Predator Loss on the Homestead Changes Prevention Tactics

Predator LossTwo years ago, the awful moment of predator loss occurred on our farm. The attack happened in broad daylight, while we were on site and doing routine chores. The flocks were all in their runs attached to their coop. No one was free ranging, and yet the predator managed to severely reduce our flock that day. Even though it’s been almost two years, I still remember the way the run looked in the aftermath. 

I share this with you, again, because some of you will be building new coops and runs this spring. I can’t emphasize enough that you should build the best structure you can.  Keep the chickens safe and prevent predator loss.

Spring 2015

We experienced a large loss on our farm.  I needed some time to process the whole thing and while I am still very saddened and feeling a huge loss, I think there are some valuable lessons to take away from this tragedy. 

Nothing is 100% Predator Proof 

We were sort of prideful about the fact that we had such a strong, well built structure for our chicken coop.  And, it is surrounded by a sturdy fence with the chicken wire around the outside tacked to the boards all the way up to seven feet high.  The run is partially covered mostly to keep out flying predators and other birds.  It has been years since we lost a chicken to a raccoon or fox. In the past when we had a loss, it was because the chicken flew out of the coop area and was free ranging on its own.  So, we were feeling pretty smug and satisfied with ourselves and our well built structure. 

Predator Loss IMG_5231

Predator Loss Even When You do Everything Right

This past week, all that changed. We had all seen the large red fox lurking about. The dogs had chased it off numerous times.  Even though it broke into a back corner of the fence last week and stole one hen. We still thought our repair was top notch and that it would not happen again. We were wrong.

Eight days later, on a normally busy day at the farm, the fox returned. It was during a brief period of time when all humans and dogs had left the area. But not long. Which leads me to believe it was watching carefully for the right time to strike and grab a meal. My beautiful flock was terrified and many lives were lost in the blink of an eye.  

When my son pulled back in with a load of hay bales on his truck, his dog freaked out and took off chasing the fox away. But the damage had been done. As we collected the bodies that were left strewn inside and outside of the coop, I began to cry over the loss of my pets. We lost some we had had for a number of years and who were the personalities in the flock.  Mr. Tweet and Mrs. Duck were gone. I found one of my  beautiful Australorps dragged out behind the manure pile. She had been bitten on the neck and left to die. She was gone when I found her. We also lost a beautiful Silver Laced Wyandotte and a Jersey Giant. 

Predator Loss

Mr. Tweet

Searching for Survivors 

The rest of the flock was hiding in the coop as best they could.  Feathers and blood spoke of the struggle and harm. Our hearts cracked more as we began to clean up and to search for the varmint.  He was still close. 

I found Yellow Chicken hiding under a nest box.  She was bitten in three places and in shock but I was pretty certain she would live with some TLC.  I treated her wounds with Veterycin Wound Spray and carried her in my arms while we looked for other missing birds.  Abby was missing and I was worried that she was hurt like Yellow Chicken and afraid to come out.  We checked everyone for wounds and put them in the coop for the rest of the day.   I took Yellow Chicken back to the house to give her time to recover without being picked on, and to keep a close eye on the wounds.  I treated her twice a day with Vetericyn spray and my homemade wound ointment of coconut oil, Melaleuca oil and Lavender essential oil.  Abby was still missing along with another hen.

The Fox will Return 

A little while later the fox returned and my son saw him but by the time he got the shotgun the fox had run off again. The fox was looking at the places where we had found the dead chickens earlier. Apparently they leave what they can’t carry off and return for it later.  He had come back for more of his kills. 

At feeding time, Abby and the red hen came walking back up the hill to the chicken yard as calm as you please.  The only thing I can think is that they flew off somehow during the attack, and now were heading back to roost for the night.  This was a happy sight to see on this otherwise dismal day.   Predator Loss

As we were cleaning up and preparing to head back to the house for the night, Chief took off after something in the barn.  The fox had returned again.  This time he was tracked all the way back to his den in the woods but with multiple exits it was impossible to force him out in the open.

Predator Loss

Our Black Auracana hen also died from the attack.

Predator Loss Extended 

The next day, we had one more loss from the attack.  One chicken must have had internal bleeding because she died overnight.  Non-bleeding puncture wounds were found on her body that we had not seen when looking for wounds.  Yellow Chicken is doing well and has returned to the coop.  Her wounds seem to be healing well and today she is back to acting normally and scratching and pecking.

Predator Loss

Yellow Chicken begins to explore our house during her recovery

DSC_0223-001

Here are the steps we are taking now to reinforce the coops, duck house and pens and rabbit enclosures. 

Predator Loss DSC_0272-001

What to Use to Prevent Predator Loss 

The best wire to use on the runs surrounding the coops is hardware cloth, or welded wire fencing.  We temporarily used the cattle panels that we had available. Even though I knew better than to use chicken wire around the coop, we used it when constructing the run. And it was easily broken by the fox. 

DSC_0273-001 DSC_0276-001

The chicken run has been fully enclosed in Cattle Wire.  This will not keep raccoon out but it will keep the fox from ripping apart the chicken wire again and gaining access that way.  A hot wire is being run around the perimeter of each housing area about ten inches from the fence.  The large predators will have to get through the hot wire barrier before being able to work on getting into the fence.  I am sure I will be shocked more than once by the hot wire myself. 

Extra features 

Nite Guard lights will be added to the exteriors of the buildings to hopefully deter the predators.  The fox or more foxes  will return. He did not get much of a meal this time because we have accounted for everyone.  So he is still hungry. The spring is a particularly hard time for predators.  Babies are being born, the mom’s are hungry and also trying to feed the kits.  Smaller prey may not be readily available yet if the ground is still frozen over.  Its hard for the predator and if they can find an easy dinner source, they will return.  Its a time to be super vigilant about flock safety and small animal safety. Predator loss has to be in the back of your mind all the time.

 

Predator Loss

 

The loss hurts.  I get to know all of my animals and miss each one that is lost.  I have been thinking about the lessons we can take away from the tragedy. 

Lessons Learned About Predator Loss

Homesteading is hard on your heart

Even when you do everything the right way, the worst can happen.

No precaution is too much or goes to far.  And unfortunately, you will always need to be outsmarting the wildlife.

I would not trade this life.

For more information on dealing with emergencies in your flock –  Emergency Chicken Health Care

For more information on predator animals, their behavior and tracks read this from One Acre HomesteadPoultry Predator Identification

 

 

   Predator Loss

 

 




Make a Chicken Dust Bath for the Run

chicken dust bathThe flock missed their chicken dust bath and it was all my fault. As soon as the weather cleared and the chickens could go out to free range, they headed right for their favorite chicken dust bath spot. Apparently, I had forgotten this past fall to bring a chicken dust bath into the run or coop. Our fall was warm and the chickens had plenty of opportunity to dust bath their cares away while they free ranged and I did chores. Recently the weather took a turn and we had snow and ice for a few days. Rather than be ingenious, as they have in the past, the flock just waited. In the past I have seen them claim a corner under the nest boxes or some other out of the way spot, and stir up a personal dust bath. This time they just waited. 

And, then the day arrived. I opened the gate to the run and let them free! At last, they had a chance to get away from each other. To run to the farthest fence line and have some personal space.  Yet, they all headed for the local construction zone next door to their coop. The latest coop being built will have a slight overhanging porch area. For now it is the perfect spot to find dry dusty soil for a chicken dust bath. All 23 chickens from this coop huddled together in the same area, flipping dirt and flapping wings. It was a sight to see. 

https://youtu.be/ppH_4TWvMIQ

A few seconds into the video the barn kitty walked up. Three of the hens went on full alert. Then two returned to bathing, leaving Maggie to keep watch.

What kind of enclosure works for a chicken dust bath?

I realized that I better set up a chicken dust bath  in the run or have the risk of mites,and lice on feathers, feet, and dirty looking chickens. I looked around the farm for a large enough container. Since our chickens apparently like the communal, Roman style bath set up, I didn’t want to choose anything small.

I had a child’s wadding pool which works well, but not in the space I wanted it, under a covered corner of the run.  I have seen people use scrap wood, small logs, and old tires to make a dust bath. A cat litter pan is a good choice for one chicken to use at a time. It needs to be deep enough that the soil mixture won’t be easily scattered out of the box every time it is used.  I would suggest at least an 8 to 10 inch depth.  Some people suggest a 12 inch depth

chicken dust bath

My Ready to Use Options 

Last summer I used the child’s wading pool for the chicken dust bath. The drawback was, I never set up an easy to maintain way to cover the dust bath. And then storms happened, the dust bath was soaked, and muddy and unpleasant. It didn’t dry out well, being in plastic container, and I tossed the dust bath mixture out to get it to dry. Way too much effort!  I was determined that I would find a way to build a chicken dust bath under one of the covers in the run.

The wading pool is now being used in the other chicken coop run, where I have more room to keep it covered.  For this run, I chose an empty, shallow feeding trough.  Fits perfectly where I need it and there’s plenty of room for multiple chickens to dust bathe together. I like that I did not need to go shopping for something to use for the chicken dust bath. Reusing what is already on the farm is my go – to method whenever possible.

chicken dust bath

What to Put in the Dust Bath Mixture 

The recommended ingredients for the dust mixture are:

Dry dirt

Builders Sand

Wood Ash (from a fire pit or fireplace) I add a small bucket,  1 gallon approximately, to the large dust bath.  

Diatomaceous Earth – For the large bath I am building here, I added 4 cups of DE powder and mixed it in thoroughly.

The dirt here is very sandy already so I choose to not add more sand to our mixture. The important factors are coming up with a light fluffy soil but not so light that it will harm the chickens respiratory tract!

chicken dust bath

The chickens were in the bath before I even finished adding the wood ash and DE powder!

Do’s

Add dried herbs to the dust bath if you have them. The extra snack while bathing will be appreciated and beneficial.

Don’ts

Don’t add chemicals! Make sure anything added to the dust bath is fertilizer free, chemical free, and pesticide free. Just like our skin, rubbing chemicals into the chickens’ skin is not going to be healthy. If your dirt has had fertilizer added to it, consider purchasing a bag of organic soil instead. 

 

You can use any container you like when building a dust bath. Some ideas for covers, to keep out rain, snow, cats, etc might be a small piece of scrap plywood, an inexpensive tarp, a piece of plexiglass, empty feed bags, or whatever you find! Have you built a chicken dust bath already? Tell us in the comments about your project. 

chicken dust bath

 

 

 




Grow Calendula for Use in Chicken and Livestock Care

grow calendula

After beginning to use more herbal treatments on my farm animals, I realized that I need to also grow Calendula. The correct name for Calendula is Calendula officinalis, and the common name is Pot Marigold. Calendula flowers and leaves are edible and it is a useful companion plant in the garden. Calendula helps repel damaging insects.

Until this past year, I had trouble getting Calendula to grow. After reading some more tips on this herb, I planted it in a planter and it took off! Calendula isn’t actually hard to grow, I just needed to provide a sunny location and not over water the soil. I had plenty of Calendula blossoms all summer and into the fall. The sunny yellow flower is so bright it is hard not to smile when you see it. As each blossom began to open I would enjoy if for a moment and then snip it off to dry it with the others. 

What were my main reasons for wanting to grow Calendula? First, I did a lot of reading on using it for livestock care in the areas with inflammation, infection, and fungus. In many cases, the same herbs we would use to topically treat inflammation, burns, abrasions, and fungal problems on our skin, can be safely used on our animals. Always address any questions you might have on treating livestock, with a veterinarian or licensed herbalist.

Using Calendula Remedies for Chickens 

One common use for this herb is to grow Calendula to add to chicken feed. The bright yellow petals are tasty to the birds and the vitamins and color enhances the yolk color, naturally. Calendula helps with inflammation in the mouth or thrust or yeast overgrowth. I wish I had read last year. I had a favorite hen that became ill.  A side effect of her illness was a bad case of thrush.  If I had known that making a tea from the petals of the Calendula flower might have helped get rid of the thrush! 

To make a tea from the petals of the herb, use about 1 tablespoon of dried petals and one cup of boiling water. Allow to steep for approximately 15 minutes. This could be administered by syringe, carefully making sure the bird swallows the liquid.  The Free Range Life has a great post on 30 Uses for Calendula.  

No matter if you are treating an illness or preventing one through good herbal care, grow Calendula for treating your chickens.

Note – Do you want to learn more about herbs? Here’s an online course offered by Herbal Academy. It is a beginner level herbal course and it’s totally free.  Want to sign up? (registration closes January 31, 2017 although classes begin January 10)

Two Ways to Use Calendula in Livestock Care 

As noted above, making a tea from the dried petals will help with many skin irritations and infections. Put the Calendula tea in a spray bottle and keep it refrigerated. There has been evidence that Calendula can interfere with pregnancy, so do not administer to any pregnant animal or take it yourself, if pregnant. 

Use the spray for cases of ringworm, hot spots, skin wounds, scrapes, and flea dermatitis. Now that I know this, I can try it on my barn cat.  He has a patch near his tail that the vet said was caused by flea bites.  I will let you know how it works. Keep in mind that cats metabolize herbs and oils differently than other species. Use with care and observe for any adverse reactions to using Calendula oil or tea on cats. Calendula is a very gentle herb but it is better to be aware of the possibilities.

grow calendula

Another good product to  have on hand is a salve made from the Calendula blossoms. If you grow Calendula, save the blossoms until you have enough to make an infused oil. The Nerdy Farmwife has a post on using Calendula and making the infused oil and then making a salve. I used a similar method when making dandelion salve this past summer. 

Making a Salve after you Grow Calendula 

The first thing you will need to do to make a salve is make an infused oil. The proportion should be 1:2, using 1 part dried petals and 2 parts. In other words, fill a canning jar of any size, half full of dried petals. Add olive oil to fill the jar. Almond oil or sunflower oil can also be used, if preferred.  Set the jar into a pan of simmering water.  Another method is to use a crock pot which may be easier to maintain since the oil needs to stay warm for a few hours.  I filled the crockpot with water to about half way up the jar height. Set the jar of oil and petals into the crock pot and allow to heat for several hours.

The photo shows herbal oils being infused in the crockpot but the herbs are not Calendula. The process is the same for any herb.

grow calendula

Strain the oil and save the petals.  You can feed the oily petals in small amounts to the chickens. 

Making the salve is easy, too. 

(I learned this method from Grow Forage Cook Ferment)

Use approximately 1 and a half cups of infused oil.  

2 ounces of bees wax cut into small chunks or use 2 ounces of bees wax pellets

2 ounces of solid coconut oil

Add the beeswax and coconut oil to the strained warm oil and continue to heat until the three oils are melted together.  Have small containers, tins or jars ready to pour the mixture into. The salve will setup quickly when removed from the heat. 

Add Labels to Your Containers!

Remember to label all containers with the ingredients used to make the salve.   Are you growing an herb garden? Are you ready to use the herbs from your garden to make healthy healing salves and oils?  Stay tuned as I go through the Intro Herbal Course from Herbal Academy. I will be sharing more about how I incorporate herbs in our plan to keep our livestock and chickens healthy. Or better yet, join in the fun and take the course, by signing up here

grow calendula

 

 




When is the Right Time to Cull a Chicken?

right time to cull a chickenHow do you know when it is the right time to cull a chicken from your flock. Culling a chicken is a hard decision for many modern homesteaders.  We are able to be more flexible, in many cases, because the chickens we raise are often a cross between pets and livestock. Even so, there are situations when raising chickens, when we have to answer the question, is this the right time to cull a chicken?  The following situations may occur on your homestead or in your flock and lead you to the point of decision making. 

The Right Time to Cull a Chicken 

Egg Eating

Egg eating in a production barn would almost surely be met with the decision to cull.  After all is said and done, livestock is supposed to produce food. If the livestock is eating the produced food, it is counter productive to keeping it.  Now I will tell you that I have never culled a chicken for behavior, egg eating or other.  I try to work it out by gathering eggs more frequently or catching the culprit in the act.

If I catch the egg eater, quarantine in a crate for a couple of days with food and water of course, often stops the behavior.  Also, adding free choice calcium to the coop. If my calcium feeder remains empty too many days, I can  have a hen lay soft shelled eggs. These are easily broken by the egg eater, making it even more likely the chickens will try and eat the good eggs too. 

right time to cull a chicken

Aggression

Aggression can take the joy out of chicken keeping.  If you have to continually watch your back while feeding and tending to the chicken’s needs, it wears you down.  Roosters commonly disrupt the care of the flock by over protecting the hens.  Try to train your roosters to look at you as the Flock Boss.  They should move out of your way as you move about the coop or run.  Sometimes keeping an aggressive rooster is just not possible. You may be ok with his antics but if you have small children, the danger is greatly increased and totally unacceptable.  

Hens can be nasty at times too.  In a flock without a rooster, one of the hens will often assume the roll of protector and behave like a rooster.  Even with no spurs, being attacked by a chicken can be startling and painful. You may want to assess if it is the right time to cull a chicken.

 

Non-Laying Hen

Older hens often slow in egg production until they cease to lay altogether.  At some point the hen becomes a fancy, well fed, bug hunter for your yard.  In our case, I am happy to let the older hens live out their days, enjoying life on the farm.  I think they add to the flock’s character. But then again, I am crazy about my chickens.  In some situations you are limited on the number of chickens you can keep. Having your aging flock take up the space that could be used for younger producing hens may not be the best idea.  This may lead you to think about the right time to cull a chicken.

right time to cull a chicken

 

Is Having a Chronic Illness or Injuries the Right Time To Cull a Chicken?

Even well kept backyard chickens can become ill.  If she doesn’t die from the illness, the hen may not lay again.  Once again, you are keeping a pet chicken at this point.  This is a situation I faced recently.  We had a chicken that was partially paralyzed.  I treated her for over two weeks, exercising her, holding her, making sure she could reach food and water.

Ginger tried to recover. She did really well and made progress. Then she  took a giant step backwards. The light left her eyes. Her comb became pale and discolored.  She was having trouble keeping her eyes open because she felt bad and was probably in pain.  I had to make a difficult decision. Chickens are commonly attacked by predators, too. You may find your hen near death and suffering. Sometimes the right time to cull a chicken decision is made for us, and we need to end the suffering. Each person has to make this after assessing the individual demands and drawbacks of keeping the hen alive.  

 

Bad Genetics 

Some chickens are hatched weaker than the rest of the flock.  Bad genetic combinations can lead to conformation issues in the chicken’s body, beak, legs, and feet, that keep it from living a normal chicken life. Some conditions, such as prolapsed vent occur and keep occurring.   Hens that repeatedly suffer from reproductive tract troubles such as prolapse and egg binding may be suffering from an infection.  In small chicks, spraddle leg can often be corrected if discovered early enough.  In cases where it treatment of bracing the legs does not work, the chick may need to be culled.  Cross beak or scissor beak can be trimmed but may eventually lead to the chicken not being able to eat enough food to stay alive. 

  • spraddle leg
  • cross beak
  • egg bound
  • prolapsed vent

The chicken is a rooster

Finally, one of the things we have little control over is ending up with a rooster when we ordered all pullets from the breeder or hatchery.  There is no 100% guarantee on sexing day old chicks.  When your community or city has a strict “No Rooster” policy, you must get rid of the rooster.  Some places will try to re-home a healthy rooster, especially if it is a rare or popular breed.  In many cases the rooster ends up as meat for the family.  

right time to cull a chicken

Being able to make the ultimate decision when the right time to cull a chicken comes along is part of the responsibility of raising backyard chickens.  Ending the suffering of your hen or using the other purpose for the surprise rooster is humane. Homesteaders and farmers have been carrying out this process for years.  It won’t be easy but the end of life decisions should be thought about before you start keeping chickens.

Making end of life decisions for our livestock and poultry is never easy. The subject is a sensitive one in today’s modern homesteader world.  If you have positive comments, encouraging words or courteous disagreement, I invite you to leave a comment in the comments section.  

right time to cull a chicken




My Top 5 Goals for Homesteading, Blogging, Living in 2017

top 5 goalsIs your in box filled with top goals posts? Top 5 goals for leading an authentic life. Top 5 goals to reach wealth in 2017, top 5 goals to eat healthy and live longer, top 5 goals to be happier, top 5 goals for homesteading.  Yikes the list goes on.  Some are much better than others, like this post from Homespun Seasonal Living. That I can relate to! But, when I start to see these I feel the pressure to think about goals too.  To come up with some sort of laser focus for the new year. A way to bring my message to the world!  Is this what the world needs from me? Are my goals even print worthy?  The struggle is real.  For me, focus is the lifetime struggle.

There is so much I still want to learn, experience, teach, and enjoy.  There are so many blog posts to write, magazines to submit to, and books to work on.  Not to mention the yarn! 2016 was a great year for my new yarn label, Free Range Yarn.  So how does an all over the place, coffee drinking, wine loving, homesteading, yarn farming, lover of all things animal and farming focus in on a top 5 goals list?  Lets see…..

top 5 goals

Goal 1 – (oh and these are not in any particular order) 

Start the day with a good cup of coffee.  or two.  Attempt to organize the day into clear focal points.  A focused writing time, a time to keep the house up, and importantly, a time to dream and think. As someone who normally gets her best inspirations beginning around midnight, this might be a tough goal. It will involve removing myself from some ever present distractions a few times a week during the day. Where can I hide?  Should I use an editorial calendar?  What is an editorial calendar?  See what I mean?   Now I have to go look up “what is an editorial calendar” on google.  Maybe I should switch to a notebook and pen and leave the computer behind until it’s time to post. 

Goal 2 

Continue the momentum of branding and promoting the yarn label, Free Range Yarn.  Another tough one for me.  I love to come up with ideas but the promoting and “pushing” them out to the world is hard for me.  Every time I have to send an ad into the social media cyber world, I cringe.  I don’t cringe when I see other people’s ads on their social media pages so why don’t I give myself the same grace? Something to work towards for sure.  Definitely adding to the brand development to my Top 5 goals for 2017.

top 5 goals

Goal 3

Continue the focus of using more herbal preventative care to the barn yard family. I made great strides on this in 2016 using more Oregano, Thyme, Sage and Chamomile.  Using the herbs regularly takes discipline because I need to think ahead and also remember to note who received what each day or week.  It made my life easier when I started using some premade herbal treats/treatments from Biteme.  The animals love the wafers and I can control who got a dose easier that when it is mixed into the feed.  

top 5 goals

I hope to get further and further away from chemical wormers by consistently using the herbal treatments in 2017. Here’s a book I refer to often when looking for an herbal treatment instead of a chemical or pharmaceutical remedy. 

 A side goal is to take a class on using the FAMACHA method of looking for worm load by evaluating the color of  the animals soft tissue membranes such as gums and eyelids. It is used more often with sheep than with goats but can apply to both. I understand the method but I want to take a formal class in it because their lives depend on it! Unfortunately, barber pole worm is present here and the results can be horrific.  We only have two pastures for the sheep and most of the time the goats don’t want to leave the barnyard area.  I need to be very vigilant on my parasite programs.  

Goal 4

Write more. There are blog posts and books waiting to be let out of my brain! Consistently stretching and using the writing muscles helps it become more second nature.  (See Goal 1) It all comes back to focusing on the goals.  Top 5 goals item 4 – stop floating through the day.  You can check out my latest book here on Amazon.com.

top 5 goals

Goal 5

End the day on a good note.  Pour the glass of wine, AND END the DAY!  I tend to have some work-a-holic  tendencies.  For example, where I mentioned in Goal 1, that I often start work in earnest at midnight?  Yeah. I need to retrain that  and work during the day. Because fatigue is a real problem and clear thinking requires sleep.  Burning the candle at both ends only works until the candle is suffering a complete meltdown.  I have already started turning the computer off in the evening.  It’s not easy, and our house is also our business office for our family business so getting some uninterrupted writing time during the day is hit or miss.  So top 5 goals list must include taking care of me and restructuring the day.  

top 5 goals

Now that I Have Written My Top 5 Goals….

So there you have it.  My rather scattered list of Top 5 Goals for 2017.  Do I feel more motivated than I did before writing this?  No, not so far, but it’s still the week between two major holidays!  When January 2 rolls around next week, I will print this out and work the plan.  If all else fails, I can always revert back to Goal Number 1 and start the day over with a good cup of coffee! 

 

top 5 goals

Top 5 goals