On Predators

Humans like chickens. Originally this was because they tasted good, laid eggs, and didn’t require a lot of maintenance. We still like them for these reasons, but now a lot of people keep them as pets too. The problem is humans aren’t the only ones that like chickens (or birds in general). Here’s a list of predators and the signs that one is operating in your area.

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-Dogs-A stray dog will often grab chickens (or any other livestock for that matter) and can cause hundreds of dollars of damage. Dogs are often pleasure killers and won’t stop with just one animal. Be aware that (in Florida) it is within your rights to shoot dogs that are endangering yourself or your livestock. By the same token be sure to keep your own dogs in the yard, they could be terrorizing someone else’s flock and you would never know it.
Mode of killing: multiple and messy. A LOT of feathers and many injured/dead birds. Dogs tend to grab at the animals throat and wings, and sometimes will flip a bird over to get at their underside. If you have a hutch, the dog may go after the bird’s toes.

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-Cats- All sizes of cats (wild and tame) will stalk small livestock. I personally have had to deal with a Bobcat in the past, not fun. You usually won’t notice if a cat is in your area until birds start disappearing without a trace.
Mode of killing- Day or night. Silent, clean, probably no feathers. The bird just doesn’t return home. There’s no carcass because the cat has dragged it away and hid it.

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-Raccoon/Possum- Similar methods to one another. Hall marks of an attack is that they will pull animals (or parts of animals) through relatively small wire. Coons are more likely to kill multiple birds, while possums tend to wander through ever few days and pick birds off one by one. Can be extremely messy if the bird gets pulled through wire. If the animal can’t get the whole bird through it will pull off any limb it can grab. Mode of Killing: Nighttime, pulling birds through wire, killing birds and only eating part.

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Images courtesy of Google

Flying Predators-(hawks, eagles, owls)- flying predators can be a pain. Unlike land based predators, fences don’t keep birds of prey out; which means that if you have one after your flock you need extra precautions. These include bird scarers, roofing your pen, and allow only supervised free ranging.
Mode of Killing: Daylight (for hawks and eagles), night (owls). You may find a ring of feathers (if they can’t carry the chicken off) or nothing at all. If the hawk can’t carry the carcass off you may walk up on it by accident. I had a hawk after my hens once that came every morning around 6:30 am. This particular hawk was frustrating because it only came when I wasn’t watching the coop.

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Images courtesy of Google

Predators can be frustrating because many times you don’t have clue to what is actually taking your birds. A good way to solve the mystery is to get a cheap trail cam. Even if you don’t currently have something taking hens it’s always nice to know who’s poking around your coop at night. Another option is to invest in a motion sensing light. All of these are optional and it all depends on how much you want to spend.

This is in no way a comprehensive list of poultry predators in Florida. Hopefully you’ll never have to deal with predators but you’ll probably be pestered at some point. Do your research, check with fish and game, and build a coop your birds can be safe in.
Good luck,
~KC

Summer

As summer closes I’m overwhelmed by how fast it went. Like most people I have a few of those often cliché regrets of not getting everything done I wanted to, but that’s just a fact of life. On the other hand a lot of things have happened on the farm, here’s a rundown:

Good thing: I found someone with a registered Nigerian Buck, and the girls are going to see him next month. I’m going to use a estrous synchronization program on them to have them all be ready at once. I heard good things about this particular system, however it seems that in trials it had around a 75% success rate so the jury’s still out. I’ll report on it’s efficiency when I start.

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Mango: photo bomber extraordinaire

Bad thing: Blondie may not be going with the others. She developed a sore on the skin between her anus and her vulva and though I’ve been treating it, the recovery is going very slowly. It seems to be rather painful to her and I don’t want to breed her if it continues to be stubborn.

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Blondie is not pleased with being treated

Good thing: I added a new goose to the flock. She’s a brown Chinese (I think) and a little skittish. She hasn’t offered to bite anyone yet and seems to have a gentle disposition (which I find rare in adult geese purchased from another owner). She’s adjusting well though and even dares to eat from our hands occasionally.

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Doink!

Bad thing: we lost two geese ( three ducks, and four chickens). Our little Tufted Roman goose started wasting away suddenly, despite treatment (extra food, nutrient drench, etc.) she passed away. My sister’s Runner Drake developed extremely bad corns on his feet and could no longer walk. We discovered his feet were being attacked by ants due to him being immobile for so long. He declined from there. The others were grabbed by a nighttime predator and pulled through the wire of their pens. This method is an indicator of raccoon or possum activity both of which will do this. (Bonus good news: We caught a possum near the coop, so one down, many to go)

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Corns healing on a ducks foot

Good thing(s): piggies! Around June we had trapped some domestic pigs that had gone feral, we ended up with three (one female and two males). They look to be a small pinewoods x potbelly, the female (who’s the oldest) only weighed 54 lbs when we got her. Now these are not pets, these are mean little suckers that have run wild for most of their lives. Only the youngest male is interested in even approaching us and that’s only when there’s feed to be had. We suspect since they are a Potbelly cross that they were older than we thought (Pots can apparently conceive as young as 3 months). After confirming our suspicions as to the heritage of the hogs I began to wonder if the female was pregnant. The herd she came from had several intact adult males running with it and 1 1/2 months after we got her she weighed 75 lbs. Now I would love to attribute that to our feeding program but I highly doubted it. More than 20 lbs in a month and a half? Something was up. Then yesterday when my sister went to feed up she found a surprise waiting, actually five surprises.

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Piggies! (We have no idea were all the red came from)

Bad thing: The sow (momma pig) is mean as all get out. She tried to eat my brother the last time we weighed her and absolutely refuses to come near her food bowl until all humans have cleared the area. She will probably end up as bacon unfortunately, but we sure aren’t going to let her go feral again.

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Ms. Maverick isn’t falling for your tricks human!

All in all it’s been an ok summer. I passed my summer course at UF with an “A”, my little brother starts college this fall, and I’m expanding my farm slowly but surely. Lots of posts soon!
See ya!
KC

Duck Duck Goose

Waterfowl are and most likely always will be my favorite birds. Yes chickens are cool, yes turkeys  have some merit, and guinea fowl and peafowl are always fun to watch. But waterfowl, specifically  Geese (and some Ducks) are my absolute favorites. They were among the first fowl I bought with my own money as a child and they will always have a place on my farm.

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Duke (my Pekin drake) and co. Saying “FEED ME WOMAN!”

 

My Pekin duck is quite happy to supply me with eggs, so four weeks ago I set Duchess’s first clutch in my incubator. There were six, two of which turned out to be infertile and one that died approximately 3-4 days before hatch. The other three hatched the day before Easter. They’re about the tiniest ducklings you can imagine. Most ducks are bought at about a week old and are quite a bit larger by then.

 

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Teeny Tiny Duckies

Waterfowl, despite a stigma of being bad tempered, can be great pets and wonderful watchdogs. One thing you don’t find enough when people raise waterfowl is socialization. I’ve noticed a trend when I buy adults rather than ducklings and goslings that the bought adults are more suspicious and aggressive than the adults I’ve raised myself.  The best way to deal with aggression is to prevent it. When you bring your waterfowl home (especially with goslings, ducklings not so much) spend time with them. Goslings imprint on their parents and a when you  are the one raising them you become the parent.  Talk to them, let them nibble your clothing, the very young ones may try to burrow under your clothing, let them. Do this at least 4 times a week if not every day. Once geese associate you as a flock member at a very young age they will remember for the rest of their lives. The same goes for if the gosling had a bad experience when it was young. My Brown Chinese gander was badly injured by some puppies when he was about a week old. The puppies were just trying to play but they ended up ripping a hole in his neck a couple of inches wide, which for a week old gosling is a pretty big deal. To this day he hates dogs and will hiss and go out of his way to bully them if they come near.

 

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Grey the Gander at 4 weeks

Going back to baby waterfowl in general though, here’s a few things you should know:

  • Set up a brooder like for chicks but under no circumstances allow access to open water. Baby waterfowl do not have the waterproofing oil in their feathers yet. Ducks (especially) and goslings love to play in water and will not come out unless you make them. If they were with their parents the parents would limit the access to water and have some of the mother’s waterproofing rubbed on the babies. Supervise the babies when they’re in water and make sure they’re dry afterwards. They should be fine with full access to water by 6 weeks when they start to feather out.
  • Waterfowl poop, a lot. The average duck poops every 15-20 minutes, the average goose every 12. An adult goose is capable of producing 2 lbs of  droppings a day. Keep this in mind when setting up a brooder. The babies are fine in a normal brooder for about 1-2 weeks but after that production outpaces the sanitation. A rabbit hutch with a very  small gauge wire floor set up a bit from the ground works well for young waterfowl.
  • Warmth. Ducklings and goslings feather out much quicker and require much less brooding than baby chickens.  Start them at about 90° F and decrease by 5°-10° Each week until you reach outside temperature, after that they don’t require anymore heat. Use the birds reactions as a guide to where you should have the light. If it’s at 90° and they’re panting and trying to get away from the heat, you need to raise the light.

 

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Peeps at a recent photo shoot

Raising waterfowl is a unique and rewarding experience. Well socialized birds (geese and ducks) will come up and “talk” to you when ever you’re in the yard, honk and quack when somebody they don’t know is there, and produce a lot of eggs perfect for baking (not to mention meat and feathers).  I hope that this something you’ll consider in the future.

Have fun!

-Kc