Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Backyard Flock: Trouble in Chickenland

It had been awhile since we had any trouble with hawks. They seemed to have passed us up in favor of easier pickings ever since we constructed our chicken run and covered it with cherry netting a few years ago. Yesterday, we were shocked back into reality.

The dog had just had her bath and the backyard was a sucking mud hole we didn’t want her wallowing in. We were planning on going out for the afternoon and I was getting some stuff together when I happened to look out into the backyard and noticed a Cooper’s hawk sitting on top of the chicken run ready to take advantage of a gap in the netting caused by the weight of leaves and black walnuts that had collected in it.

The chickens, of course, were in a panic. So, I dropped what I was doing and rushed to the back door. The dog, sensing my state of alarm, followed barking. I tried to keep her inside as I slid open the door, but she got out and ran into the yard, yapping at she didn't know what, until she spotted the hawk lifting off from its perch. We managed to get the dog back into the house and I went out to count my chickens and see what could be done about the tear in the netting.

All nine chickens were there, hiding in different places. I knew Pee Wee would be in her coop, and she was in fact roosting there together with another hen. Pee Wee hasn’t lived to the ripe old age of eight years for nothing. Over the years, whenever we have had a hawk around, Pee Wee has managed to get inside. The others were hiding in the bushes or had come out to run around, glad that I had arrived in the nick of time to straighten things out. As strange as it may seem, chickens are like that. They feel more secure when you are around to protect them. They even appreciated the fact the Suki had attacked the chicken run fence full force once she spied the hawk. In their hearts they had known all along that she must be good for something.

I found a remnant of netting from when I had done that original job and patched the breach in our security with twist ties to hold it in place and we were off for the day. When we returned just after sunset, I locked up the chickens and did my usual head count. All was well. The addition of a fierce cattle dog to the security system should convince the hawk not to return. But we will remain ever vigilant. They don’t give up easily.


I have started soliciting “Backyard Flock” submissions of articles and photos from our ever-growing chicken-lover population. Recently, a reader sent in some photos of his tractor coop. I love to see how the other half lives. In fact, there has been some talk about organizing a tour of backyard flocks and their accommodations. After seeing these photos, I'd be embarrassed for anyone to see our coops.

“Here are some pictures of my chicken tractor that I had built a couple years ago. The coop area is 4x6 with 2 outside access nest boxes. The run area is 6x10. It houses 7 hens comfortably. Thought some of your blog readers might find it interesting,” Tom wrote of his setup. “As to design, you need to credit the man in Plain City that built the ‘Super Duper Chicken Tractor’ for me. His name was Mark Hochstetler and he did a terrific job. I love my coop!”

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