If you maintain a coop of chickens or are planning to, then one thing you always have to think about is coop security and how best to guard against predators. If you do not give this issue attention, unfortunately, you may have a gruesome discovery come morning when you feed the flock.
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 do not have to worry about losing your poultry stock to raccoons, dogs, weasels, hawks, and more?
Potential Poultry Predators
If you are new to raising chickens, you might not even be aware of what predators are around. Or you may think that if you live in the suburbs or within city limits, you do not have to worry about predators. But domestic animals can be chicken killers, too.
So, what animals should you protect your chickens against? 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 and will leave 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. Other tips include:
- Dig a trench 12 inches deep around the entire coop and bury hardware cloth there. Hardware cloth is a small, sturdy mesh product sold in rolls at your local hardware store. It is similar to chicken wire but sturdier. 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. Do not allow food scraps to linger. Clean up any food scraps that the chickens do not eat before nightfall.
- Mow the grass or field near or around the coop. An open field without cover is a deterrent to predators.
- If you have a serious problem 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 set it up. The first method is to have a static coop and run an electric wire around the bottom of the coop in such a way that even digging predators cannot 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 including other dogs.
There is a catch about dogs, however. Some dogs, playful creatures that they are, just love to chase and tease chickens. They can often kill the chickens without even realizing or intending it. To prevent a canine catastrophe, if you get a livestock guardian puppy, be sure to supervise its interactions with your chickens when it is young, and correct it any time it gives chase to your feathered farm animals.
If you are 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 cannot train them to pipe down like you can with (some) dogs. Still, guinea fowl come with an added benefit: these birds will eat every bug you can imagine that might plague the garden and barnyard from ticks to flies.
Weapons and Traps
The final layer of predator protection is a gun. Without getting into the politics of gun ownership, shooting the offending animal or firing a shotgun in the direction of the offending predator will certainly scare away or get rid of the problem. For example, a weasel was shot and killed after eating the faces off of several hens in the coop. If the weasel was not dispatched it is highly likely it would have come back night after night to feast on nicely fatted hens.
Guns can serve a purpose on the homestead and a farm. Just be sure you have given equally serious consideration to safety and obey all laws.
Traps can serve as a good potential offense against predators, but 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.