What’s a Chicken keeper to do?

We got home from an appointment, refill Rx pickup, and walk to find no hens about in the yard. No hens visible in the run, which I have been opening the gate only about 8″ since the Cooper Hawk was in there. The hens can come and go through the crack, but nothing can fly in. Looking in the coop, there were 9 hens fussing about what had happened. The 3 Marans were there, the two Easter eggers and 2 NH reds, but only 2 Buff Orpingtons. The Marans and Buffs are my big girls, very sturdy heavy, but slow hens. That sent me out on a solo search party to determine what had happened, just as it began to rain.

Near the forsythia where they generally hide, there were two piles of black feathers, but all the Marans were accounted for, and a larger pile of yellow feathers that trailed up across the top of the hill the forsythia grows on and under the farthest bush, the remains of the missing Buff. The damage was consistent with hawk attack and meal, so I have lost another hen. I’m down to 9.

At this point, I don’t know what to do. I have lost 4 hens this late winter, early spring and it isn’t even hawk chick season yet. Nine hens is enough to provide the eggs for daughter’s family and us, but not if they are getting picked off about one a week or 10 days.

If I keep them in the covered run, there isn’t enough room for them to do much and they mostly just go back in the coop and one or more of them eat eggs. If I let them free range, my preference, the current loss rate is too high. I haven’t had this kind of loss since the neighbor’s dog, many years ago, used to come down and catch and kill them, even running up and down the run to get one to fly out, but he got rid of that dog. Penning them in electric mesh fence makes them easier targets. Buying more fencing and creating a larger run would give them more space and fresh grass until they scratched it all up, but how would it be covered to keep the hawk from swooping in and cornering one against the fence. For now they are locked up again and will be for a day or two. I guess it was a mistake removing the two young roosters that would at least alert the hens to danger, but I have not been a fan of roosters due to the mating damage and their all day long crowing.

Eight or 9 hens are about the right number for the coop we own, but I don’t want to lose anymore to the hawk. It can feed on rabbits, squirrels, field mice, voles, and groundhogs, it doesn’t need my hens.

We live amidst hayfields with the occasional tree in a rock pile for the hawk to sit in and spy on potential prey. There isn’t a lot of cover near the coop, the fruit trees are too open, there is a cedar cluster they sometimes hide in, but the hiding place of choice is the forsythia bushes and they aren’t leafed out yet. I will fret on it for a while, trying to prize out a solution, but will probably end up letting them free range again and hope the hawk can’t get anymore.

Let the Season Begin

Today is chilly and rainy, the beginning of a cold front that will bring snow to some extent on Sunday and Monday, but it is 8 weeks to our last average frost date, the time to start slow seeds.

Yesterday, the Aerogarden was dismantled, scrubbed, the parts that could go in the dishwasher for more thorough scrubbing done, then left to dry overnight. This morning, it was set up, filled with water and fed, and two each of 3 peppers started in it under it’s lights. Two Jalapenos, two seranos, and two Chocolate Sweet peppers. Once pepper starts are available at the nursery, a ghost and a cayenne will be added.

The self watering seed starter was begun with fresh seed starter mix that is organic and has no peat in it. In my environmental awareness move, peat is eliminated as it is not a quickly renewable resource. The seed starter, placed under the grow light has 2 tomatillos, 4 Amish paste tomatoes, 2 slicers that carry the black gene so produce a darker, purplish/brownish medium size tomato, and 2 common sage plants. The pots with basils, thyme, dill, and lettuces are thriving on a shelf in the south facing fully windowed doors. Hopefully, the parsley in the half barrel in the back will come back up this spring and the rosemary overwintered indoors nicely. There is a lot of oregano in the bed with the fig that will hopefully continue to produce after the snow melts off next week.

In reviewing the seed supply, I remembered two vegetable seed packets purchased earlier that were not accounted for in the garden plan, so that will have to be revisited before digging in the garden can commence. It is almost time to plant spinach, carrots, and peas.

Fortunately, the apple, pear, and peach trees did not bloom before this freeze. Maybe a week of cold will delay their blooming long enough that fruit is still possible.

There is a supply of starter pots that can be filled with seed starter mix in a few more weeks to start the squash and cucumbers in, but they only need about 4 weeks head start. The plastic webbed baskets will be washed out once there are seedlings that need to be hardened off. Some produce I have grown in the past in limited, mostly unsuccessful attempts will not be grown as those products are readily available from local farmers at their farms or the farmer’s market.

As the weather is behaving like winter, it is nice to be planning the summer garden. In late April or early May, two new hives of bees will be introduced, hopefully with greater success than last year. Plans being made, plans begun, hoping for a successful season with vegetables, fruits, eggs, and bees for eventual honey. A busy season ahead, I hope I can stay on top of it.

As the grass is beginning to green up and grow with a vengeance, the riding mower was taken back to the shop to figure out why the blades won’t engage and throw the belt every time it is disengaged when it did work. Less area will be mowed this year and more left for the hay guys.

Another one down

Monday, the hens all seemed to disappear. The day was warm and usually they are hanging out in front of the house or in the back garden, but not one to be seen. Upon investigation, I found this.

A lovely but lethal Cooper’s Hawk in the run with a dead Buff Orpington hen that was at least twice as large as the hawk. The hawk had managed to get in through the partially opened gate as the run is covered. It must have followed the hen in as it was chasing it. Once in and fed, it couldn’t figure out how to get out. It has been there a while as the hen was already cold. There was no way I was going in the low netted run to try to chase it out and my efforts to frighten it out by moving around the outside of the run to force it back near the gate were agitating it to try to fly up and into the fence repeatedly. Once it found it’s way out, it flew only a couple of feet and sat on the grass. When I approached from behind, it flew a few more feet to the top of the wood pile and sat until with me arms waving and shouting, it flew across the yard to a huge maple tree and sat to recover. Five of the remaining hens were in the coop very afraid, the other five remaining hens were no where to be found. I searched all of their usual hiding places and thickets, but could not find any of them.

The hen that lost the battle was removed from the run for disposal and the wait began to see if the others would return. It was raining hard by late afternoon and still no hens. By dusk, the missing 5 reappeared and were lured into the enclosed run and locked in with the 5 that had been hiding out in the coop.

Yesterday they remained in their run with the gate closed, and unless I took scratch or scraps out to them, wouldn’t even leave the coop. I don’t like keeping them confined in the small enclosed run because when they are penned up, one becomes an egg eater. That behavior doesn’t seem to happen when they can free range. This poses the dilemma of risking more egg loss by egg eating or egg loss by losing hens to the hawk.

I always thought it was the Red tailed hawks that were getting my hens, 3 this winter, but research indicated that they rarely attack poultry, but the smaller Cooper seems to have a propensity to catch and kill a chicken. My flock is down to 10.