September 19, 2011

A Common Enemy

I was in the kitchen washing dishes when I heard Dan fire off his 22. I didn't think anything of it because he usually uses it to scare off dogs, who are drawn into our yard like a magnet because of the chickens. Unless a dog is bred and trained for farm purposes, even a "good" dog will chase and kill chickens for the sport of it. This is not a big problem for us, but on occasion we have dogs passing through.

A few minutes later he came into the kitchen. "Didn't you hear the chickens?"

"No," I replied. "I heard your gun, but I didn't hear any fuss from the chickens."

"A hawk had one of them," he replied.

He had fired a shot to scare it off, and fortunately it flew off leaving the chicken behind. From a distance, Dan couldn't tell which chicken, so I ran out to check. Several of the hens were cowering wide-eyed in the goat shed. Our rooster, Lord B, was outside the shed strutting back and forth and fussing up a storm. The chicks were scattered. A half dozen were in the other stall with Mama Hen, two were hunkered down in the field by the fence, and the rest were hiding under the bushes and brush. I called "chick, chick, chick," and when they saw me, they made a mad dash for Mama. I counted 16, then went to look for the other hens. Soon everyone was accounted for, looking scared but unscathed.

Now, before anyone gets up at arms (is that a pun?), yes, we know it's illegal to shoot hawks. But it's not illegal to scare them off, and yelling at them or throwing things doesn't do the trick, trust me. The point of this story (and hence the title of the post), is how the chickens responded to the crisis. When faced with a common enemy, Lord B (who'd been chasing the chicks away for weeks, see "The Social Integration of Chickens") stepped up to the plate and rounded up nearby chicks to protect. And this, was the beginning of a change in the chicken yard.

We've had hawks try to nab our chickens before, though fortunately they've never caught one. (See "Chicken News: the Good, the Scary, the Silly") That first experience led to research and our experimenting with hawk deterrent methods. (See "Dan's Hawk Deterrent") Besides our efforts, we also have a flock of crows in the area. Crows dislike hawks and I've seen them chasing and harassing a hawk or two. Hawks are territorial however, and with a literal movable feast on our place, it is difficult to dissuade them. Because of that, we realize that we may lose chickens or cats to these predators. It's more likely with free ranged birds like ours, but even fenced chicken yards, unless they are covered with netting or fencing, cannot guarantee chickens won't be nabbed.

I feel responsible for our chickens, and sometimes wonder if letting them free range is the best choice. On the other hand, having the freedom of several large fenced areas, enables them to be what they were created to be, happy, healthy, about their business chickens. They not only give us top quality, free ranged eggs, but help with insect control and eat quite a few weed seeds to boot. I just try to keep in mind that the balance of life as we know it, is death.

For the record, Lord B still chases the chicks around when I toss them some grain, but he no longer tries to keep them away. They are allowed in the chicken yard and coop, and have learned to simply stay out of his way. He maintains his status, they are learning their place in the pecking order, and balance has finally settled on the barnyard.

Buff Orpington chicks drinking whey from my cheesemaking


Woolly Bits said...

I think if the alternative is to "lock" the chickens into some sort of cage, I'd prefer to risk loosing one (as bad as that sounds!), if it doesn't happen too often. at least a hawk will only grab one - whereas foxes will kill as many as they can grab:(( but it was really lucky that Dan was able to see what happened right in time to scare the bird away! I hope you have no more losses, after Charlie and Chipper. I know you're not supposed to get too attached to your animals, but it happens anyway, doesn't it?

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

Spring is always when I loose some to hawks. Strange as this sounds, I would rather loose one to a hawk, than someones dog who was running loose. At least the hawk is a natural part of life. The dog attack is a result of a negligent owner and could have been prevented. I hope your girls are safe from this point on.

Nina said...

Goodness, what a daring hawk. A loose dog though could do much more damage. Free ranging really is a choice with the realization that there are inherent risks in allowing the chooks outside. Each person had to decide whether they want to take that risk, if they have the appropriate resources and time to do so.

It's nice that the little ones are starting to be accepted. That will certainly make life in the barnyard easier for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you the story about true farm life. I live in an area that has lots of big trees, squirrels and hawks. It's always upsetting to see a hawk with a squirrel in it's talons and to hear the little squirrel squeal. I always have to remind myself that it's nature doing it's job. I don't, however, feel the same sadness when I see an hawk flying with a snake in it's talons. That's just my snake phobia at work.
I enjoy your posts and will visit again. Thanks for popping in at Syrup and Biscuits! Don't be a stranger!

DebbieB said...

"having the freedom of several large fenced areas, enables them to be what they were created to be, happy, healthy, about their business chickens."

I just love that. What a comparison between your sweet chickens and the poor things in factory farms.

Bootzey said...

You can't have the thunder without the rain....

I know it's a "Dr. Phil-ism" but it just seemed right for the situation

Carolyn said...

We go back & forth about keeping the chickens penned up or free-ranging, and so far we're still ok with the free range chickens. Yes, we'll lose a handful each year to the hawk, bobcat, coyote, stupid dog (ours, imagine that) opossum or raccoon. Seems that EVERYone likes the taste of chicken. But I think the birds are happier (at least the live ones) being able to free range and keep our bug population down.

Hidden Haven Homestead said...

We are very lucky to have a canopy of oak trees here so the hawks circle often but its so hard for them to swoop down to get a chicken. Our neighbor on the other hand loses chickens from them. We also have 2 dogs that guard the goats as well as the dog lot next to two chicken pens so that probably helps too. Wish we could free range again but our hens got to where they were going further and further away from the farm and into our neighbors backyard. So each breed of chickens has their own big pen and chicken house. Just love coming here to visit and see whats going on around your place!

Mama Pea said...

I guess we all face this very same dilemma if we choose to raise our birds in (what we all think) the most natural, healthy way possible.

We live near a hawk migration route so spring and fall are especially uneasy times for us and our poultry.

This summer a hawk tried to take one of our geese (the hawk must have been really stupid . . . or extremely hungry), unsuccessfully, of course, but a hawk did get one of our new Light Sussex hens. (Of the six of that breed, we got 4 roosters and 2 hens which leaves us with only the one hen. Sigh.)

Sherri B. said...

I will be back to check out the links you have provided when I have time to study them. - We have local hawks, a family in fact. They seem to leave our chickens alone but I'm sure if they got a chance would grab a small chicken or chick. The eagles, which are a dime a dozen around here, are the ones that will get the chickens, cats, small dogs...etc. - Looking forward to digging into your info.

Leigh said...

Bettina, that's the conclusion we came to. We've seen a fox on the place too, so at night they are locked up as I believe that's when foxes are more likely to hunt.

It is hard to lose animals! But you're right loss has to be accepted.

Jane, funny, but in thinking about it I feel the same way. I think not only for the reason you mention, but also because a hawk does it to survive, dogs do it for sport. So far so good, but I'm sure we'll lose some sooner or later.

Nina, when Dan first yelled at it, the hawk flew up to the fence, perched, and just glared at him. Talk about bravado! It is nice though, that the incident bonded the chickens somewhat. I'm glad about that.

Jackie, thanks for the return visit! How could I not love a blog with great recipes and a name like "Syrup & Biscuits!"

I have to agree with you about those snakes. Of course, we have more than enough squirrels to share, but chickens and cats I worry about. :)

Debbie, that is so true. And like others have said, I think it's better to live a short, quality life, than a "safe", but imprisoned longer one.

Serenity, thanks for that, I really like Dr. Phil, LOL. It's very true.

Carolyn, I know what you mean. It does seem that everyone loves the taste of chicken. I reckon if we were losing lots of chickens, we'd reconsider. So far so good though.

Peggy, I wouldn't let my chickens migrate into our neighbors yards either. Ours are only "allowed" in the fenced goat pastures, though we do have two that will fly over the fence. Fortunately, they don't go very far!

Mama Pea, it's a tough decision. And not that you mention it, we may be near a migration route as well. Dan has noticed that spring and fall are hunting season, so that may be the reason. It's a shame that hawk didn't get one of your roosters instead of a hen!

Sherri, I've seen them go for chickens and squirrels, and I often find piles of feathers around from birds they've caught. We think we may have lot a cat to a hawk last year, but there was no evidence, so no way to know for sure. :(

Judy said...

Our ONLY predator, so far, is the loose dogs. So I keep our hens in a chicken tractor and move it about the yard every 3 or 4 days. It has helped that some of the other neighbors have started keeping chickens because there are less dogs running loose, if you catch my drift.

Susan said...

Any dog has a natural urge, I believe, to chase and catch chickens. Who could blame them? All that carrying-on, feathers, hysteria. We have a small hawk in our territory right now. I can always tell when it's about - Kees "Big Daddy" goes ballistic - notably more so than his usual noise. My flock free ranges in a large, fenced yard, so it's not hawk-proof. But the configuration of the yard, with overhanging trees, high fence, etc., makes it awkward for it to swoop in and swoop out.

Michelle said...

How true that even in humans, adversity often draws us together. So glad you had an non-lethal hawk attack to integrate your flock!

Renee Nefe said...

Hawk - 0

I'm glad that so far the hawks have not been successful. It seems that with all animals once they succeed they come back. I don't know how persistent hawks are, but perhaps this hawk will give your place up as a bad job.

I hope your kitties stay safe as well...tell the hawks they can have the squirrels and snakes though. ;o)

Cat Eye Cottage said...

We pulled a hawk off of one of our chickens over a year ago, and she was traumatized for a long time. We tell our ladies, "Eyes to the sky or you die." as they leave the run to free-range. I'm sure you appreciate having Lord B around to protect them.

Anonymous said...

Aww the poor hens! Glad Lord B and Dan were there to protect them.:) I didn't know hawks would take cats too, I wonder if that is what happened to mine?'s also possible he got tangled up with a fishercat or some other critter we have roaming around here. Either way, he has been gone over a month. So glad you didn't lose any chicks.

Leigh said...

Judy, dogs are a bad thing to have to deal with. Interesting how as the neighbors get chickens, the dogs start having to stay at home.

Susan, I think so too. And the trees and bushes do help. They helped one of our hens escape previously. Fortunately!

Michelle, I'm very relieved. And what you say about humans and adversity is so very true. Too bad that's what it takes sometimes.

Renee, they can have all the squirrels and snakes they want!

Candace, our chicks wouldn't go outside all the next day. Gradually they forget. Lord B is great at sounding an alarm!

Stephanie, I'm not entirely sure about the cats, but a large hawk could easily carry off a small cat. I'm so sorry you lost yours. When they disappear like that, it's hard now knowing what became of them.

Laura said...

One way to discourage hawks is to have darker colored chickens, that they can't see as well. When I had my light brahmas, I lost at least 4 to hawks, finding only the feather blot in the pasture.

After I got the Dark Brahmas, I didn't lose any. The partridge cochins haven't had the opportunity to experience the great outdoors, but I think the results will be the same.

I understand your mixture, but for longevity's sake, you might think about revamping your flock with darker heritage breeds.

Glad Lord B stepped up! It's really cool when they accept the chicks as part of the flock, even subordinate members!

Jody said...

I'm glad to hear your birds didn't get nabbed. It must have been quite a sight to see the way Lord B protected his flock.

We keep our meat birds in a mobile tractor with a covered top, but our layers free range daily. Just last year we watched a hawk try to find it's way into the tractor. Thankfully they've not gotten our layers. After reading your post, I'm feeling like we should be a little more cautious.

Theresa said...

Well, glad everyone survived, but, Mr. Hawk plays his part in keeping rodent populations in check. Hard to begrudge him at least a little chicken once in a great while. As you pointed out, chickens were meant to free range ( I think...I mean they are such a far cry from their smart wild ancestors) and well, hawks where meant to catch one or two...:)

A Wild Thing said...

This is too funny...well, not really, but I just posted the same thing...sorta. When raising birds there are so many variables(predators)you just always have to be on the guard...but now my birds will stay incarcerated until all of the dog groomings have gone. But the pleasure of watching free range birds and having them follow you around the yard, is worth the effort...not to mention those golden egg yolks...ahhhhh!!!!

trump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trump said...

I think in our politically correct world some would say to first send the hawk a letter asking it not to come around the chickens. Then if that does not work you would just open the gate and let the chickens natural killers in for a chicken buffet. Richard

BrokenRoadFarm said...

Glad everyone is safe! We have hawks too, that's why we covered our run...only having 4 ladies, I can't afford to lose any yet!

Leigh said...

Laura, I don't think we fit the statistics. We always thought our white Delaware was the most likely target, but we've had at least two snatch attempts on our Welsummers (dark brown & both lost back feathers) and Dan thought this recent attempt was with our Barred Holland hen, who is mostly black. Interesting about your Brahmas though.

Jody, I'm relieved but its on ongoing concern. Amazing that a hawk would try to get a chicken out of your tractor! We aren't willing to resort to a chicken tractor yet. Of course if hawks wiped out our entire flock....

Theresa, I've been thinking that I really should have "extras" on hand and keep more chickens than we actually need the eggs for. Some loss will likely be eventual, and like you say, I can't begrudge a hawk one once in awhile. Of course, we have plenty of squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, shrews, and snakes to dine on!

Sharon, it's a conundrum, isn't it? For some reason hawks, though a constant threat, bother me less than the fox we saw passing through, or the dogs. We have opposums too, and rat snakes who might eat eggs or baby chicks. Happy chickens and healthy eggs seem to make it all worth it. :)

Richard, I think it's a sad commentary on how out of touch with nature we are as a people. We no longer view it as a natural world, but as an environment or ecosystem. I daresay a year of caring for livestock on a working farm or homestead would put things in a different perspective for those for whom it's all textbook.

BRF, thanks! Yes, with only 4, the idea of loss is much worse. That's why I'm thinking extra hens would be worth it. Actually an extra rooster too, but I think Lord B might put his foot down on that one. :)

The Apple Pie Gal said...

Well I am glad that they are accounted for and starting to get along. Sometimes a little shake up is good then, huh?