by Hank Will
Your backyard chickens depend on you for their health, housing and safety, and, in exchange, they will supply eggs, entertainment, pest control, fertilizer, meat and more. You should anticipate losing a bird to predation occasionally, but these tips will help keep your flock safe from a wide variety of predators.
1. If you raise your chicks in a coop, they will naturally return to lay eggs and roost there at night after you let them range all day. Make sure the house is predator-proof and close it up at night once the birds are settled.
2. Elevate the coop off the ground by a foot or more to deter rats, skunks and snakes from living beneath it and stealing eggs, chicks or young hens. Keep the henhouse floor tight and patch any holes that would encourage predators.
3. Secure the coop in a poultry run to discourage four-legged carnivores from having access to your flock. Poultry wire, welded-wire mesh, electric netting or other fencing materials with small openings (or high-voltage electrical pulses) will keep your birds in and predators out.
Bobcats and coyotes are skilled jumpers and can successfully clear 4-foot-high fences, so construct your enclosure tall enough, or add a cover net to keep the visitors from vaulting the fence.
4. Use welded-wire fencing, chicken wire or game-bird netting to cover the chicken run, or install crisscrossing wires overhead to deter hawks and owls from eating your birds. Hungry owls may want their meal right at dusk, or slightly before, so if owls are abundant in your area, don’t wait until dark to close up your coop.
5. Select small-mesh fencing materials for enclosing coops and runs if raccoons and members of the mink or fisher families are a problem. Raccoons and other dexterous animals are notorious for reaching through larger meshed fencing or wire and killing the birds they can reach.
Even though 2-by-3-inch welded-wire fencing is cheaper, if you use 1-by-2-inch mesh or smaller welded wire, you will lose fewer birds.
6. To prevent predators digging beneath your surface fencing, bury galvanized hardware cloth or other welded-wire fencing along the perimeter of the chicken run.
7. A motion-sensor-activated night light or a set of Nite Guard Solar predator-deterrent lights will keep most nocturnal predators away from the coop.
8. If your dogs aren’t tempted to chase running, squawking chickens, give your chicken-friendly dogs the run of the chicken yard – particularly at night.
9. Prepare to take swift action when you discover predation. You can eliminate the predator or restrict its access to your birds. Failure to do so will result in future losses.
10. Leave the perimeter around the coop and chicken yard as cover-free as you can. Go ahead and plant shrubs inside the chicken run – your birds will love the shade and pecking leaves. But many predators are uncomfortable in an area with minimal cover and raccoons are less likely to try to work through a welded-wire enclosure when they have to sit in the open to do it.