Predators are probably the number one cause of chicken death in backyard flocks. I hear stories almost daily from people who lost their favorite birds due to animals that dig, climb, or fly into their coop. Predators are after chickens, eggs, or both.
Common aerial chicken predators are birds of prey such as hawks, eagles or owls. Others include climbers such as raccoons, opossum, snakes, rats, mink, and weasel. Diggers are skunk, fox, coyote and badger.
Larger predators include bears, fisher cats, and bobcats. All too often, though, neighborhood pets such as cats and dogs can also become predators.
The best thing that you can do to protect your chickens is to provide them with a strong, sturdy coop.
If your coop has a wooden floor, you are going to need to elevate it off of the ground. Wood will rot if it sits on the wet ground, creating entry for digging animals such as weasels, mink and rats. If you have a dirt floor in your coop, you will need to bury fencing well below the ground level. Cover all windows with hardware cloth. Avoid chicken wire as many animals can chew through it or rip it apart.
Always use half-inch to one fourth inch hardware cloth for the sides, top and skirt of your coop and run. For runs with dirt floors, bury hardware cloth two feet down and place a skirt two feet out—you can’t overdo it. Use plastic coated hardware cloth underground. Even galvanized wire eventually wears down.
Small holes can be a problem. They let in rats, weasels, mink. and snakes. Repair any small opening that you see. Make sure that you staple down your hardware cloth across vents and windows. Then drill strips of wood across the edge so the wire can not be pulled up by a raccoon. Use padlocks on you large doors to keep out both humans and animals. On pop doors where the chickens come in and out, use a type of lock that raccoons cannot figure out. A swivel lock works well.
Confine your chickens to a predator-proof space at night. Do not leave them out in the run even if you think that you have a secure run. You should be putting them into their coop before dusk because predators are most active at dusk and again at dawn. Don’t wait for your birds to come in on their own—call them in before sundown and don’t let them out until after sunrise.
If you are often gone you may want to invest in an automatic door opener.
Your run should be as secure as your coop. Placing a roof over the run is the best way to keep predators from landing in or climbing into the run. Affixing 1/2- to 1/4-inch hardware cloth up the sides of the run, under the dirt flooring, and out as a skirt will go a long way to deterring digging predators.
If you do not have a roof over your run, cover it with an aviary net for added protection against birds of prey but remember that climbing predators will not be stopped by it. Place objects that make noise or reflect light to deter birds of prey. Hanging CDs or disco balls that reflect light will frighten birds away. Bird scare tape also works as do decoy animals or eye scare balls. Hawk stopper netting is also effective, I’ve found.
Keep the area around your coop neat and clean. Brush and long grass provide hiding places for predators Store feed in tightly covered metal barrels. Keep feeders in the coop or run even if your chickens free range during the day. Open feeders attract wild birds and other small animals.
If your hens free range, consider getting a rooster. He will be watchful and give the alarm to take cover if anything attacks. Other good guard animals include Great Pyrenees dogs (or just about any other dog), donkeys, llamas, geese, or guinea hens.
Electric poultry fencing can be set up as boundaries for your chicken’s free ranging. It will deter smaller animals. If you live in bear country, you may want some electric fencing around your coop. You will need a charger, some wire and insulators.
Every day you should be observing around the outside of your run for signs of burrowing or chewing. A fox will take several days to burrow under a run and you should be seeing signs of it. A game cam will help you get an idea of what type of predators are visiting you at night and what their typical behavior is.
Install motion activated lights which will surprise and scare off predators. The solar-powered flashing light Nite Guard can deter pests.