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Table of Contents
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The prevention and management of common backyard chicken predators is the topic being discussed this week as we join Nicole and Dr. Matt Springer of the University of Kentucky.
What You’ll Learn
- Learn which are the most common predators of your backyard chickens.
- Techniques for the prevention and management of common backyard chicken predators.
- How securing your flock and their food supply will be one of the best tools in the prevention and management of common backyard chicken predators.
- How your State Wildlife Agency and local Extension Service can help in the prevention and management of common backyard chicken predators.
- How to use fencing, escape cover, and netting as a tool against common predators from the ground and sky.
Matt Springer, Ph.D is an Assistant Extension Professor of Wildlife Management at the University of Kentucky.
Matt Springer is from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and went to Juniata College for his B.S., University of Delaware for M.S., and Southern Illinois University Carbondale for his Ph.D.
Although he grew up in a city Matt was instilled with a love of nature from his parents. An avid hunter, fisherman, and trapper he enjoys gardening and has had a small chicken flock until recently. Matt has firsthand experience with the prevention and management of common backyard chicken predators
Matt’s very loving and tolerant wife and two young girls, all share his love for the outdoors.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- University of Kentucky Wildlife Extension Facebook Page
- University of Kentucky Extension Website
- University of Kentucky Forestry Extension Radio Show/Podcast
- From The Woods Today on YouTube
- University of Kentucky Predator Management for Small-scale Poultry Enterprises in Kentucky PDF
- University of Nebraska Identification Key to Scat
- *National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals (National Audubon Society Field Guides) 2nd Edition
- *Peterson Field Guide to Mammals of North America (Peterson Field Guides (Paperback)) Paperback – October 1, 2006
- *National Audubon Society Pocket Guide: Familiar Animal Tracks of North America
- *Bird Netting 50’x50′ Heavy Duty Nylon Netting for Bird, Poultry,Deer and Other Pests
*Denotes affiliate links
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Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com, where we aim to educate and inspire you by sharing practical information to help your homestead thrive. And now, here's your host, Nicole.
Hello, everybody. And thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole, and today I'm joined by Dr. Matt Springer, who's the assistant extension professor of wildlife management at the University of Kentucky, and the state wildlife extension specialist. And today we're going to talk about poultry predators and predator management and mitigation. And so Dr. Springer, thank you so much for joining me today.
Thank you for having me. I'm very delighted to be here.
Yeah, I'm really excited to talk to you about poultry predators, chicken predators. I know that it's a common pain point for poultry keepers of all levels from backyard to small scale, and I know that I've had my own challenges with them as well. So I think this is going to be a really great topic. And I'm really excited to cover it today. But before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit more about what you do at the University of Kentucky in your background in this?
Sure, I am almost entirely a faculty member at the University of Kentucky whose focuses on extension related activities. Some of that involves research, a little bit of teaching, but mostly my time is spent interacting with our county extension offices and working with our agricultural natural resource agents and horticultural agents who are working with their county residents and mostly agricultural based folks who are dealing with wildlife related issues, whether that be wildlife damage, maybe they want to encourage more wildlife present within their their area, whether that be their farm, their house, forest, and then I do a little bit of research associated with wildlife damage, which is more of the theme I focus on. So I have some projects that are working on black vultures and livestock, full issues and cover crops and soybean production had some deer damage projects. So I have some research but mostly extension activities do some programs and education for folks on how to deal with these. It's a primary focus of my job. And I have a PhD from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where I worked on CWD and whitetail deer in Illinois. However, I did do some deer damage research during that for my masters at the University of Delaware as well. And on a personal level, I've had a small backyard flock at my residence for several years after moving to Kentucky and starting my job four years ago, and dealt with my own intown Wildlife predator issues. So I've done professionally dealt with it with our producers in the state. And I've personally dealt with it on my own.
So you obviously cover several aspects and lots of different levels of wildlife management. But what are some of the predators that you've dealt with personally with your flock.
So being that I'm in Lexington, which is one of our major cities in Kentucky, it was raccoons, possums, and we have a very strong red fox population throughout our city here. So I had mostly raccoon problems, actually.
I hear a lot about raccoons. Unfortunately, that's one that I haven't had firsthand experience with. We're in southern Colorado, and it's basically sort of desert plains sort of thing out here. So not too many issues with raccoons, but I've heard they can be quite challenging to deal with.
Yeah, I would make an argument in Kentucky at least they're probably our number one wildlife pest species in terms of the breadth of damage they can cause from, you know, folks, their backyard gardens to getting into, if you get one into a chicken flock, you probably won't have a flock left if they get into your pen. So, you know, they are all over the board and consider yourself lucky because they are clever animals strong, stronger than most people realize and will problem solve to get at a meal if they can.
So maybe we can just jump into talking a little bit more about raccoons. I don't know if there's much prevention of keeping raccoons necessarily but as far as just, you know, not even letting them know that you have chickens. I think they're probably gonna figure it out on their own. But what are some ways to keep them I guess, out of the chicken coop or keep bird safe?
Sure. So, you know, prevention is possible. Now, as you said, you know, they're gonna know there's chickens around, you can't you can't hide them from the raccoons or their noses are going to really figure things out. And the funny thing is, it's kind of a two fold strategy to deal with raccoons. First and foremost, you want to make sure you're securing your chicken flock. At night, have them in a coop that is completely blocked off and inaccessible from anything on the outside. And that's true with a lot of predators, right? foxes, coyotes, bobcats, you don't want to give the predators an easy route into the flock when they're roosting. The second thing is you want to try to limit the attractiveness of other items like the fee that you have to raccoons. Because they're going to be either after the birds themselves, or they're going to, you know, the problem I really had with them was they kept getting into my feeders, the tubes that I had on the outside of the coop and pulling them off the the pen and actually reaching in and eat that I didn't care very much about the chickens themselves, they wanted the actual food I had. So if you can find a way of keeping them out of the food, then you're kind of taking the two most attractive items away from them. And they're really unlikely to keep frequenting the area, if there's no reward for them to get there. So securing the flock at night, which is you know, it's nice that they really don't aren't active during the day. Because then you only have to really worry about if you want to free range them during the day raccoons are really not as big of a threat. So secure them at night and secure that food. So the raccoons are less likely to be around.
I have a friend that actually raises peafowl, and he lives on kind of a river bed area. And he's lost his peafowl twice to raccoons. And I guess I didn't realize that they were that the raccoons were either strong enough or fast enough to kill a peacock because there's such big strong birds. But I know in that situation that they actually tore the chicken wire open.
So give a context on how strong they are. Say you have a raccoon issue and you're going to trap to get rid of them. You don't want to necessarily buy that cheap $20 box trap at the local store that's just kind of flimsy wire, because they're strong enough to take, you know, I want to say an eight gauge or 10 gauge wire and actually bend it open and escape, I guess. So you want to really ensure that your chicken wire is attached to a very sturdy piece of wood, if there's any kind of edge that they can start ripping at and grabbing it and remember that they have very nimble fingers and they're they're good at using them, they will start grabbing at that rate and pulling and pulling and pulling. And if it's not really secure, they will pull it off. And as soon as they get in, it's not going to be a great outcome. We had an experience here recently one of the personal level, my wife's school, they have chicken flock as part of their school. They're an outdoor based education only. And so they have two flocks, one of them, you know, so that the flock keeps growing because every year they do the eggs.
Yeah, the incubators, and they hatch. And all of a sudden, you know, they can't give them back. And the flock grows by about six to eight birds each year, which is great. But one of the pens that they built, there was a spot where they kind of were almost out of chicken wire and they didn't truly secure it. And one morning, it just happened that I showed up and dropped my daughter off with my wife as they are going in and their chicken parts all over the front of the school yard. Oh, because the raccoon had actually gone around the entire pen. And the roosting house right and pull that the wire everywhere got on top was pulling at it, and finally found that one corner and ripped it open. And you can see where they actually he actually been out the the fencing everywhere else where he was trying. And as soon as he opened that up, he had got a few of the chickens in the actual pen, a couple got out and they were running away. And he actually was able to catch them in the yard and it was eight birds they lost. So it's it's really important that you make sure that everything is truly secure with raccoons. You know, I do a lot of talks about black bears because we have a recovering black bear population. And their closest relative is the raccoon they act very similarly. You know where you are, you don't probably you know, you said you really don't have raccoons, but I don't know do black bears.
We have one on occasion, we usually get about one a year that is basically lost and just meanders around and ends up in our area.
Yeah, so they they act very similar. So anything that you see, we see the videos of them like opening car doors and getting inside cars that's like, that's basically raccoons, they think they act very similarly. blackberries are just a 200 pound raccoon. So anything that they can get their hands on and start pulling out that they think they can get a reward at the end they're going to and they're super curious. So they start playing with things anyway. in extreme situations. If the prevention doesn't work, you'd want to then start looking at trapping them to remove them. Because once they figure out there's a food source, they're just like a problem black bear, they're going to keep returning to that food source.
And what are kind of the legalities around that you mentioned, you know, like going to the store and and buying a trap. Can you just do that on your own or do you need to coordinate with your local wildlife agency?
Sure. So you definitely want to reach out to your state wildlife agency and find out what the laws are in your area. In Kentucky, it's relatively straightforward for us, we have a really strong landowner law that allows our citizens to protect themselves or their property from any wildlife damage, giving them the right to trap or shoot animals, as long as they are not a federally protected species. So in that sense, in Kentucky, if they had a raccoon problem, they could put traps out any day of the year, and dispatch that animal upon capture or dispatch that deal with just using a firearm. Without trapping, we do have the ability to trap and relocate. And this is true with raccoons. But it's also true with any wildlife species, it's highly discouraged to do trapping relocation, there's very few circumstances that we want to use that tool. And that is because of two things. And this is actually, the Humane Society is in support of this as well now, because the science behind it is pretty straightforward. And one of them is going to make a lot of sense considering this year is disease issues. When you catch an animal, you don't know if it's carrying any diseases our concern in the east is very much raccoon rabies. But there's distemper and several others that you'd want want to be moving raccoons around for. This goes hand in hand with any other wildlife you catch, you have no idea what that animal is carrying. So there's some concerns personally about handling that animal. But there's also more concerns about the population and moving diseases across the landscape by you know, 15-20 miles per se, when you go and release that animal.
That makes sense.
So that's the first real reason we don't want to trap and relocate, you know, there's other things like ticks and you know, other concerns, parasites that are on them, that can also jump. It's not just diseases. The second is the social aspect. Animals have, you know, especially more social animals, like your Misa predators, raccoons, your foxes, coyotes, you know, they have a social structure hierarchy. And you know, you may very be very good at identifying what's great habitat for that animal you catch, right? You know, I catch a raccoon or a squirrel in my yard that's been causing problems, I'm going to take it 10-15 miles down the road to, you know, say a Wildlife Management Area, a State Park, a National Park, because that's, that looks like perfect habitat for that animal. Well, if you're right, guess what, there's probably that exact species present in that area already. And they're not going to welcome newcomers with open arms. Because what you just did is you added more competition to the area. So limited food supplies, there may be competition for mates. And they already have a hierarchy set up, a pecking order, just like your flock would, right. So if you add a new chicken to that flock is that flock always going to open it up, or they're probably going to be at least a challenge to the social structure, they're going to try to re situate themselves.
Exactly. So same thing holds true with wildlife, right. But if your flock is there, and you have chicken that maybe gets a slight injury, you you are giving it ample food, ample cover and protection from elements in the wild. That's not always the case. So what you could have is you could have a fight to animals become injured, and all of a sudden you have these animals that if you hadn't relocated, the new individual to that area would have been living their lives fine. Now they're suffering and potentially going to die because of this released animal. So we really don't want to do trapping relocation whenever we talk about trapping animals, because we discourage trap relocation. What we mean by trapping is trap and then dispatch as humanely as possible. So whenever we deal with wildlife damage, you want to go through all the steps possible to avoid getting to that step of needing to trap an animal, whether it's deterrence, exclusion devices, like fencing, trying to change your own behaviors, like not putting food out in certain ways. All of those steps are what you want to try before you have to try the trapping to remove that animal. And wildlife management animals are basically, you know, the North American model of conservation is that we are all owners of wildlife. And it's managed as such, so that future generations can also enjoy that resource and have it there. So we do not take it very lightly. When we get to a point where an animal's causing a problem and we go jump straight to let's just remove that animal from the landscape to solve the problem. We want to make sure we value that animal as best we can. being pragmatic. There are situations where that's not possible, right? You can't always fence an animal out. You can't always use a scarecrow to keep it away. But try to at least go through the steps to avoid using the lethal method.
No, I think that's a really, really good point because I think so many people are reactive and not so much proactive and some of these issues result in that and I would assume that most people You know, would prefer not to have to dispatch a raccoon or whatever it may be that comes in. But, you know, maybe they don't know really what else to do. And so they just kind of go to that end result.
Absolutely, I mean, I would definitely agree with you that most folks do not want to go immediately to the lethal method, if they know of another option, almost everyone is at least willing to try something. So, you know, the way with anything with wildlife is this entire wildlife damage management paradigm, and it's a list of steps of how to deal with a wildlife problem. First and foremost, the question begins of isn't actually a problem. Now, if you're talking about folks with chickens in their backyards, and they all of a sudden, you know, have a raccoon that killed half their flock, it's pretty easy to say you have a problem right? here in Kentucky, though, we have folks that, you know, a snake is on their back step, there are people that won't leave their house, because there's a snake on your back step that becomes a problem, right? So you have to be able to function. But for me, personally, it's not a problem, I would welcome seeing snakes in around my house, because I know they provide an ecological service of rodent control. So, you know, to some level, it's a personal issue. Sometimes it's very, you know, the economic side makes it very easy to say it's a problem. But, you know, if you see a possum walking around your chickens, is that really a problem if you haven't had a chicken get injured yet. And that's where it gets a little bit more personal. And you know, some folks will jump to the preventative, I want to remove that before it becomes a problem. And I would argue that, you know, there's a possum walking around your chickens. And, you know, there may be something you can do management wise with your chickens to try to alleviate the possibility of a possum being able to get to your chickens. And that's where those next steps come in, can I change my own behavior to solve the problem? Can I only feed my chickens, the amount of food they'll eat one day, so there's not extra food sitting out overnight that could attract possums and raccoons to the air. Can I exclude animals from points where I don't want them to be. So keeping them out of the you know, the hen house, making sure that you know, if you're not free ranging that your pen is truly secure. And your fences up. If you do free range, can you provide escape routes, you know, from you know, avian predators. So that if that rooster sees a hawk overhead can get those hens under some kind of covered to help protect them. So if you don't have that cover there, then there's nothing that they can do to you know, and they're kind of out in the open, there's a few preventative options and you can get into some extremes. If you get into some areas where you have coyote Bobcat issues, foxes issues, you can talk about electrical fencing, you know, the net fencing, or if you free range or rotationally graze your chickens, that electrical fencing great to really protect them during the day. We have some folks that are doing organic Turkey and chickens for eggs and meat here outside of Lexington, and they're in an area that is, you know, basically on the line of suburbia. So they get a lot of problems with red foxes, raccoons, and also free ranging domestic dogs. So they've incorporated basically these little eighth of an acre movable electric fences and and use guard dogs like you would for coyotes and sheep, and have had great success, eliminating their problems. So I would say, you know, there's always an option that's not the lethal method and try to do some exploring to see if you can find it and learn a little bit about it.
So I think that those are some really important prevention topics. But I was wondering if we could maybe also talk about, you know, some more specific predators and then also kind of look at some of the ways to prevent and mitigate them. Do you mentioned foxes? And I know a lot of people have issues with foxes. And I know that you mentioned things like electric fences or things like that. But I imagine digging is probably an issue with foxes. Again, that's one I don't have as much experience with we have coyotes here. What about foxes?
Sure, and you mentioned digging and coyotes are just as guilty of that as foxes are, to be honest. So if you have free ranging birds, it gets pretty difficult to completely secure them right. You have a animal walking around and landscape that sometimes is not completely attentive to what other predators may be there. It is a highly attractive meal for things like foxes and coyotes. So there's a couple things that you can try to do on the free ranging side and unfortunately, it's a lot harder to deal with them on the free ranging side, you know, the guard dogs is one now that's a pretty big investment. And also then you have to make sure you get the right guard dog that isn't gonna chase your chickens. That's one that you know, dogs are incredibly defensive against each other. So you know, wolves will eliminate coyotes. Coyotes will eliminate foxes, red foxes don't get along with grey foxes. It's it's a very much a pecking order on size. So that would be one. You know, if you're a larger operation, you know the example I use he's got 800-900 birds that he rotationally grazes, so the economic return on keeping you know, a fox out of there is pretty high. However, if you have, you know, a dozen birds in your backyard to three dozen birds in your backyard, it probably wouldn't pay off to have a guard dog forum, you can try to make sure that your birds are in areas that are in the open so that they can see a predator coming, give them places that they can, you know, try to get up in the air away from a fox, if they do have one that comes up, keeping grass mowed short would be a great option so that there's you know, Fox can't really sneak in on them, keeping brush piles away. So there's nothing that they can hide or use as camouflage that they're doing a stock on the birds, or you know, maybe offering more places for birds to escape to. However, you know, everything that you give as an escape route can also be used potentially as a hiding mechanism for the predator do a sneak on a stalk on the birds, the electric fences is definitely an option. If you have a smaller field that really can't be kept open digging is something that they can do, but they can't do it immediately. Right. So they're it's not like they can dig a hole under a fence in less than a minute to get in there. Usually it takes them a little bit of time. And that buys the birds enough time as long as you have escaped cover that they can try to get to it. So if you have a more permanent pen, that they're not free ranging, one of the tricks that we do with foxes is you and if there really are an issue with foxes or coyotes is you actually bury a fence into the ground about six inches and then bend it outwards by about six inches. So that when they come up to the fence, what they'll try to do is dig underneath it, and as they dig, they'll just hit another fence. And they're not smart enough to back up 12 inches and go again. Usually, that's enough to get them to stop digging.
I do that with all of my pens. And I've had really good success. I've had an issue with stray dogs with coyotes, and we had a badger one time, which was very strange. And that skirt, I called a skirt or an apron or whatever, around the pin actually kept all three. Obviously that wasn't on the same night. But it's kept all three of those predators out so that that definitely works very well.
Oh, if it's all in the same night, I don't know if I'd want to live where you live, that's for sure.
Yeah, that'd be a rough night.
Yeah, we don't have badgers in Kentucky. So I don't really know how to handle them. I know that if they can keep a badger out. You can keep anything out because they're digging abilities just unreal.
Mm hmm. Well, yeah, yeah. And the the one good thing about our badger was it was actually able to get into our turkey pen, because I had skirted it with chicken wire many years ago. And it's it wasn't very strong anymore, it started to break down or whatever. But fortunately, the turkeys were all up on the roost, and badgers are not good at jumping. So everybody made it through the night.
Yeah. And I think that's where if you think about what predators you may have around, and thinking about, you know, what their abilities are in catching animals. So, you know, like you said, they were up off the ground, so you're offering them a way to get away from a predator. So like a badger, mink would be another example of one that would try to get in there and jump or a weasel that don't really have great climbing abilities. Now, if you're out, say, and the Pacific Northwest or Western extreme north, you have like Pine Martens, or Fishers that are part of that family, but can easily climb. So that won't necessarily solve the problem. But offering some solutions to each predator, if your initial exclusion devices break down is, you know, may save some of your birds if you do have an issue.
I had a question about coyotes. That was sort of a little bit off topic. But, you know, sometimes there's misinformation that's on social media. And so this is a question that I just thought of, and I didn't know if this was scientifically accurate, or just some potential misinformation online. But I read something that said that if you kill a coyote with an attempt of population control, that they will actually breed more or that by by killing one to try to reduce the population, you're actually doing the opposite. Does that make sense? I have feel like I'm struggling with this.
No, no, no, I think you nailed it pretty well. So there is some evidence that in situations where you try to reduce coyote populations, you're actually potentially doing one of two things. You may temporarily reduce the population but the adults that are left because there's more food available are able to be healthier and will produce more pups The following year, and you end up with more juvenile coyotes then you would have had coyotes in general if you had done nothing. So there is some evidence of that occurring, right? So you're temporarily reducing populations. But in the long haul, you're actually creating more coyotes. And you're actually creating more younger coyotes, which are more problematic demographic than, say, adult coyotes. And that's where usually when we talk about canine management with wildlife damage, so that's coyotes and wolves, the hierarchy that they have in place. So wolves, it's a pack hierarchy, right. But with coyotes, it's more of a territorial hierarchy. So if you have, say, an adult, male and female on your property that is there, and you see regularly but it's not causing you any issues, right, they're healthy enough to catch all their food the way they're supposed to be, then, what you do not want to do is actually remove them from the landscape, they're going to keep away other coyotes. And if you remove them, we now know that there's so many coyotes and landscape just moving around that, usually when there's a void like that, and landscape there, it's quickly filled by another coyote or another pair of coyotes, generally who were younger and not as capable or not as healthy. And therefore, when you replace them, you get new individuals and new personalities, who may be just as good as catching what they're supposed to be eating as the other ones, or maybe they're not. And when they're not as good at catching what they're supposed to eat, they're going to start looking for easy opportunities, chickens walking around in the backyard, or they start looking at livestock when baby cattle and say, oh, man, I'm pretty hungry, I might try to take a take a shot at that calf today. So if the basic goal here in terms of management, and what we tell folks is, if you have coyotes around, and they're not causing a problem, don't do anything to remove those coyotes from landscape, don't hunt them, don't trap them. You want to keep them there as long as possible, because they're going to keep away the ones that may cause you a problem. If you remove them, you may get the same thing. Or you may get something that actually is going to make your life harder,
Interesting. Coyotes are probably the worst ones that we personally have. And I've always wondered if there was any truth to that. That's interesting. So another one that I wanted to talk about is aerial predators. So hawks, eagles, owls, can you kind of shed some light on that one? I guess, you know, I feel like that one's a little bit difficult. Obviously, with owls, I think if you have a roof that's on your pin at night, that's going to help a lot. And you mentioned hiding places, but I think that a lot of people just seeing a hawk whether or not it's chicken eating bird or not tend to get a little uncomfortable.
Yeah, everything's a chicken Hawk, right. And it's hard not to make the connection of having a predator nears as being a risk, especially when you have you know, and caring for things that are basically, you know, literally walking chicken nuggets. So really, this is a aerial predators is a problem. And it's a complicated problem. Because, unlike, say, raccoons or coyotes, where you've generally across states, you have a lot of freedom to leafly deal with the problem. If you can't solve it on the on the on the front end would preventative measures, hawks and owls and eagles are all federally protected. So there really is no lethal option out there. Unless you're talking in circumstances where you may be a very large producer and have a substantial loss, you can reach out to USDA Wildlife Services, and they may be able to issue a permit or come out and try to help alleviate the problem. But for 99.99% of folks, you have chickens in their free range or free range at some level, whether it's just you know, a little bit of time during the day, there is a risk of an avian predator, management wise, you want to try to cut down on things like those predators can use as rousse for hunting purchase, right? So you look drive down the highway, you look up a telephone poles and telephone wires, power lines, that you'll see things like red tail hawks sitting on them, and they're basically actively hunting the median for rodents, or snakes or whatever. And the reason they're successful is because they can just sit there and use that awesome vision they haven't watched until they get an opportunity. Most of them are not very good predators when they're flying around, they look for opportunities and they swoop in and grab if they're flying around, it gives their location away. And usually the prey then knows something's wrong and they'll get to somewhere they can hide. So if you remove anything you can that can be used as roost or a purchase to say not necessarily a rooster, a perch, that that's a great thing to do. So if you have old trees that are sitting there, dying trees that are near where your chickens hang out, you may want to take them down because that removes a potential perching location. We talk a lot about basically these little metal half pipes that you can put out that the chickens can dive under, if there's a predator around putting a couple of out and wherever that they're free ranging. So this is like the opposite of, you know, dealing with a fox and raccoons, you're creating these places for them to jump into to hide, but the half pipes are really good because the foxes aren't going to be able to use them as well to sneak up. Whereas you can put a bunch of them out in the field where predators around the birds can quickly get under them that hopefully that rooster sees it and gets them under there. helps them get under there alert everyone, if you don't have overhead cover on your pens, whether that's the softer netting, you know, that's more flimsy or hard metal wire netting you want to look at potentially having that up, especially for owls at night who try to sneak into places they can cause problems if there's no netting and they can get into the buildings. I mean we we had issues with them with other Raptors we had a where I was doing college we had Ospreys that we're raising for release and we had a great horned owl got in and killed them all went into the building there it so they they can cause problems and that so you want to make sure that that's sealed up just like you would for other predators with the owls.
Yeah, I've really struggled with owls in the guinea fowl because coop training guinea fowl are very difficult. And so they would just be out and about and every night one would disappear.
Yeah, yeah, they sit on a sit on a tree branch, you know, they're at least off the ground from from Misa burgers, but they're very easily seen. So that's Yeah, it's it's problematic. And one of the other things you have to consider is owls and hawks. You know, if you have that looser netting, they can sometimes learn that if they hit that hard enough, they can either bust through it, or they can hit it hard enough that they can pin the bird to the ground from the other side and can actually kill it through the netting. So you want to make sure it's pretty secure. Because the last thing I do is think that you're fine. All of a sudden you look out there and the hawk busted right down is pinning a hen to the ground. And consuming it even though it's still outside than that.
So I see things with people that say, you know, hang something shiny, or things that are going to blow in the wind or, you know, things like that to try and scare away hawks, which I'm guessing are probably largely ineffective. Is there any good way other than removing roosts to discourage birds of prey from hanging around?
So the shiny plates and and you know, scarecrows, and this is true, not just for hawks and birds in general but wildlife almost ubiquitously is that those kind of visual deterrents or even the auditory utterance, you know, playing a predator noise or whatever, what happens is if the animals are around frequent enough, they habituate to them over time, and then they just become useless because they don't have anything, you know, negative to connect it with a and have an actual negative experience outside of hearing it. So what usually happens is they were off over time, so you may hang out for a week or two, and they may keep animals away. But in a month or six weeks, all of a sudden, they may be sitting on the actual thing you have the plate hanging on, because they know it can't hurt them. There is some evidence that lasers will actually help keep most bird species way including your predators. However, those systems that are automated, are very expensive, you're talking thousands of dollars. Now there's some handheld lasers that you could try to use a if you were outside and saw a hawk sitting around, that you can irritate them with. And that's a much more negative experience to them than say, just seeing a scarecrow. So those handheld lasers are something that you could use that may help keep them away, but it's not, you know, in terms of cost effective purchasing, the actual thing that you could set up over where your flock is free ranging, we have a hard time with, you know, birds in general and like vineyards are a horrible issue. And we talk to them and you're talking thousands and thousands of dollars of income from you know, from the grapes grow in the wine, and it takes them losses of you know, 40 plus percent of their grapes until it validates them to buy that $10,000 laser to protect their vineyard. So it's a pretty large economic investment. And one that doesn't necessarily make a whole lot of sense for for many producers of poultry.
Is there any animal in particular or any practice or mitigation or anything specifically that that you wanted to make sure that we talked about?
In general, I want to make sure people are aware that a lot of the deterrence and mitigation strategies you have for wildlife damage are pretty species specific. So make sure that if you start losing chickens to a predator that you identify to the best of your ability, what predator it is because the next stepsreally could cost you time and money and more birds, if you don't identify correctly, what predator it is and try to find resources out there. I mean, we have a publication about using tracks and damages, you know, so injuries to the chickens that can help you identify what printer is causing the problem. So you know, rely on the resources that are out there. Don't be afraid to use the Extension Service, the Cooperative Extension Service, those folks have a great amount of knowledge on these kind of problems, or they have connections to folks like me, who can really help guide you in the direction to solve those issues. Don't assume that you know exactly what it is because one of the things that we constantly talk about in Kentucky is we hear a lot of reports, you know, you mentioned coyotes being the big problem where you are, well, our cattle producers feel like coyotes are a huge problem in Kentucky. And every time I get a picture of a cow or a calf that has been attacked by what we think they think is a coyote turns out to be a domestic dog. And those are two different scenarios. So make sure that you know you identify the actual culprit. And then that will help you immensely solve the problems ahead. Because sometimes they're really tricky. And usually they're not 100% solutions, but they can help me I'll save you from losing 10,20, 30% of your flock. So don't be afraid to reach out for help. I do on a regular basis, because you know my backgrounds in deer. So I am constantly learning new things and trying to learn new things from folks. And it's not super easy all the time. It's not super straightforward. So the more information you can kind of grab, you know, if you see scat, if you see tracks that was all helpful and trying to figure out what's going on.
So like if somebody is maybe building their first chicken coop, house run combination, or whatever, or their first time getting chickens is there some things that you would recommend to do right off the bat to try to protect them from most predators, maybe things like the buried skirt, or putting the roof on the run, just kind of general ideas?
You know, I think the best thing in terms of starting out is try to find someone that has chickens as close by to you as possible. And the most similar way that you want to keep chickens. So whether that's you know, free range or with a Ron or coop or whatever, and find out what problems they have had with wildlife, that'll help you come up with at least a starting point of what you need to be thinking about for your runs and how secure you need to make everything. If you're in an area where you don't really have foxes or coyotes around, believe it or not, those places still exist. You can, you know, avoid the hassle of doing that underground skirt, which is pretty time consuming depending on how big of a run you may have. And also potentially cost you know, cost money, for sure and could cost a substantial amount of money depending on how much of an error you're trying to protect. So first and foremost, I'd reach out and try to gather as much information as possible, you know, and you could potentially use that extension agent as a guide as well. They're with, you know, as they're thinking about what have they been hearing in terms of wildlife problems with other people with chickens, but for sure, you want to be thinking of making sure that coop is very secure at night, that's where most of your predation events are going to happen. Make sure you're getting small enough chicken wire that, you know raccoons are notorious, they can't get in, they're still gonna try to reach in and grab birds. So make sure that you know an arm can't fit through that wire to grab an animal because they will still kill a chicken through the wire using their hands. So whether or not you need to put a skirt underground, it's something you should think about and consider. And if there are foxes around or coyotes around you do want to really seriously think about that. If you're free ranging really make sure you're putting thought into what area you're going to let them range and how far they may go. And how can you keep that open for them to see far? And also how can you provide them escape cover, if there is a problem?
I think that's a really good place to get started. And then from there, hopefully nobody has problems but then like you said, identify your predator and then adapt as needed.
That's the entire game of farming. I think in general, whether that's you know, livestock or or whatever it's, adapt, adapt, adapt, something new is definitely going to happen.
So you mentioned the Extension Service. Are there any other resources or recommendations for predator management or identification?
Sure. So you know, a field guide is a good resource and you know, whether you go out and buy one or you know, try to use resources online, that can help you with track or scan ID. University in Nebraska Extension has a great scat key that if you find something, it's a dichotomous key that you can go down at least gets you to two very common wildlife species that you'd find scat for things like skunks and coyote, Bobcat, those kind of things that you know would be a concern for for folks with poultry reach too, you know, or becoming aware of your state wildlife agencies laws in regards to protecting your animals at that state level, knowing what you can and cannot do if you do have a problem. There's a lot of prevention devices. And I mentioned earlier earlier about try making sure that you try every type of deterrent prevention you can before getting to that lethal measure. But you know, trapping is difficult if you're not, you know, familiar with it. ie I did it for years in grad school as a way to help cover costs, you know, I did it Damage Removal stuff on the side with beavers especially. But trapping many of these potential predators like coyotes, bobcats is not an easy task for new Trapper. So potentially reaching out to local trappers or trapping groups to that if you do need to remove a predator that they may be willing to come out and help with. We have a resource in Kentucky through our state wildlife agency that allows you to select the county you live in, and the animal that you're having a problem with, and it actually populates trappers in that area that are willing to come out and deal with that problem, whether that be for a fee, or just during trapping season where they get to keep the firm and try to sell the firm. So the state wildlife agency folks will be able to tell you if those kind of resources exist, or the trappers in general, usually are pretty small knit group and know you know, if you're in a certain area, they know someone there that traps that they can probably point you to as a means of dealing with a problem or or a resource to help solve, you know, help you solve the problem.
I think those are really great resources. Definitely a good kind of flowchart. I guess, if you're having issues with predators, I think that those would be able to provide a lot of services. And then totally not related to predator managers at all, but before we wrap up today, before we recorded this episode, we talked about your podcasts and I would love for you to tell us a little bit more about that and share that with the listeners as well.
Sure, so University of Kentucky forestry and Natural Resources extension group, there's a wide range of us in our department covering things from for forestry, to what I do and wildlife to forest health invasive species, to certified forest and wood management, wood certification, Family Force, we have a we had pre COVID, a radio show that we were doing, "From the Woods Today", and "From the Woods Kentucky" was the actual radio show. "From the Woods Today" is what came out of the post COVID issue. But our radio show that we covered a various topics associated with forestry in Kentucky that we took those ratios and turn them into a podcast, post COVID, our radio station got shut down, we weren't able to be in there to record things. So we turned it into a web show and YouTube channel from the woods today that covers basically the same kind of topics. It's an hour long weekly show on Wednesdays, that if you go to the university Kentucky forestry Extension website, you can find the show there if you want to tune in if you're interested in things in forestry. It's a wide range of topics. I mean, just this past week, we talked about the history of the Christmas tree. Why people have a Christmas goose for Christmas, and mistletoe, but you know, it can cover again the wide gamut of topics and you know, it can be downloaded as a podcast you can listen live, you can find us on YouTube. And you know, if you have anything that's any interest in for us, it probably will touch a topic that you could learn something on.
Wonderful and will of course include the link to that and I'm going to have to listen to this episode because I never really wondered why we have a Christmas tree, but now I do so I'm gonna have to listen.
Yeah, I can't tell you that story I can tell you about the Christmas goose. That was when I was in charge of it.
Well if I want to learn, I guess we'll have to listen to the episode.
That's right. It really comes down to a little bit of what we're talking about today right with having what you have in your your backyard is a poultry raiser commonly in Europe and ancient Rome and Greece it was geese interesting. were one of the most common poultry to have and the time they're the fattest and tastiest was you know post harvest which when you think about is getting into celebration season it was Christmas time so that was the best time to have them as a meal. So it turned into everyone in you know many European cultures would have a Christmas goose to because that was the time to harvest them.
Interesting. Funny the things you don't really think about that actually have a an interesting history to them.
No and you know, my naive self being someone that hunts I thought it was you know, related before getting into looking into it as I thought it was related to the fact that here I am in a southern state now and I thought it was because of migration. The geese would come down. And that would be a time they'd all show up. So it was like, oh, here's the sample resources. So it's a perfect time to eat them for a meal.
That was my thought as well. I guess that's interesting. Well, Dr. Springer, thank you so much for joining me today. I think this was a really great episode, talking about predators and poultry and then and then learning about Christmas geese, who knew? So thank you for your time. I really appreciate it today.
I was very happy to be here and enjoyed it.
And for those of you listening thank you so much for joining me for another episode, and we'll see you again next week.
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