The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to protect chickens from hawks, raccoons, and more

Protecting chickens

As you may have noticed, I've been running a bit of an ongoing series here with answers to questions new chicken-keepers might have.  Previous posts included how to hatch homegrown chicks and how to choose the best chicken breeds for homesteaders.  Today I want to touch on a topic that's not so photogenic, but that needs to be considered by anyone who wants to get into chickens --- how to protect those delicious morsels from the wild animals who'd love nothing more than to eat them up.

Baby chicks are most likely to be eaten by rats and snakes, but adult hens tend to succumb to dogs, hawks, raccoons, opossums, and similar predators.  Your first line of defense against predators is to protect your flock when they're most vulnerable --- at night.  A solid chicken coop is optimal, and if your predator pressure is high you'll want to shut the birds in each evening (or to invest in an automatic chicken door to do the job for you).  Raccoons, especially, can reach right through small holes, so be sure your birds' roost is far enough away from gaps so that a predator can't rip their heads off without even entering the A dog protecting chickenshen house.  To be truly predator proof, the coop will also need to have a solid base that extends for several inches into the soil to prevent diggers from entering the coop.  Finally, even though I love giving scraps to chickens, I'm starting to lean away from putting those kitchen scraps in the coop since the scent attracts predators who stick around to eat my birds.

What if your chickens are getting picked off in the daytime instead?  If you have a small run (which you shouldn't), you can beef up the walls just like you did the coop, then can string fishing line over the top in a woven pattern to keep out hawks and owls.  But if you prefer giving your birds larger pastures, or even letting them free range, it's going to be nearly impossible to keep predators out of their daytime living area.  Instead, I recommend adding a rooster to your flock, since he'll sound the alarm and do his best to fight off any invader during daytime hours.  A good dog (trained to protect, rather than eat, chickens) is the second line of defense --- our dog comes running as soon as she hears our rooster's alarm call, and she has managed to chase away a hawk that had pinned a hen three times over the past winter.

White LeghornChickens are pretty alert to predators during the daytime, with hawks being their primary downfall.  After a rooster and a dog, I have two more lines of defense against raptors.  First, I make sure that our chickens roam in areas with lots of bushes and other things to hide under.  Hens often see a hawk coming as the raptor dives down to dine, so if they have something to scurry beneath, the chickens might be able to evade capture.  Second, I raise dark-colored chickens, since I've learned the hard way with multiple breeds over multiple years that letting white chickens free range is like putting up a flashing neon sign: "Chicken take-out, now hot!"

I'd be curious to hear from others who have dealt with their own predator problems.  Which predators are the most likely to eat your chickens?  What do you do to protect the flock?

And for those of you in the planning stages of starting your own chicken operation, be sure to check out our chicken waterers, which keep you from having to handle manure and keep your birds from having to drink it.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Ah, but our raccoons in Maryland show up at all hours, even in the middle of the day. Possums, too. :( We've had to resort to wired fencing over the top of the entire chicken yard. We weave it together and support it with poles.
Comment by Julie Whitmore Thu Mar 6 08:17:30 2014
Hawks and fox like to get my Barred Rocks and Dominique all the black and white ones.The white Leghorns live forever on my place.But the browns do the best.It might just be that the browns ones all mixes, are just smarter. My white Leghorns are flighty.But the Rocks and Dominique seem to be a bit dim, perhaps from inbreeding at the hatchery? I am adding Welsummers and Belvedere this year to improve my brown pullets. I had 12 roosters this winter and culled them down to just 4 for 30 hens. Two roos are 4 years and two roos are 1 year.The roos are very self preserving and not the best protection for hens. But my 2 shepherds are the best defense.
Comment by Ruth Thu Mar 6 09:23:22 2014
We close our birds up at night and that has helped a lot. During the day, they are often out and about and our dog is their best defense. I have watched her sound an alarm and then seen every bird stop in its tracks, heads up to see what is going on. The roosters are great, too and when a juvie red-tail tried to get them this winter, the roosters sent up the alarm and the dog faced off with the hawk. [Amazing!] Note: We got our dog when she was a couple of years old. Early on, she took out a lot of chickens one day for fun. It took some steady training and a firm hand, but she's smart and is now their best defender. She won't bother the birds [even tiny ones] unless they're in her feed and at worst they get a tail feather nipped.
Comment by Robin Thu Mar 6 09:24:33 2014

Our big problem is definitely, certainly, and almost entirely mink. We're surrounded by lakes and rivers and mink are to be expected. That being said, we wouldn't mind it if it were wild (brown) mink.

There are several large black mink farms (read as 100,000+ mink) in the next county, on the same river system. They have strict no catch policies on mink that have escaped as they don't want to introduce parasites or disease from the wild.

Escapees make it down the river and take up a hunting ground. Unfortunately, as soon as one gets trapped or shot another takes its territory. We've lost over a dozen at a time during the peak breeding season, and a neighbor has lost and given up on rabbits. (he does have a shed full of nice pelts though)

Coops need to be mouse tight and full of perches and they must be locked in at night. Creating false entrances under the coop with traps also helps a bit. It's disheartening to lose your animals, really.

Comment by Matthew Thu Mar 6 09:42:10 2014
When I put two dozen half grown hatchlings in the coop, i found half of them killed one morning. Only one was at all eaten, and only its head. Verdict: a weasel.
Comment by Errol Thu Mar 6 10:11:17 2014

Free ranging just does not work for us, I'm sad to say. We have a neighborhood bob cat that comes and gets them during the daytime. Hawks fly overhead sometimes but since we're in a wooded place, they don't attack.

The other thing is to really, really make sure your coop is secure. We had a raccoon climb under the coop and pull a chicken's leg through the wire. So we had to totally board the bottom up. Then we had something rip through the chicken wire of the little window and pull a chicken up by the head (still can't figure out how it did it). Then we had a bear rip a board off to try to get to the chickens or the little bit of food I had in there. We had coyotes or dogs dig under the wood of a chicken tractor to get all the young roosters inside and then we had a bear flip over a chicken tractor to eat the meat chickens. It's been crazy. Our dog helps somewhat but we don't like to keep him outside at night because of the coyotes (and because he's more of a pet than a working dog).

Comment by Karyn Thu Mar 6 10:39:11 2014

Get an electric fencer! I have found that predators are all very easily trained to stay away from chickens by using an electric fencer. Pretty quickly, the predators know that chickens are dangerous things! and they don't want any part of 'em. I set up a fence around my small night-time coop. One wire is about 'nose high' to a cat, the second wire is 'nose high' to a dog. These two wires get about anything that wants to try chicken for dinner. I use a battery powered fencer. I connect it only at night when I shut the chickens in. It really works, and after a few weeks of 'training' the predator pressure drops to almost zero.

Comment by Anonymous Thu Mar 6 12:44:03 2014
My parents have had good luck with movable electric fence. It has plastic poles that get stepped into the ground, so they can pick it up and move the pasture every few days if they need to. (They still close the chooks up in the coop every night.) They live on a pretty open hill where hawks cruise by all day long, but they try to keep the pasture shape kind of long and thin, which is rumored to make hawks think they can't make a landing without getting tangled up. So far the rumor seems to be true.
Comment by Jake Thu Mar 6 23:49:51 2014
We lost a number of hens, and ducks, to hawks. The hens got to the point that any shadow cast from something flying overhead would elicit an alarm. We used to joke that it was the only word they knew in English-....HAWWWK!
Comment by Deb Fri Mar 7 01:40:30 2014

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