There's nothing worse than having your chickens or other poultry attacked by a predator - and it seems that nearly every wild creature, and many domestic ones, can appreciate a delicious chicken dinner. So, how do you protect your flock so you don't have to worry about losing hens to raccoons, dogs, weasels, hawks, and more?
Potential Poultry Predators
If you're new to raising chickens, you might not even be aware of just what predators are around. Or you may think that since you live in the suburbs or within city limits, you don't have to worry about predators. But domestic animals can be chicken killers, too.
So, who are you worried about? Here are the most common chicken predators:
- neighborhood dogs
- chicken hawks
- feral and domestic cats
- snakes (chicks)
- fisher cats
Some predators, like snakes and rats, are only likely to eat baby chicks or half-grown pullets, not full-grown birds. Others, such as skunks, will just eat chicken eggs, leaving the hens alone.
There are some simple steps you can take to protect your precious hens from predation. The first order of business is to have a secure coop with a door that shuts securely at night. Some other tips:
- Dig a trench 12 inches deep around the entire coop and bury hardware cloth there. This will prevent digging predators.
- Elevate the coop off the ground to help prevent mice, rats and weasels from getting into the coop.
- Inspect the bottom of the coop and patch any holes where predators could gain entry.
- Put lights around the coop at night; motion-sensor lights work well.
- Keep your compost pile far away from the coop and don't allow food scraps to linger - clean up any food scraps that the chickens don't eat before nightfall.
- Keep the area around the coop mowed and clear - an open field without cover is a deterrent to predators.
- If you have serious problems with hawks and owls, consider covering the chicken run with hawk netting.
Electric fencing can be a good option for securing poultry. There are several ways to go about this: one is to have a static coop and run with electric wire run around the bottom of the coop and run so that digging predators can't get in.
Another option is to use electric net fencing to protect your chickens. Predators are stopped, right down to the ground, and the management system of moving your chickens to fresh pasture seems to be an additional effective deterrent.
There are other ways to protect poultry and some of them will work for any animal on the farm. Dogs are great protectors of the small farm or homestead and will keep everything from sheep to cattle to baby chicks safe from marauding predators - usually including other dogs.
Still, there's a catch: some dogs just love to chase and tease chickens. They will often kill them without even realizing or intending it. If you get a livestock guardian puppy, be sure to supervise its interactions with your chickens when it is young, and deliver a correction any time it gives chase to your feathered farm animals.
If you're not up for getting a dog, guinea fowl are also great guardians of the flock. They will chase off everything from the mailman to coyotes - but beware, their protection comes with a noisy price. Guineas are not quiet animals, and you can't just train them to pipe down like you can with (some) dogs. Still, they have an added benefit: they'll eat every bug you can imagine that might plague the garden and barnyard, from ticks to flies.
A Good Offense
The final layer of predator protection is having a gun. I'm not about to get into the politics of gun ownership, but I will admit that growing up as a city girl, I never imagined agreeing to have a gun on the property. Now, I see the benefits of having a gun and knowing how to use it.
In fact, a couple of winters ago, we were woken at two in the morning by a commotion in the henhouse. My husband pulled on some clothes, grabbed the shotgun, and ran outside. A weasel had eaten the faces off of several of our girls! He took aim and missed, but the weasel ran around the coop and came back to peer at him from another direction. It was then that he landed a final, fatal blow. Had he not gotten the weasel, it would have undoubtedly come back night after night to feast on our fatted hens. Not a calming thought.
Guns can serve a serious purpose on the homestead and small farm. Just be sure you've given equally serious consideration to safety and obey all laws. Traps are another potential "offensive" move against predators to consider - be sure to research the safest kind for the animal you need to catch and use them judiciously only when all other measures have failed.
Though it may seem overwhelming, you'll rest easy knowing you've taken all the steps you can to secure your investment in your chickens and poultry by warding off potential predators.