What’s a Chicken keeper to do?

We got home from an appointment, refill Rx pickup, and walk to find no hens about in the yard. No hens visible in the run, which I have been opening the gate only about 8″ since the Cooper Hawk was in there. The hens can come and go through the crack, but nothing can fly in. Looking in the coop, there were 9 hens fussing about what had happened. The 3 Marans were there, the two Easter eggers and 2 NH reds, but only 2 Buff Orpingtons. The Marans and Buffs are my big girls, very sturdy heavy, but slow hens. That sent me out on a solo search party to determine what had happened, just as it began to rain.

Near the forsythia where they generally hide, there were two piles of black feathers, but all the Marans were accounted for, and a larger pile of yellow feathers that trailed up across the top of the hill the forsythia grows on and under the farthest bush, the remains of the missing Buff. The damage was consistent with hawk attack and meal, so I have lost another hen. I’m down to 9.

At this point, I don’t know what to do. I have lost 4 hens this late winter, early spring and it isn’t even hawk chick season yet. Nine hens is enough to provide the eggs for daughter’s family and us, but not if they are getting picked off about one a week or 10 days.

If I keep them in the covered run, there isn’t enough room for them to do much and they mostly just go back in the coop and one or more of them eat eggs. If I let them free range, my preference, the current loss rate is too high. I haven’t had this kind of loss since the neighbor’s dog, many years ago, used to come down and catch and kill them, even running up and down the run to get one to fly out, but he got rid of that dog. Penning them in electric mesh fence makes them easier targets. Buying more fencing and creating a larger run would give them more space and fresh grass until they scratched it all up, but how would it be covered to keep the hawk from swooping in and cornering one against the fence. For now they are locked up again and will be for a day or two. I guess it was a mistake removing the two young roosters that would at least alert the hens to danger, but I have not been a fan of roosters due to the mating damage and their all day long crowing.

Eight or 9 hens are about the right number for the coop we own, but I don’t want to lose anymore to the hawk. It can feed on rabbits, squirrels, field mice, voles, and groundhogs, it doesn’t need my hens.

We live amidst hayfields with the occasional tree in a rock pile for the hawk to sit in and spy on potential prey. There isn’t a lot of cover near the coop, the fruit trees are too open, there is a cedar cluster they sometimes hide in, but the hiding place of choice is the forsythia bushes and they aren’t leafed out yet. I will fret on it for a while, trying to prize out a solution, but will probably end up letting them free range again and hope the hawk can’t get anymore.

2 thoughts on “What’s a Chicken keeper to do?”

  1. Years ago we had a similar issue with eagles. We bought ‘bird netting’ and used it as a cover over the pen – the pen was plenty large for – too large as the eagles could fly in no problem. The bird netting worked a charm. I think it’s also known as ‘berry netting’ to protect berry crops, and many use it over their koi ponds to keep eagles from fishing for the koi.

I would love to hear your comments on this post.

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