Maximum Security - Ward off poultry predators the right way

Published on Thu, 07/31/2014 - 9:07am

In every “Getting Started with Backyard Poultry” class I teach, I repeat the following statement at least three times: “I would much rather you wait an entire year to get started raising backyard chickens and do it right the first time than to start today and do it the wrong way because you don’t have the funds set aside.”

And this statement comes up more when I talk about dealing with predators than any other topic in the class because making your set up predator-proof is where you will probably spend most of your money.

The chicken coop is the last line of defense for your chickens when it comes to predators, and a coop is a major cost for keeping a backyard flock. Keeping aerial predators out with poultry netting is a must, and actual poultry netting isn’t cheap. Finally, keeping digging predators away involves heavy-gauge welded wire buried 18- to 24-inches in the ground. This often involves the expense of renting a ditching machine for the day—and welded wire ain’t cheap, either.

Going off-script
Our first “affordable” set up was far from perfect or predator proof, but it worked without issue until we could afford to “do it right the second time.” One advantage we had was an existing 6-foot privacy fence all around our backyard. This was our first line of defense against predators, especially when it came to neighborhood cats and dogs. And while we did see the occasional possum on the fence, we never saw a raccoon.
We also had two dogs that spent time in the fenced backyard off and on throughout the day—an effective way to keep predators at bay.

What we used
Our total initial purchase to get started with this particular set up included a 50-foot long roll of  48-inch high welded wire, ten metal fence posts, a large-breed plastic dog house, a five gallon plastic waterer, and a 30-pound capacity feeder for a total cost of about $175, not including the cost of our brooder and 25 Rhode Island Red chicks.
We used a portion of our 6-foot privacy fence as our run, so we did not need more than one roll of welded wire. We chose not to bury the fencing because of the added protection afforded by the privacy fence and the fact that we had two dogs to keep a close eye on our yard and for anything that might think about infiltrating the perimeter.
We installed the fence posts and fencing, then placed the large breed dog house in the middle of the run with the waterer and feeder close by—and we were done! The one added upgrade we purchased about a month later was a 4-foot aluminum gate to make entry a little easier—bending and re-connecting the welded wire fence was growing tiresome and wearing the welded wire fence to the breaking point.

How it worked
In the summer months, we found the chickens would roost on top of the dog house at night. During the winter, they would cuddle up together inside. Since they laid their eggs in the back corners of the dog house, another purchase was needed: A long-handled gripper.
Though we never lost a chicken to an aerial predator, about a month later we added our cheap version of poultry netting: plant netting. It’s relatively inexpensive, comes in 4-foot by 100-foot rolls, and did the job perfectly—until we had our first light snow shower that brought it all falling to the ground! That’s when we decided to “do it right the third time” and purchase the more expensive, longer-lasting “official” poultry netting that has a tensile strength of about 80 pounds.
While the setup was far from perfect, it worked for us for about two years. Still, we lived in an urban subdivision, had a tall privacy fence already installed, and had two good watch dogs that took their jobs seriously. While some people choose to go all out with their first chicken set up—spending upwards of $4000 or more—you can get started and “do it right the first time” for much less.