Proper predator protection
CPW recommends electrified enclosures for hobby livestock
Through six years of keeping backyard chickens, Colorado State University Extension Agent Todd Hagenbuch’s family in South Routt County did not have a problem with predators killing its flock, until one night that ended the family’s chicken-keeping tradition.
One evening, the family forgot to secure and lock the chickens inside their sturdy coop inside the overall enclosure, and the next morning they woke up to all the chickens killed by a raccoon.
Weasels, skunks, raccoon and even neighborhood dogs are the normal enemies of chickens whose owners aren’t careful, Hagenbuch said.
“Primarily, predator action happens after dusk and before dawn, and your chickens should be in a secure indoor location at that time,” said Hagenbuch, CSU’s Routt County director and agriculture agent. “If you build the right apparatus, you can trace a lot of predators back to mistakes that humans make.”
Hagenbuch said he had not heard of mountain lion predation on chickens in South Routt until the incident last week when a man near Oak Creek shot and killed a mountain lion that had killed multiple backyard chickens.
“If you are a chicken owner, mountain lions are not the first thing I would worry about,” Hagenbuch said.
The extension agent and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are reminding all hobby livestock owners or backyard farmers that electrified livestock enclosures are recommended to protect farm animals in rural Colorado.
“Using electrified enclosures will help prevent natural predators from venturing into rural neighborhoods looking for food near homes and people,” according to the CPW informational brochure Protect Your Hobby Livestock. “Making the decision to invest in an electrified enclosure to protect your hobby livestock is good for your ‘farm to table’ hobby livestock operation, good for your neighborhood and good for Colorado’s wildlife.”
CPW recommends investing in electrified enclosures to protect livestock such as chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, hogs, llamas, alpacas, goats and sheep. The state agency provides detailed plans and supply lists for construction of electrified enclosures.
Hagenbuch said if animal enclosures are not electrified, backyard animals need to be provided a secured, lockable coop or indoor area inside a larger run or enclosure. The overall, larger enclosure housing the coop should be constructed on a very sturdy frame and use half-inch welded wire mesh for the walls that is buried at the bottom underground 8 to 12 inches. Doors should have good latches that only humans can open, and the enclosure roof must be sturdy and well-secured. Chicken wire is not sufficient for chicken enclosures, because weasels or ermine can squeeze through, or heavier predators can push down the wire walls or ceiling, he said.
CPW Northwest Region Public Information Officer Rachael Gonzales said the mountain lion killed near Oak Creek was shot around 2 p.m. She said the mountain lion bent wiring and entered from the top of the chicken enclosure.
“The mountain lion was in poor body condition (sick), but we will not be doing a necroscopy. The wife was the first to find the mountain lion as she was about to enter the chicken coop. Her husband was behind her and stated she was in fear of her life,” Gonzales explained.
“If someone does not want to use electric fencing, they could use a shed, barn or similar permanent structure,” Gonzales said.
The educators at CSU extension provide information and advice on predator identification and protection for backyard or small farming operations.
Hagenbuch said this time of year predators may have difficulty finding food, and domestic chickens can make for easier prey.
“If you are going to own a flock, it makes sense to invest in a secure run and a secure coop,” he said.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife officials provide advice on how to reduce the chance of an encounter with a mountain lion. More information is available at cpw.state.co.us/lions.
— Avoid surprising a lion, so make noise when outside at dawn and dusk.
— Supervise children when they are outside at dawn and dusk.
— Increase visibility around homes by installing lighting and removing shrubs and brush.
— Remove pet food and outside food sources such as bird feeders that may attract animals that mountain lions hunt.
— Protect pets from becoming prey by bringing them inside at night, or keep them in a kennel with a secure roof.
— If you meet a lion, don’t run away. Pick up any small child immediately. Make yourself look big, face the lion and slowly back away. Speak calmly and firmly in a deep voice.
— If the lion doesn’t leave the area, yell loudly or use an airhorn.
— Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare, but fight back if you are attacked, with rocks, sticks, backpacks and more.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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