Any chicken owner knows that one of the quickest ways to lose a flock of chickens is to have a local predator start treating it like an open buffet.
From hawks and foxes who will kill adult chickens without leaving a trace to the copperhead snakes, skunks, and argentine tegu lizards who love to consume their eggs, chicken owners may have to contend with any number of aggressive animals looking to feast on their flock – some of which it may be illegal to kill, trap, or relocate.
Luckily, there are several simple, low-cost ways chicken owners can fortify their coops and protect their flocks from all manner of predators.
- Bury walls and fencing deep enough to stop burrowing predators.
Weasels, foxes, and other potential menaces to chickens are often effective burrowers, able to dig under the walls of a chicken coop or the strongest fence. To keep them out, chicken owners should make sure to extend their barriers at least 12 inches underground, which should be deep enough to discourage the predators from digging further. Hardware mesh or hardware cloth, available at most hardware stores, is ideal for this purpose, as it’s sturdy enough to withstand fierce digging and durable enough to last for years underground.
- Use fencing fine enough to keep predators out.
Chicken wire is great for keeping chickens in or out of places, but the holes in chicken wire fencing are too large for it to be an effective deterrent to snakes, rats, and other small predators. Using finer fencing or hardware mesh will help keep these animals away from the flock and their eggs. Chicken keepers should also check their coops, runs, and fencing carefully for any holes, cracks, or other weaknesses that might create an opening just large enough for a predator to slip through.
- Shield outdoor flocks from attacks from above.
Hawks can be one of the biggest menaces to any chicken flock, and one of the most difficult to deter from chickens that spend any time outside. However, chickens who spend all their outdoor time in an enclosed run can be protected relatively easily with hawk netting or other barriers strung over their space. Hawks can be very agile, so low-roofed structures that prevent them from getting a good view of or swooping down on the chickens can be a life-saver, especially for chickens who feed outside, which can make them sitting ducks for hawks and other aerial attackers.
- Use reflective surfaces to deter hawks and other aerial predators.
Hawks and other birds of prey that might threaten a flock from above are easily spooked and distracted by shiny things, so chicken owners can bedeck their coops and runs in bright, reflective objects that will twirl, flutter, and generally create a light show in order to keep the birds at bay. Dedicated predator deterrents are commercially available, but chicken owners can also improvise by hanging up old CDs and DVDs, reflective tape, or hand mirrors – anything shiny that will move to catch the light.
- Manage the environment to make it harder to hide.
Wild animals, of course, thrive on not being seen, especially when hunting, so making it more difficult for them to hide around the chicken coop can encourage them to move on to safer food sources. Cutting long grasses will help keep snakes and other ground predators at bay, as will eliminating or moving other hiding spots like rocks, wood piles, and the compost. Trimming the bottom six inches off of any bushes near the coop will also discourage ground predators, while aerial predators will be less likely to hang out near the chickens if there are no good branches or trees to perch on nearby.
- Bring in other animals to scare the predators away.
There are a number of animals that can be kept near chickens to help deter predators from bothering them. Roosters, of course, protect the hens in their flock by warning of nearby predators; guinea fowl are also loud enough to frighten off many predators and aggressive enough to chase away the ones who don’t heed the warning. On the more traditional end, watchdogs can be great at scaring off ground predators, so long as they’re well-trained not to harass the chickens themselves. For those with a hawk problem, spreading peanuts can attract crows, who will harass any hawks out of the area without bothering the chickens.
There are, of course, no fool-proof ways to guarantee no chickens will ever be lost to predators. There are inherent risks to keeping chickens and allowing them outdoors; however, preventing major or regular losses to predatory animals is relatively easy. Chicken owners with persistent problems should check their local regulations and may need to contact Animal Control or Fish and Wildlife before setting out traps or otherwise attempting to permanently eliminate the offending pest.