Dangers in the Coop
Diseases, Predators, and More
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Are dangers lurking in your carefully planned chicken house?
A sturdy coop offers shelter from weather and predators and a quiet refuge for the laying hen. Unfortunately, even the best-kept chicken coop can harbor potential risks to your flock. When the chickens spend more time inside the coop due to bad weather or extremely cold temperatures, these hidden dangers become greater.
Some of the risks are biological, causing mild to severe illness. Other risks are almost entirely preventable with foresight.
When you do not employ good biosecurity measures, you risk major flock illness. Disease-causing organisms can lie dormant in your coop. Weather changes challenge the immune systems in birds. Once the immune system is compromised, sneaky disease organisms can cause illness.
Coccidiosis is a good example. Cocci are present in nature, contained in feces of many livestock. It is species-specific, meaning cocci that sicken lambs probably will not bother your chickens. However, a new chicken or cocci that travel into the coop on your boots from another coop can cause illness. An empty coop that is not thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after its last use can also harbor cocci.
Coccidiosis is sometimes a quick and silent killer. Symptoms include runny, yellowish, and slightly bubbly droppings, sometimes frothy with a small amount of blood. Sometimes there are few symptoms besides a chicken staying to itself, looking unwell, and dying soon after.
Scaly leg mites and other mites are considered self-limiting problems in poultry. They will make your birds miserable. Though birds with mites may not die from the parasites, they do not thrive. The irritation compromises a bird’s immune system, which can lead to more severe illness.
Two of the most destructive illnesses can also be brought to the coop by wild birds. Avian influenza and Mycoplasma gallisepticum are deadly to the flock. If you do not practice strict biosecurity, you may have to cull the entire population. There is no cure for either of these illnesses. In some instances, the bird might live but will be a carrier and infect other birds.
Predator Dangers: Who is Hiding in the Coop?
Isn’t that why you have the birds in a coop? Using a coop is the best defense against predators eating your chickens. However, predators are sneaky and especially crafty when hungry.
Snakes can hide in the coop and then eat chicks and steal eggs. Raccoons are great at hiding in the rafters or tucking themselves behind a feed bin. Fisher cats and rats can access the coop through exceedingly small openings. I have accidentally locked a barn cat or two in the chicken coop at night because I did not see them hunting a rat in the back corner. I am sure the rat was shocked too, but he didn’t live to tell about it.
Cement can seal any openings near ground level and keep small predators from entering. Once a small hole has been chewed, it will not take long for a larger animal to make the hole bigger and access a chicken dinner.
Using chicken wire on doors and windows can also lead to disaster; raccoons and other large predators easily tear it. Choose stronger hardware cloth or welded small gauge rat wire for open windows. Don’t forget to cover any openings in the roof with wire, too. I have seen many coops built with enough space in the soffits for a raccoon to gain entry easily. This open area is great for ventilation but cover it with wire to keep your chickens safe.
Placing the roost close to a window covered by wire with large openings allows raccoons to reach in and grab a chicken by the neck. For some reason, the raccoon is happy only to behead your chicken and leave the rest behind.
Latches and locks are important if you want a secure coop. If your flock goes into the coop to roost, but you don’t latch the door, you are only doing half the job.
Fire and Other Mechanical Hazards
Fire is preventable. In a building filled with dry feathers, dry bedding, and dry wood, adding an ignition source is never the best idea. If you must add heat and lights to your coop, use the safest equipment you can find. Clean dust from the lamps and cords frequently.
Also brush away and remove dust accumulating on the chicken coop’s ceilings and walls. If it falls on a lightbulb, it can spark a fire. Also, dust is not healthy for the respiratory system of your birds.
Instead of metal heat lamps, choose lamps that have more safety features. Livestock supply businesses have brooder-style warmers and infrared wall heaters. While these choices still use electricity, the risk of fire from a broken or loose lamp is reduced.
Flimsy nest boxes can tip, catching a chicken underneath. Depending on the situation, a chicken might suffer from suffocation or heat stroke if trapped under a box.
Hanging cords can also cause an injury. Make sure they are safely secured.
Provide a Safe Landing
When your chickens jump from the roost, what are they landing on? Providing a soft landing keeps your chickens’ legs in better condition and prevents bumblefoot issues. Bumblefoot is the name for an abscess resulting from a small cut or bruise on the bottom of poultry feet. Lining the coop floor with a thick layer of shavings, straw, or rubber mat cushions the bird’s landing, resulting in less trauma to the feet and legs.
Providing a coop is only the beginning of keeping your birds safe and secure while they roost. Making the space safe from biological hazards, predators, contamination, injury, and fire is part of the equation. A quick survey of your flock’s coop will provide the list you need to complete the job.
What other dangers in the coop would you add to this list? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.