[dropcap]I[/dropcap] dreamed of having beautiful chickens, Guinea fowl, ducks, turkeys, geese, peafowl, and even cute little quail running throughout our little homestead. They all come in so many beautiful colors and sounds; not to mention the food they will provide us in the case of an emergency.
Before buying up a bunch of birds whether adults, biddies, or eggs; a lot of thought and research needs to be done on all types of birds before you can even think of starting to build coops and pens for them. I found that it is best to focus on one breed at a time to allow you to learn the best way to care for them.
If you are planning to keep poultry as pets then these are your babies and you will want to give them the best care possible. However, if you are raising these birds for food then you still need to remember that they will be going into your and your family’s bodies. You still want the best breeds for your needs. You would not give your human babies unhealthy food, so how could you do that to the chickens.
Defending the Coop
Protect your birds from various predators by beginning your process with a coop. It doesn’t matter if you buy a ready-made coop or build one yourself, as long as it is sturdy and suits the needs of the chickens. You can do some simple techniques to make it safe for your birds.
1. Know What Predators Are in The Area
To start with you will need to know what predators there are in the area. Neighborhood dogs and cats, hawks, foxes, owls, raccoons, coyotes, and opossums are the more common predators.
Knowing what predator is most prone to attack, will allow you to create a more effective and efficient defense system. Many of the predators are highly intelligent, while others are simply opportunists. All can be discouraged by some easy backyard safety measures.
2. Buried Wire
If you are planning on building a run for your birds, it is imperative to know that several predators might try digging under it to get to your birds. It’s important to know that chickens are kept in and safe with chicken wire; the predators are kept at bay through the hardware cloth.
A starving animal won’t stop until it is able to break through the flimsy chicken wire.
So, it is best to dig down and bury the chicken wire about 3 to 4 feet deep under the run. Also, don’t forget to dig 8 to 12 inches around the run to place the hardware cloth (wire). These safety measures will keep the predators from being able to tunnel through to get to the underside of the run.
The same principles apply if you have chicken tractor. Ensure that the hardware cloth covers the floor to avert predators from tunneling their way into your chickens.
Note: The wiring can cause cuts to the birds’ feet, so make sure to check the feet often to keep them safe.
If raising ducks will call for a wading pool inside their pen. You can simple dig a hole and line it with plastic. Then run a water hose out to it. The problem with this style is you would have to constantly clean it since it has no drain and ducks tend to drag food into the water. They also poop in the water.
Here is a good idea on creating a duck pool from a kid’s plastic wading pool.
3. Put A Top on The Coop
If the area you reside in has a large population of hawks, owls and other birds of prey, it’s necessary for you to put a top on your run.
Chicken wire can be used, allowing your birds to still have visibility while stopping attacks from flying predators. Tarps can provide great shade and protection too.
4. Increase Visibility
Keep the area around your run clean from debris or tall plants so you can see around it well. You obviously want to be able to see a predator before it attacks.
5. Block All the Access Holes
To ensure that there are no possible access holes, make sure to regularly check the enclosure, as the tiniest holes or gaps make it accessible for the predators to enter the coop. Small animals, like weasels, are able to squeeze across a hole that measures only half an inch, which is something you certainly don’t want. Weasels kill for fun, and have been known to destroy a good-sized flock in just one night. So, check often for signs that a predator may be trying to find a way into the coop and strengthen those sections.
6. Lock Up at Night
It is vital that you securely lock the coop up every night. Make sure that you are using a locking system that is not opened easily by clever critters. Raccoons are especially infamously intelligent creatures and are known to be able to open the simplest of locks and bolts.
A carabiner is a good lock to use because it requires the use of opposable thumbs. Use a padlock to further ensure that your coop is kept safe from the two-legged predator-man. Rare breeds are often stolen for their resale value, however, some will rob your hen house for eggs or meat.
This will start to happening all too often, causing unprepared neighbors to search for food. It might be a good idea to use three or four locks on the coop – two on the entrance door and another couple of locks on the coops pop door.
7. Check Biosecurity
Cleanliness is imperative to keep your birds healthy and safe. Every evening the pens should be cleaned of any leftover scraps of food.
Rats will be attracted to the food left in the feed troughs or flooring. They have been known to eat the biddies and their eggs. Once they have entered, they can wreak havoc to your birds, pens, and move into your home as well. Rats mainly come out at night, so if you’re seeing them during the day, it means the problem is huge and should be rectified immediately.
Note: Rats do not like the daylight, so only the lower hierarchical rats will risk a raid during the daytime.
8. Be Alert for Snakes
If you have rats lurking around, then it will not be long before you have snakes hanging around as well. Make sure to inspect the coop daily for these buggers. Rat, Corn and Black snakes will steal eggs and small chicks. Though snakes can help keep down the rat population, they are also able to be moved to another area.
9. Collect Eggs Daily
To keep predators away, collect the eggs daily to deter the temptation of stealing the eggs. Do this several times per day to make sure you have collected any eggs from late laying hens.
10. Add Motion Sensor Lighting
Many predators will attack only at night, one of them are raccoons. Having a bright light pop on will frighten away many would-be predators. The motion sensor lights will activate when any motion around the coop is detected and the lights can be adapted with an alarm to alert you of a possible predator.
Free Ranging Defense
While it is reasonably simple to safeguard a chicken run and coop, what can be done when you are raising free-range chickens? This is harder to do but it is feasible if you follow and implement what follows.
1. Hang Your Old CDs
For protection from preying birds (not a Klingon Destroyer either) hang up those old scratched up CDs or aluminum pie tins in the trees and bushes around your property.
When the sun rays hit the CDs, the reflection will scare off the any nearby preying birds.
Note: Avoid the use of mirrors, as they are likely to start a fire.
2. Use Electric Fences
Installing electric fences around the property will help to keep predators at bay as well. This type of fencing is inexpensive and simple to install, making the ideal choice for your homestead.
3. Install Safety Shelters
Preying birds can get very aggressive and attack all breeds with the intention of scaring them away, which is why you need to have a few safety shelters to allow your birds to hide in when under an attack. Use a 55-gallon or larger capacity plastic drum and cut it lengthways, or you can even use a wood pallet set on top of cement blocks.
4. Get Roosters
Roosters can cause a nuisance in the city or townships due to the early crowing. Some neighbors don’t like being woken up to the sound of a rooster calling the sun up when they have worked the night shift or had a rough night. On the other hand, if you reside in the countryside, it’s generally fine. A decent rooster will defend his ladies with his life.
Note: Ensure that you have done enough research to find a breed of rooster that fits your needs.
5. Use Guard Dogs
Dogs can protect a larger area around the flock than a rooster; additionally, their scent can be extremely alarming to many predators. This usually means the predator will not attempt to enter the area if they smell a dog in the vicinity. Before adding a dog to the mix make sure that they are properly trained or your dog can become a predator.
Hygiene and Cleanliness
Chickens remain curious creatures and this can sometimes get them in trouble. Keeping the predators away is not enough, as sometimes the major threats have already entered your yard or garden. So, here are a few ideas to keep your place a safe haven for your flocks.
1. Avoid Toxic Chemicals
Chemicals used to kill weeds and insects in your yard and garden can be deadly to your flocks if they eat plants with this on it. Make sure to keep the flocks away from areas that have been sprayed. Store the containers out of reach of your birds. If they accidentally get into any chemicals, call your veterinarian straight away.
If you have never heard of Botulism before, it is a toxin that causes life-threatening poisoning.
If your homestead has a rat problem and you use poison to fix and hold the population of rodents, then be conscious that chickens will peck at the dead carcass and in turn be poisoned. Dispose of all dead animals that you find in a place that the chickens cannot access.
Botulism can also occur through dirty drinking water, especially caused by ducks. Try to keep the ducks’ ponds as clean as you can. However, ducks will dirty up any drinking water you have set out because they like to get in the water. Ducks will poop in the water creating a very unhealthy habitat for all sorts of problems to occur. So, keep in mind the regular cleaning that will need to be performed with the ducks’ water.
3. Clean The Feeders
Use a little bleach to clean the water dishes and feeders clean on a weekly basis. Bleach will kill a lot of germs and other nasty stuff growing in the feeders and water dishes. However, make sure to rinse the dishes well after using bleach on them. You can do the same method with the duck ponds that you have created for the flock of ducks.
4. Keep Their Feed Fresh
It is important that the feed is always fresh and not old and rotten. Make sure to store your GMO-free feed in waterproof and dry containers with a lid on it. Feed that has become old and moldy can kill your birds.
5. Regular Cleaning of the Coop
It is common knowledge that urine and poop can cause all sorts of health problems. Ammonia in high levels can cause respiratory issues and blindness in the birds. A dirty coop will attract flies, which can create health problems within the flock too. Weekly cleaning can eliminate many health issues in your flock.
6. Health Checks Regularly
Ensure you do routine health checks on all your birds. Keep notice of your birds’ behaviors every day and make sure to include vent checks to keep up their health.
If the area around the vent becomes matted and clotted with poop it could lead to what is known as Flystrike; you will then need to give your birds a bath.
Add some warm water and some vinegar into a bucket. Allow the bird to sit in this solution to soak most of the matted section off. Then gently use a mild soap, such as Dawn Dish Soap, to clean the area. Make sure to rinse all the soap off when you have thoroughly cleaned the vent area. Sometimes it is necessary to trim feathers around the area to help keep it from matting up again.
All the tips mentioned above will help keep your chickens safe and healthy. Ensure that you are watchful and clean in all aspects of dealing with your flocks of birds. Make sure that you always have a steady supply of food if TEOTWAWKI happens so the consequence would be that they’ll live longer when shtf so you can have fresh meat for a longer period of time.