Whether chickens free-range or are primarily confined to the coop and run, protecting them from predators can be one of the most challenging aspects of backyard chicken-keeping. An awareness of coop security basics goes a long way towards keeping backyard pets safe from unwelcome, hungry visitors.
1. Don't allow Chickens to Roost Outside
Chickens are most vulnerable when they are asleep and many chicken predators are active at night, making inside a locked coop the safest place to sleep. Teaching them to return to the coop at night is best done from the time they first take up residence in the coop, but can be trained subsequently. More on Coop Training here.
2. Never Rely on Chicken Wire for Safety
Chicken wire is meant to keep chickens in, not predators out. Any hungry raccoon worth its salt can tear open chicken wire as easily as if it were a bag of potato chips.
3. Install ¼ inch Hardware Cloth Liberally
Cover any opening in the coop and around the run that is greater than ¼ inch with hardware cloth, including windows. Window screens will not keep predators out. Use screws and washers to secure the hardware cloth, not staples. Much more about hardware cloth here.
To deter digging predators, dig a 12” trench all the way around the perimeter of the coop and bury the hardware cloth. If the coop floor is dirt, bury hardware cloth at least 12” underneath it. An alternative to a trench is to extend a 12” apron out from the perimeter. An apron isn't as effective as a trench, but will provide some measure of security from digging beasties.
|Evidence of a digging predator, whose efforts were foiled by buried hardware cloth.|
4. Cover the Run
Ideally, at least a portion of the run will be covered by a roof both for protection from the elements and from aerial predators. Chickens confined to the coop and run daily without a roof will benefit from some type of netting strung over the top to deter hawks and other aerial predators. The limitation of netting is that climbing predators such as raccoons can easily access the run by tearing through it.
5. Close Coop and Run Doors at Dusk
One never knows when a nocturnal predator might begin its hunt for food prematurely, therefore, the coop and run doors should be secured as soon as the flock has gone to roost for the night. An automatic pop door opener can manage this detail.
6. Use two-step locks on doors
Raccoons are very adept at unlatching simple locks and turning basic door handles. Locks requiring multiple steps to open will be more likely to foil a raccoon’s dinner plan. Spring locks and barrel-style locks are recommended.
Important personal safety note: think of all the possible ways that you could become locked in the run and have an escape plan. Many of us have managed to lock ourselves in the chicken run accidentally. I, for one, am thankful that my husband let me out without groveling. ☺
7. Don’t leave food in the run
Food attracts predators and pests such as mice and rats. While predators may not be successful getting to the feed, they can still cause property damage and stress the chickens trying.
8. Guardian animals
Various animals are widely considered excellent guardians of chickens. Two dog breeds that make excellent livestock guardians are Great Pyrenees and Akbash. Llamas are also outstanding flock guardians. A rooster will serve as an attentive, early warning alarm for flock members to hide when danger is near. Many a rooster has sacrificed his own life battling a predator in defense of his hens.
Free-range birds benefit by having natural and artificial cover from predators. Bushes, branches, pallets, etc. Anything nearby that they can dash underneath will work.
|This trail cam was my birthday present this year. I don't worry about predators getting into my coops, I'm just curious about what else lives in the woods behind my coops.|
10. Know The Enemy
One of the basic tenets of The Art of War is to know the enemy. Having an awareness of the type of predators that live in the area allows various deterrents to be employed. A trail cam with night vision can illustrate what type of predators lurk in the area as well as the time they are active.
- Decoy animals (owls, wolves)
- pinwheels, mirrors, streamers, hanging CDs (shiny things are purported to deter hawks, but none has worked for me)
- Predator urine- deters predators based upon the scent of their natural predator
- Electric poultry netting, hot wire, etc.
- Predator Preventer deterrent devices. The more layers of protection, the better: blinking red lights, motion sensors, heat sensors, flood lights, alarms, etc.
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The winners of the giveaways on 3/24/13 are: 1) Alyssa Blankenship, The Predator Preventer! and 2) Tammy McKnight, a PredatorPee Prize Package!
The winner of the Solar Nite Eyes giveaway, courtesy of Fleming Outdoors on 4/9/13 is: Benny Pulley!