Protecting your flock from potential predators is a crucial aspect of owning and raising chickens. Due to the immobility and somewhat docile nature of chickens, they serve as easy prey for a number of predators, including some that you may not immediately suspect. To better protect your chickens, it’s important to understand what you’re protecting them from. Here are some brief descriptions of some of the most common chicken predators and how they attack.
Coyotes are vigorous, resourceful, cunning and intelligent, and pose a serious threat to your chickens. Coyotes thrive in both rural and urban environments, and will hunt or scavenge for food. While they avoid humans and human habitation, they will do what they need to survive. Coyotes will often eat an entire chicken, leaving little to no evidence they were present.
Foxes are smaller than coyotes and may appear relatively harmless, but they are known as some of the most notorious chicken predators. So much so, that the term “fox in the hen house” is a common idiom for a looming threat. Smart and savvy, foxes will usually climb or dig their way into a chicken coop to kill or take with them what they can, leaving scattered feathers, and sometimes blood, as the only evidence they were there.
Raccoons are smart, persistent, and one of the biggest threats to your chickens. Raccoons will not only dig and climb to get into your coop, they’re also known to unlock gates or reach for chickens through gaps in wiring or fencing. Raccoons attack chickens by biting at the head or neck, and will consume parts of the bird onsite, or drag it a short distance away. If you find multiple chicken carcasses in or around your coop, it may be a sign of a raccoon attack.
Opossums are nocturnal, meaning they do their hunting at night. These marsupials are not particularly skillful or smart, and will often find an easy entrance, such as a gap in the perimeter or an open gate. They are also strong climbers and will often climb their way into an unprotected coop. Opossums attack their prey with their claws and don’t usually kill more than a bird or two at a time. They also don’t usually eat an entire chicken, as they only take as much food as they need for one feeding.
Hawks have great eyesight, sharp talons and pointed beaks. They are the one of the biggest threats to your chickens from above. Hawks will often swoop down and snatch their prey with their talons, slicing it up in the process. They will then carry off their prey, without leaving much of a trace that they were there. Hawks are federally protected, so even if you see one hunting your chickens, it’s illegal to kill or trap them without a permit.
Much like hawks, owls have great eyesight and sharp talons. They are also nocturnal, stealthy and very observant. They often hunt from a perch, such as a tree or barn, and swoop in to grab and kill their prey. They eat their prey whole, then regurgitate what they can’t digest, such as feathers and bones. Finding these remnants may be the sign of an owl attack. Also like hawks, Owls are federally protected birds.
Your dog, or a neighbor’s dog, may pose a threat to your chickens. Many domesticated dogs are still instinctive hunters, and might go after your chickens if they have the opportunity. Dogs typically kill for sport rather than food, and attack chickens by biting them, then violently shaking them until they’re dead. An unchecked dog could wipe out your entire flock.
Domesticated and feral cats are another predator of your chickens that you may not immediately suspect. Like dogs, cats are instinctive hunters, and are often kept on farms to drive rodents and other small pests away. While they may shy away from roosters and larger hens, small hens and chicks are vulnerable to cat attacks. With razor sharp claws and piercing teeth, cats will often go for a chicken’s neck.
Bears are perhaps the strongest predator you will come across. Bears will tear through your coop and eat chickens, eggs and feed. Unlike attacks from other predators that don’t have the strength to destroy your coop, signs of a bear attack will be quite obvious, as your coop, and the remains of any chickens that were attacked, will be scattered about.
Despite their small size, rats can terrorize your chicken coop, especially chicks and eggs. While they’re generally not a threat to full-grown chickens, rats are known to carry off entire chicks or roll eggs away. Rats can climb and even jump, but they will typically try to access your chicken coop by digging or chewing their way in.
How to Protect Your Chickens from Predators
Your region may not include all of the aforementioned predators, but if you want to fully protect your chickens, you should take the necessary precautions to secure all sides of both your coop and run. This includes securing the top, perimeter and underneath.
Here are a few tips for securing your coop and/or run:
- To prevent digging, place wiring both beneath your fence and underneath your coop. In some extreme cases, you may need to pour concrete beneath your fence or under your coop.
- You can prevent chicken attacks from above by placing a strong net or wiring above both your coop and run. Decoys, such as a scarecrow or wind chimes, may also serve as a deterrent.
- Fences and walls should not have any gaps, and any windows in either your coop or run should be covered with mesh or wiring that would prevent a small predator’s arm from reaching through.
- While it may be hard to protect your chickens from a bear attack, check your coop for any structural weaknesses, especially the frame, roof and any openings, such as doors or windows.
- Many predators are not initially drawn to chicken coops by the chickens, but by other sources of food, such as chicken feed or trash. Minimize waste around your coop and lock up your chicken feed when it’s not being used.
- If you have a cat or dog, train them around your chickens. A number of pet attacks can be prevented by training your pets that your chickens are not hunting game or a source of food. You may just need to keep them separated.
- Your coop’s door is one of the easiest points of access for a number of predators. Ensure that you have a door that securely locks and is complex enough that a savvy predator wouldn’t be able to open it. Also, don’t forget that you must lock your chickens in their coop at night to keep them safe from predators.
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