Tag Archives: raising chickens

Foxes And Chickens Deadly Game

Two hens disappeared to give me warning. Then I saw I was in the middle of a deadly game of foxes and chickens.

Several years ago I played another game of foxes and chickens when a pair of gray foxes and their kits took up residence under the house. The first reaction of most chicken farmers is to get out a gun and shoot the foxes. End of game.

foxes and chickens deadly game
Gray foxes are lovely animals. The pair make loving parents and are devoted to each other. Their diet consists of squirrels, ground squirrels, deer mice, voles and chickens.

We try to live here in harmony – as much as possible – with the wildlife we are displacing with our buildings and gardens and such. How does a chicken farmer cope with gray foxes?

The house and foxes were on one side of the road. The barn, chicken house and chickens were on the other side of the road. The road had to become a boundary.

The first defensive move was to keep the chickens locked up in their yard unless I was there to watch them. The fox countered by trying to sneak up on the hens when I looked the other way.

The second defensive move was to yell, scream and chase the fox. The fox persisted. So did I.

The third defensive move was to go over the fence along the road. It now has chicken wire over the field fence. The chickens stay inside the fenced in area. The foxes know it is a boundary.

baby gray foxes
These two gray fox kits found a hole in the barn floor. I thought they were kittens at first fleeting glimpse and brought over some canned cat food. The two foxes thought cat food was good.

The fourth defensive move was to counter the reason the fox wanted to get to the chickens. A growing family is hungry. Store chicken is quite acceptable to a fox.

I lost half my flock the first year. The second year I lost a few hens as the defensive moves took effect.

The foxes are back. The chicken wire is still there. I am restricting when the chickens can be outside. Chicken is on the grocery list.

The deadly foxes and chickens game has resumed with a new wrinkle. The foxes are now living under the barn. At least their entrance is outside the chicken fence.

Raising chickens takes responsibility and a good chicken house. Hazel Whitmore learns some of this in “Mistaken Promises“.

Proud Standard Cochin Rooster

Almost a year ago there was a big ball of animated buff-colored fluff. This grew into a proud standard cochin rooster.

Those familiar with chickens or chicken catalogues know cochins as these eight inch tall bantams. They have lots of feathers making them look fluffy. There is little tail so their ends are rather rounded. They have feathers down their legs and fans of feathers over their feet.

standard cochin rooster
Standard cochins are slow to mature. Once the rooster does, he is a commanding presence.

The color pattern I really liked was like a barred rock chicken: black and white stripes. The bantams were on display at a county fair.

Bantams don’t do well in my hen house. Chickens are mean to each other. The top hen pecks the other hens. Each pecks on the hens below her.

The poor hen at the bottom is picked on by everyone. This is a pecking order. And bantams, being small, are at the bottom.

standard cochin rooster and hens
Mr. Pantaloons, my standard cochin rooster, parades around a group of hens who are too busy eating to notice him.

Thumbing through a chicken catalog many years ago I found cochins came in standard or big size too. I ordered some chicks.

Standard cochins are much bigger than even Buff Orpingtons in looks. Pick one up and much of the size is fluff.

These are gentle birds. They look like fluff balls on fluff balls to me as they walk around.

The last of my last cochins had died of old age. I ordered chicks last spring. Normally I order pullets when I have a flock rooster, but standard cochins only come straight run which means males and females are mixed.

Extra roosters are called dinner. Too many roosters harass the hens so they don’t lay many eggs. And this little buff standard cochin rooster was called dinner.

Somehow I never got around to having that chicken dinner. The rooster grew up. He is gorgeous.

two proud roosters
For now the Arcana rooster is top rooster. The standard cochin is still young and uncowed. The two eye each other warily when close generally choosing to stay far apart. The hens ignore them both.

The flock Arcana rooster is not impressed and tries to chase him. There was a pile of buff feathers near the coop the other day.

Mr. Pantaloons, my proud standard cochin rooster, took it in stride. After all, he is twice the size of his angry rival. They have an uneasy truce for now.

Chickens are a great 4-H project as they are for Hazel in “Mistaken Promises“.

Finding Chicken Eggs

When chickens are confined within a yard, finding chicken eggs is easy. They are normally all in the provided nests.

As soon as chickens are allowed to range, finding chicken eggs becomes challenging. For some of my hens the provided nest boxes are no longer the nests of choice.

Speckled Sussex hen in nest box
This hen is using the nest box today. Yesterday she was up on the hay bale. She likes to keep me hunting for her eggs.

At first I tried keeping the hens in the chicken yard until late in the afternoon. I assumed most of the hens would lay early in the day.

My hens did not lay early in the day. They preferred the afternoon.

Even those that would lay early, but wanted to lay somewhere other than the nest boxes, waited until after I opened the gate. There would be a mad dash for the favored nesting spot of each hen.

One barred rock hen hung around in the hen house waiting for me to open the door to go in with the feed bucket. She streaked out and dashed to the open barn door. In the middle of milking she would begin cackling and fly down from the hay bale where she had her nest.

That is one way to liven up milking time.

The hens won. I let them out after I finish morning milking. In the afternoon I start finding chicken eggs.

Some hens do still lay in the regular nest boxes so I check there first. The next stop is on that high hay bale. Luckily there is a ladder stored next to the hay.

Lately that spot is abandoned by most of the hens that did lay there. They’ve moved into the hay trough in the goat barn.

finding chicken eggs in the hay trough
Nest boxes, phooey. Hay trough, good. Even when the hay level gets low, the hay trough is better than using a well padded nest box. At least that is what several hens think.

One hen has found a gap between hay bales on the floor. Some hens don’t bother with nests at all.

One morning I let the hens out. A speckled Sussex came out of the gate, squatted near my feet, popped out an egg and took off. Another egg was left near the goat water bucket.

The chicken yard is an expanse of dirt and gravel. The eggs are so much better if the hens have access to grass and other greens. The challenge is finding chicken eggs laid by hens running loose invariably leaves some out for the raccoons.

Raising chickens is a popular rural and, now, suburban pastime. Hazel didn’t start out a country girl. Find out why she became one in “Broken Promises.”

Surprise Pet Chicken

Chickens are a great homestead addition. They have so many advantages. My flock is composed of many breeds. This year an Easter Egger is a surprise pet chicken.

I like my chickens friendly, but don’t try to make pets of them. These can become nuisances quickly.

surprise pet chicken
All right. I admit I baited my pet Arcana to get this picture. It didn’t help much as she was pecking so fast most of the pictures had a blur for her head. Like all chickens, food is a big motivator for her. Even so, most of my Arcanas won’t let me this close no matter what the food offered is.

Instead I choose calm, friendly breeds like Buff Orpingtons, Speckled Sussex and standard Cochins. Barred Rocks and New Hampshires are active chickens, but usually easy going.

Then there are the Arcanas and Easter Eggers. Blue, green and pink eggs are fun to collect. The pullets and hens are wild.

Surprise pet chicken
This was supposed to be an easy picture to get. Ha! My pet couldn’t understand she had to stay a little ways away and kept walking up on my feet. I got some great tail shots.

If such a hen is scratching in the dirt and I walk by, she panics and flees squawking loudly. When I spread scratch feed in the evening calling the flock in for the night, I have to stand far from the gate before these hens will come in. Better yet, I leave the coop so they can enter.

This year is different. I have kept four Easter Egger pullets. Three of them are convinced I am a monster and flee at my approach. The fourth is a surprise pet chicken.

milk room clean up crew
Having my Arcana in the milk room works out well. Nubian doe High Reaches Rose is a neat eater. Not so several other does who toss their feed dish around showering oats onto the floor. My pet is glad to peck them up.

This pullet follows me around at times. She likes joining me in the milk room during milking. She eats oats out of my hand. I can even pick her up, but she isn’t thrilled.

Speckled Sussex hens are friendly. They come racing over to see me. I can pick them up or stroke their backs.

pullets
My chickens are semi free range. I let them out several hours each day and pen them the rest of the time. Chickens like company so my pet spends lots of time out with the other pullets. She keeps an eye out for me and comes over to find out what is going on often hanging out near where I am busy.

This behavior isn’t so much pet like as calculating. I mean food. They are voracious little things. They come over as much to see if I have some tidbit for them as to see me.

My surprise pet chicken does look for food. Goats are messy eaters and she likes cleaning up dropped feed. She likes getting special tidbits.

But this pullet seems to like my company as well. She hangs around places where I’m working and clucks to me. After a time she takes off to hang out with the flock.

This pullet is my kind of pet. She likes my company, but doesn’t stay underfoot.

In “Mistaken Promises” Hazel raises Buff Orpington pullets as a way to become more of a country girl and belong to the local 4-H Club.

Escalating Chicken War

Getting ready for spring seems more work than the spring rush. Maybe the escalating chicken war is the problem.

Cold weather is not my idea of work outside weather. This has slowed down putting up chicken wire on the fences.

In the meantime garden preparation for spring planting is clamoring to be done. Peas and greens will go in the beginning of March. Potatoes go in the middle of the month.

Cream Cat comes over
For some reason Cream Cat assumed I needed help working on the fence and his bid for petting was the help I needed. He got his petting, then sent on his way so I could finish working on this section of fence.

I divided my time and got some of each done. I had lots of help and observers. Cream came by demanding he be petted. The chickens came by to check out what I was doing before taking off into the pasture. A deer watched from the other end of the north pasture. An armadillo came by and complained about having its pathways wired closed.

The next day rain threatened. I concentrated on the garden preparation as wet compost is not easy to lug to the garden.

The back garden gate post was rotting off. I shored it up with metal posts. It collapsed as I worked on putting the compost in which entailed weeding. The chickens were delighted. I put in a new post.

In the meantime I noticed my escalating chicken war. The new wire is across the road section. The chicken goes through the barn lot to the small pasture through the fence and on to the front yard.

hen reason for escalating chicken war
This Speckled Sussex hen is the ringleader. She refuses to stay in the chicken yard. She leads other hens to the front yard. Now she is taking them out into the pastures. She considers me the enemy to her freedom. I see her as fox dinner.

Other chickens joined the culprit. Still others were off across the north pasture. An escalating chicken war was getting frustrating.

News arrived the grey fox is back. He is moving his mate into his old haunt for the spring and summer.

Now I wouldn’t fault the fox for grabbing the chicken parading around the front yard near where he plans to live. The chicken shouldn’t be there.

However I really don’t want to lose any laying hens. I like bringing lots of eggs in every day.

The escalating chicken war is now pitted against time. And I am losing.

Young Skunk Scares Chickens

Many animal spring babies are off on their own now. That includes a young skunk now staking out the barn area as home base.

In spite of their reputations, skunks are not really interested in attacking anyone. This young one is rather nervous.

I first came across this particular one on my way to milk one evening. It was after dark and my flashlight batteries were starting to dim. There was movement along the road.

The skunk stood motionless assessing the situation and blinded by the light. It stomped its front feet. This is not a good sign.

young skunk startled
The skunk didn’t seem to notice much around it. I finally got close enough to be noticed. The skunk backed up a step and lifted its tail. In a few seconds the tail came down and it resumed digging in the grass. If a skunk gets really alarmed, it raises the tail much higher, stands square and stomps the front feet. If the perceived threat stays, the skunk turns away and lets loose.

Skunks are common around the area. They move in for a time. They move on. Occasionally they discover I put milk down for the cats as I milk and come in to drink it. They have a different lap sound from the cats, more of a smack, smack, smack. I say something. They look up with a startled expression and depart hastily. One was a repeat offender and ignored me in a night or two. It left after the milk was gone.

That night I backed off. The skunk relaxed. I sidled by on the other side of the road.

chicken ignoring young skunk
After the chickens ran from the skunk, they settled down and gave it a wide berth as they ate grass and bugs. The skunk ignored the chickens.

The next afternoon I let the chickens out to forage for a couple of hours. They have adjusted to the short times out well. The foxes seem to be ignoring them.

The flood of chickens rolled out across the grass, came to a screeching halt and retreated. My pullets complained loudly to me about the invader in their section of grass.

The skunk was busy foraging. It feeds on worms and grubs it digs up. Armadillos may dig bigger holes, but skunks leave a lumpy path behind too. However, an armadillo races off once it spots you. A skunk dares you to do something.

young skunk digging for grubs
The stripes on the back of a skunk can be thin lines, short as on this skunk and up to covering the entire back making the skunk appear white. The skunk rustled through the grass, stopped and dug, ate whatever tasty morsel was uncovered and moved to begin again.

I moved in with the camera. The skunk looked up, arched its tail, seemed almost to shrug and went back to foraging.

The chickens gave it a wide berth that day. After a few days, they now ignore the young skunk as it ignores them.

Skunks appear in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Thwarting Raccoons For Now

The raccoon wars are stalemated for now. The fruit trees and chick house are in contention.

The raccoons won some and lost some. So did we.

Most of my apples are gone. One Asian pear tree was stripped in a single night by raccoons.

The lines of electric fence went up. The other two Asian pear trees remain untouched.

raccoons don't like electric fence

The roofing tin sides should have worked as they are four feet high. They didn’t. Raccoons jumped up, caught the top and climbed over last year. This year electric fence wire circles the top and bottom of the metal square. Finally we get to eat some of the Asian pears.

Next year the electric fence lines will expand. The apple tree is still a challenge, but now that we know the electric fence works, the challenge will be met.

That gives a happy ending for the fruit crops. It leaves my pullets at risk. Their house is on the other side of the garden and workshop from the fruit trees.

I built the chick house around 20 years ago. I’m not a great carpenter, even worse then, so it isn’t quite square. I’ve patched it numerous times over the years in an effort to keep the wildlife away from my chicks.

The wildlife keeps winning. Between the raccoons and black snakes, the last couple of years have been disasters.

Next year will be different. I’m remodeling the chick house.

solid building should foil raccoons

Is any building truly safe from raccoons or snakes? I have my doubts. This one is as safe as I could make it with solid walls and floor, securely screened windows and ceiling and four hooks on the doors. The roost sets on two supports and is easily removable to put a brooder and heat lamp in for baby chicks.

There are now solid plywood walls. A tongue and groove floor is in place. The doors are replaced or fixed. A solid door sill went up. This should keep the black snakes out.

Although chicks like to be warm, they out grow much of it in a couple of weeks. They raise a lot of dust growing feathers and dropping manure. Ventilation is imperative.

The chick house had hardware cloth tacked up around the eaves and over the windows. It wasn’t secure. A couple of raccoons discovered this.

raccoons like pullets for dinner

My black Arcana pullets are half grown, but still living in the chick house. Or, at least, they have moved into the remodeled chick house. They had been spending the nights in a cat carrier for safety, so don’t know much about going into a house at night. All of us are glad to dispense with the cat carrier. The pullets were getting much too big to fit.

The remodeled house has a hardware cloth ceiling securely tacked up and under the plywood walls. The problem window is now secure with more hardware cloth over it and slats around it tacking the cloth down.

A roost is in place. It sets on a foundation for easy removal when the heat lamp is in place. Plenty of floor space is left for a water fount and feed trays.

My remodeled chick house and I am ready for next spring and new pullets.