Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life on the farm: Hawks DO Kill Chickens

Chicken and Turkey Pens at Daybreak

It’s time to get ready for winter.  The barns’ overhead doors had a recent service call, plastic air curtains want patching, fuel has been gathered for the outdoor wood and corn-burning furnaces, and soon fieldwork implements will be cleaned and tucked into storage. 

The laying hens have to be ferried from the pasture to the youngstock barn.

Chickens are the only farm animals that exist with little interaction on our part– food, water, a place to sleep at night, and they’re fine.  But they can’t stay outdoors much beyond the end of October.

While buttoning up the hinged sides of their mobile coop and making an inspection for structural soundness, Dan noticed something in the corner of the enclosure.

A hawk had swept down into the denuded thicket on the east side.

It killed a chicken.

The weeds on that end of the field grow tough and high; a person looking for free-range eggs can’t get through all that easily.   My husband Dan had left it ‘as is’ to provide shade and additional cover – specifically, he said, “Using a machete is a lot harder than it looks”. 

The brush wasn’t protecting chickens any more.

It’s simple to set up the annual move.  Most of the hens march up the ramp into the coop every evening, one needs only shut the door after dark, and get a skidsteer or tractor to move them the following morning.

However, there was quite a hullaballoo rounding up all the escapees that jumped ship through the torn plastic-film windows at daybreak.  (This could have been prevented if they had been taped shut as I had requested. Just saying.)

As Dan and our friend Myron Collins prepared to haul the coop away on its slow and awkward journey down the driveway, they noted the hawk observing them from a tall maple just outside the fence.

Once at the barn, the laying hens were transferred by hand to the “winter pen”.   Dan then returned to thrash the bushes for any stragglers and found two “very fast ones.”   He flushed the hawk out from the ‘dead chicken corner’ as well.  It has returned daily ever since.

Laying hens aside, I was reminded that customers at farmer’s market often ask if our Cornish meat birds (the eating chickens) are on pasture.  We have always responded that they don’t live outside because they are too small, too slow, and too white, which makes them easy pickings for aerial predators. 

My understanding had been that a mature chicken was too large to be dinner for any flyer smaller than an eagle.

Here’s a quote from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website, “Red tailed hawks, as with other predatory birds, have been mistakenly blamed for killing large quantities of poultry and small livestock. However, this rarely happens.”


I have no idea how many were eaten, since Dan lost count during the move. “Lots”, he said, “You still have lots”.

I strongly suspect that I now have a lot less.