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We have an old barn. One that I fell in love with despite its crookedness. There is just something about old barn wood. It was built in the 1850s.
We started the spring of 2016 with over 30 chickens and are down to 23. We free range our chickens from the sun up to the sun down. Ok, lately they have been leaving the coop around 9 or 10 a.m. This whole running a coupon blog thing 😉
We lost one to a car on the road. ( not the brightest thing) and one to a coyote inside the coop during the day. They were both roosters and they were both meat birds. This was when I stopped being naive to the fact that you free range chickens you lose some, until the night we saw a fat raccoon in the coop.
Time to Bring out The Gun
It’s Friday before Halloween. Time to carve pumpkins. This is the first time we are celebrating Halloween in our new farmhouse.
Music is going and the sun is setting earlier than we realized. Eric goes out to close the chickens up. As soon as he opens the door he hears quite a ruckus. He immediately comes back in and grabs his gun.
The girls and I didn’t even realize he did this because my oldest daughter was having a meltdown because the face she drew on her pumpkin was not quite right.
We hear the shot.
I panic. I immediately know something was after the chickens. Eric tells us that we are missing three chickens. Two brown ones, smokey my oldest daughter’s favorite and our silky bantam- Noodle.
Silkies tend to be loners and she is the only one of her kind. Every night she roosts outside of the chicken coop up on her own barn beam.
The raccoon was shot just under her barn beam in the space between the upstairs floor in the barn and the ceiling.
White feathers everywhere.
Brown feathers piled up way to high.
Black feathers mixed in.
All the same color feathers of the chickens who are missing.
Noodle is a goner. How could she not be? She doesn’t even go into the coop. The rest of the birds were trying to escape the coop they were pushing the screen so far it busted half off the corner.
I prepare myself to tell the girls we lost some chickens.
I know this happens but the first time telling the girls it was because they got eaten is a bit harder than getting hit by a car.
Yet something is off.
No blood. anywhere.
Raccoons are known to just eat the heads. They need a nutrient in the chicken’s brain. They also tend to leave the bodies.
No More Free Ranging?
I couldn’t help but think- ” Should we not free range our birds anymore?”
Everyone was right- you free range you will lose your chickens.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
I went to the front porch just looking out and to my right on one of our fence rails, I see two chickens.
Then we find another one hiding in the farm stand.
We see MORE white feathers. A trail that follows to the field next to us.
Our poor Noodle.
But then we see another huge white pile of feathers.
And under a little decorative white fence is our little noodle.
Check out this girl wound. She lost a major section of feathers.
Why Our Chickens Survived
But this chicken survived because she was free range. She was able to run from the coop and escape.
She had a raccoon most likely bite her and she escaped.
The girls were very shaken up over this. The four that were attacked didn’t go into the coop for a good three days.
We had to pick them up and put them in.
I loved that the next night we couldn’t find one of the chickens. She decided to go on top of my husband’s work van.
She took her chances. I’m just thankful an owl didn’t take her out!
Also, Noodle goes into the coop now!
Here are 10 Ways You Can Keep Your Hens Protected if You Choose to Free Range
- Get a Rooster.- There is no denying a rooster lives up to his duty! So many times our Rooster has told all the girls a sky predator is lurking, they run under my husband’s work van or the porch and he is the only one out- defending his ladies.
- Have a place for your flock to hide under for sky predators.
- Have your flock securely locked up at night. If you free range them they will instinctively go back to the coop at night.
- Lock your chickens up as soon as the sun sets.
- Use Guard Dogs- When we first got a new flock of chickens and had a whopping 13 roosters roaming around our German Shepard lab- gave a friendly snip to the Roosters who were going crazy on our first flock of chickens. I keep our dog out to help keep predators away- and keep the peace 😉
- If you can bury the chicken wire under the ground. We did this with my garden to keep pests out and it works just as well with your chicken coop.
- Always be looking for holes or loose wire/boards in your chicken coop and keeping things closed up tightly.
- Keep any cat food away from the coop. Cat food will draw in predators- especially those raccoons!
- Keep up with collecting eggs. Eggs left out can attract predators as well.
- Be ready to defend your chickens if you find a predator in or near your coop. I always seem to grab our ancient pitch fork, every time I peek in the coop throughout the day. 🙂
Bonus Tip: Use your old CDs to string along to deflect light to keep predators away!
In conclusion, I realized I love free ranging our birds. Sure they have a risk of predators but we are allowing them to live out their natural instincts. Plus if they were in the chicken coop and unable to escape we would have lost many birds.
Free ranging your birds also cuts down on the cost of feed and gives your eggs the best taste EVER!
Do you free range your birds?