10 Basic Tips for Protecting Chickens from Predators

Ten crucial tips for protecting chickens from predators.
Oscar H. Will III
2010 Guide to Backyard Chickens
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A coyote eyes his prey.
iStockphoto.com/Bev McConnell
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You’ve successfully raised those day-old chicks, and your young hens have just begun laying. Sheer joy describes your emotion as you watch the birds range the lawn, or their enclosed pen, grazing on the tastiest of clover leaves and feasting on grubs scratched up from the earth. And then one day it happens: You discover the bloody remains of your favorite pullet – feathers scattered all over the place. Now it's time to delve into the world of protecting chickens from predators.

No doubt about it, your backyard chickens depend on you for health, housing and safety. In return, they will supply you with eggs, entertainment, pest control, fertilizer, meat and more. But as prey animals, chickens are also the subject of great interest to everything from domestic dogs to snakes, rats, owls and hawks. You should expect to lose a bird to predation occasionally, but these tips will go far to help keep your flock safe.

  1. Train your birds to return to the chicken house every evening – and be sure to close it up. If you raise your chicks in that coop, they will naturally return to lay eggs and roost at night after you let them range for the day. Make sure the house is varmint-proof and that you close it up at night once the birds have settled.
  2. Raise the chicken coop off the ground by a foot or so to discourage rats, skunks and snakes from taking up residence beneath it and stealing eggs, chicks or young hens. Be certain to keep the henhouse floor tight and patch any holes that snakes and rats can get through.
  3. Enclose the coop in a secure poultry run to discourage dogs, coyotes, bobcats and other four-legged carnivores from gaining access to your flock. You can choose poultry wire, welded-wire mesh, electric netting or other fencing materials with sufficiently small openings (or sufficiently high-voltage electrical pulses) to keep your birds in and predators out. Bobcats and coyotes are fantastic jumpers and can easily clear 4-foot-high fences, so build your enclosure appropriately tall, or add a cover net to keep the varmints from vaulting the fence.
  4. Cover the chicken run with welded-wire fencing, chicken wire or game-bird netting, or install a random array of crisscrossing wires overhead to discourage hawks and owls from making a buffet out of your birds. If you shut your chickens in the coop at night, owl attacks will not be an issue. But hungry owls are cagey and may grab their meal right at dusk, or slightly beforehand, so if owls are a problem in your area, don’t wait until after dark to close up the coop.
  5. Choose small-mesh fencing materials for enclosing coops and runs when raccoons and members of the mink or fisher family are among the predators. Raccoons and other fairly dexterous animals are infamous for reaching through larger meshed fencing or chicken wire and killing the chickens they can snag. This is
    especially important when you keep your chickens in a fully enclosed wire coop/run, such as various chicken tractor (moveable coops without a floor) designs. Although 2-by-3-inch welded-wire fencing is less expensive, you will lose fewer birds if you use 1-by-2-inch mesh or smaller welded wire.
  6. Bury galvanized hardware cloth or other welded-wire fencing around the perimeter of the chicken run if you have problems with predators digging beneath your surface fencing.
  7. Provide a night light (motion-sensor-activated) that will flood the chicken run with light after dark or install a set of Nite Guard Solar predator-deterrent lights (see advertisement inside front cover). This will keep most nocturnal predators away from the coop.
  8. Give your chicken-friendly dogs the run of the chicken
    yard – particularly at night. Be sure your dogs aren’t tempted to chase running, squawking chickens if you choose not to close up the coop at night or choose to leave the dogs in the chicken yard during the day.
  9. Prepare yourself to take swift action when you discover predation. You can take measures to eliminate the predator or to eliminate its access to your birds. Failure to do so will result in subsequent losses, if the predators think the buffet line is open.
  10. Create a predator-danger zone around the coop and chicken yard. Most terrestrial predators are uncomfortable crossing an area with minimal cover. Go ahead and plant bushes inside the chicken run – your birds will love the shade and nibbling on the leaves – but leave the perimeter as cover-free as you can. Raccoons are less likely to try to work their “hands” into a welded-wire enclosure when they have to sit in the open to do it.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .


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Post a comment below.

 

samnjoeysgrama
8/6/2014 9:01:20 AM
I have a solar electric fencer near the chicken coop that is primarily to keep the horses in. The flashing red light seems to act as a predator deterrent. We hear coyotes just over the hill all year, so far no problems. I also have a solar spotlight that has a motion detector on it. With that, the chicken friendly dog (who is actually in a separate pen at night), the cats, the porch lights, and noisy kids running around during the day, we haven't had a problem. My chickens free range. I keep the grass and weeds, etc. very short around where they are and let them in the unfenced part of the garden that has veggies they don't like. It's lots of trial and error. If you have trouble keeping your chickens off your patio, etc. try a plastic owl. I have to move mine around every few days, but they don't poop on my patio furniture anymore!

SmithAllen
8/2/2014 8:34:04 AM
It's always very important to have properly structured backyard in order to keep your chickens safe from any sort of bad attemtes by any other predators. The best part is that you have options to do so. All you need to do is keep them away from your field. Keep some chicken friendly dogs at your door step to make it hard for others to enter inside. www.homegreenadvantage.com/synthetic-putting-greens.html

JoeS
3/24/2014 8:24:54 PM
I like Eliminating the problem instead of defending against a SURE attack then if I don't eliminate. Being responsible is protecting your flock, being ethical won't get food put on the table, and being legal is automatic. Taking away access to my flock is an ongoing process, elimination is PERMANENT.

SLWilliamson
3/24/2014 7:54:50 PM
"You can take measures to eliminate the predator or to eliminate its access to your birds." Shouldn't those alternatives be reversed? Even if the predator isn't protected by law (hawks, owls, threatened and endangered species, game species), killing it doesn't solve the problem. It just creates a vacuum that another predator will fill, leaving your birds vulnerable to future attacks. Eliminating predators' access to your birds is a more permanent approach, as well as more responsible, ethical, and legal.

JoeS
3/24/2014 11:24:01 AM
Just plain ole poultry netting won't keep out racoons and coyotes. Hardware clothe will do the trick, especially if you live in the country. Make sure you clip the wings of your chickens before you let them FREE range or you might run the risk of some chickens roosting in the trees. It is not a guarantee they will go back inside the hen house when night approaches. Clipping their wings pretty much will.

Carol E.
7/29/2011 9:49:46 AM
There is a cool item called Peepn Peepers. It is a 9' cord with 3 sets of flashing eyes. Drape them around your fence at eye level of the predators and they will help keep them away. Sounds strange but it works. A company called Mystic Industries Corp. (781-245-1950) sells them.

jack-of-all-thumbs
2/2/2011 11:13:52 AM
We practice much of what is suggested in the article, and it works for us. However, there are times when you simply aren't home to close the chickens back up in their secure coop after darkness falls, thus leaving a path wide open for fence-scaling predators to enter the coop. To solve that problem, I utilize a homemade device that keeps predators away from the open coop door. It costs less than $50 and hasn't failed me yet. It's described here, with photos: http://selfsufficientsteward.com/?p=220








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