The pleasures of keeping chickens are plenty. If you are anything like me and thousands of other people, you not only appreciate the eggs, but have come to love those sweet things. The loss of one hen can be devastating emotionally, as well as, the investment lost made for the sake of egg production. That’s why we not only want to keep them healthy, but we want to keep them safe too. Chickens have many predators. It seems EVERYTHING wants to eat chicken. This makes it a challenge to keep them safe.
Since chickens have so many predators, the best way to work on keeping them safe is to do a little research on what may live in your area and then work on methods specifically suited to protect from those predators.
When I was growing up in the mountains of Virginia, I remember some of the predators that would harass my dad’s flocks were the weasels, skunks, bobcats, and opossums. But living here in South Carolina the thing that plagues us the most are hawks, foxes, Bobcats, coyotes, and the neighbor’s dogs. That’s why knowing your area is the number one step in knowing how to protect your flock.
Give your flock a secured location to sleep safely at night. If possible, keep them inside a coop with doors that can be secured with a lock. Some predators such as racoons can unlock some latches, so outsmart the predators and make the latch on the door predator proof.
There are electronic doors available for those who can’t get out to open the coop every morning and close every night. They can be set to close at dark and reopen in the day.
For our chickens’ run we use avian netting to protect from hawks. This netting has saved our girls plenty of times.
Give your flocks a roost inside the coop off the floor and keep the coop clean with no food left inside. Food inside the coop will attract rats and rats are not only a predator for some chickens, but will chew holes out which makes an entrance for other predators. Be sure to remove dead birds immediately, as the smell will also attract predators.
When letting your flocks go out, it may be necessary to keep them safe within a chicken run covered with welded wire. Make sure that predators are not able to dig under the fencing. Hardware cloth is preferred over chicken wire, predators can chew through chicken wire. Chicken wire is only good for keeping chickens inside, but not very effective to keep predators out.
If you are keeping your flocks inside a chicken run, remember there are those
predators that will dig beneath the fence or wall to enter the grounds. For this reason, we recommend burying hardware mesh attached to the fence line then go about 6” deep down from the wall and then out about another foot or two. This way when they begin to dig, they will run into wire all the way foot or two.
If you want to free-range your flock and local predators are a problem, consider getting guardian dogs. If well-trained, livestock guard dogs are extremely effective at protecting against predators, day and at night. But this requires that the dog always stays with the flock.
If your flock has already been attacked, here are some signs to look for to recognize what type of predator you are dealing with.
If you have found your adult birds are missing but there are no signs of what happened, the predator probably is either a dog, a coyote, a fox, a bobcat, a hawk, or an owl. These predators usually kill and then pick it up, and carry off an adult chicken. Hawks generally take chickens in the day, and owls usually take them at night.
If you have missing chicks with no signs of disturbance, the predator may be a snake, a rat, a raccoon, or a house cat.
If you find birds dead but not eaten and have parts still intact, a weasel may have attacked the flock. Members of the weasel family, including mink, kill just for the fun of killing. Sometimes, the chickens’ bodies are bloodied. Also, there may be eaten internal organs.
If birds are dead but not eaten with a missing head, the predator may be a raccoon, a hawk, or an owl. Raccoons sometimes pull a bird’s head through the wires of an enclosure and then can eat only the head, leaving most of the body behind. Raccoons may work together with other raccoons scaring the chickens to the far end of a pen and the other picking off the birds’ heads.
If birds are only