Chicken Survival

Categories:Country life

We bought 30 chickens around this time last year: 15 buff orpingtons and 15 Rhode Island reds. We were still working on building the chicken coop when we bought them, so we had added incentive to hurry up and get the coop done.

We wanted our chickens to be free-range because we liked the idea of their finding food for themselves. We still supplemented, of course, because we wanted to make sure they got enough to eat, but the idea was that they’d eat harmful garden bugs, weed seeds and the like.

While they may well have been foraging, they were also getting eaten. In two days, we lost five chickens. We’re pretty sure they turned into coyote breakfast, although we know our dogs were guilty in at least two additional chicken fatalities; we caught them in the act.

We don’t think the dogs were hunting so much as playing a game. It was challenging to them to catch the chickens, which are quick-moving and agile. The dogs really enjoyed the game; the chickens not so much. We have kept working with the dogs, and they have gotten better at ignoring the chickens, although our German shepherd still likes to try (unsuccessfully) to herd them into the coop at night.

Despite our precautions, we are down to 13 chickens. We held steady at 15 up until around Thanksgiving last year. Some coyote had a lot to be thankful for.

If numbers are any indication, Rhode Island reds are better at eluding coyotes than buff orpingtons. We have nine reds but only four buffs. Our theory on Rhode Island success is that they run for cover. We have noticed that our buffs tend to hunker down right where they are as if they think that makes them invisible. I’m sure the coyotes are grateful for the buffs’ thoughtfulness.