Many backyard flock owners have lots of questions about chicken predators. Do raccoons eat chickens? Do skunks kill chickens? What about foxes, hawks, bears, bobcats, and the neighborhood dog? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. All carnivorous and omnivorous creatures would be happy to find a chicken waiting to be dinner.
I see a huge uptick in predator activity in the fall as the wildlife starts to get ready for a long cold winter. Learning how to protect chickens from predators is an ongoing process. Just when you think you have covered all the bases, a wily coyote may sneak in the coop and help herself to a free meal. Taking precautions is what we do to keep our chickens from becoming sitting ducks.
If you’re wondering how to protect chickens from hawks and owls, fully or partially covering the chicken run will keep the flock safe. We have shade covers installed in three out of four corners of the chicken run. This and the heavy tree cover seems to deter the hawks. They have never attempted to land within the chicken run that surrounds the coop. On the other hand, they can and do land in the poultry area, and that is one of the reasons we don’t leave the chickens out to free range when we are not supervising.
Chicken Coop Security
Do raccoons eat chickens? Yes. Raccoons are the biggest threat to my chickens where I live, on the east coast. Our next biggest threat is the fox. Knowing this, we build and secure our coops with the behavior of fox and raccoons in mind. Raccoons have paws that work much like the human hand. Latches are often not a problem for them to open, thereby accessing your chickens. We use snap hooks and carabiner clips to secure the door latches and gates.
Most books will tell you that predators hunt and eat at dawn and dusk. I am here to tell you that this is not the only time that they will hunt and eat. Foxes will hunt when hungry and a momma fox with kits learning to eat is going to hunt at any time to provide food for her hungry babies. Young raccoons will also hunt out of the ordinary times.
Particularly in spring and fall, predators may not stick to a text book routine for hunting and eating. This spring we had an increase in the fox population surrounding our farm. Neighboring farms saw the same and for many weeks we all battled the hungry mother foxes. They were doing what they needed to do and we were protecting our chickens. It was a no win situation. We increased the stability of our chicken run after a fox got into the area. This was after a loss of three hens, a rooster, and a duck all in one attack.
Now it’s fall and the young foxes and raccoons are getting ready to survive their first winter. They know they need calories and extra fat for the cold temperatures, so they are hungry. We have increased vigilance, and increased security around the coops again. We wait until later in the morning to let the chickens out. If we let them out to close to sunrise, they are a tasty meal waiting for predators who are still lurking. As the days are getting shorter, we have to get back to the barnyard earlier to make sure that the chickens are not disturbed by a predator as they fill their crop before they go to roost.
As cold weather approaches, check the exterior of your coop and run for weaknesses and openings. Our coop had been surrounded by board fencing and chicken wire for years, even though I knew it was not the best choice. After the attack, we attached a second layer of welded wire fencing to the outside.
The windows are covered with half inch hardware cloth. During very cold weather, plastic windows are attached to the window openings.
The underside of the coop is enclosed in wire to keep predators from hiding under the coop. We used boards to cover up any areas that had been chewed into by animals.
Keeping Rodents out of the Coop
Check for holes leading into the coop. Patch with crumpled chicken wire and cement. Skunks, opossums, rats, and other rodents can gain access through a very small hole and will eventually attack your chickens when they are roosting. In addition, they will eat all the chicken food left out if given the chance. It is best to remove all feed and empty the bowls before locking the chickens in the coop for the night.
Raccoons will also eat the food left out in the run. In addition, they will use the water bowls and fonts as their personal food washing stations. Dump out the water at the end of the day. Not only will this make your run less attractive to predators, it will also help prevent the possible spread of disease.
Dogs and Cats
Your dog may be trained to leave the chickens alone, but any other dog will see chickens as something fun to play with. An untrained dog will probably also see a free meal. This is a good reason to not let your chickens free range in a neighborhood setting. You really can’t foresee when a roaming dog might be visiting. Dogs can be quick to strike and you might get caught in the crossfire trying to save your chicken’s life.
Do cats attack chickens? Cats are not much of a problem as far as I have seen. All of our barn cats have had a healthy fear of the chickens. The chickens are large enough to take care of scaring off a normal size cat. I have never seen a cat attack a chicken. Chicks on the other hand, are a quick moving interesting snack for a cat to chase, kill, and eat.
What Predators are in Your Area?
If you are unsure what animals lurk in your area waiting to eat your chickens, contact your local extension service. They will have information on the wildlife in your area. If you are wondering what killed my chicken, look for clues around your property. Scat left behind by predators is a clue as are the foot prints in mud or snow.
Learning how to protect chickens from hawks, raccoons, foxes, and other predators requires that we learn as much as possible about wildlife and their habits.
One way to learn these lessons is to observe nature as you see it around your farm. Tracking is one way to know some habits of your local wildlife. Knowing the different tracks left by different predators helps you to know who you are likely dealing with while learning how to protect chickens from hawks and other predators.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.