We continue to challenge the threat of an aerial attack on the growing pastured broilers. So many of you have been kind enough to lament my troubles with predation on the chickens that an update is in order.
I wrote earlier that I had let our Maremma livestock guardian dog out of his pasture where he patrolled for predators around the broilers and the sheep. I thought maybe he would help to deter fox during the day around the barn area where we were having trouble with the laying hens. This was not a real solution because it basically confused Baxter. He had been trained (rather we reinforced his natural instincts) to stay on pasture with broilers and sheep. If you go off routine with Baxter it makes him a little manic for a few days.
So, as the owls continued to pluck a chicken a night we decided to net the whole area; this was cumbersome because we move them weekly through the nut grove.
We managed to break the cycle and finally return to an unnetted version with no fatalities for 21 days- several nights ago our winning streak ended and one got it! It was very foggy so we are thinking that this may have worked to the advantage of the very nearly silent owl that Baxter could not see. Next night it happened again and there was no fog, plus owls are silent is the problem. A new idea emerged and we decided on the “Fiesta”. I bought colorful pennants to string between branches because the netting is now over the blueberries. So on total we have lost 8 broilers to owls. They go to the processor on Tuesday so a cleared field for a month may help to “reset” the simpatico of the farm and encourage the owls to move on; or not? Plus, the “Fiesta” seems to be working, no fatalities since it was strung together.
Our troubles did not end with the winged and four-legged eaters; seems snakes like to eat baby birds and chicken eggs. Yep, of all things, one morning we look up at one of the barn swallow’s nest and there is a big rat snake wrapped around and in it (with a bulging mid-section). This was the ultimate insult to the farm because we are named after the barn swallows! We discussed the matter and decided that we needed to protect our investment and let us just say the snake is no longer in one piece. Our brooder for baby chicks is also in the barn, right below where the snake is) and is about to receive 125 new Freedom Ranger chicks so it is critical to secure it from snakes.
So at the end of a couple of bad weeks Andy and I sat down to try and figure what the long term solution to some of our problems may be and we finally decided on another Livestock Guardian Dog that would be trained with an emphasis on the barn and home where the layers roam. Of course my car broke down on the way to pick up a Great Pyrenees puppy but my neighbor Cindy Danehy came to my rescue and we came home with Finca. Finca means farm or estate in Spain so it
seemed fitting for this breed that was used by the Basque people over thousands of years. I have never been around a more laid-back puppy in all my life. He was not afraid of the thunderstorm that hit overnight his first night here; never batted an eye at fireworks and has taken to his hens quite well. I have the advantage of our old dog Buck who is proving to be an excellent teacher. Buck never roams off property; does not chase chickens and will put Finca in his place when he doesn’t feel like playing. He has even helped me teach Finca to stay and sit as the pup mimics the old man. I vowed I did not want another mouth to feed and vet but this may be just the solution we need to secure our environment from predation threats to a reasonable end. In addition to Finca and the “Fiesta” setup we have going on for the broilers we added 2 Nite Guard devices. Nite Guard is a small, solar charged blinking red light that activates at dusk. The red light deters nighttime predators by making them think there is a predator already on the job. We shall see…..