If your chickens are free roaming they will be at risk of predators and once predators in your area become aware that there are chickens about they you will likely see more of them. You can try to get rid of predators by lethal means, but it is unlikely you can get them all and a better option may as effective, or in some cases more effective. First lets talk about what types of critters you will need to keep your eye out for. Here where we live there are a number of predators we need to watch for and include:
Opossums generally hunt alone at night. They are nocturnal and around here opossums get pretty large. They have been known to steal eggs, eat chicks, and even attack and bite sleeping chickens.
Raccoons are also nocturnal, so will usually attack at night. They can hunt alone, or in family groups. I’ve seen up to 5 or 6 raccoons on the prowl at night. They can be brazen and are often not frightened easily. They can decimate a flock if they get into your coop. I have a friend who lost nearly an entire flock when a raccoon attacked her chickens in winter during the day! They will steal eggs and have been know to reach in and pull the head or leg off of a chicken, so if you ever find something like this in your coop, keep an eye out for raccoons.
Fox and Coyotes both can carry away whole birds. Coyotes hunt at dusk and dawn, you may hear them howling at night, if they live in your area. While foxes are less likely to break into a coop, coyotes will try to break into a coop. Coyotes often hunt in packs, though I’ve seen pairs and even a single coyote in the prowl in our neighborhood.
Skunks will often just steal eggs. You may know they’ve been around due to the smell, which is difficult to miss. They will often kill chickens an only eat their entrails, leaving the rest for you to find.
Snakes will eat both chicks and eggs if given the chance. We have black snakes, rattlesnakes, and copperheads in our area. Black snakes are generally good and will eat a lot of unwanted critters around your property, so I would rather move a black snake than kill it. Similarly, while I don’t want copperheads, or rattlesnakes around the property they too have a place in the food chain and often take care of other critters, so I generally call animal control to have them removed from the property.
Bobcats will eat your chickens if they have an opportunity. If they leave any evidence you will often find chickens with bite marks on their necks, backs, and sides.
Weasels include ferrets, martens, and minks. They hunt alone or in family groups. They can slip into the smallest holes to gain access to your coop or fenced yard. If you small something odd in your coop and find your chickens without their heads, or piled up your first suspect should be a weasel.
Rats steal eggs and will sometimes take chicks. They have also been known to chew on feathers, beaks, and your chickens legs. As you clean your cage keep your eye out for rat droppings, especially around feeders.
Raptors include eagles, hawks, owls. They can swoop down and pickoff a chicken in the yard and have even been know to fly into coops through an open window. If you find a pile of feathers, indicates that a raptor may have gotten your chicken.
Cats and Dogs are also potential predators and can attack your chickens. Cats may mostly prey on smaller birds, but have been known to attack and eat a larger chicken.
Protecting your Chickens
One of the best ways to protect your chickens is to try to reduce the chance that these predators will come around. You can do this by keeping the coop close to the house, keeping any feed that might attract critters in rodent proof metal containers. If feed gets spilled, clean it up immediately, so it doesn’t attract critters. Don’t leave food out at night, and if it can’t be brought in, make sure it can me capped, closed, or otherwise made inaccessible.
Ironically the worst type of fencing to use is chicken wire. Mesh or welded wire is the best. To prevent the predators from digging under the fence place it 6-12 inches below the ground and also place a piece of fencing perpendicular – angled out at least 6 inches. If you have a coop/run combo you will not need to worry as much about raptors, but if your chickens are ranging, depending on how large the area is, you may opt to place netting over it. This can keep raptors out and your birds in. If the area is fairly large and birds of prey are a problem you can criss-cross wire over the area. You can also hang shiny objects such as old CDs, DVDs, or any other reflective spinning object, which can deter them. Keep in mind that in most states it is illegal to shoot most types of raptors, make sure that any bird you decide to hunt is not protected.
Having a sturdy coop can deter predation. Make sure your coop is set up close to the house and if possible away from trees in which raptors may perch and stalk your chickens. Cover windows and vents that are not used for ports of entry or exit with 1/4-1/2 inch galvanized wire mesh. This will also prevent mice and rats from coming in. If your coop does not set up off the ground then burying hardware cloth 6 inches under the coop and again above the ground can deter digging predators. If you use a chicken tractor moving your chickens on a regular basis can also confuse predators.
Motion-sensing lights can be very helpful at night to keep predators at bay.
Dogs can fall into either the helper of predator category. A well trained dog will chase off potential threats thereby protecting your chickens. However, make sure they are well trained otherwise they me likely to attack your chickens.
If you are only interested in eggs and not baby chicks you may decide not to get a rooster. However roosters are very good at protecting the hens, warning them if there is a threat and have even been know to attack animals it sees as a threat.
How do keep your chickens safe? Let us know. We’d love to hear your advice.