We moved to ten acres just outside of the city. We brought our remaining hens* and their mobile coop, set it up and attempted to make it secure from burrowing and digging predators. (*We had lost one hen to a dog we were dog sitting.)
They loved having a larger area to forage and our dog was a good deterrent to any wildlife that might want to have chicken for dinner.
During our first few weeks in the new place, the neighbors rooster came to visit. He was grand and the girls were smitten. He spent a couple of hours , but did not manage to lure our girls away , so he went home. We never saw him again.
The chickens continued to stake out their range over the next few months and a factor we did not consider was that they might range farther than was safe. We lost a hen early on and took precautions to try to keep them closer to the house. We made sure our dog was out when they were free ranging. The hens tend to put themselves to bed at night, so we just needed to make sure we are home to close the coop. When you work, have kids with extra curricular activities, sometimes this did not happen in a timely manner. We were lucky for a while.
These are two of the Black Copper Marans.
The chickens seemed to like our small black and white kitty. They would follow her on her explorations. Luckily, she stayed close to the house. In this photo she has her paws on a rock. She is fascinated by rocks. She claims them as hers, plays with the smaller ones and sits on the larger ones. Not judging. It’s her hobby and it doesn’t involve killing anything. I take that as a win.
A year went by without incident. We still had five hens, a Brabanter, a Barred Rock and three Black Copper Marans. A lady we know asked if we would take some White Leghorn hens and a rooster that she had rescued. They had never been outside the small enclosure she had for them. We agreed to take them and she brought them coop and all. There were four hens and the rooster. Day two, one of the hens died. No visible reason, maybe the stress of the move. We kept the chickens isolated from our flock until we were reasonably certain that they were healthy. It took a while to get them to not run away into a corner of their pen when we approached. We began leaving their coop door open, trying to entice them to forage with our hens. Once free, they decided no more coops. This was unexpected. They preferred to roost in the cedar tree in the back yard. If we tried to get them out of the tree, they ran for the woods. So they became tree chickens. The rooster was very wary but not aggressive. We named him Dude, Dood from a line in the movie The Island.
Outside of the aversion to a coop, the two flocks got along nicely. Dood was very protective of the hens. We were beginning to think we did not have predators in the area. That maybe our dog and us being outside a lot, caused it to be an undesirable place to hunt. We were proven wrong. We lost chickens over the next year and a half. We started seeing opossums, raccoons and hawks. We knew there were fox, coyote and large wild cats in the area, but had never seen any. When we started losing chickens at an alarming rate during the day, we were perplexed. They were still free ranging during the day and in the coop at night (even the Leghorns had started coming in the coop at night) Then my daughters friend called for us to come look out the window, there was a young fox on the rock pile behind the house. It then became clear what we were up against. A sly and opportunistic mother fox with three pups, was feeding her little ones chicken. Our dog was older when we moved but had become more frail and arthritic and was no longer able to be a guard for the chickens. I did not want him trying to chase any animals. When the fox realized we had discovered her den, she moved her pups and we did not see them again until two years later.
Well fed fox pup.
We ended up losing all of the hens and then Dood to the fox and other predators. I spoke with our veterinarian, who also has chickens that free range, and they said pretty much everything likes chicken. They even have problems with hawks upon occasion. Part of having space to raise chickens was to give them freedom to forage. It was time to build a new larger coop with an enclosed run.
Up next, the new coop.