racoons & rats + my chicks first outdoor shelter


8 Years
May 15, 2011
Hi, I am just starting out - I have six 5 week old chicks in my basement and am ready to get them OUT and they are ready too. The weather is still pretty cold at night but I am prepared to keep a heatlamp out there for them to adjust gently to the out-of-doors. I live in the Seattle area in an urban area and there is an undeveloped lot next to us that is all overgrown and we are having a spring-fling of young rats and big rats zooming in on our yard since we got the chicks - the pine shavings in the compost are evidently heaven for the rats. We've seen rats before so I know they are not new since the chicks - just spring time and the chicken duff is a bonus. So I am reading all the posts on battling the rats. Plus, we have racoons. Some people in the neighborhood like to feed them, I know.

So we have plans to build a coop/henhouse combo to house them but it is not yet built. But we just finished a tractor for them in the meantime. It is 1/2 inch hardware cloth on about a 4x4 foot frame (chicken-crib as is built partly out of my daughter's old crib). We think it will be ok size-wise for the next month (we hope!) while we build the chicken-palace.

With rats and racoons - I know the racoons will eat chickens and I get the impression rats may also - so I want to protect them. I think the whole frame of the tractor is quite solid - not 2x4's but still solid. The two doors have top and bottom safety latches - hook closures that have springs - I am hoping those are racoon-proof. Right now the tractor is under our deck so it is protected from the elements better (still raining and windy here - I tarped the sides on one end of the tractor and part of the top so there is shelter around the roost and the heat lamp can be hung from the deck above to shine just above the roost on one end so that sheltered end gets heat at night.

My question is this: I would like to think I can avoid digging chicken wire or hardware cloth into the ground 12 inches as that completely ruins the mobility of the tractor and will make it challenging to clean, given it's design (or lack thereof). Do you think it is an option with racoons to lay bricks or paver stones (10-12") all around the outside perimeter of the tractor to prevent digging under or otherwise moving the tractor? At least with bricking it in at night then during the day I can move the whole thing into the sun while I clean it or I'm at work. Or should I give up the whole mobility issue in favor of a Fort Knox approach?

Thank you in advance - any advice is much appreciated!
Without a photograph, I can only go by the mental picture in my head, formed by reading your post. If I'm picturing it correctly, I think a raccoon could flip it right over. I wouldn't use anything for a tractor or coop that didn't include a space with a secure bottom and solidly latched door for the chicks to retreat to at night. Apart from the risk of raccoons flipping it over, you'll also find that rats have no problem burrowing under... I would definitely opt for Fort Knox.

Edited to add: I'm also worried about the heat lamp being exposed to rain. I, too, live in the Pacific Northwest and I can't imagine hanging a heat lamp under our deck. Maybe I'm picturing it all wrong.
Anyway, I hope that whatever you decide to do works out perfectly for you and your chicks.
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Are you able to dispatch said raccoons where you live? Or drive them to the "sticks" and dispatch them away from the houses? If not, you will have problems.
Raccoons are the worst about being destructively persistent. I trap almost every night and let a lot of species go unharmed (possums, cats, skunks) but raccoons don't have a "get out of jail free" card. If you trap it, you have to kill it. Relocating the problem animal is not only illegal, it's just plain wrong both to the animal and to the other humans that you are dumping your problem onto. Just to clarify, the animals I release I release exactly where I caught them in my own yard. Anyways.
The basic requirements for keeping chickens, even in the city, are a box type live trap and a quiet .22

I had a raccoon breach my chicken tractor in my back yard one time. Fortunately I was awake to hear the commotion and me coming out with a Maglight scared him off for the night. Trapped him the next night. If you have dogs in your yard it does seem to help "some" depending on the dogs and the coons. Keep their rabies vax current just in case.

If I were you I'd start running the trap before you even put the chickens out. Use cat food for bait, I buy a small bag of the cheap store brand stuff just for trapping, but dog food also works if you have that on hand. Once the chickens are outside they will only be more bait, but the raccoons will usually go for the "easy" meal that they are used to stealing from around the neighborhood already.

Still, you won't be able to kill every potential predator and building for fort knox is the safest route to go. I used electric fence around the base of my tractor, with a long enough extension cord that I could move it around my yard.

ETA: For rats they will cost you a LOT in feed costs. To combat rats I bought a TomCat rat bait station. It was $15 at TSC, and it's a black plastic box the same style that is used commercially. There are two holes in one end, and the rats have to enter then go around a little divider inside to get to the bait. This prevents your birds from sticking their head in and getting to the bait. I can use this inside my coop safely, though it's a little more expensive than home made methods. You can make your own rat poison mixing peanut butter and plaster of paris into little balls and putting them where your birds can't get to them. Or make a bucket trap to drown the rats, directions are here in the predators section if you use the search function.
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Since you can't bury wire and keep the tractor mobile, you may opt to lay 2-foot wide wire (chicken or hardware cloth) flat on the ground around the edge of your tractor. Make sure it's wired securely around the edge of the tractor. You can mow right over this wire if it's laying flat. You can also push some landscape cloth stakes through it to make it more secure and flat.
Tala wrote: " I used electric fence around the base of my tractor, with a long enough extension cord that I could move it around my yard." - Super interested in this!!

Thank you all for your input - DH and I are mulling it all over. It sounds like what we built was a nice enough daytime tractor and need to increase security for nighttime or when we are gone. Meantime, since it's still cold I was planning to bring the chicks in at night anyway so we have some time to revise. I am totally intrigued by the electric fence idea - I wonder if it would sufficiently protect against racoons...??

If it were to, the investment might be worth it as we are talking about building the coop/run (the gardencoop.com is the one we are liking) but having a mobile fenced yard for them to come out in when we are around so they can forage in the yard - something we can switch around in our yard (which is unfenced so simply free roaming isn't really a good option, plus, I don't want them up on the patio and in all the garden beds) - the electric fence might work for that fencing. Except I am also reading that the lawn can short it out so I need to explore all that more.

About the heat lamp under the deck - our deck is upstairs and the basement and ground level where the tractor will be set initially is under - so the deck is about 8 feet up at least. Then above the deck is a roof, so that part of our deck is out of the rain and so is the area the tractor and heat lamp would be. I was only putting the tractor there at all to transition the birds gently from warm indoor living since it is still barely 60 degrees in the daytime. Soon it will be nice enough to have the tractor on the lawn somewhere and if I thought the electric fence would "solve" my racoon problems then I would be sure tempted to do that. At least then I could clean the tractor out (dang! I guess I just didn't think this all through very well - security vs cleaning - the big coop/henhouse seems to be very secure so we don't feel worried about that - knock wood!)

I had been reading up the predator thread before I posted this and am wowed by some of the things I have read. I am grateful to this forum - it is so helpful! And really glad I don't have to contemplate panthers or some such!!
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Look into the electric fence idea. It's fun to see unwanteds learn what electric fence is and that they really need to hunt elsewhere (a Phillis Diller hairdo on a coon is a funny sight
and NO! I'm not cruel, just a realist)

If your're creative you can get some inexpensive 1/4" cold rolled rod and bend it (dog leg) to create supports that attach to each corner of the coop/run for a electric fence "halo" or perimeter around the coop, slide plastic tubing over the rod to insulate it , run your wire (strands about 2 - 3 inches apart and high enough to get a dog's nose) and simply plug it in whenever you're not needing to access into the coop. You can even use a solar charger and battery to keep operating cost down.

You will find that you'll quickly train everything that comes around that your birds are off limits!

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