Every poultry farmer has to endure the headache of chicken and eggs thieves commonly referred to as predators. These blood thirsty creatures are plentiful – ranging from domestic or feral cat or dog, foxes, hawks eagles that prey on both chicks and adult birds. Others like snakes, rats and mouse that prefer chicks and eggs. Of course there are human thieves too.
Whether your chicks are housed or reared under free range systems; predators are a challenge you have evade both in daylight and at night.
In summary the risk of predation is ever-present and should always be at the back of your mind. Inasmuch as poultry are vulnerable to predators there are a number of measures farmers can put in place to reduce such losses.
The measures include keeping the predators at bay using traps, physical or physiological barriers and if the worst comes to worst, elimination. For the latter be cautious if you are dealing with wild animals as the Kenya Wildlife Service may come knocking with hefty fines.
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But as you would want to blame the predators; farmers too contribute to this problem by creating favourable conditions for predation. Staying in a bushy environs; letting your chicken roam round the village or poorly constructed chicken houses may create predation opportunities.
Birds of Prey: Hawks, eagles and owls
Hawks and eagles have sharp eyesight which they use to locate chicks from far away; due to weight and size challenges chicks are their preferred meal. They are perhaps the greatest predators for young birds and have caused huge losses to farmers especially those under free range system. The bad news is that they are also hard to keep at bay and ones they have picked a chick from your farm they will still come back the following day till they finish your brood.
While hawks and eagles will hunt your chicks during the day, the owl comes in at night and has adaptations that enable to hunt in total darkness.
What to do?
Keeping your chicken indoors or in a properly overhead fenced yard will leave the hawks and eagles salivating for your chicks but they will never get hold of them.
Farmers have recently come up with an ingenious way of blinding eagles and hawks by applying a pink or purple dye on the chick feathers.
The dye makes the chicks invisible beating the eagles and hawks at their own game of sharp eyesight.
Shiny objects like old music CDs hanged around where chicks spend the day have also been shown to distract the sharp eyesight away from the chicks. Now these methods work but my scientist friends will not likely endorse them pending “scientific proof” unless they are published in some overseas journals.
But I can assure you farmers are also good in research and there is really demand driven. The use of colours is pegged on a scientific fact that every creature perceives certain colours better than others; for example cows have been found to be poor at perceiving colours.
But my scientist friends will research on this and let us know just how the purple and pink colours trick the hawks but for now it works for farmers and that is what matters most.
Dogs and Cats
Domesticated dogs are always present in human settlements; stray dogs too are a common feature so are feral dogs together with their wild counterparts like jackals, wolves and foxes. However it is not only the wild forms that attack and kill chicken; even pet and guard dogs do kill chicken. Dogs sometimes play sports with chicken they scare chicken by barking or chasing them; this though is not good as chicken are generally easily frightened and can be scared to shock and subsequent death. In such cases you will find feathers all over the compound or dead but whole chicken. Continuous frightening of chicken has been shown to delay egg laying for months. Dogs that aren’t well fed will attack mature birds for food.
What to do
If you are a poultry farmer staying in a neighbourhood full of dogs amicably inform the dog owners and develop an MoU of some sort that in the event of an attack on your poultry a compensation shall be made. Fencing your farm with chain link fence will keep at bay feral and stray dogs. If you have your own dogs on the farm; train them not to attack but protect the chicken.
The African egg-eating snake is a notorious poultry egg eater; it swallows the egg whole squeezes the yolk into their gut and spit the empty shell out. But other types of snakes will kill chicken by venomous bites and thereafter swallow the young bird whole. Snakes will gain entry into chicken houses through holes on the walls, window or doors.
What to do?
If your birds are in an area with snakes cover these openings with a fine wire mesh. Mothballs can be used as snake repellants but care should be taken as they are toxic to the birds, pets or children.
Bushes act as hideouts for snakes; bush clearing therefore and slashing grass around the poultry house can help keep snakes at bay. Woodpiles and other building materials along the walls of poultry houses can also provide perfect hideouts for snakes.
Rats are common rodents on many farms; they have an appetite for chicken eggs but can also prey on weak chicks. Poultry feeds are attractants for rats especially when not well stored in a secure place and they will eat the chicken feeds too because their staple food are grains which is the ingredient in chicken feeds.
What to do?
Rats can be killed with traps and poisons but great care is required as the trap or poison can harm the birds and children on farm.
How do you Identified Predators?
Most predator attacks take place when you aren’t around during the day or when you are asleep at night and you will need to identify the culprits to institute an effective control measure.
Luckily, predators will always leave behind telltale signs that will point to the predator in question. Checking the nature of loss, the body parts left behind or how the egg looks in summary a detailed check of the crime site.
Things like foot prints, body hair or fur and even scent will linger around the crime are for some time.
- The writer is a Veterinary Surgeon working with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council – KENTTEC)