The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to keep chickens from flying over fences

Chicken forest pastureWhen dealing with the natural world, it's often better to deter than to prevent.  Our experiments with keeping deer and pets out of the garden are one example, but so are our methods of constraining chickens to their pastures.  Unfortunately, when you're only deterring behavior you don't want, sometimes animals slip through the cracks.  At that point you have to decide between the Fort Knox approach and the kid glove approach.

I've been thinking of these two types of animal deterrence because we had dozens of chicken escapes last week.  First, I moved the six week old chicks out of the forest garden and into a pasture full of lush grasses and clovers.  They hated the change.  When the first few chicks started flying over our temporary fencing, I beefed up sagging spots, but I soon realized that it was just plain silly (and nerve-wracking) to keep chickens on grass if they want a more forested environment.  So we transferred them to their grown up coop with its forest pasture, and suddenly everything was serene again.

Picked on henThe problem with our adult chickens is going to take a bit more fixing.  Two weeks ago, I noticed that one of our Australorp hens was perching in the coop all day long, and after spending an afternoon weeding the garden and keeping an eye on the flock, I figured out why --- our rooster was molesting her.  Yes, chicken sex never looks elegant to the human eye, but this was clearly different.  Our usually kind-hearted rooster was chasing this hen down, mounting her, chasing her, mounting her, pecking viciously at her head, and only stopping when she lay nearly dead on the ground.  We removed the pecked-at chicken from the flock and put her in an isolation coop, but after she bounced back and started laying again, we returned her to the main flock.  Not only did the rooster start picking on her again, he also took a dislike to a second Australorp hen, and the two downtrodden biddies started flying over the fence and into other pastures to escape.

Rooster haremThe Fort Knox approach would be to clip the hens' wings or add another strand of fencing, but as you can tell from the chick example, I prefer listening to what the animals are telling me, then trying to fix their problem, not just my own.  Their problem is clearly Mr. Rooster, who may have outlived his welcome on our farm.  He was a perfect gentleman all winter, guarding the girls as they free-ranged in the woods, but something about the confined environment of the pastures (fewer trees? less room for the girls to run away?) flicked a switch and turned him from an asset into a liability.

The obvious solution is to eat the rooster and simply save back one of the current batch of broilers to replace him.  The new cockerel will be just old enough in August that he should Fertilized eggsbe able to fertilize the fall round of hatching eggs, and then he can guard the girls all winter long.  Yes, he'll be related to whichever of our current hens is his mother (and to his sisters if we save a few to expand our laying flock), but I'm willing to deal with a bit of inbreeding to give our downtrodden hens a couple of months off from rooster molestation.

This is all assuming that the eggs currently in our incubator will hatch well despite the power outages they experienced.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed and dreaming of rooster stew.

Having a spare chicken waterer on hand makes it easy to isolate a picked on hen.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We have had the same problem with a couple of roosters. I have also noticed that the hens slow way down in egg production when this happens. With the flying over try attaching a strand of electric wire one hot one grounded to the top. The only way they will get shocked is by touching them both at the same time
Comment by Olan Sun Apr 22 22:35:08 2012

Interesting distinction; in computer security, I've sometimes characterized it as more like "detect" vs "prevent". Do you make it impossible for your users to run warez sites out of their home directories, or just make it easy to detect it when they do? (And then presumably notify them and demand that they cut it out. :^) A lot of security focuses on prevention, but detection is often a lot more cost-effective. (And can even be more effective: If you prevent six bad things, and someone comes up with a seventh, and you don't have any detection, then you may never know... Whereas if your focus is on spotting anomalous things, you don't necessarily have to know in advance as much what you're looking for, you can just look for "anything weird" and go from there.)

I wouldn't have necessarily guessed that this concept applied to homesteading. :^)

Comment by irilyth [] Sun Apr 22 22:50:34 2012

Olan --- I've noticed the lack of eggs from the picked on hens too. I guess you're just too stressed to lay when you're getting beat up!

Josh --- Fascinating how the worlds of farm and computer security work alike! :-) Thanks for giving me such interesting thoughts to ponder this morning!

Comment by anna Mon Apr 23 12:22:11 2012
Finaly my problem might get resolved
Comment by Anonymous Tue Apr 7 19:46:44 2015

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