Traps and Trapping: Part 2 of a 2 part series on predators and chickens. This article is intended to introduce readers to various traps and trapping options in the event a grower's birds are being harmed by a predator and the grower wants to do something about it.
For those new to raising poultry, it can be disheartening to discover how many pests, varmints and predators there are who seemed determined to kill our birds. They can come in various forms, but for the purpose of this article, my intent is to stick with the furry land based predators such as raccoons, possums, skunks, foxes, coyotes, etc. My attitude towards these creatures is pretty much live and let them be.....I just want them to be somewhere else and leave my birds and other stuff alone. Easier said than done.
My theory on these varmints and their behavior is not that much different than any other animal behavior. What they do can either be encouraged with positive reinforcement, or discouraged with negative reinforcement.
A means of negative reinforcement comes in the form of tight, predator proof coops, fences and other things that frustrate their success. The ultimate "negative reinforcer" being a potent electric fence capable of administering a violent electrical shock. Once they get a full dose of high voltage, hopefully they will decide no bird is worth another shot of that, will move on and not come back. But if they do come back, the electric fence will still be there waiting for them and ready to give them another dose of discouragement. Ultimately, an electric fence, backed up by a predator proof coop is the best defense against predators. Some ideas for an electric fence were dealt with in a companion article on electric fences.
So much for negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement comes into play if and when a predator ever manages a successful kill. The reward.......a chicken.....is pretty large for the effort required. That would be a big and tasty prize for an animal fending for itself in the wild. So once they get a taste of that kind of success, most likely they will keep coming back for more of your birds until there are no more to be had. Even a powerful dose of negative reinforcement has a lot to overcome. It has to be pretty “re-volting”.......as in they may need to hit that high voltage fence more than once or twice before they may give up, if in fact they ever do give up. They really, REALLY want that chicken.
Once we see the damage these varmints can do, it is easy to attribute evil intent to them. Not so, they are simply wild animals who have to fend for themselves and eat, and that includes caring for their young. It is simply the nature of things. That said, survival in the wild is their problem, not ours. But if they have had some success, and negative reinforcement doesn’t deter them, then they become a problem that has to be dealt with. Enter trapping.
If you have gotten this far in this thread and are now considering the use of traps to help end your predator problem, there are some things to consider and ground rules to get out of the way.
First rule of trapping.......before you can trap it, you had best know what it is that is causing your problem, as trapping tools and methods will differ based on which predator it is. Making a positive ID of your culprit is not always easy as the vast majority of the time, the attack happens under the cover of darkness and the first indication something is wrong comes with the discovery of the carnage and aftermath found long after the culprit has done his work and has left. So you are left to piece together clues based on the nature of the findings. Headless corpse, no bird at all, etc. All are signs of who the culprit might be. There are other ways to figure it out, including the use of trail cameras, searching for tracks, and other signs the animal may have left. Lots of resources on BYC to help ID the culprit, but again, in order to trap it, you need to have a good idea what it is you are dealing with. Then proceed accordingly.
Second rule of trapping.....before we go another step forward with this discussion, one thing on trapping needs to be made perfectly clear. When we say a “predator problem to be dealt with”, that means we are going to kill this problem animal after we trap it. Not move it, not harass and then release it, we are going to kill it. No other option exists.
The natural tendency of most folks is to simply want the problem to stop, with no intent of doing any harm to the predator even if this is the predator that just wiped them out. Even with all that, the attitude will be they just want the problem animal gone. So the first inclination is to simply trap, then relocate the animal. Sadly, that does not help. To the contrary, often times it does more harm than good. This has been proven to such an extent that some legal jurisdictions actually prohibit this practice, such that if you were to trap an animal and relocate it, you may be in violation of some law. Beyond that, an animal that is captured, transported and released back to the wild may beat you home and will still represent a problem animal killing your birds, except now it will be much smarter and harder to trap next time. Or if you transport if far enough to not find it’s way home, it will likely die anyway and most likely at the hands of the other animals of it’s kind who already existed in that environment. Or just as bad, you simply dump your problem animal on someone else and let them deal with it. Not fair. So assume this ironclad rule to be in force.......if you trap it, you kill it. If you can’t accept that, then let it be and keep working on prevention and tightening your security. So to clarify and make things abundantly clear, trapping is not a situation where you trap the animal and then say “now what”? That is not a solution. Dispatching the problem quickly and humanely is the solution. Trapping is merely an intermediary step in the process. It is what captures the animal so you can kill it, but again, make no mistake, if you trap it, you are going to kill it. Again, my preference in dealing with problem animals is just about anything else, but once all other solutions have been exhausted and the animal persists as a problem who won’t go away, he leaves us no choice except to give up and give in and let him have them all, or end the problem. Ending the problem means ending him.
Third rule of trapping. If you set a trap, you check your trap. Every single day or even many times a day. No animal is ever to be trapped and left to suffer. If you can’t check it to clear it, trip it or take it in or don’t set it at all.
Lastly, with any trapped animal, avoid any temptation whatsoever to torture or treat this animal with malicious intent. It is simply a wild animal doing what wild animals do, it was simply too good at it for it's own good. So with trapped animals, when it comes time to dispatch it, do so quickly and humanely then dispose of the remains as best you see fit. For those wondering how to do that, here is a website I ran across a while back:
While I don't agree with everything this guy says, one thing we do seem to agree on is to find a way to avoid trapping and killing the animal if at all possible. To clarify my position, avoid trapping it if at possible, but if you do resort to trapping it, assume the next step is to kill it.
So with all that said, enter trapping. As a disclaimer, I should mention that while I have a general working knowledge of the concept, I do not consider myself to be a trapper. Never have been and never will be. Again, my preference is I’ve generally concentrated on the avoidance side with electric fences, and have thus shunned trapping until forced into it. That doesn't mean I can't, nor that I don't, I just try not to if at all possible.
Traps and Trapping
The concept of trapping is probably as old as mankind itself who learned early on it was a whole lot easier to devise a way for the animal to catch itself than it was to hunt them down and capture them on foot. So over time, mankind has devised a whole set of trapping devices to help us do that. Remarkably, they all fall into only a few broad categories, not all of which have any application to us, although many do.
These broad categories for those of us concerned about varmints and chickens include:
Box or Cage Traps
Sticky Traps: Generally used for flies and some rodents. Some use the flat board mouse trap version to catch snakes, but there may be better ways to corral those guys.
Dead Falls (forget this one_
Pit Falls (forget this one too)
I was taught how to build one of these about 50 years ago. A simple box trap for catching rabbits, although I caught a whole bunch of possums in mine and never did catch a rabbit. Mine looked like this, which on the Internet is described as a “rabbit box trap”:
Functions like this:
This is NOT the kind of box trap where the box is propped up on a stick where you yank out the stick with a piece of string and the entire box falls, although some do rig very large live catch traps like this where they hide out and watch the target animals enter and then manually trip the trigger. The one’s I’ve seen of this type were being used for catching feral hogs. Not a good way to do it in my book.
The Havahart (name reference means the animal is not physically harmed in any way) and similar live animal cage traps are all a form of a simple rabbit box trap.
Trap is baited and set, animal enters to inspect the bait, hits a trigger and the door behind them closes. Generally, that means a single animal is caught, so this is a one animal at a time solution. More problem animals than one.....like would be the case with a pack of raccoons.....keep trapping or use multiple traps until you think you caught them all, or at least you nab your problem animal.
These cage traps may be the most often used trap by those of us trying to catch our varmints. They are relatively inexpensive, widely available, easy to understand and easy to set. When successful, they catch the animal alive and unhurt in a relatively small confined space where they are safe to handle. If the varmint you caught turns out to be your dog, cat or something similar, you can let them go unharmed. Varmints? We have already talked about that.
One of the weaknesses of using this trap is getting them to actually go in it. Normally, that takes bait of some kind. Something we think they will eat. As such, it helps to know what the target animal is and the choice of baits varies accordingly. Once you know what the animal is and use the proper bait, a novice animal may be caught rather easily. However once caught, they wise up in a hurry and may never go in the trap again. Some might even be smart enough to see what happened to a companion and be suspect, and even more so if that companion was dispatched and perhaps the trap has the smell of death about it? So getting them to actually go in to be caught may be a problem and with big rowdy animals, keeping them caught may also be a problem. There are various grades of these cage traps and some are stronger than others. Havahart is the most widely known, most heavily marketed and most likely to be the one found locally in retail outlets, but a lot of folks say they are not built well enough to stand up to a full grown coon or other large and powerful varmint who in a panic may blow the door right out of them. Best trap of this type I’ve seen so far is the Duke heavy duty cage trap.
There may be others of equal quality.
This video explains the use of a Duke cage trap, but others like it will be similar: (Ignore the part about relocate and release!)
OK, so here is a new twist on the concept of a box or cage trap you may not have seen anywhere else. If you have an aggressive animal who has wiped you out and who is eager for more and who is willing to enter your hen house, coop or run for any more birds he may have missed (the fox that got my daughter’s birds kept coming back for months) you may already have the trap you need to catch him. If the coop/run/hen house is strong enough and secure enough to keep this varmint out, it may also be strong enough to serve as a trap to keep him in. All you have to do is devise a door, with trigger, to close behind him. In short, a bigger version of my old rabbit box trap. Once you look at it in that light, it is a relatively easy process to build. Anyone who has built the coop, and especially so if you built a sliding drop door for your pop door, has the ability to design and build a trap door. Rig a trigger on the far side of the coop, tie it to a sliding door and you should be able to nab him. If you already have a sliding pop door, raised by a string, that may be all you need for your gate and trigger. It would have to work smooth and drop like a rock, but you can figure that out. The irony with this is you caught him at the scene of the crime. In the event they fight their way out, the gate may require a locking latch to keep the door shut until you arrive to dispatch him. The locking latch I would use to make certain they could not get out takes a bit more thought, but again, is a simple build. In most cases, this may not require much more than a small block of wood.
All that would be left here is to consider a means to safely and humanely dispatch the animal. Not as easy as one confined in a smaller catch trap, but still doable. (hint: .410 shotgun if you can’t shoot a .22)
BTW, not sure if anyone is actually using nest traps these days to keep up with which hens are actually doing the laying, but in days of old, it was very common to do so. If you wanted to cull your hens who never did much of anything but eat high priced feed, that’s how you found them. If you had an all star layer you wanted to keep chicks from, that is how you found her. Nest traps are just simple adaptions of a box trap.
Weasel Box Trap:
WEASELS! A very formidable and dangerous killer. Data suggests these guys are actually very beneficial to have around as their #1 preferred prey is rats and mice. Some sources suggest they would dine on them almost exclusively. Take out "almost" and they would be welcome anywhere. Unfortunately, that is not the case. They will kill chickens and will kill a lot of them at the same time. Some have had entire flocks wiped out by them. So if you have one and want to get rid of them, how to do it.
Best solution I've seen is the weasel box trap, which is a hybrid of sorts between a box trap and a snap trap. Box is the same, but they don't survive it alive.
A good primer can be found here:
Along with this listed video you will find numerous others of the same type. More than enough to convey the gist of how they operate.
Funnel traps work much like a box trap, in that they are a secure cage, but funnel traps will nab more animals than one. They hold the potential to nab the whole bunch. Principle of funnel traps is there is a one way gate in, and once in, either they can’t find the gate to get back out, or else they can’t pass back out if they could find it. The gate is generally funnel shaped.....hence the name (again, Google “funnel traps” and look at images) and this gate never closes, so the gate and thus the trap is always open for business. With fish and other, they swim into the end of the trap, then drop to the bottom and keep searching the bottom for a way out. They never return to the gate. And they just keep coming in until the trap is full or you run out of animals to catch.
Funnel traps are what you may want to consider if you have a problem with snakes and want to remove them:
Largest funnel trap I’ve heard of to date was one used to round up cattle in the arid regions of the desert SW of the US. With stocking rates as low as one cow per hundred acres or more, finding cattle scattered around over several hundred square miles was a problem. So they built corrals with trap gates near the only available water holes. The cattle rounded themselves up. If I wanted to round up a whole sounder of feral hogs, I would not build a cage trap and try to catch them one or two at a time. I’d be building myself a funnel trap to catch them all.
Other than fish traps, my first encounter with funnel traps was with a pigeon trap used to trap barn pigeons.
In this version of a funnel trap, there are little fingers hinged along the top that lift to allow the bird to enter, the fingers then drop behind the as the pigeons clear the gate to go for the bait inside. As they try to push out, the fingers hit a stop and won’t go back up and since they hang at a slight angle, gravity holds them down so the fingers never open on their own. With a smart bird, like a starling, they will figure it out and either lift the finger itself, or else wait for another bird to enter then sneak out while the finger is still up in the air. There is a large starling cage trap with a funnel in the top that they never seem to figure out. It works for starlings and crows. But back to those fingers......rather than counting on gravity to drop the fingers, those can also be spring loaded. The animal pushes in, the fingers lift to allow entry, but then springs pulled them back to close. Once inside, if the animal does manage to find the funnel gate to get back out, the fingers close on them as they push against it. The harder they push, they harder the fingers are held shut.
This is a catfish trap made of wood that uses this principle:
In this case, the gate in is made of wood slats, set on an angle to spring open to allow entry, but will spring closed if the fish tries to swim back out. That the ends are sharp and pointy helps them do this. If instead of wood, the fingers were made of something sharp and pointy like a piece of #9 wire or small, stiff steel rod, with end ground to a sharp point (imagine an ice pick), if the animal was one of our target animals and was caught and in trying to escape pushes really hard against those they may actually dig into the animals face and could even puncture his face and skin. He won’t try long.
So back to the situation where a pack of critters has wiped out your entire flock and the coop is available to use as a trap........they already want in....all of them....., so build yourself a funnel gate and hope they all fight their way in as they seem to want to do with any old small narrow opening. The gate would look something like the gate on either the catfish trap above or the pigeon trap with spring loaded fingers.
If I wanted to use a strong, metal, inexpensive, off the shelf source for those locking fingers, I might go to a farm supply store like Tractor Supply and look at hay rake teeth. Those are made of spring steel, are built with springs attached and the tip is bent at about the right angle to snag something trying to force it’s way back out. Mount them so they can be pushed through to gain entry, but will not allow something back out. For varmints up to the size of a raccoon, the opening doesn’t have to be very big.....no more than 4 to 6 inches, so it would only take a couple of these rake teeth to “lock the gate”. They check in........they never check out....or at least not until you arrive to help check them out. (Hint: .410 shotgun if you can’t manage to shoot a .22)
This is a broad category of traps, with many sub-groups, but what I would generally describe as spring loaded “trigger traps”. Animal trips a trigger and the spring loaded trap nabs or kills them. Some sub-categories would include foothold traps, snap traps (mouse and rat traps) and perhaps mole traps in all their incarnations.
I was first exposed to these years ago by a neighbor who tried to teach me how to use these to trap coyotes. This was a long time ago and back in a time when every farm had a tool shed and hanging on the wall of nearly every tool shed was a bunch of these foothold traps. Back then, they were considered as just another farm tool, no different than a hoe, a rake, a shovel or a shotgun. We simply referred to them as "coyote traps" as that is what they were most often used for. Anyway, this neighbor's wife raised sheep and and coyotes were prone to killing young lambs, so she really hated coyotes, which meant he really hated coyotes. At the time, these foothold traps were thought to be the best way to nab them. The neighbor was good at making coyote sets and was successful. I never was. What that taught me was there is an art to this, and while it can be done, this is not a good option for a novice. With a foothold trap you also run the risk of nabbing a dog, cat or some other unintended animal that comes to inspect your baited set. Due to this indiscriminate tendency, these are probably the traps that most offend the animal rights folks. I don’t have or use any of these, but in the right hands, they are effective.
A modern incarnation of the foothold trap is the Duke Dog Proof Raccoon Trap.
I do have one of these. Have not used it, but have it ready if the need comes up. The DDPRT has a short tube, in which bait is placed. The trap’s tube the animal has to reach into to be caught is about the same size as the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper. So that automatically filters out a large dog paw. Beyond that, the only way the trap is tripped is if the animal reaches in, and then pulls the bait out, the trigger is released when coming out, not pushing in. The only animals with a foot capable of doing that, and likely to be attracted to the bait are raccoons, skunks and maybe possums. The bait (something like a marshmallow) snagged by the animal and being dragged out is what trips the trap and nabs the coon. Again, a single trap that catches a single animal. More animals will require more time catching them all one at a time, or more traps.
By all accounts, these Duke raccoon traps are highly effective and highly selective towards their intended target, which is a raccoon. You might also catch a possum or skunk, but that can likely be filtered by the bait you use. So once caught, all that is left is for you is to finish the job. (Hint: .410 shotgun if you can’t shoot a .22)
Again, these include mouse and rat traps. Conibear traps are a larger version but work much the same way. The animal comes to the bait, trips the trigger and is killed instantly as the powerful spring driven trap snaps shut on them. Mole traps are a bit different in that they are placed in runs, but the effect is the same. Moles trip a trigger and are killed instantly by the trap.
In the large varmint category, Conibears are the most likely candidate, but if you care about other small pets and animals, this would be a concern. They will kill or seriously injure, maim and harm whatever gets into one. I was once told by a local pest removal guy that Conibear traps are not legal to use in my state without a permit.
Back to rat traps. Those are the trap of choice by most for weasels. They are baited with chicken livers and such and there are special ways to set them. Google "weasel rat trap" for some ideas. There is also a weasel box trap, but it also uses a rat trap set inside a wooden box that looks a lot like my simple box trap. Tons of youtube videos on how to build and set weasel traps, but rat traps are at the heart of most of them.
Here is one that is also referenced above in the box trap section:
Last on my list are snares. I have no experience with snares at all, but am intrigued to no end by their potential. I had always dismissed them as something primitive, and thus ineffective. Apparently, not so. Modern era snares are made from 4’ to 5’ lengths of small diameter steel cable, with a noose formed in one end, attached to a strong swivel on the other end.
By all accounts, snares are simple to set, inexpensive to buy (about $15 per dozen???) and highly effective. Key to this one is to find a run or path an animal is using, set the snare (essentially a wide open noose) and the animal will not see it and as he travels along his familiar path will stick his head in the noose and simply walk right into it. In doing so the snare closes around it’s body or neck and the animal is caught. The harder he pulls to try to get away, the tighter the snare closes. If this is a locking snare and he is caught around the neck, likely as not he will kill himself. OK by me if it’s a varmint, not so good if it’s the neighbor’s dog. You can filter what you catch with this somewhat by how you set it, and where. And there are stops you can use so the snare won’t lock shut and kill the animal.
Now imagine a varmint coming back to your coop, over and over and using the same pathway each time. He is too smart for a foothold trap or cage trap, but still, he keeps coming back. So there is that pathway. Or you could create a funnel pathway he might have to pass through to get to your coop. Perfect setup for a snare? This is not like snaring one in the wild......this should be more like shooting fish in a barrel. (Hint: .410 shotgun if you can’t shoot a .22)
Again, I consider traps and trapping varmints, and thus killing them, to be the option of last resort, but in the event a predator just won’t give up and go away, and you decide you want him gone, a trap will help you do that. Help you end the problem. Not relocate it, or harass it, but end it. How to do that (end the problem) may be the subject of yet another thread (Hint: .....really?) but make no mistake, the choice you make BEFORE you set the trap is to dispatch the animal when you catch it.