Keeping Cornish Cross broilers is different than any other chickens we have kept previously. Normally, we would keep small poultry in a brooder for several weeks inside. They would be at an age that they were trying to fly before we moved them outside. We’d have to keep the brooder covered with wire to keep them contained. However, the first time we kept broilers, they lasted one day in the house! Keeping such small poultry outside, especially without their momma makes them extremely vulnerable to predators. Regardless if you are an urban homesteader, or living on a rural farm, predators on the homestead are a reality of homestead life.
Where we live currently in Florida is very much an urban area. We live in a subdivision not far from the highway and just a few minutes out of town. There are some farms around us where there is some open land. Still even in our neighborhood we deal with a variety of predators.
About a year ago, our momma turkey was attacked by what we suspect was a raccoon while sitting on her eggs. She was injured on her neck and the predator took all her eggs. In recent months we have trapped about 6 raccoons, a possum, and an armadillo. We have hawks in the area, and I regularly hear a Great Horned owl in the evenings. My mother-in-law, Joy Murphy, keeps quite a few chickens. She has trained her dog Rosie to bark at hawks when they survey the yard. Our dog Roxie has picked this up from Rosie and both dogs keep their eyes on the sky.
Predators Attack on the Homestead
Most recently, we let the broilers out into their big yard while the cage was being cleaned. They were left out for just a short period of time as they were enjoying stretching their legs. In broad daylight, a hawk swooped in and got ahold of one of the broilers. The broilers are white and quite vocal, they practically called the hawk in . Weighing in under 2 pounds at the time, they were a prime target for a bird of prey.
Thankfully Roxie alerted Joy to the problem, and she came running. The hawk dropped the broiler, and we were able to recover him. Joy treated his puncture wounds with wound spray and while he didn’t look good that first night, he has recovered well. We knew then we would need to take greater measures to protect the broilers if we wanted to allow them more space outside of the coop.
On the homestead in Kentucky, we have the same types of predators that we have in our suburban area, we regularly trap raccoons on the homestead. However, we also have some large predators on the homestead that we are less likely to see in town. I have seen both a bobcat and coyote while I was hunting on the homestead. We also catch them regularly on camera. The bobcat on the homestead is a large one. I must admit, I can’t help but admire seeing these beautiful animals up close.
While we don’t currently have any livestock on the homestead, a large cat could do a lot of damage. Bobcats are very capable of hunting chickens, turkeys, and lambs. They can even take down small deer. We once got an image on the game camera of a deer that had a large wound on it’s back that Philip suspected might have been a bobcat. Bobcats typically hunt from above and it’s the only thing that we think could have injured a deer in that manner.
We must protect our livestock. As homesteaders, these aren’t just a pet, they are an investment in our food security. Protecting livestock is usually managed with multiple preventative measures.
It starts with good fencing and enclosures. Usually when we build an enclosure for poultry, we bury a portion of fencing in the ground under the fence line of the enclosure. This prevents animals from burrowing into the enclosures. Many homesteaders will use electric fence to add an additional layer of support. Electric fences can be powered with solar panels. Even off-grid homesteaders can use electric fencing to protect their livestock.
Raccoons are extremely cunning creatures. They will reach through the wire and grab a bird sitting within reach. A rooster or tom turkey will defend their hens, so they often will take out the male first if they get a chance. This leaves the hens extremely vulnerable. A large raccoon can wipe out an entire chicken yard in one evening.
Creating a barnyard that doesn’t provide cover for predators is another simple step that can protect our animals. Simply keeping the area mowed or brush cleared can help our animals be more aware of their surroundings. We add motion censored lights that will illuminate if a predator approaches the enclosure.
Familiar Guardian Animals
Guardian livestock dogs are commonly kept on homesteads. These dogs become a part of the herd, living right in the animal enclosures and barn lot. You won’t find most guardian livestock dogs curled up on a rug in front of the fire at night. They will be bedded down in the barnyard, alert and ready to protect their herd. When we make the move permanently to the homestead, we will likely have a livestock guardian dog or two but it’s not something we can get in advance. Working dogs need jobs, or they are insufferable to live with!
Joy’s dog Rosie is a mixed breed dog that is predominantly a Treeing Walker Coonhound. Her breed was bred as a hunting dog and are known for their vocal tendencies. Rosie is very laid back and friendly, but she watches the sky and barks to scare the birds of prey off.
Unfamiliar Guardian Animals
Donkeys are considered a livestock guardian animal. Donkeys are naturally quite territorial. They don’t parole the area like a guardian livestock dog might do, but they are extremely territorial and will defend their paddock. If a predator dares enter their territory, they will bray loudly, charge the predator and if confronted they will bite and lash out at the predator with their hooves. While donkeys can defend the herd against a single coyote or wolf, they would not be a match for a pack.
Surprising to me, llamas are also a guardian livestock animal. They are extremely social animals and will bond with their herd. Unlike donkeys. llamas will patrol the area and can defend against a single predator. They themselves are vulnerable to packs of predators as well.
Finally, you might be surprised to know that peacocks and guinea fowl are guardian animals as well. They act more as a watch dog than a defender. They are considered a buddy animal and will alert, quite loudly in fact, to the farmer or other guardian animals of any unwelcomed guests on the homestead. I must admit I was thrilled to learn this. I have been petitioning Philip that we needed a peacock, but he is quite adamant that every animal on the homestead needs a job… finally I have one to justify it!
Layers of Security
In almost all cases, homesteaders use layers of security to protect against predators on the homestead. Good fences, quality barns or shelters and motion lights can act as a layer of defense. Add a peacock to alert and a guardian livestock dog to defend. When all that fails, homesteaders do have the right to protect their livestock. Check the laws and local ordinances regarding your rights to defend your animals and crops. In some places nuisance animals can be trapped without permits. In other areas, a special permit might be required to manage the problem. Always check into your local ordinances.
Managing the Predators on the Homestead
So what actions have we taken to best protect the broilers at the Florida house? The first is they have a secure enclosure. The chain link enclosure has fencing buried along the fence line to prevent a predator from digging under. It has a solid metal roof that does not have any opening that would allow a predator to enter at the top.
The broilers are also still using a heat lamp. The poor bald little birds still need the light to keep warm, but it also draws the birds away from the edge of the enclosure. Raccoons will reach through and kill chickens from the outside of an enclosure when given the opportunity.
The Outdoor Enclosure
The outside enclosure has been a bit more challenging. Honestly it was quite disappointing to have to minimize the outside yard the broilers would have access to. We don’t have the option of providing them with a grassy enclosure, but the large area that they could really spread out was our best option. While I did think they would need a few more weeks before they would be big enough to stay outside for long periods of time, our goal was to allow them access to the outside area in stages. Providing more access as they grew larger.
The outdoor enclosure has now been reduced by more than half of what I had envisioned. The coop is in the wood line, so we are restricted by the trees in how we can fortify the area. We opted to enclose the entire outdoor space with bird netting. First we had to remove some of the smaller trees that were close to the enclosure. We used those trees as the frame for the bird netting. We also used metal sheeting as the main barrier on the side of the enclosure not fenced in.
It was quite the job to get the bird netting installed! The edges are secured to the fence using twine. On the side of the metal sheeting, I used sticks to weight the netting down and secured it the best I could. The outdoor enclosure is only for day use, so most predators will want to grab and go, they won’t want to entrap themselves if they can help it.
Our Best Effort
Time will tell how the bird netting will handle the first storm. I expect a lot of twigs stuck in it, but hopefully it won’t tear. We can only do the best we can do to protect our livestock from predators on the homestead. Combined with having the dogs on alert and still keeping an eye of the broilers is the best defense we can offer them.
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Vetericyn Plus Wound and Skin Care Spray (this is the spray we used on the broiler’s wounds)
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.