Many members of the chicken community would agree that a lot of effort goes into raising backyard chickens. While it may be a fairly inexpensive task, the work involved can sometimes be time-consuming and tedious. Of course, some of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
Given the amount of time that we dedicate to maintaining our flock, it’s important that we always take care and ensure that we are keeping chickens safe from predators. The last thing we would want to do is give our all to our feathered friends, just to have one or two picked off by a hungry hawk or ravenous raccoon. This fact is especially true if there were simple preventative measures that we could have taken to begin with.
While chickens don’t usually go down without putting up a fight, the fact is that they’re not well-known for being instinctively on alert at all times. They don’t pay very close attention to their surroundings, especially when they are foraging and have their head down looking for bugs. This scenario is the opportune time for a predator to attack.
Top Chicken Predators
The different number of predators your flock may encounter is dependent on where you live. Whether you’re raising your flock out in a rural area or in a more city-like location will make a difference as to which threats you will need to prepare for. We’ll discuss a few of the more common hunters and later elaborate on the best ways to ensure that you’re keeping your chickens safe from these predators.
Opossums / Raccoons
These sneaky critters are not usually known to go after bigger chickens. They tend to crave the chicken eggs or even the chicken feed, but will occasionally try for one of the smaller birds. What’s worse is that, if an opossum or raccoon does kill off one of your chickens, they probably won’t even eat it.
If you stumble upon a mostly untouched carcass or a bunch of destroyed eggs, it may be a sign that you’ve been visited by one of these vicious pests. Sometimes your chickens will even alert you to the presence of an invader, so if you see that your flock is standing in a group away from your coop, and doing a lot of unusual clucking, you may have something in your hen house feasting on your precious eggs.
Coyotes / Wolves / Foxes / Dogs
These animals can strike at any time during the day. We all know that chicken meat is delicious, and they like it even more than we do. Any member of the canine family, even a household pet, can become a predator for your flock of chickens.
Most of the feral canines don’t enjoy hanging around in your backyard, but as more and more land becomes urbanized, they get pushed out of their environment, along with their other sources of food. This predicament means that they have to go out scavenging for food when they get really hungry.
These predators are the easiest to distinguish as you will see a bunch of feathers scattered about with a lot of blood, but no chicken body in sight. Depending on your terrain, you will probably even notice paw prints around the area, if you look close enough.
Birds of Prey
This could include hawks, eagles, and even owls. These can be a threat at any time during the day, but there’s usually more of a danger of an attack from one of these birds during the daytime as the chickens will be outside and in their run during the day and inside their coop at night.
You can tell that your flock was attacked by one of these predatory birds if you find a carcass around the run that still has most of its feathers intact and only one general wound that’s been pecked and eaten at.
Any member of the feline family can be a potential threat to your chickens. This includes bobcats, panthers, lynxes, and even domesticated outdoor cats. Most of these big cats will hunt around dusk, but really could attack at any time of day.
If you see a chicken carcass that features claw and teeth marks and there’s not much left of it, it was probably a victim of a big cat attack. These felines will also sometimes cover up the body to preserve it for later, so you can look for that as an indication, too.
Snakes can go after both chickens and eggs. If the snake is small enough an adult chicken may be able to take care of it, but if it’s too big, your chicken won’t stand a chance. Whether it’s a highly poisonous breed, like a rattlesnake, or a constrictor, like a python, snakes are definitely a predator to watch out for.
Snakes don’t usually leave too much evidence of their visit, so you’ll have to keep a keen eye on your headcount and eggs. If anything seems off, you might be dealing with a slithering predator.
The Best Ways To Keep Your Chickens Safe
Fully Enclosed Chicken Run
The best way to ensure that you’re keeping chickens safe from predators is to invest in putting up a fully enclosed chicken run for them to safely roam in. This setup involves fencing all the way around the border of your chicken’s area AND on the top. To provide the most amount of protection you should bury the wiring into the ground at least a foot deep.
Burying your fence deep will help keep out the more determined predators that will attempt to dig their way into your run. A desperately hungry animal will try just about anything to get at your birds. The top is necessary for those critters that are agile climbers, like the opossum, and predatory birds, to be kept out.
If you live in an area that is notoriously known to be home to many natural predators for your chickens, you are definitely going to need a little extra protection. This situation is where an electric fence will come in handy. Electric fencing is not too dangerous for your flock, but it will be a big shock for any unwelcome animals that try to enter your run. If you don’t want to or can’t go that route, for whatever reason, you should at least double up the fencing around the border.
You should also make sure that there are no big holes in your coop and that you keep the door to your coop locked at night. Animals are resourceful and while you might think your chickens are safe and resting for the night, if any predatory animal gets in, it could mean the end for your entire flock.
While it was stated earlier that canines can be a huge predator for your chickens, there are some exceptions. Certain breeds of dogs can actually make a good protector for your birds. The best way to use a guard dog for your flock is to keep your chickens inside a protected run and allow your dog to patrol the outer boundary. They should be more than capable of chasing away many of the threats that are lurking just outside your backyard’s perimeter.
Many of us spend a lot of time in our backyards caring for our flock or just hanging out sitting on our porch. If that’s the case for you, and you happen to see an occasional predator far off staring longingly at your birds, you might want to consider purchasing a small BB gun.
These won’t generally kill any of the animals, but it may deliver a painful enough sensation for them to get the point that they’re not welcome in your backyard. If you’re a really good shot, a Dennis the Menace style slingshot, will get the job done just as easily
No matter what predators your flock may be exposed to, the point is that you must do everything in your power to ensure their safety. Chickens do not have much to fight back with, so it’s up to you to provide as much protection as you can.
A good, sturdy, fully-fenced run is a great place to start as it should provide an effective way to keep most of the predators mentioned above away from them. There’s always going to be a threat for you to have to watch out for regarding your flock, but sometimes we have to learn the hard way before we decide to actually do something about it.
By preparing for the inevitable you can ensure that you are able to maintain as many birds as you want without always having to live in fear that one could be killed off or injured by a predator at any time.