of the best predator inhibitors is an electric fence that runs around the exterior perimeter of a field fence with a foot and a half buffer. This can be the traditional wire electric fencing or the new plastic web strips that are visible from a distance. They also make plastic mesh electric fences that are movable and some people love them, others do not. Here is a link to one manufacturer Premier 1,
Flock Guardian Dogs
Some dog breeds are especially suited to guarding and protecting flocks be they sheep, goats or chickens. These dogs are all very territorial with strong protective instincts. Most are very intelligent and will defend and protect their charges even at the cost of their own life. They all tend to be ‘barky’ and all prefer to live outside with their charges (sheep, goats, chickens.) Flock guardian dogs will scope and patrol a wide territory. To keep them on your property fences are advised.
A few of the most frequently mentioned breeds are:
Kuvase (KOO vahz) – breed originated in Tibet but was developed in Hungry, flock protection, herding.
Anatolia Shepherds – breed is from Asia Minor flock protection
Akbash – breed is from Turkey, flock protection, strong maternal instincts
Great Pyrenees – flock protection, herding, good with cats
Maremma Sheepdog – breed is from Italy, flock protection, herding, companion
All of these dogs are fearless, very loyal, they are working dogs and quickly learn which animals are in their charge and which are the predators.
This is an interesting article about flock guardian dogs, Dog Breeds for Protecting Poultry. A search on the internet will provide additional information and resources for guardian dog breeds and rescues.
Protecting Your Flower And Garden Beds
Chickens scratch the surface of the soil to look for food and they love to dig up flowerbeds and gardens. The soil is cultivated and easily moved and there is usually an abundance of worms and bugs living in this soil. When these areas are not protected, the chickens will help themselves and eat the produce in the garden and have been known to eat flowers and leaves of some plants as well. Some of their favorite plants are carrot tops, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and herbs – just ask me how I know
Plastic poultry fencing or inexpensive wildlife netting that comes on a roll will work well at containing the chickens but does not provide predator protection. It is very good for keeping chickens out of gardens and flowerbeds, though and very affordable.