Crows, Hoophouses, Predator Control.

Our local crows discovered a loose piece of hardware cloth in of our portable hoophouses and killed about a dozen young broilers. I need to update my hoophouse page to point out that we’ve made all our broiler houses burglar-proof, with chicken wire covering the whole thing, and hardware cloth over the chicken wire near the bottom to keep raccoons from reaching in and grabbing broilers.

While there’s a lot of romantic nonsense about country life being just like a petting zoo or a Little Golden Book, that hasn’t been my experience. If we don’t react to predators right away, all our chickens will soon be dead. We’ve tightened up the house. So far, so good.

Last year I had a lot of trouble from crows. I tried everything. What worked was shooting a few of them. The word got out and the rest stayed away. I was sad that scarecrows didn’t work, because I like the look of a field with a scarecrow in it. (Maybe I’ll set a couple up as a fashion accessory, rather than for any better reason.)

The neighbors report quite a bit of coyote activity, so I suppose it’s time to start patrolling the perimeter fence again. It turned out, rather to my surprise, that finding predator trails is trivially simple even if there isn’t a trail of feathers from stolen chickens. All you have to do is look. Then you use the intervention of your choice.

My personal preference is live and let live, which is why my electric fence is my first line of defense. I’m okay with zillions of predators crossing my property so long as they leave my livestock alone. But the ones that cross my electric fence are showing an excessively high level of motivation and constancy of purpose. With these, the first choice is to exclude them (maybe the fence is too high or too low or doesn’t have enough voltage, and fixing this will exclude the predator and all his friends). If that doesn’t work, shooting is second best and trapping is third.

Lots of people would phrase that last part to be, “Trapping is the method of last resort,” but that implies hesitancy, and when you hesitate in the face of predators, more of your critters get killed. Responding quickly is very important.

I’ve found snares to be very effective when used sensibly. I don’t like leg-hold traps. I’ve found Hal Sullivan’s Web page to be very informative, and I’ve used his snare kits and benefited from the DVD that comes with them. The main thing to do is to identify trails used only by the predators eating your chickens, and set a snare in that place only. You don’t want to go setting them in the local equivalent of Grand Central Station; you’re after specific animals, usually a single individual.

With pastured poultry, placing the snares inside the electric fence pretty much guarantees that you won’t be catching innocent bystanders.

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Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

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Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, is an expert on free-range chickens, and is a semi-struggling novelist. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years. In addition, he holds down a day job doing technical writing at Workspot.

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