If you already enjoy the pleasure of raising a flock of chickens, or are just in the planning stages, it is important to understand how to protect your birds from attacks by predators.
While you may want to offer your chickens the freedom to roam wherever they please, there are a few precautions you need to take to ensure their health and safety, including providing adequate shelter and a safe enclosed space to run.
There is a huge range of versatile and affordable chicken coop kits listed at Foter.com to give you ideas for a safe and stylish home for your flock.
1. Know the Predators in Your Area
Before you can design a safe, enclosed space for your flock, you need to know which predators are most common in your area. Foxes, coyotes, possums, hawks, and wild dogs are the most common culprits when it comes to decimating your flock. But large predators can also be an issue if you live in an area where bears and mountain lions are prevalent.
Check with your local wildlife authorities about frequently sighted predator populations, and don't forget that household pets can be predatory too. Playful dogs and cats can get over excited and harm your hens if given access to the coop.
2. Avoid Chicken Wire
Contrary to popular belief, chicken wire won't protect your flock from predators. Chicken mesh was originally designed to keep chickens in rather than keeping predators out of the coop. The wire is too thin and malleable to provide protection from all predators.
A durable alternative for better protection is to use chain link fencing. Although more expensive than chicken wire, the heavy gauge steel mesh prevents predatory animals from chewing through, digging under or bending the barrier.
Combine a chain link enclosure and a chicken coop kit for a durable and safe shelter for your chickens.
3. Bury Your Fencing
If digging predators are a serious issue, you may need to bury hardware mesh around the perimeter of your coop and enclosure.
Mesh should be placed between 2-4 ft deep. Dig a trench around your coop and enclosure 3" wide and install hardware mesh to prevent determined predators from digging through to your flock.
4. Cover the Coop and Chicken Run
Owls, hawks and other birds of prey are a serious problem for chickens. While it is great for your chickens to enjoy the sunshine, this exposure increases their risk of being carried off.
Cover the roof of your chicken run with chicken wire or netting to shelter your birds from airborne predators. You can also add a fully roofed section with corrugated iron to create shade for your flock and protection from the rain.
5. Improve Visibility
Most predators take a stealth approach, stalking prey and finding the most vulnerable points of entry to your chicken coop.
Trim surrounding grass, plants and trees from at least a 50 ft. perimeter around your chicken coop and install motion sensor lighting around key access points. Removing cover and surprising predators with light can deter animals before they attack. The light can also alert you to potential predators so you can intervene if necessary.
6. Check for Snakes
Large mammals aren't the only animals who can invade your chicken coop. Snakes are known to prey on chicks and eat eggs. Check your coop, especially nesting boxes, daily for snakes.
Avoid killing the snakes and relocate them instead as they help to keep vermin populations under control. Unfortunately, there are very few ways to prevent snakes from entering your coop beyond plugging up any visible gaps and using extra fine weave mesh.
7. Hang Old CDs
While protecting your flock in an enclosed space is relatively simple, for free-range hens keeping them safe can be a challenge as you can't be certain where they will wander. You likely have some old, worn albums lying around in storage. Put them to good use as a deterrent for birds of prey active during the day.
Hang the CDs from trees, posts and gates. The reflective surface of the disc creates a glare to disorient and deter birds. You can use pie tins or even mini disco balls, but do not use mirrors as this is a fire hazard.
8. Install Electric Fencing
Another effective barrier for free range chickens is an electric fence. The presence of a physical barrier is usually enough to prevent a chicken from wandering too far which means they are unlikely to be hurt by the electric fence. You can further mitigate the risk of electrocution by using a pulsing electric fence.
However, for a predator sniffing around the perimeter of your chicken enclosure, a quick zap on the nose will send them running and likely prevent further attempts on your flock.
There are a couple of drawbacks to an electric fence including the added cost of operation and the potential for malfunction if there is a power outage. But if used in conjunction with other protection methods, an electric fence can provide an added layer of security for your birds.
9. Lock Up Your Flock
Perhaps more important than any barrier or deterrent is to lock up your chickens at night. Many predators are most active after sunset, so it is vital to keep your flock safely tucked away in their coop for the night.
Ensure your coop features a locking mechanism that is tricky to open for curious creatures. Racoons are notoriously intelligent and are known to pick simple locks and open gates. A carabiner is a great alternative to a traditional lock as it requires opposable thumbs to operate.
But to keep out the nature's apex predator - man - you will need a padlock or security system to prevent your chicken from being stolen in the night.
10. Keep a Guard Dog
While some dog breeds are more likely to prey on your chickens rather than protect them, there are a few breeds that make exceptional guard dogs for livestock and poultry.
Breeds such as the Maremma Sheepdog, the Anatolian Shepherd, and Great Pyrenees are known for the aggressive behavior toward would-be predators, and their gentle demeanor and loyalty to the flock.
The biggest benefit of training a guard dog is that they remain with your flock around the clock, for continual protection.
Chickens are a wonderful addition to any home, but it is vital that you provide them with the right protection against predators.
In addition to a chicken coop kit, a sturdy barrier can prevent predators from accessing your birds for happy, healthy chickens.