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Today we’re talking chickens. Mara Bacsujlaky is a bit of a chicken expert. In addition to raising her own chickens, she hosts workshops, handles them for her job at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and writes a blog dedicated to them. She is a fan.
“It’s hard to be cross and grumpy when you’re dealing with chickens, because they just kind of make you laugh,” Bacsujlaky explains. Unlike most chicken owners, she doesn’t keep them for their eggs. She’s more interested in their social intricacies.
“I like the flock nature. Chickens are much like sled dogs in the sense they have a hierarchy. They do better in flocks, they’re social birds. So I just enjoy watching the dynamics of my flock,” Bacsujlaky says. She recently started her chicken blog because she noticed she was always getting asked the same questions by other chicken owners.
“I’ve gotten a lot of requests for a way people can get information. I also like to write about chickens more than just the clinical scientific approach, so it’s a venue for me to kind of be kind of silly about them or to have my own opinions about chickens,” Bacsujlaky says. Her most recent topic is about predators, and how to keep them out of chicken coops. It seems that is easier said than done.
“Everything loves a good chicken meal, it’s not just humans,” Bacsujlaky says. And the list of chicken killers is vast, but Bacsujlaky says there are a few usual suspects to watch out for.
“In interior Alaska our most common predators are fox. If you don’t have your outside chicken run netted you will have ravens, owls and hawks take them from the air. The other really common one is loose dogs. That’s actually probably one of the most common ones. Someone has a loose dog or a pack of dogs and they come in and decimate the chickens,” Bacsujlaky explains. While she has been mostly successful keeping predators out of her coop, her Fairbanks neighbors haven’t been so lucky. She recalls a fox that used to stroll her street every day.
“I was going ‘Oh, what a pretty Fox.’ He walked by every morning. And then I heard both neighbors lost their entire flocks. He got into their coops and into the hen house and ate them and for some reason he bypassed my yard and didn’t hit my flock,” Bacsujlaky says.
In Anchorage, the threat of predators isn’t as prominent, especially in the more populated areas. Local chicken owner Erika Kienlen uses a simple fencing system to protect her chickens, and it’s mostly worked. She says she’s only lost one, and it was after it had gotten loose into her front yard.
“We do see occasionally cat tracks and dog tracks right up to the fence, but we live in such a suburban neighborhood that we really don’t have that problem,” Kienlen says. “A dog that is never let out of its own property was let out and it just came tearing across and before anyone could do anything it had it in its mouth and it was a goner.”
While Bacsujlaky concurs a good fence is important, she also recommends covering chicken coops with wire. She decided to cover hers one day after she got a visit from a Goshawk.
“I heard a horrible commotion and a lot of squawking. I didn’t know what was going on, so I went running out there and I found a very beaten up Goshawk on the ground, dazed and confused inside the pen. My rooster had trounced the lights out of the bird that had tried to come in and get one of the hens, and did a really good job of beating this bird senseless,” Bacsujlaky says.
A few chickens were killed in the incident, but all in all it was a positive experience. The predator escaped with its life, Bacsujlaky learned how to better protect her flock, and her rooster earned a new name.
“He was named after Rocky, the fighter,” Bacsujlaky says. Add rooster to the list of predator prevention. Although Bacsujlaky says it might not always be that simple.
“He also was very good at attacking me, and I didn’t like being attacked by him. So he ended up in the soup pot,” Bacsujlaky says. Turns out everyone really does love a good chicken meal.