Chicken Predators

Chicken predators can be a problem for free range or penned flocks.  Many species also eat their eggs.  The old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, is really true here.  Once an animal starts eating the eggs or has a successful kill, its next to impossible to stop them.  At that point, you're left with few options: installing secure enclosures or trapping and relocation.

The list of animals is long, including dogs, fox, weasels, raccoons, opossums, hawks, owls, coyotes, cats, and large snakes. 

If you plan to keep your chickens in a 6 ft chain link kennel type run with an attached coop then the main chicken predators and pests are reduced to mice, rats, small weasels, owls, hawks, and large snakes.

Page Index

Dogs

Cats

Hawks & Eagles

Opossums

Mice & Rats

Fox

Sharp-shinned hawk

This sharp-shinned hawk started hunting small birds at the feeder but wasn't  bothering the chickens.  We chased him away immediately so he knew (1) someone was watching and (2) he wasn't welcome.  After about 3 incidents, he didn't come back.  In a way, its too bad,  we really enjoyed seeing him.


On this page we list many different types of fencing used to deter chicken predators.  See the Garden Fencing page for specifics like post hole depth or post materials.

Dogs

Expose puppies to chickens daily.  Chasing is not allowed.

  • Dog training.  Introduce when a puppy.
  • Dog run
  • Fence:  Chain link fence 4-6' high, solid privacy fence, woven wire with 3" hole size.  Can be bigger for big dogs.

Dogs will eat eggs and they love to chase chickens. This can cause the hens to stop laying for weeks.  Some dogs will also catch and kill chickens.

If the problem dog is yours, you can train him to stop the behavior.  If you've introduced chickens to an adult dog for the first time, it will not be easy.  Puppies are ideal.  Dogs can bond to chickens and even protect them if raised with them.

In the event it's a neighbors dog or you have one that isn't responding to training, then physical separation may be the only option.  Chain link fence 6' high and in contact with the ground will stop big dogs.  If you are dealing with a chicken chasing lhasa apso the standard 4' chain link fence will be enough.  The typical wood privacy fence also works well for dogs. 

Digging under the fence:  If your dog digs under the fence, and training has failed, you can try laying strong small mesh woven wire fencing flat on the ground from the bottom edge of the fence out about 2 ft.  Secure it to the ground with gardening staples.  The grass will grow through the mesh and make it disappear.  You can mow over it same as your regular yard just make sure the blades don't come close to the ground.  Fido will have a hard time digging through the wire.  Coated wire will last longer.  For really big strong dogs you may need to use chain link.  Trim your dogs toe nails so they can't get a grip and rip it up.

Testing: if you have any doubts that this will work, do a test first.  Get a small section of wire and place it over his favorite digging spot (replace the dirt first).  Use lots of landscaping staples since it is not one long heavy piece of fencing.  Carefully watch him while he tries to defeat it and decide if it will work for your dog.

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Cats

Chickens & cats usually get along.

Usually cats and chickens get along great.  But cats love chicken eggs and some cats on occasion become chicken predators.  They don't chase chickens for fun.  If you see one chasing your chickens they are probably hunting it.

Who's Guilty?: We had a problem with a chicken predator but we were not sure which cat it was or even if it was a cat.  But, we had our suspicions.  We put the cat in a kennel so he couldn't hunt and the deaths stopped.

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  • Introduce kittens to hens.  They learn respect that will last a lifetime.
  • Don't accidentally educate them about eggs.  They don't normally recognize eggs as food.
  • Fence:  2" woven wire or chain link fence 6' high, solid vinyl privacy fence (not wood) 6' high.

Thankfully it takes them a while to figure out that there are eggs in the coop or that they are delicious.  If you have pet cats, don't give them raw eggs or prepare cooked eggs for them in their presence.  They come to recognize those small white oval things as food! 

Unfortunately, once they start eating the eggs out of the coop, there is little that will stop them.  Generally hens lay during the morning so you can keep the coop locked up until lunch time, collect the eggs and let them out to free range during the afternoon.

If you want your chickens to be able to come and go when they want and for you to be able to collect eggs on your schedule, then you'll need to keep egg nabbing cats out of the coop.  They can climb a 6' wooden privacy fence but not a 6' vinyl privacy fence.  They also don't like to climb chain link but it will need to by high since they can jump the typical 4' fence.  If you cover the enclosure, then it doesn't need to be so tall.

An all purpose Scotch collie or English shepherd can be taught to keep the cats out of the hen house.

Hawks and Eagles

  1. Large thick bushes such as rhododendron, cranberry, barberry, burning bush, magnolia, forsythia etc. provide some protection from hawks. Unfortunately this same structure can be cover for fox, opossum and other four legged chicken predators .  Keep bushes near buildings and structures that say "people" to deter the four legged predators from using them.  Lay bushes out as islands so they don't become predator highways.
  2. Covered Run: Keep the chickens in a run that is covered with bird netting, a roof, etc.
  3. Use fence or buildings to limit how far the chickens can roam from the coop.  Chickens keep an eye out for hawks and will sprint for the coop but they often roam too far to make it.  A fence that limits their range (15 - 25 ft) improves their chances.
  4. Dog that protects the flock.
  5. Vigilance (see at right).

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Immature bald eagles

These immature bald eagles eat fish and will not bother chickens.

Your Vigilance will often save your birds from hawks.  Mature hawks don't seem to hunt our birds.  Young hawks, particularly red-tails, that aren't very good at hunting, try to get them in late summer.  I suspect they are very hungry and are getting desperate.  Every time I see them flying low over the yard or landing in a tree in the yard (obviously hunting) I chase them off.  Make a lot of noise and throw things.  Try to be as frightening as possible.  It might sound silly, but after a couple of times, they don't come back.

Opossums

Opossums are odd as wild predators go.  They are not afraid of being seen in the open in daylight.  If they find your barn or coop, they don't want to leave even if you push them out with your boot.  Like the one on the right, they just turn around slowly, stubbornly and go back in.   They will eat chicken eggs and carry rabies.

My daughters and I herded this guy through the yard, 200 yards down toward the pond, another 200 yards up the hill to the tree line and watched him saunter away along the trees.  We felt sure he'd not come back.  But he was in the barn again the next day.

The usual deterrents such as open spaces, and night lights don't work.

How to catch an Opossum:  Put on thick leather gloves and tall boots.  The last one we caught was in the hen house sitting in the corner.  We closed the hen house door, and placed the open end of our cat carrier in front of him along the wall.  Then we prodded him forward with some long sticks.  A piece of plywood or a herding panel also works great for moving him and keeping you safe.  Place it on the floor between you and the possum.  Be ready to push him back away from you with the sticks if he approaches. You have to be persistent and patient.  After about 2 minutes of trying to figure a way out, he walked into the carrier.

Opossum doesn't want to leave.

  1. A good sized dog will keep possum away.  He should be vaccinated against rabies.
  2. Fence: Opossum can climb so it needs to be tall or smooth surfaced.
  3. Trap and release:  This isn't as hard as it might sound.  They don't move very fast.  Evaluate them first for signs of rabies before trying to catch one.  Walking in circles, wobbling, disoriented, uncharacteristically aggressive.

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Mice & Rats

  1. Chicken Enclosures surrounded in hardware cloth, a metal mesh with a 1/4" sized hole.  .
  2. Put cones on the coop legs.  Mice run up the leg into the cone but can't go any further.
  3. Remove the chicken ramp.  Adult chickens can jump into the coop but they need a platform or roost in front of the door to land on.  This enables them to use their wings to get to the door and then they are able to fold their wings prior to entering.  Our chickens have no problem reaching roosts that are 4 ft off the floor.
  4. Keep your grass very short and trim fence lines.  Mice don't need much to have safe grassy highways.
  5. Mouse proof feed storage.  If they can't get to the chicken food then they are less likely to be a problem.  Use metal cans or tough plastic containers with tight sealing lids.
  6. Reduce wasted feed:  Don't scatter chicken feed on the ground.  Supply it in feeders with deep troughs and scratch-stop grills.  Less waste will save money and reduce mouse attraction problems.

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Mice are pests more than they are chicken predators.  Mice and rats will chew through wood to get to your birds food.  Rats will kill baby chicks and they carry diseases that are dangerous to humans.

Population Controls
     Place small box type traps up on the sill plate that the coop roof rests upon.  This is a favorite, out of the way, mouse highway.  There isn't enough space for chickens up there so they don't bother the box traps.  We've had no luck with sticky traps.
     Dogs can be terrific mousers and ratters.  Make sure you get a breed that was bred for this task but is also trainable to not hunt your chickens.
     Non-poisonous snakes are great for going down the mouse holes and taking care of the whole nest.  We distributed  various species of non-poisonous snakes around the farm for this reason.  Chickens are merciless snake killers and will eat them.  But just outside the chicken forage area, snakes will be able to survive and reduce the mouse population.  Even better, they don't need shelter, vaccinations or training.  Just leave them alone to do their job.
     Everyone knows that cats kill mice but not all cats are good mousers.  If you want to get a cat to help with a mouse problem, don't get just any cat.  Local farmers will often be able to tell you if they have a good mouser that's going to have kittens.  If possible, pick the kitten that is the same coloring as the mother.  Inherited coloring is a fair marker for inherited temperament in cats.   These tips improve the odds but there are no guarantees.  Just remember that the cat may not just hunt mice but also your favorite song birds.

Fox

  • Fence:  Mesh fence such as 5ft chain link, woven stock fence (3" hole or less) or solid fencing. 
  • Open Spaces: They don't like being in the open or exposed so don't provide hedgerows that lead to your chicken coop or chicken foraging area. 
  • Light:   Installing a sensitive motion activated night light outside the coop will also deter fox and other secretive predators.
  • Trap and Release:

We have red fox that do an amazing job of controlling our mice population.  They have never bothered our chickens.  If you see a fox in your area, its not necessarily bad news.

In some regions of the country they are a consistent problem.  Once they have started killing chickens, you can either enclose your chickens in a run or a chicken tractor, or you can trap and relocate the fox.  Behavior deterrents like open areas and night lights will not work anymore.

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