Today we lost a chicken. We are not sure what was her unfortunate demise, but she is no longer with us. We found no signs of what happened to, no feathers, no carcass.
This is a reminder to us the dangers to free range chickens. Free ranging your birds one of those things that you have to figure out if you ware willing to risk, and how you balance the the rewards and the dangers.
Many people choose to not free range their flock under any circumstances for just this reason. Many of them also put covering over the top of their chicken runs to prevent aerial predators. The down side of this is that chickens can and will eat everything on the ground down to the nub. The poo will pile up in the run and need to be dealt with. It is hard to keep a run from becoming a dirt or mud pen. On the flip side when confined people are unlikely to experience a loss like I did today.
I am one of those who feel the possibility of loss is worth letting my chickens have free range time. I like the fact that free range eggs are lower in cholesterol, higher in omega 3 oils, and other nutrition improvements that come from allowing them to have diet that includes a more natural mix. I love the fact that my chickens get to behave in a more native/natural way. They get to run after grasshoppers, dig holes taking dust baths in the best new spot, and develop great muscle tone. I do try to minimize their danger by waiting until late in the the morning, with the sun well up before opening the gate and letting them run free. I herd my flock in the run before the sun goes down.
Today I made a mistake and let my hens out before 9, and then took off for work. When I came home a couple hours later, one of the ladies was missing. Now due to my pushing the envelope one of my hens paid the price. Now the remaining birds will spend the week confine to quarters (their run) for the next few days so that the predator doesn’t get conditioned that birds are easy picking at our place. As their keeper, I am responsible to protect them from unreasonable danger. I am going to modify my habits to minimize their danger. There are never an guarantees in life , and I still feel that the risk of free range is worth it.