Chickens are actually pretty fragile animals. That’s why we created the most predatory proof coop and run regardless of the cost. That’s why we originally didn’t plan on letting them free range. Predators on our property we’ve seen walking through our front yard include coyotes, fox, hawks, owls, raccoons and the dreaded neighbor’s dog, a known chicken killer. Large snakes are also predators because they eat eggs and we have a number of them.
So you can imagine how much I worried when I decided the chickens needed to start free ranging for not only their happiness, but also to get a bigger variety in their diet. I check the area before I let them out and stick to them like glue to be sure they aren’t in any danger from not only predators, but from things they find on the ground and shouldn’t eat.
There have been a couple interesting wildlife encounters that were fun to watch. The bunnies hang out around the bushes of our house which is also a favorite place for our chickens, especially on a hot day. At first the bunnies would run away, but they slowly got used to each other. The only real interaction I saw was one of our Easter eggers clearly felt a bunny was taking over too much of her food so she chased her until she raced through the bushes and out into the prairie grass.
There is a barn cat that loves our property and now spends a lot of time sitting in our goat pen watching the chickens. I read that cats won’t bother chickens because they are usually smaller than them. In this case it was definitely true so I let the girls out of their run and they rushed into the goat pen which is one of their favorite spots. The cat was overwhelmed by 27 chickens running at her and got the heck out of there fast! She returns every evening to catch her fill of field mice…..thank you very much!….and to sit and watch the hens until they go to roost.
The deer also like our bushes. They hang out underneath them on hot days. One day there were 6 of them. I walked past them (they usually don’t move when I’m there), and warned them I was getting ready to let the chickens out and they may want to move. They just stared at me blankly. When the 27 hens stampeded to the bushes, every deer took to their feet and bolted! Too funny! The deer hang out around the run now, chewing on the tall grass, looking at the hens every now and then.
Yes, we’ve had a few hawks that we had to rush the chickens back into the run over, but most birds have been scared of the girls. I tried to catch it video on it, but it happens so fast. One of the Buffs was so fascinated with a robin that she followed her around the fence and when she got too close, the robin finally flew away. The only aggressive bird that surprised me was a large magpie that postured against a wall of hens that were baffled with him. His nest was far away but he insisted on pressing the girls. I finally had to step in. I later read that magpies will actually kill chickens! Luckily my girls are large and there are so many of them that they seem to scare off most wild animals. Let’s hope that luck never runs out.
If you want to see the only video I was able to capture of a chicken meeting a wild bird, enjoy the short 7 seconds on YouTube!