Keeping Your Flock Away From Predators Takes Strategy, Knowledge, and a Little Craftiness
By Wendy E.N. Thomas – Just as it is anywhere birds are kept, in the northeast, we have several predators that pose a serious threat to backyard flocks. For the protection of our flocks, it’s crucial that we take the proper precautions necessary to keep our precious birds safe. Safety is especially important when new chicks are being transitioned to outdoor coops, where they may not yet fully know the boundaries of the yard.
But predators are in all parts of the world, and there is quite a list of potential danger coming from both above and below. So what can you do to protect your birds when such predators are constantly lurking?
Protecting Your Coop Inside And Out
“The most important part of a secure coop,” says Jason Ludwick, owner of Coops for a Cause in Meredith, New Hampshire, “is making sure you can lock all the doors at night.” He advises using sliding bolt locks or a type of latch that locks into place, and not using handles on your doors that are easy for an animal to put its paw on and open.
Secondly, suggests Ludwick, elevate your coop off the ground to keep it free of rodents like mice and rats. Also make sure any ventilation holes you have in the coop are screened off with chicken wire, hardware cloth, or good, tight netting.
On the outdoor runs, suggests Ludwick, “Only use either one-inch mesh chicken wire or hardware cloth. Two-inch mesh wire is cheaper but could allow in minks and weasels that could potentially kill your whole flock in one night. I have seen it!”
On all outdoor runs, Ludwick also recommends that you wire the top of the run to protect it from hawks circling overhead. This will keep them from swooping down and taking a chicken.
And if you have predators that are trying to burrow their way into the run, dig an eight- to 12-inch trench around the whole run and bury hardware cloth in the ground. This will stop pretty much any critter from burrowing.
Motion lights around your coop are also a great way to keep out predators, “When they trigger the light to come on,” Ludwick says, “most predators will run away. Plus, it gives you light if you have to go out at night to check on the flock. If you have no power near your coop, invest in a solar LED motion light.”
If your flock is allowed to range, you might also want to look into protecting the birds while they are outside of the coop.
“It depends on your flock’s needs, but we usually recommend electrified poultry netting as a way to keep your birds safe. It’s not so much that you want to keep your chickens in, as it is you want to keep the predators out,” said Colin Kennard of Wellscroft Fence Systems LLC., Harrisville, New Hampshire. Electrified netting sits on the ground and uses an energizer to put the voltage into the fence. The mild shock is very much like receiving a static shock but can vary in intensity depending on the size energizer, the grounding conditions, and moisture level. For the most part, chickens with their hollow feathers tend to not receive shocks from the netting.
“They’d have to work pretty hard to get shocked,” said Kennard. Electrified poultry netting is excellent for flocks that are rotated to different ranging areas. When the birds are finished with one area, you simply pick up the netting and move it to a new location. This, of course, is perfect for meat birds that will typically be culled before the snow comes. He suggests using the netting when you need it, and then to put it away during the winter when there are no birds.
For year-round flocks, Kennard suggests that you use poultry netting outside for three seasons, and also have a permanent fenced-in area for use during the winter. With care, and if nets are put away during the winter when the strain of snow and ice can potentially cause damage, poultry netting can last a long time. “We have some in use that has been up for 10 years,” said Kennard.
The bottom line on securing a chicken coop is some time-tested advice from seasoned coop builder Tom Quigley, of Saugus, Massachusetts, who advises those with a flock to “not skimp on the coop or yard. What may cost a little more now can save much heartache later.”
Veteran Advice From Those Who Learned the Hard Way
“We’re on a first name basis with our worst predator, a dog from two doors up. Our best line of defense was to have a blunt chat with the neighbor about keeping his dog secured on his own property. We were concerned about keeping both our chickens safe as well as the dog. Fortunately, he has taken better precautions on his end as well. That said, our coop is up off the ground by several feet. The floor is hardware cloth reinforced between layers of wood and plywood. All windows are covered in hardware cloth, which was installed while the coop was under construction, so the edges are secure from both in and outside. The attached pen has hardware cloth running up the first couple of feet, as well as an apron of the stuff buried about 18 inches down and covered in a layer of large rocks (New England’s best crop). We have chicken wire over the top and wove heavy-duty fencing wire through the chicken wire for added support. Any critter who manages to get through all that certainly worked hard for its supper.” — Bianca DiRuocco, Pennacook, New Hampshire
“When I built my coop and run, I tried to think like a predator. I looked for and fortified every gap or potential weak spot, everything that could be chewed through, squeezed through, or ripped apart with teeth and claws. The windows, rafters, and the corners of the coop and run are all covered in half-inch hardware cloth. The doors all have multiple latches and the entire structure is sitting on a 15-inch concrete pad. Good luck to any critter that tries to get in there!” — Jenn Larson, Salem, Connecticut
“We covered the floor in hardware cloth, as well as the windows. The hardware cloth is obviously under the plywood floor. Our neighbor had an animal dig a hole underneath his coop and right through his plywood floor, and lost all of his chickens in one night. Also, think about how you are going to be using your coop and/or run. The coop doesn’t have to be secure if your run is fully secure. Likewise, your run doesn’t have to be secure for overnight predators if you lock your chicks in their coop overnight. Our run is used only for daytime when we’re not home, so there is only a partial roof (for snow and rain protection) but plenty of shade from large bushes and small trees within the run. The outside is livestock fencing but the bottom is aproned with hardware cloth, which is also laid out about 18 inches on the ground all around the coop to prevent dogs, etc., from digging under.” — Lenore Paquette Smith, Exeter, New Hampshire
“I have chicken wire over my coop windows, also dug down below my enclosed run, and I buried the chicken wire as well.” — Stephanie Ryan, Merrimack, New Hampshire
“Make sure you bury bricks around the perimeter to prevent raccoons from digging under the wire!” — Sean McLaughlin Castro, Cocoa, Florida
“For those who can, a good livestock guardian dog is priceless for peace of mind and when not, use hotwire and heavy wire.” — Jen Pike, Chickenzoo.com
“We’ve been very lucky and I think some of it is due to the coop being about two feet off the ground (on wheels). We have to insulate under it in the winter but no one tunnels in. We also close them up at night, every night. They spent the winter parked about 10 feet from a building that has a very large (unwanted) raccoon population.” — Glynnis Lessing, Northfield, Minnesota
“Have the men of your house do a ‘number one’ around the perimeter of the coop. This is a great defensive tactic.” — Stephan de Penasse, Merrimack, New Hampshire
Originally published in the October/November 2014 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.