Wondering what life might be like with goats and chickens - take a look at this video 🙂
Raising chickens isn't a one-step, easy to follow process. As a special follow-up to a recent email, I got this tip for stopping chicken predators from Michel, one of our readers…
They suggested keeping pygmy goats with bells around their necks, as a companion pet to your chickens - in their pen. Because they scare off dogs, coyotes, racoons, and other predators. This has been effective at keeping all their chickens alive for more than a year. So that's not too bad - if you can manage it on your farm or property.
Simple enough - right?
Well, maybe not.
After publishing that tip I got several readers commenting that goats (dairy goats specifically) may not mix well with chickens. And they may not protect your flock as well as you think. One reader proposed trying a donkey instead, based on some success her friends had using one. It seems donkeys might be a better deterrent to predators in some situations.
So, there's not always a clear-cut answer to things and plenty of room for conflicting opinions. Millions of people are keeping chickens and there is probably a million different ways that they do it. And with regards to protecting a flock - a rooster can usually do a pretty good job as well 🙂
In this, our sixth installment, I want to cover the topic of Predators and chickens.
Basically, chickens are defenseless against most animals. It sometimes seems as though the only other animal they can hurt, is fellow chickens (although small creatures like mice and frogs also don't do so well if they can get a hold of one!). Other than that, chickens get 'creamed' by most other animals, including...
and several others
When you are designing your coop, it is essential that you know what predators to expect. It is also good to know the tactics they typically use to get at your chickens.
Most predators, if they're strong enough, will just tear into your coop. Recently I heard about a fox getting in through a nesting box which had been designed to be easily removable for cleaning - unfortunately it also made it easy for the fox to just push up the loose base from underneath and get himself a tasty chicken dinner.
Another common factor to watch out for is digging. So, if you can build a coop that won't let predators in through the bottom, you have a great start. Burrowing down some strong meshed wire around your coop outline, down several inches and then out a few inches like an 'L' can help deter diggers (as can giving your coop a 'wire skirt' if it is a mobile coop). Another way might be to dig a deep ditch all around the coop and fill it with concrete.
Honestly though, there are a lot of things that can go wrong and also lots you can do to keep predators out of your coop, but a very important point is this...
You have to be vigilant and on the watch as well. Because even a "Fort Knox" designed coop will deteriorate and wear out over time. So if you are always aware of the coop and how your chickens are doing, your chickens WILL live long and healthy lives. If not, then you might be inviting bears, raccoons, hawks, or many other predators to have your chook for dinner.
You may be asking if you really need poultry wire for your chicken runs?
Even though you are planning on having 'free range' chickens ... Unfortunately, you might still need to keep the chickens out of your garden. The reality is this...
Chickens like a variety of foods.
And your garden offers one of the largest varieties in their world. So you may want to protect your garden from your flock (or at least your neighbours garden?).
I suggest a minimum mesh and wire height of 6 feet for fencing chickens in, or for keeping them out. WHY 'at least' 6 feet?
Because chickens CAN fly!
So, this height should detain most chickens from crossing over the tracks, as they say. To be honest, 6 feet is really nothing for some chickens, so you might need to think about taller fencing, OR a covered run area, OR clipping (one of) their wings.
It tends to be the smaller breeds that can fly the highest, but even some of the larger ones may surprise you.
In fact, I don’t know if you heard the story of how I lost 4 of my hens in one day? Of course you may be like me and not realize it until it's too late. Then BAM! They were gone. I don’t want that to happen to you. If you want to be certain of keeping your flock safe from certain predators, you’ll HAVE TO plan for this feature in your chicken run. Even with a free range flock you may still want a secure area for times when they can't be let out or don't want to go out (eg. bad weather). Both free range and penned flocks can be further protected with things like sonar deterrents and electric fencing.
We've been raising our own chickens at home for years now, in our own chicken coops, with chicken coop plans that we designed ourselves.
And some of my friends couldn't understand why I got so crazy about my feathered girls. They wondered why we put all the hard work into building and protecting our chickens. And, to be honest, most of them couldn't understand why we did it, so it was just easier for us to keep our hobby to ourselves, right?
Well, not anymore. Times have changed. Now everyone knows why we raise our own chicken flock:
They provide AWESOME organic compost for your garden.
They give your family amazingly healthy, tasty, home-grown foods for cheap.
You can raise them with NO nasty chemicals, hormones, or pesticides.
Grocery store costs are as high as backyard raised egg costs now.
(and if that's not enough right there...)
All that alone makes building your own chicken coop a no brainer, right? All my friends stopped asking me why, and instead started asking how they could keep chickens themselves 🙂
There is so much you need to know to make your own chicken coop, and raise your flock at home but at the same time a lot of it is just common sense. There are many things I have learnt along the way. Take this for example :
Here's How YOU can INSTANTLY save your entire flock in one day.
Did you know that if you don't build your coop to stop ONE specific predator, that you can seriously lose your entire flock in one day? And no ... it's probably not the large animal you're thinking of right now.
NOPE - it's hawks.
Do you want to guess how I figured that one out?
And that's not the only lesson I learned the hard way.
Here's what I realized pretty quickly ...
There are SO MANY different types and styles of chicken coops out there, that you really have to know what you want to accomplish before you find the chicken coop plan that is right for you!
You want to understand what YOUR needs are (eg. easy access to the nestboxes and being able to clean the coop out without being bent over double make life with chickens more enjoyable)
You need to know what the needs of your flock are going to be (eg. smaller breeds will feel the cold more, a big breed may need low roosts and a bigger entrance, breeds with feathered feet can get really clogged down with mud [or snow] if you live in an area with lots of rain and their pen floor is soil)
You have to build a chicken coop that you are comfortable having your neighbors see ('have to' is not strictly true but it is nice to have something you can be proud of 🙂 )
You have to stay within the legal limits of your area (some areas don't allow chickens at all, or if they do they restrict how many you can have or specify no roosters etc. - it is best to check these sorts of things before you buy your chickens and build a coop)
All of these, PLUS a whole bunch more are key factors in your chicken coop building process.
You see ... making that first mistake, of losing an entire flock in one day, taught me an important lesson in how to keep your chickens safe and predator-free.
Incidentally probably the easiest way to keep hawks at bay is simply to have a wire mesh going over the top of your chicken pen, if that is not possible/practical then at least use some of the common deterrents such hanging reflective items such as cds and provide cover such as bushes for your chickens to dive under. Bamboo sticks stuck in the ground at various heights can help prevent a clear flight path for swooping in. Additionally there are all sorts of deterrents available at places like garden centers.
It is not a nice thing to think about, but any time spent thinking about ways to make a predators access to your chickens more difficult is worth it - and it can definitely save lives.
Equally some time planning the overall picture of your coop and how you want your life with chickens to be (coop position, flock, access etc) is also worth it so be sure to check out the video we made about some common things people forget about when designing their chicken coop.