Thursday, May 8, 2014

11 Tips For Predator Proofing Your Chickens

Whether chickens free-range or are primarily confined to the coop and run, predator protection can be one of the most challenging aspects of backyard chicken-keeping. An awareness of coop security basics goes a long way towards keeping backyard pets safe from unwelcome, hungry visitors. Here are some ways to keep your chickens safe from predators.

1. Don't allow Chickens to Roost Outside 
Chickens are most vulnerable when they are asleep and many chicken predators are active at night, making inside a locked coop the safest place to sleep. Teaching chickens to return to the coop at night is best done from the time they first take up residence in the coop, but they can also be trained at a later date. 

2. Never Rely on Chicken Wire for Safety
Chicken Wire is meant to keep chickens in, not predators out. Any hungry raccoon worth its salt can tear open chicken wire as easily as if it were a bag of potato chips. Hawks can reach in through chicken wire to pull a bird to its death. Never rely on chicken wire as a safety fencing.

3. Install ¼ inch Hardware Cloth Liberally
Snakes and members of the weasel family can get into the coop through very small openings, devastating a flock in very short order. Using hardware cloth, cover any opening in the coop and around the run that is greater than ¼ inch. All windows should be secured with hardware cloth. Window screens will not keep predators out. Use screws and washers to secure the hardware cloth, not staples, which are easily dislodged. 

4. Bury it or put an Apron on It
 To deter digging predators, dig a 12" trench all the way around the perimeter of the coop and bury the hardware cloth. If the coop floor is dirt, bury hardware cloth at least 12" underneath it. An alternative to a trench is to extend a 12" apron out from the perimeter. An apron isn't as effective as a trench, but will provide some measure of security from digging beasties.

5. Cover the Run
Ideally, at least a portion of the run will be covered by a roof both for protection from the elements and from aerial and climbing predators. Chickens confined to the coop and run daily without a roof will benefit from some type of netting strung over the top to deter hawks and other flying predators. The limitation of netting is that climbing predators such as raccoons can easily access the run by tearing through it.

6. Close Coop and Run Doors at Dusk
One never knows when a nocturnal predator might begin its hunt for food prematurely, therefore, the coop and run doors should be secured as soon as the flock has gone to roost for the night. 

7.  Use two-step locks on doors
Raccoons are very adept at unlatching simple locks and turning basic door handles. Locks requiring multiple steps to open will be more likely to foil a raccoon's dinner plan than a hook-and-eye type lock. Spring locks and barrel-style locks are recommended.

 8. Do not leave food in the run at night: Food attracts predators and pests like rats and mice.While predators may not be successful getting to the feed, they can still cause property damage and stress the chickens trying. If food must be left in the run, make sure the feed is concealed in a closed container

9. Guardian animals 
Various animals are widely considered excellent guardians of chickens, including llamas, donkeys and certain dogs. Two dog breeds that make excellent livestock guardians are Great Pyrenees and Akbash. A rooster will serve as an attentive, early warning alarm for flock members to hide when danger is near; many a rooster has sacrificed his own life battling a predator in defense of his hens. Guinea fowl are very vocal guardian birds, snake eliminators and tick eradicators!

10.  Provide hiding spots for free-range chickens
 Free-range birds benefit by having natural and artificial cover from predators. Bushes, branches, pallets, etc. Anything nearby that they can dash underneath when danger looms above will work.

11. Know The Enemy
One of the basics is to know the enemy. Having an awareness of the type of predators that live in the area allows specific deterrents to be employed. 

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