The Opossums have been the problem predator with the younger chicks, one having found its way into the brooder last fall and killed several of the 2 month old chicks.
With new chicks arriving this week, the plan was in place to head off the possums. Beginning last week the trap has been set out near the new hen house. The first four days, we captured three possums.
It seems their normal range covers from 160 acres for females, to over 700 for males during mating season. To ensure they did not find their way back, they were transported about six or seven miles away. The Opossums were relocated to the riverbank, where they were released. Two headed for the brush looking for cover. The other headed straight for the river, crossing for the other side and never looking back.
Other predators here that have taken notice of our free range chickens include, foxes, dogs, cooper hawks, red tail hawks, and bald eagles. The foxes have had the most success and have had a devastating impact. The dogs, collared with spike collars, came and killed just for fun. The cooper hawks have made a few attempts, ruffled a few feathers, but generally aren’t big enough to snatch one of grown chickens. The red tail hawk likely could carry one away, but I’ve not seen an attempt, though they have made a few close passes. The bald eagle clearly could easily carry one away. It has made a fly by about tree top level but no attempt to snatch a hen. The bald eagles nest over on the riverbanks and have several trees they favor, so it is not uncommon to see them.
It is difficult for us to tell some of the hens apart, which one is which? Particularly with the Barred Rocks. The Wyandottes too are are very similar in appearance, but the differences are a bit easier to tell. Except when they are all moving about with the rest of the flock, they sort of blend together too fast for us to distinguish individuals.
The solution was to add some colored leg bands, or ankle bracelets into the mix. Being able to tell them apart more readily, individual hen behaviors become much more obvious.
Somewhere we saw or heard a description of the Silver Laced Wyandottes as the Sophia Lorens of the chicken world. Seems an apt description. So the hen shown above, is wearing the red color ankle bracelet has become known as Sophia Red.
By chance, the two hens with the purple ankle bracelets, are both at the top of the pecking order as best we can tell. The Barred Rock now known as Queen and the Wyandotte as Sophia Royale. Purple being the color of royalty and their individual behaviors seemed to be a good match.
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Crazy month this December. A few big swings in temperatures, some chicken chasing going on, and the presence of a fox all made for some changes.
Production pretty steady until the 11th, which brought about a drop. The 10th was visitor day, and a couple of the young boys took great delight in chasing the chickens.
Okay, so we did get a certain level of enjoyment watching the boys and chickens on the run! The boys of course had no chance of catching one. While we did not have an issue with the chicken chasing, the hens showed their protest of the event by cutting production the next day. Well, I guess that backed things up some, so the day after that, the 10 hens laid 11 eggs, one with no shell, just the membrane, likely from the hen that laid two for the day. Another 10 days or so goes by, and another day of low production, followed by 11 eggs, again one with no shell. Not sure what the reason for the drop this time.
The 23rd, and again on Christmas eve, we had a problem with the light on the timer. Christmas day, the breaker popped, so something in the electrical system shorted out.
Low production on Chirstmas day. The electrical was re routed for the lights and back in order.
The 26th, as I was going down to the chicken house to feed them and close them up for the night, a red fox appeared, made several attempts at snatching one of the hens. It got a mouthful of hen just as I caught up to them. My appearance and noise as I came after it startled the fox. It dropped the the Silver Wyandotte, Sophia Red, and made for the woods.
On the 27th one of the hens was missing when I went to close them up, but she was there the next morning, unharmed. The 30th however, was a different matter.
The fox appeared while we were away, and killed 8 of the flock of 17. Michael heard the commotion and went out for a look, just in time to see the fox carry off one
of the chickens. Of the 10 hens that were laying, 4 were killed. All four were Plymouth Barred Rock. The fox also killed 3 Buff Orpington cockerels, and a Rhode Island Red pullet. The cockerels and pullet were 17 weeks old. The Barred Rocks were 42 weeks old.
Blue Egg count was 25
The end of October came the predator. A nasty looking Opossum, on the hunt for fresh meat.
I thought perhaps the brooder was secure enough against pretty much all the predators in our area, except for perhaps a racoon.
But it was the possum that created the problem. Just as my daughter was arriving home, she heard toe commotion in the chicken yard.
She investigated and got there just in time to see the possum escape from the fence and into the woods.
A little later, we again saw the creature but was unable to help it meet its demise. Another day perhaps.
The possum killed half the Buff Orpingtons, a cockerel and both hens. So 3 Buff Orpingtons left, all cockerels. So much for the idea of having some broody hens in the future.
Guess we will try again in the Spring next time the farm supply has chicks in stock.
Also killed was one of the Ameracauna chicks, and another Ameracauna was injured. So far, surviving, and seems to be getting better.
The rest were quite shaken and nervous. Since they were about 8 weeks old, we put them in the hen house with the first batch of hens. Neither group was very happy about the situation.
One of the Barred Rock hens in particular, top bird in the pecking order, took great delight in letting the little ones know the possum wasn’t the only one interested in seeing to their demise. But with a little time, that should settle out. Its been about three weeks since the incident, things are much calmer, the little ones are getting quite a bit bigger, but still, they are not
particularly interested in getting along very well. About the only one that is getting harassed to any extent however, is the Ameracauna chick that was injured. That chick is pretty good at getting away, even hopping along on one good leg, and favoring the other with the injury. The others in the little one’s group make a bit of an attempt to protect the injured one, but are still so afraid of the older hens, well – its every chicken for itself.
So we got our second batch of chicks this week. Picked up from the local farm supply when the chicks were a week old. The farm supply gets their chicks from Estes Hatchery in Springfield, Missouri.
For this round, we purchased a dozen chicks, purported to be all pullets. A third of our first batch of 15 turned out to be cockerels so we don’t expect to see drastically different results this time, but maybe. Of the first batch, 4 of the 5 Easter Egger Ameracuanas were cockerels. We got four more of them this time, along with two Rhode Island Reds, and six Buff Orpingtons.
Here is a video from Estes Hatchery.