Foxes, coyotes, weasels, raccoons, rats and hawks. Predators abound in and around a homestead, and they’re all after your chickens. Possums, skunks and snakes wouldn’t mind stealing some eggs and chicks, too. And even if you live in the city or the suburbs, your neighbors’ pet, not just your own, might not be able to resist chasing and playing with your prized hens.
Chickens attract all kinds of predators — be they domestic or wild. Ensuring their safety is one of the most challenging tasks anyone who raises backyard flocks will ever face. There’s nothing more horrifying and infuriating than seeing the bloody, feathery remains of your poultry when you check their coop in the morning. So how do you predator-proof the chicken yard so you can minimize or totally avoid the unnecessary loss of your fowls?
Try these tips:
1. Provide a strong, sturdy coop. Build a small shed or hutch that is solid, free from any gaping holes or wide gaps in its walls, doors and floor. If you want to keep windows open for proper ventilation, secure them and all other openings with a tight, heavy gauge hardware cloth or welded wire. Soft chicken wire or plastic mesh screens won’t do, as they can be pried, gnawed or torn open by raccoons and weasels. Raise your coop at least a foot high off the ground to keep snakes, skunks and rats from lurking and burrowing Secure doors with double-lock or multi-step closures, as some predators, particularly racoons, are known to have dexterous hands that can unlatch simple hook and eye-type locks.
2. Train them to roost in the coop at night. Provide food inside before sundown, so they’ll know it’s the place to be around that time. Keep this practice until they “come home” regularly, out of habit. If owls are plentiful in your area, lock up your birds before dusk, as owls start to hunt for prey at around sundown.
3. Provide an enclosure around the coop. This will serve as the chicken run, yard or outdoor feeding area. Secure it with a tight fence, high enough (about 4 feet) and deep enough (1.5 feet) underground to keep jumping and digging predators at bay. Use chicken wire or welded wire mesh, with holes no bigger than half an inch. The smaller the holes, the better. If you want to keep rats out, go for an even finer mesh, around ¼ inch.
(An alternative to burying wire in the soil is to reinforce the base of your fence by wrapping an “apron” or “skirt” around it made out of chicken, dog or cyclone wire, bending it at a right angle so it extends out to the ground. When dogs or foxes start digging where the fence meets the dirt, they won’t be able to get through the wire and eventually they’ll tire of trying.
4. Cover the run with an aviary net for added protection from aerial predators, or else string some galvanized wires across it, about a foot apart. If raccoons, bobcats, skunks, fishers and other climbing, jumping and prying predators are a concern, install a finer, sturdier shield overhead such as welded wire mesh or wooden slats or lattice.
5. Keep the surroundings of the yard clear. Most four-legged predators hesitate from approaching their game without enough cover. Remove thick vegetation, debris and all kinds of potential hiding places outside. By all means you may provide natural shelters (shrubs, branches) and man-made ones (crates, pallets, an old chair) inside their pen – they’ll serve as added shade and protection for your birds – but keep the field outside it always mowed and free from obstruction.
Story continues below video
6. Don’t leave food in the run. Clean up food scraps and spills before nightfall, as these can attract rats and rodents. Though rodents don’t attack chickens, they can otherwise eat chicken feed, contaminate it with their droppings, urine and hair, and spread lice, mites, fleas and all kinds of diseases. Store both feeds and water away from the coop or else cover them securely with tight lids. Likewise, put away feeders at night or make sure they’re covered. It would also be wise to keep your compost pile away from the coop, run or free-range areas.
7. Never leave uncollected eggs in the coop. They’ll likely attract rats, skunks and snakes.
8. Employ the help of guard animals. Donkeys, llamas and certain breeds of dogs are known to be good livestock sentries, as are guinea fowls. Though guineas belong to the same family as chickens, they make a lot of noise at the slightest unfamiliar sound and movement. They not only make excellent guardians, they’ll also help control snakes, ticks and mites.
9. Know your flock. Familiarize yourself with their behavior, sounds and instincts. Learn to distinguish between normal, everyday clucks and squawks, and the otherwise distressed, “Danger! Predator-alert!” sounds they make. Inspect their coop and run each day, making sure there aren’t any signs of varmints burrowing or tunnelling underneath the fence.
10. Placing objects that move, make noise or reflect light is said to also deter birds of prey. Hang or set up mirrors, flags, CDs, pinwheels, a disco ball or any bright, shimmery ornaments in strategic locations around the pen. Others suggest motion sensors that sound off a noisy alarm (these may be on- or off-the-grid, powered by batteries) — anything to simulate human presence and activity.
11. Consider setting up traps as a last-ditch offense against those pesky varmints. If all of the above fails, ultimately you would have to consider whether you should not only eliminate predator access to your chickens, but eliminate the predators as well. In which case, you may want to keep that rifle handy by the backdoor. But be sure to check gun laws in your area first. You don’t want to get in trouble with the law just for shooting a raccoon.
What tips do you have for chasing predators away? Share your secrets in the section below: