Anti-chicken hawk defense system.

Hawks: How To Protect Your Chickens From Attacks (Part I)

Anti-chicken hawk defense system.

Hawks are known to love them some fresh chicken.

In a recent post titled, “Raising Backyard Chickens for Dummies,” blogger Jason Price lists each of the things that new chicken-keepers should expect to happen during the first year of having backyard chickens. What does he he have up near the top of his list? Losing at least one your chickens to a predator.

In this other blogger’s case, he lost his chickens to a neighbor’s dog. In my case, we lost our favorite Silkie to a raccoon last winter, and it was absolutely horrible. In either instance, it could have just as easily been a rat, a possum, a fox, a coyote, an owl or the topic of my blogging today, a hawk that did the damage.

In my opinion, keeping hungry, stalking predators away from backyard chickens is the worst part of this hobby. No matter where you live: city, suburbs, or out in the country proper, and no matter how many careful precautions you may take, there is always some kind of hungry carnivore out there that will be more than happy to take one or more of your chickens off your hands. If you live in downtown Anchorage, Alaska,
bears are even known to bust into backyard chicken coops in order to get at backyard chickens and the chickens’ feed.BEARS!!!

And everywhere in the U.S., one of the most aggressive predators of urban and suburban chickens is the hawk. And today I want to address the topic of hawks attacking chickens for a specific reason; several weeks ago, Jon saw a hawk go after our chickens. Since then, we’ve been working on tightening up our own anti-chicken hawn defense system.

Most wild predators that like to go after chickens – and by wild, I mean predators that aren’t the neighbor’s dogs running loose, something that also poses a threat to backyard chickens – are more likely to do so during the nighttime hours. Nighttime usually offers predators a better time to hunt chickens because the hunters have the cover of darkness, no humans are around, and backyard chickens are usually confined to and are roosting in a relatively small area where the predators can get in but the chickens can’t get out.

Now please note that I said “more likely” to hunt at night. That doesn’t mean that you won’t ever see a fox, coyote or raccoon attack backyard chickens in broad daylight, and in fact just last week, Jon used a humane trap to capture a specific raccoon that had been coming onto our property for several months, including in the late afternoon before dusk and in the early morning, after dawn. Jon actually captured the raccoon between 5am and 7am under our back porch – after sunrise. That particular raccoon hadn’t (yet) attacked my chickens, which are still locked up in their henhouse at that time of the morning anyway, but the reason the raccoon hadn’t attacked them (yet) clearly had nothing to do with any unwillingness on its part to venture out during daylight hours.

So yes, it’s true that MOST predator attacks on chickens are likely to take place on backyard chickens during the night, and that’s why it’s so critical to lock up your chickens and your chicken feed during the overnight hours (often it’s actually the chicken feed that attracts the predators that then end up attacking the chickens that they find near that feed), but there are some instances when wildlife predators will boldly go after backyard chickens during the day. However, most wild predators, most of the time are more likely to attack at night, under cover of darkness.

However, if there is one type of wild predator that defies this general rule of thumb, it’s hawks. Hawks attack chickens almost exclusively during the daytime. And ever since Jon saw a hawk swoop down near our chickens a few weeks ago, nearly attacking but pulling back at the last moment, I’ve been educating myself about what kind of hawks we have around here, and the best ways to prevent them from eating my chickens. What I’ve learned is that although people refer to hawks that attack chickens as “chicken hawks,” there really isn’t any specific bird that actually carries that name. Here in East Tennessee, where I live, there are apparently two specific varieties of hawk that will opportunistically hunt and eat backyard chickens during daylight hours, including the Cooper’s Hawk and the Red Tailed Hawk. I’ve never seen a Cooper’s Hawk myself, but I am virtually certain that summer before last, I aw a Red Tailed Hawk several times on our property, down by the creek, up in the trees, flying around. They’re stunning.

Stay Tuned for Part II

Backyard Farmer 101: Find Me Here & There

spyglassIn addition to blogging here on my actual BYF101 blog, I often post extra little bits and snippets of my blogging plus extra photos in a few other places online, and I’d love to connect with readers in one or more of those spots. Here’s where to find me so I can find you.

The Backyard Farmer 101 Facebook page is right here, the Google Plus page is here, and the BYF101 Instagram feed is over here. You can follow me on Pinterest right here – and Pinterest is where I get to fully indulge my quirky interest in things like fantastic garden sheds, chicken coops and bicycles – and last but not least, I have just launched the Backyard Farmer 101 Twitter account, and you can find it right over here.

Meet the BYF101 Flock: Essie the Rhode Island Red

PREVIOUSLY: Meet Rosie, the English Orpington

I think if there is any type or breed of chicken that qualifies as iconically all American, it would probably be the Rhode Island Red, and that’s what Essie is.

This is Essie. Isn’t she pretty?


Essie was hatched around the first or second week of February, so she’s only about 24 weeks old. She just started laying her first eggs two weeks ago. Tres exciting! So far she’s laid two to three eggs a week, and they’ve been medium brown and quite a bit smaller than I expect them to be as she grows; she’s still on the small side herself.

As far as her personality goes, she’s not flighty or scared of humans in the least but she’s definitely the least likely of any of our hens to show any interest in actually being held or petted. She doesn’t act fearful or anxious, and she’s not aggressive or anything; she just doesn’t want you to lay hands on her. She’s perfectly happy to enjoy the treats you may have to dole out, but she isn’t going to do any cute tricks in order to get them.

Essie is what’s called a “production” Rhode Island Red hen, meaning that she’s a run of the mill variety chicken not bred to the very specific standard that breeders of heritage Rhode Island Red chickens look for in their hens. Production Reds tend to be lighter colored, smaller, less broody, and lay more eggs, while Heritage Reds are much darker in color, and are larger and heavier.

Heritage Rhode Island Reds, unlike Production Reds are true “dual purpose” birds, meaning that they are good to butcher and eat as well as good for egg production. We have no plans to eat Essie, so her lack of discernible breast meat isn’t an issue.

I’ve Got A Crush On A Modern Farmer

About a month ago, I had to run out to our local Tractor Supply store on a Sunday morning because we were out of chicken feed. If you have any sort of backyard farm or garden yourself, and you’ve yet to make it into your own local Tractor Supply store, you’re missing out. It’s like a toy store for would-be farmer types. Plus, I find that the staff there is routinely very, very friendly and nice, and the stores are clean and well-stocked, and they’re open from 9am until 9pm every single day of the week. But, I digress…

I’ll begin again… It was a drizzly Sunday morning earlier this summer, and when I went to feed the chickens, I discovered that we were totally, 100 percent out of chicken feed, so I hopped into the Solid Gold Minivan and zipped up Maynardville Hwy to the closest Tractor Supply store. After I picked up the bag of chicken feed, and was wheeling my cart toward the checkout aisle, I passed the magazine rack when the most arresting magazine cover I’ve seen in years caught my eye. It was the spring 2014 issue of Modern Farmer.

Modern Farmer Magazine

Modern Farmer Magazine

I snatched it off the stand and stared at it. As someone who loves beautiful printed things, I was immediately enthralled with the design work of this magazine, which was absolutely gorgeous. The logo and typeface were simple, clean and compellingly memorable.

There was no question that I was buying the magazine along with my chicken feed; I took it home, and I spent the whole morning reading it. The writing, design work and photography on the inside of the magazine were almost as perfect as the cover. Almost, but not quite. I’m just not sure that anything could look as good as that cover did (and still does) to me.

I also did a little research online to figure out where in the world this incredibly smart, elegant little magazine about of all things, farming had come from, and to find out how it had ended up on a magazine rack at a Maynardville, Tennessee chain store on a recent Sunday morning. It turns out that Modern Farmer was really the brainchild of one very observant journalist named Ann Marie Gardner who is now the Editor in Chief, and Ms. Gardner’s idea for start-up publication on a topic nobody might have believed anyone would want to read about was so strong, and her vision was so clear that she was able to attract not only the talent to make the magazine as good as it is in its first year of operation, but also the money needed to pay for that talent. Pretty amazing.

In fact, Modern Farmer, which has only put out four quarterly issues thus far, has already had the distinction of beating out Vanity Fair for a National Magazine Award (that’s a super big deal in the media world – sort of like winning the Oscar). So the whole story behind this little magazine that could is just as fun to contemplate as the magazine itself is fun to read.

So basically, I have a huge writergrrl crush on Modern Farmer magazine. I want to freelance for them. Or maybe be one of their featured bloggers. Or at least fetch their coffee or run the xerox machine. Something. Just so I can be near those cool farm-writer kids. I’m trying to figure out the best way to make my approach. Once I do, I’ll let you know. For now, though, I’m just sitting around waiting for my Summer 2014 issue to arrive in the mail.

Creeping Jenny: Invasive Schminschmasive

My Jenny won’t creep, and it’s really starting to frustrate me. See what I mean?

Creeping Jenny Invasive

My Jenny Won’t Creep

That goldeny green plant you see in the picture – the patchy looking mess there just below the hostas is a groundcover commonly known as “Creeping Jenny,” or more properly as Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’. It’s a very popular groundcover because it’s attractive, and it’s known as fast-growing and adaptable to just about any spot where you put it.

Of course, one girl’s “fast-growing ground cover” makes another guy’s list of “worst gardening mistakes I’ve ever made.” Many people absolutely hate Creeping Jenny because they say that it does more than just fill in the bare patches in their gardens as they want it to do; instead they find that it chokes out everything in sight and starts becoming an invasive nuisance that they regret ever having planted.

I’m not sure what makes Creeping Jenny go all invasive on one gardener while looking like bad hair plugs on a bald man’s head for me, but that’s the situation in which I find myself in late July of this, the second straight year of my attempts to populate this particular garden bed with an underplanting of Creeping Jenny to set off all the other pretty plants I have in the same bed – plants like the hostas that you see in the photo, as well as roses, purple heart, columbine, ornamental grasses,lilies, elephant ear, and other things that are all doing really well in the same bed, meaning that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the soil or the light or anything like that that would prevent a “grow anywhere” kind of plant from also taking flight in the same space. For some reason, the Creeping Jenny simply will not grow for me, not in an invasive way or any sort of way at all, and I am kind of baffled by this.

I’m not giving up though because I really do love the look of a bed with a lush, well maintained underplanting of Jenny surrounding other ornamentals, and the Jenny trailing up and over the sides of the bed. I find it a really gorgeous ground cover. So I will attempt to be patient. And some day, after an afternoon spent out in the garden sun on my hands and knees, wrestling my “assertive” bed full of Creeping Jenny back into respectable shape, maybe I will re-read this blog post and laugh at my naivete, remembering a time when I wasn’t sure whether Creeping Jenny would ever actually grow for me.

Composting 101: Let Your Chickens Do The Work

Composting really shouldn’t be that difficult. So why is it that so many gardeners – even very skilled gardeners – give up on making their own compost, and instead turn to commercial solutions to provide compost for their gardens?

Well, now that I’ve been working on my own compost heap (I have a large, defined heap – about 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall at this point) for the last year, I can tell you that one major reason that so many home composters give up is that turning compost is a huge pain. Keeping it turned is physically demanding but it’s also just hard to accomplish because the mechanics of it are awkward.

Or at least they were for me until I quit doing it a couple of months ago after I read this article in which one gardener explains that she used to be a failure at making compost but that she has now found the secret to making it without ever lifting her pitchfork to turn it.

What’s here secret, you may wonder? Well, instead of HER turning the compost, now she just lets her chickens do it.

And ever since I discovered this smart chicken-keeping-garden-hack, that’s how I do it too. Here’s Essie, our Rhode Island Red pullet, on top of our compost heap, turning the top layer.

Here are some other good resources on how chickens can help with composting:

From the HenCam blog

From a permaculture project site.

As the first blogger to which I linked notes, letting your chickens handle composting duties means that you will harvest compost two or three times a year instead of every two or three weeks like some super-composters are able to achieve, so it’s not a method for the impatient, but if you can be patient, follow the basic formula and let your chickens have at it, you’ll end up with high quality compost.

Oh, and one more thing about letting your chickens turn your compost for you; it’s highly entertaining to watch six fat hens scratch and peck and dig and cluck all over a large compost heap, slurping up worms and trying to find apple peels. It’s much more entertaining than digging in that same pile with a pitchfork yourself.

Behold! The Armenian Cucumber!

Check out the Armenian Cucumber that my little brother Robert and his wife Nicole just harvested from their Middle Tennessee garden this week. Wowza! I’m definitely planting these next year.


Making this photo even better than it already is is the fact that this single, enormous, Armenian cucumber is thus far the only item that Robert & Nicole’s garden has produced this summer. I’d say that if you’re only going to get one thing from a garden, you could do a lot worse.

Backyard Farm in Progress – Weekend of July 27 2014

Jon replacing the top beam on the swingset.


Moses takes a nap.


Birdie’s on the hunt for worms.


Rosie sometimes looks like she’s wider than she is tall.


My little potted fig tree. I’m pruning it into a single stem tree and away from the three-trunked bushy shape it’s been trying to grow. It’s doing quite nicely, and producing figs already this year.



From this direction, our house looks like it’s sitting in a field of flowers at the moment.


I can’t remember the name of this annual plant that’s done well for me this year. I got two versions of it back in May – a dark purple leafed one and this preppy pink ‘n’ green one. I need to figure out what it is so I can try to overwinter it. (I keep wanting to call it “Eleuthera,” but it turns out that’s an island in the Bahamas where my 18 year old daughter J went for vacation last year…But it’s definitely a word close to that.)



The Teenager trims the hedges.


The 4 year old helps collect eggs from the nest box.


It’s a good thing we like tomatoes around here. We’re loaded down with them. I like these nice, medium sized ones the best; I’ve been eating them like apples lately, straight off the vine.


I Like Y’all Too

Backyard Farmer 101 on FacebookWhen I launched Backyard Farmer 101 in March of this year, I started with just the BYF101 Facebook page – before going live with the actual blog – and as of this last week in July, the BYF101 Facebook page is getting pretty close to 1k likes. Today, the count stands at 911 thumbs up; that’s pretty neat, I think.

If you’re following BYF101 on Facebook already, thanks!. If not, I hope maybe you will consider joining all of us who are already over there. I post quite a bit of stuff there that never makes it to the blog. And thanks to all, for making BYF101‘s first few months so very fun for me. I’m really loving blogging again, which is …fantastic :-)