Our first goal in keeping chickens is to have happy chickens. This means that they are safe from predators, free to browse and explore in a fenced pasture, healthy, and housed at night in a comfortable coop.
Keeping the Chickens Safe
Chickens are, by their nature, prey animals. They are considered delicious by just about anything that thinks it’s big enough to eat them. Keeping chickens alive requires maximizing their own natural defenses, and we believe, providing a mechanical barrier to predators. Commercial flocks are confined to interior space, which keeps them plenty safe, but also doesn’t expose them to an environment that their wild jungle fowl ancestors would have recognized. In our early years of letting the chickens free range, we had pretty good results until one day, when a couple of neighborhood domesticated dogs found them. We were not at the house, but when Tabitha got home, the dogs were waiting patiently to show them their day of proud work! That work yielded piles of feathers all over the yard, with half of our flock dead and the other half hiding in fear wherever they could get to. This disaster was not the fault of the chickens or the dogs- it was our fault. Since we have chosen to keep animals that have been selected over the centuries for traits like production, plumage, and hardiness (and not predator evasion), it is our responsibility to foster and supplement their defenses.
Chickens aren’t defenseless on their own. Anyone who believes otherwise is welcome to come discuss that with our rooster! They have several tactics and strategies to improve their chances. Hens spend most of their day looking down, scratching and digging for good bits to eat. Roosters spend most of their day looking up, watching for predators (see photo to the left. Chickens understand where predators come from and how to get away from them. For example, when a bird sounds an alert for an aerial predator, they know to take cover under something. The chickens have a natural instinct to go home to the coop each night, so we build the coop in a way to keep them safe, and we close the door so that the many nocturnal predators will not bother them.
In spite of their natural defenses, chickens are no match for predators like dogs, foxes, and coyotes, especially if those predators work in teams. For those guys, we use an electrified net fence not unlike this one. Our fencing is from Premier 1 and uses electrified horizontal elements that are energized once each second.