Almost every time I meet someone who is a fellow chicken keeper, and tell them that we’re new at it, they warn us to beware of predators. When getting chickens was still just an idea to us, we found out our neighbors lost their whole flock to bears breaking into their coop.
*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, designated by a *. If you order through these links we may receive a small commission, and we thank you for your support!
That made us aware and ready when we brought our chickens home, though I didn’t even know bears would kill them. Everyone of course thinks of foxes, but there is so much more wildlife to be wary of. Raccoons, weasels, and skunks are on the list. Coyotes, which we’ve heard off in the distance, bobcats – I saw one along the road a mile or two from our house, hawks and owls. We hear owls in our woods all the time, and we had a hawk hanging around quite a bit back in the spring. We’ve also seen the fox twice so far.
Most surprisingly is the fact I’ve read that dogs are #1 on the list, and cats are on some as well, though I think with cats it’s more for baby chicks than full grown chickens. You might remember our cat Samantha used to hang out with our chicks, so some cats can be trusted! Both of our dogs have shown interest in our birds, though I tend to think that they really only want to chase them; but it’s something we will always have to keep an eye on. Our dogs will be on both sides of the equation – never let loose to chase the chickens, but they also help with keeping the other predators away.
Most predators are around at night, so having a secure and safe place for the chickens to sleep is a top priority. Our coop was custom built for safety. It is more of a shed, not just a flimsy coop with a lot of wire like many I’ve seen. Our door and windows are house quality. The two front windows, which are lower, are kept completely closed at night. The side windows, since higher off the ground, can be left open partially with screens inside. The coop is attached to the garage, so there is additional ventilation into there through the eaves where it is attached (ventilation is very important for chickens).
You can’t do too much, so in addition to a strong building, we have predator lights on each side of the coop. The flashing red light of the Nite Guard solar lights* is seen as a threat by wildlife, and they will not approach. So far, knock wood, we have not seen any evidence of predators trying to get into our coop. We are also adding more motion detector flood lights to the front of the garage and barn.
However, both times we have seen the fox in our yard it was late afternoon, not even dark yet. The hawk we continually saw back in the spring/early summer was around off and on throughout the day.
It may seem that our birds are at higher risk because they are free range. Yes, that is true, but even those with runs or pens for their birds have lost some to predators. Smaller predators are especially adept at fitting through tight places and finding their way into coops and fenced yards. I had my own doubts about free ranging ours, but my hubby was adamant about it. Now that I’ve seen how happy the birds are roaming the yard, I wouldn’t want it any other way either.
To deter the hawk from coming in closer, we used reflective bird repellent scare tape* that flashes different colors when waving in the wind to keep them away. We put strips of the tape in every area where our birds hang out. We also put some down by our vegetable garden and blueberry bushes to hopefully keep the wildlife from eating our produce. As it turns out, our own chickens ate all my blueberries, so we will have to fence those off next year!
We also have a scarecrow plastic owl* on patrol in the yard, said to keep away unwanted birds and some rodents as well. He just sits on guard and we move him to different locations from time to time.
Everything we choose to do has to be safe and non-toxic. We don’t want to hurt the wildlife or our own pets, and many birds of prey are federally protected anyway. My hubby also has an air gun just to try to scare them away when needed.
One of the many reasons we got our guinea fowl was for flock protection as well. The guineas will put up a fuss when anything new is seen, and will even kill mice, rodents, and small snakes. Their noises are said to scare predators away; though they can be killed by predators as well. The chickens themselves can make a lot of noise, and they have places to hide. Both times we saw the fox were before the guineas were outside. The chickens alerted us to it being there; they made a racket and flew and scattered closer to the safety of the house and the porch they can hide under.
Last but not least, we humans and the dogs do what we can as well. Our birds mostly only free range when we are home to keep an eye on things, except for very short periods of time. Both times we saw the fox, my yelling and Luke’s barking helped to scare it away. I moved my laptop/office next to the dining room windows so I can always keep an eye and ear on things.
We spend time outside so that predators who might come near know there is frequent activity going on. I walk the dogs in our woods and around our property. Our routes always include walking the perimeter of our yard, with Luke and Cricket marking their territory and I believe that helps too.
If Luke and Cricket want to run out into our yard barking for no apparent reason, we always let them. They may smell or hear something out there that we don’t, and their barking can certainly alert any predator that we are out there and around. Having dogs that bark is a great thing for a farm!
Most importantly, we need to never be complacent. When we go for long spells with no sign of the fox or hawk, we might slack off spending more time in the yard. With cooler weather we might be out there less, so we need to be diligent in making sure we continue to keep things looking active. I dread the day we ever lose any of our birds – I have become very attached to them – so we are going to continue to do everything we can to keep them safe, and try to never let our guard down!