Predators are one of the greatest fears a chicken farmer has. They can be cunning, fast, and very sneaky. The list of predators ranges from the smallest mink to the biggest bear. You will have different types of predators depending on where you live. Minks and raccoons are some of the hardest predators to fight off because they can run away or climb a tree before you have time to react. But don't get this wrong, it is quite possible to keep your chickens safe if you know what you are up against!
Birds of prey
It is hard to defend against birds of prey. They swoop down and kill a bird with their talons and when you run out to see what has happened they fly to a nearby tree. When you leave they are right back at it.
Above: A bald eagle. One of the most feared chicken eaters. They are fast and big.
They easiest way to get rid of them is to not have that happen at all. If you don't let them kill your birds in the first place they won't keep coming back. If you have already had them attack then it will be harder for you, yet still possible. One way to keep the hawks/Falcons/eagles away is to put netting over you run. If you completely free range your chickens then obviously, this won't work, but if you have a 20x20 run it is not a bad idea. Though, there are a few problems with this idea. Firstly, branches, leaves, and brush will fall from trees and wreck the netting, therefore you will need to care for it more then your average fencing, especially in fall when leaves and branches fall down frequently. But, there are good things about it too. Netting will keep birds of prey completely out of your run, and if your chickens are flighty then it keeps your birds in quite nicely, and you won't have to clip wings. Another way to cure your hawk or eagle problem is to put objects like old tables, chairs, cut down trees, and PVC piping (works great if its about a foot in circumference) so that your chickens have things to hide under. Generally, birds of prey are much bigger then chickens and might just give up after a few minutes of trouble.
We lost two of our chickens to a Goshawk, so don't under estimate these birds. They are smart and fast.
If you completely free range then your birds are very vulnerable out in the open to these predators and that is just one disadvantage to free ranging. If you have many birds of prey in your area I would suggest you reconsider free ranging. It is much safer for your birds to be in a fenced run rather then out in the open.
Watch out for owls since they are dangerous to chickens as well. Owls come out at night to hunt and feed, so make sure your chickens are locked up at night. This will keep them safe and less stressed.
Note: Don't shoot or kill birds of prey even though you are frustrated. In many states and countries this is illegal and you may have to pay fines or serve jail time!
Mammals like raccoons, opossums, and minks are common predators to chickens. They come at night and are gone in a flash. The number one cause for these attacks is because chicken owners forget/are too lazy and don't shut their chickens in at night, and then of course its an easy meal for the raccoons, minks, and opossums.
Like birds of prey, mammals will come back to your chickens for easy meals once they have done it once, so take extra precaution to protect your chickens. If you lock your chickens in every night, and you don't have any holes in your coop then your chickens will be quite safe from minks, opossums, and raccoons. In the day time your chickens will be most vulnerable to these predators, just a slight hole in the fence could mean the death of your entire flock.
If you are out in the sticks then you have bigger fears to think about. You'll have bears, coyotes, foxes, wolves, and cougars keeping a close eye on your flock. Lets start with coyotes and foxes. They can jump well and they can also dig. To avoid digging you could try something called the apron fence method. This method works well for good diggers, like foxes and coyotes. The way it works is, at the bottom of your fence you put some chicken wire or some other type of fencing on the ground. Then you put stakes in the ground so that the chicken wire can't move around, and who la! No more digging can be done.
Above: A diagram of the apron fence method.
Wolves will mostly prowl around at night, but sometimes you can find them up and hunting in the day. If you're up against these animals then your best bet might be to go with tall (6 ft.) chain link fence with an electric wire running around your entire coop. Against bears, wolves, and cougars, you will want your electric wire to be about 6 inches off the ground and about 8 inches away from the outside of the fence so that chickens can't touch the electrical wire (electrical current strong enough to discourage a bear will certainly kill a chicken). Take note that electrical wiring can be expensive and will be time consuming because you have to keep everything away from the fence so that it won't short out and not carry a zap. Electrical fencing can also be dangerous, if you have kids or siblings that are young and like to go out to your chickens. Then it is a potential hazard too. Because coyotes, wolves, and cougars can jump so well you might want to put barbed wire along the top of the fence or slant the fence slightly outward so they can't climb it. If you slant your fence keep in mind that it will be easier for chickens to get over.
Above: A fence slanted slightly outward to avoid predators climbing it.
Another tactic is the old double barrel shot gun method. Just make sure you have the correct licensing and you are legal to shoot, kill, and hunt bears and other animals. Also, it is a good idea to keep it quiet, their are a lot of people who would love to bring you to court for that kind of thing. Be creative, do your best, and do what will be best in the long run!
If you are having issues with dogs it is best to call your neighbours to see if its theirs. If so, talk to them about keeping their dog under control. If not call the pound and get that dog out of your chicken yard! Don't go out to the dog. It may be aggressive towards humans as well as chickens.
Another predator you will need to think about is the cats. Whether wild or domestic they still have the hunting instinct. Cats, like other mammals are very good night hunters, but they will hunt in full day too. Cats may be harmless to you, but that same cat may have a totally different approach to one of your chickens. Here are some tips for keeping your chickens safe from cats. Close the door to the chicken coop at night. A rooster me be a good option for you if the cats around you are pretty small. One good rooster might intimidate or even attack a cat. Electric fence may be a good option too. Also, be aware that cats can climb well and could easily scale your chicken fence. So for protection against cats netting on top might be a good idea (See “birds of prey” section).
10 tips for keeping your chickens safe from predators:
- Be prepared: Expect to have your chickens attacked by some kind of predator, so that when it does you will be ready to save your chickens.
- Know what you will do: Ask yourself this, what am I going to do if a raccoon attacks my flock tonight? Whether it be running down to your chicken coop with a baseball bat or letting your dog out to get the raccoon, have your mind made up
- Ask around: Do your neighbours have chickens? If you ask around you will get plenty of good, creative ideas.
- Overkill: It's better to overkill and to have a 7 foot fence rather then a two foot fence. Go with what sounds more sensible.
- Gear it to your surroundings: Make your run suitable to the predators around you.
- Common sense: Use your head, be creative, but you don't have to be a mathematician to make a predator proof run.
- Prevent the attack: If you prevent the attack altogether it will be easier for you. But if an attack happens that predator will come back over and over again.
- Time pays off: Do your best! If you do a cheap job on your predator proofing it won't pay off. Spend the extra time and do a good job. If you don't its just a waste of time.
- Keep your chickens in: Its a whole lot easier for predators to get your chickens if they are outside the run. Keep them in!
- Don't forget the chickens: It grieves me to hear about irresponsible chicken owners that forget to lock there chickens in for the night, and in the morning there is just a pile of feathers on the ground. Please don't forget, its such an easy mistake to make but its a very risky one too.
Keep your chickens in
When a chicken escapes it is extremely easy prey for hawks, and other predators. Please spend time making your chicken fence worth while. Fix holes if there are any, and clip wings if necessary. Clipping wings is simply cutting of flight feathers. This does not hurt birds or handicap them. It is entirely safe for your bird's wings to be clipped.
Below: Diagram of how to clip a bird's wing.
Some breeds that may need their wings clipped are, Sebrights, Anconas, Leghorns, and some game breeds. Don't clip wings if you are thinking about showing. If you bring a bird with clipped wings to a show your bird will be disqualified. If you are having trouble keeping your chickens in then, firstly make your fence suitable, whether that means making it higher, fixing holes, etc. Keep all objects (feeders, waterers, perches, etc.) away from the fence. The chickens will be less able to escape if they don't have anything to jump/fly from. Always have food and water in the coop. I know this may sound like a weird strategy, but its one of the best ones you'll find. When you keep water and food in the run your chickens will have no need to leave the run and won't try to leave in search of food and/or water. If you really can't keep them in no matter what you do there is always the netting option. Be ready to go to trouble to keep your chickens in the run. It is so important to keep them in the run because if you don't your risk of an attack just got a lot higher!
A poorly built fence is as good as no fence, so go to every length to keep your chickens safe. Fix, build, or clip to keep in, close the doors at night, trap your predators, or shoot them dead in their tracks (make sure you have your licence). Remember, there are ways to save your chickens, so please, use them!
Above: Even a Barred rock can get over this 4 foot fence. Back to the drawing bored.
Above: Chickens escape! Chickens don't know the risks of escaping so that makes them all the more venerable.