Besides providing basic care for your flock, protecting chickens from predators tops the must-do list for a chicken keeper. When thinking about the onslaught of predators your chickens may face, it’s important to remember why predators are so interested in our feathered friends. In a nutshell, when we keep backyard chickens, we put an all-you-can-eat buffet in our backyards. For a predator, life is tough. They’ve got to find a food source and then use all their tools to catch that food. Yes, they’re sated at that point, but hunger is never far away. Your backyard coop is their grocery store.
Easy pickings! Right? No. That’s also the crucial point to remember when protecting chickens from predators. Yes, you’ve put out the all-you-can-eat buffet, but you don’t have to make it easy to belly up to that buffet. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts that will help you keep your flock safe.
Do’s for Protecting Chickens from Predators
Do use 1/2 inch hardware cloth to secure openings in your coop. Hardware cloth is welded wire. It’s sturdy and not easily ripped open, unlike chicken wire which is not predator-proof and better left for the craft cabinet. Make sure even the smallest of holes are secured. If you find weasels killing chickens, check for mouse and rodent tunnels. Weasels like to use those tunnels to gain entry to the coop. Also be sure to bury your hardware cloth at least six inches down into the ground and a foot out horizontally from the coop. This will stop digging predators. Even if you have windows with screens in your coop, make sure to add the welded wire too. Screens help keep the bugs out. Hardware cloth keeps the predators out.
Do know what predators are in your area. If you’re new to the area, you may want to check with your neighbors or the local extension agency to find a list of local culprits. Many predators, such as raccoons and foxes, can be found nationwide, but others are more local and may require some extra protection to keep them at bay.
Do change up your protection techniques on a regular basis. Predators are smart and they get used to routines and things that stay in place for a long time. For example, if you’ve got a scarecrow in the yard, move it to a different place every few days.
Do try to identify a culprit if you lose a chicken. “What killed my chicken?” is a common question when someone suffers a loss. It may not seem immediately important since the deed has already been done, but it can be one of the most important questions asked. Protection techniques can vary from predator to predator. So, if you know what caused your loss, you can better protect the remaining flock members.
Do know your local and national laws. When you’re protecting your chickens from predators, you don’t want to run into legal troubles. While there are no-kill traps at your local farm store, many localities do not allow folks to trap and release. Directly killing a predator may or may not be allowed in your area and may vary from species to species. Plus, birds of prey are a protected species. It is illegal to harm them in any way. When figuring out how to protect chickens from hawks, methods must be proactive and not lethal.
Do embrace technology. Yes, we chicken keepers are a hardy sort, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use some extra help. Things like automatic chicken coop doors with built-in predator motion detection that can send you email alerts, night guard solar lights, and wildlife cameras can make all the difference.
Don’ts for Protecting Chickens from Predators
Don’t leave your chickens in an open area. One of the best ways to protect chickens from hawks, owls, and eagles is to make sure your chickens have lots of places to hide when a predator is flying overhead. Bushes, large grasses, decks, and overhangs can be a perfect place to take shelter.
Don’t forget the seasons. While we tend to think of our chicken keeping chores as seasonal, predator protection can have highs and lows based on the seasons. During the spring and fall, many flying predators will migrate. If you’re in a natural flyway, then business at that time will be brisk. Spring is the time that most predators are reproducing. They’ll require more food during this time to feed their young and themselves.
Don’t keep doing the same thing over and over with the same results. Logically, this makes sense in life. It also makes sense for protecting chickens from predators. For instance, if you experience fox attacks early in the morning, then don’t let your chickens out early in the morning. Wait until a little later in the day.
Don’t assume your pets will love your chickens as much as you do. While many chicken keepers are most concerned about wild predators, domestic dogs are actually said to be the number one predator of chickens. Never leave your own pet dog alone in the yard with your chickens until you are 100 percent sure he or she can be trusted. Also, beware of roaming neighborhood dogs. While wild predators kill for food, domestic dogs will kill for the sport of it. They can kill an entire flock just for the fun of it. Domestic cats are not considered a predator of full-size standard chickens, but baby chicks and tiny bantams are bite-sized. So, make sure your brooder is secure and your smallest bantams are kept away from domestic cats.
Don’t discount the worth of a good rooster. Yes, roosters aren’t allowed in many neighborhoods, but if you don’t face any restrictions, then consider getting a rooster. If you think about it, a rooster’s sole job in life is to reproduce. To do that, the “ladies” have to be safe. So, a good rooster will always keep an eye out for danger. If he spots anything, he’ll sound the alarm and gather his hens in a safe place. Some roosters have even been known to lose their lives while defending the flock.
Don’t always assume missing eggs or missing chickens are the end result of a wild predator. Hens can go on laying strikes for a number of reasons including stress, lack of water, time of year or lack of nutrition. Also, hens have been known to go broody and hide their nest really well, only to appear almost a month later with babies in tow.
What are your favorite techniques for protecting chickens from predators? Let us know in the comments below so we can learn from your experiences.