How to protect chickens from hawks, raccoons, and more
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.
to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the
RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.
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 hen
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.
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.