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How to Make Your Chicken Coop Predator-Proof

Leah raises backyard chickens for the benefits to the garden and for fresh, organic eggs.

This fox frequently investigates our coop to see if there is a way in: our chickens are safe from due to the extra measures taken to secure the coop.

This fox frequently investigates our coop to see if there is a way in: our chickens are safe from due to the extra measures taken to secure the coop.

8 Ways to Prevent Predators From Killing Your Chickens

Chickens are highly vulnerable to attack from a variety of predators. They have few defense mechanisms and are an easy target for weasels, hawks, coyotes, and neighborhood dogs. Creating a predator-proof chicken coop will keep the birds safe when roosting at night—adding a predator-proof chicken run will prevent daytime predators from attacking your chickens.

This chicken coop is elevated off the ground to provide proper air circulation and as an added barrier to small predators.

This chicken coop is elevated off the ground to provide proper air circulation and as an added barrier to small predators.

1. Elevate the Chicken Coop

Chicken coops that rest on the ground are vulnerable to rot, poor air circulation, and create easy access for small predators. Raising the chicken coop off the ground by 1 foot or more creates an obstacle for small predators to overcome. This step helps to reduce the number of mice, rats, and snakes that can creep into the coop.

In addition, a raised coop reduces moisture, which can cause rot. Rot creates weak areas in the coop's infrastructure. Predators will exploit weak areas in the coop, burrowing or digging through the rotting wood to reach the chickens they find inside.

Free-ranging chickens may find protection from an elevated coop, since they are able to seek shelter under the coop when a hawk or other flying predator approaches. Rats and mice are less likely to nest in or around an elevated coop.

An elevated coop also prevents the growth of mold and fungi, which is detrimental to the health of chickens. All chickens have sensitive respiratory systems, so proper ventilation is necessary. In addition to deterring smaller pests, an elevated coop creates healthier conditions for the chickens kept inside.

1/2" hardware cloth is much stronger than chicken wire, and will prevent predators from breaking into the coop.

1/2" hardware cloth is much stronger than chicken wire, and will prevent predators from breaking into the coop.

2. Use Hardware Cloth to Secure Openings

Chicken wire (or poultry wire) is completely useless for protecting chickens from predators. While chicken wire is inexpensive, predators such as raccoons and skunks are able to tear through the thin wire like butter.

A better alternative is 1/2" or 1/4" hardware cloth, which is a form of welded wire. The small openings make it difficult for a predator to reach through and grab a chicken - raccoons have been known to tear chickens limb-from-limb while reaching through wire. Hardware cloth is extremely durable and will not rip or tear when faced with a raccoon or fox.

Hardware cloth can be placed over all windows, vents, and can be used to make a predator-proof chicken run. When using hardware cloth to create a run, be sure to create a "skirt" around the run. Hardware cloth "skirts" should be dug at least 6" deep around the entire chicken run. By lining the bottom of the run with hardware cloth, you will prevent predators from digging under the run to attack the chickens.

The chicken run must also have a roof: a traditional tar-and-shingle roof or a metal roof will provide shade and protection from the elements. Some chicken runs simply use more hardware cloth as a "roof" - while this does not provide protection from the elements, it will prevent predators from flying into the run or from climbing into the run.

For an additional level of safety, electrified netting may be added to the chicken coop or run. This will keep stubborn predators away from the coop.

This chicken coop originally had regular window screens, which created a vulnerability to predators. The screen was replaced with 1/2" hardware cloth to make this opening predator-proof.

This chicken coop originally had regular window screens, which created a vulnerability to predators. The screen was replaced with 1/2" hardware cloth to make this opening predator-proof.

3. Install Secure Latches on Coop Doors

Raccoons are particularly clever and aggressive predators. Since they have opposable thumbs, they are able to lift simple latches and gain access to a coop. Simple latches (such as a hook through an eye-bolt) do not provide appropriate security for a chicken coop.

A great, inexpensive door-latch system consists of a latch with a carabiner threaded through the hole in the latch. Raccoons are unable to open a carabiner and lift the latch at the same time. As a general rule of thumb, any latch system that requires two hands to operate will prevent raccoons from gaining access to the coop.

This chicken coop originally had a hook and eye-bolt style latch. A more secure latch was installed with a carabiner. This system will prevent raccoons from opening the latch and entering the coop.

This chicken coop originally had a hook and eye-bolt style latch. A more secure latch was installed with a carabiner. This system will prevent raccoons from opening the latch and entering the coop.

Electrified Poultry Netting

4. Use Automatic Coop Doors

While not necessary, automatic chicken coop doors are a wonderful security measure. For those who are not always home as dusk approaches, automatic doors will shut and lock the chickens securely inside the coop. Automatic doors often work from a timer system. Some models offer a light-sensor, which is advantageous as there is no timer to reset as the day length grows shorter in the winter.

Several chicken doors offer solar options for those who do not have electricity at the coop site. Most automatic chicken doors cost approximately $200, but may be well worth the investment for people who travel or work during the evening hours.

An Example of an Automatic Chicken Door

5. Store Feed Properly

Store all chicken feed in sealed metal containers. Rats and mice will chew through plastic containers. Any unsealed feed containers will attract pests and predators. In addition, if you have pet dogs or cats, do not leave their feed outside. Rats will nest where there is a reliable food source, so eliminate outdoor access to dog or cat food.

Hang chicken feeders outside the coop (preferably inside a secure chicken run). Hanging the feeders will prevent mice and rats from accessing the feed meant for chickens. As a general rule, hang feeders so they are as high as the chicken's chest. This will allow the chicken to feed easily - as a side benefit, hanging chicken feeders prevents the chickens from contaminating their feed with feces.

6. Consider the Coop's Location

Do not situate your coop adjacent to woodlands. Most chicken predators live in the forest, and hawks and owls will perch on branches above the coop before swooping down to kill a chicken.

This Golden Retriever has been trained to protect its family's chickens.

This Golden Retriever has been trained to protect its family's chickens.

7. Use a Guard Dog to Protect the Flock

Obtaining a good farm dog (or a friendly family watch dog) to guard the backyard flock is an excellent method to deter daytime predators. A good farm dog will bark and chase away predators. Take care, however, to ensure your dog is trustworthy and will not try to attack the chickens it is meant to protect. Some dog breeds are better at protecting chickens than others, and some dogs are very difficult to train around chickens. In general, dogs with a high prey drive (such as terriers and greyhounds) are more likely to attack chickens than guard them. Dogs with a low prey drive include Great Pyrenees, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Old English Sheepdogs.

8. Consider Getting a Rooster

Roosters are not allowed in all locations and can be noisy, but they offer protection to a flock of laying hens. Roosters are aggressive and will sacrifice their own lives for the sake of the flock. In addition, a rooster will sound an alarm call when a bird of prey flies overhead, or when danger is imminent. While inappropriate for city flocks, a free-ranging farm flock would benefit from a protective rooster.

Common Chicken Predators

PredatorAttack MethodTime of Day

Raccoons

Kill multiple chickens, eating the entrails. Will often reach into a coop and pull off a chicken's leg or head. May carry the chicken to a remote area before consuming it.

Nocturnal

Dogs

Will attack multiple chickens and may not eat them. If provided access, will kill an entire flock.

Any time of day or night

Domesticated Cats

Will consume the fleshy parts of the chicken, leaving wings and feathers scattered around.

Any time of day or night

Birds of Prey

Will swoop down on free-ranging chickens or enter a coop. Bantam breeds are at the highest risk.

Any time of day or night

Opossums

Usually kill a single chicken, as opossums hunt alone. May take a bite out of the chicken's meaty areas.

Generally nocturnal

Rats

Will kill small chicks, and maim larger birds. May chew off beaks or feet.

Generally nocturnal

Skunks

Like opossums, skunks hunt alone. They tend to eat the entrails and leave the rest of the bird.

Nocturnal

Coyotes

Coyotes will abscond with an entire bird. They tend to break into the chicken run (or coop) and carry their prey to a remote location.

Just before dawn and just after dusk

Foxes

Rarely manage to get into a coop, but are determined predators. Foxes will carry off a chicken to a remote area to eat it. Free ranging chickens are at the highest risk.

Primarily nocturnal, but may attack during the day

Weasels

May enter a coop through an opening as small as 1" wide. Will attack in groups and may kill an entire flock in one night.

Primarily nocturnal

Bobcats

Will puncture the chicken's back, legs, and thighs. Will bite off the chicken's head.

Nocturnal

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What laws dictate the number of hens that may be raised in a backyard?

Answer: The number of chickens that may be kept are generally governed by city ordinances. Check with your local city council to look up rules for keeping livestock in your general area, as rules vary considerably from one area to another. Some areas will allow two or three hens and no roosters, while others may allow a generous flock complete with roosters. If your city does not allow chickens, all is not lost: you can contact the city council to obtain a variance to the code. Obtaining a variance usually requires obtaining approval from your neighbors and the council prior to setting up your flock. Definitely make the trip to your local city hall or zoning office to determine the regulations specific to your area before setting up a coop or buying chicks!

© 2014 Leah Lefler

Comments

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 29, 2014:

We obtained our chickens primarily as an educational experience for our boys, Katya - we were surprised at how easy they are to keep. They are about as difficult as fish to care for - we have a large feeder/waterer that only needs to be changed once per week, and we clean out the litter in their coop once per week as well. Other than that, we don't have to do much!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 29, 2014:

That is an odd pattern of bite marks, missirupp - bobcats, cats, and coyotes will all kill with a bite to the neck. Since the chickens weren't being eaten, however, I would guess a domesticated animal was killing the chickens. A domesticated cat, for instance, might kill a chicken for sport - and then not eat the killed chicken (since it is well-fed at home).

Katya Drake from Wisconsin on September 16, 2014:

Hi leahlefler. I love this Hub! I have friends who raise chickens and I am going to take a closer look at what they are doing to protect them. I also would like to have my own chickens someday. I think it would be a great experience for my boys and I (although I know it would be hard work!). This gave some great advice that I will carry with me.

missirupp on September 16, 2014:

We had chickens when I was very young in Eastern Idaho and they were being killed by something that only left two marks on their neck, like a vampire. What predator was this. I never could figure it out.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 16, 2014:

Hi Robert - I agree! We want our peepers to be kept safe. Everything from the neighbor's cat to foxes and weasels create problems in our area, so we have a fortified coop!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 16, 2014:

I have a cousin who has chickens in the bay area, DzyMsLizzy, and she doesn't need nearly as many anti-predator strategies due to her location. Hawks are a problem in almost any area, but are the easiest to defend against. Chickens naturally go back into their coop as daylight fades - sometimes young chicks take a while to do this (we still escort ours inside every evening, though 3 of the 5 are now going in on their own). The automatic door closes once it is dark, and by then, all of the chickens are safely tucked in for the night.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 16, 2014:

We saw a mink cross our street the other day! I have never seen one in our neighborhood before... I am convinced he knows that we have chickens now, moonlake!

Robert Connor from Michigan on September 16, 2014:

Got to keep those peppers safe!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 15, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD!!

This was most interesting, even though we don't have, or plan to have chickens.

A neighbor does, and his coop pretty much breaks every rule and suggestion you've made here. But, he hasn't had much trouble--we don't have too many critters around the area--so he's gotten lucky, even if he isn't the sharpest tack in the box.

I wonder about the automatic door though: would the chickens possibly end up locked out? Or do they automatically go inside before dark? I don't know anything about chickens. ;-)

Voted up, interesting and useful.

moonlake from America on September 15, 2014:

We had a Fisher get our duck. We also had a guard poultry dog. The ducks never went in the lake without him. He guarded them so that they wouldn't go to far and herded them back to the shore. We never left him out at night with the chickens and ducks. Congrats on HOTD. Voted up.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

I hope the article is helpful to your friends, Lambservant. I need to include some pictures of our run, as it is also predator-proof. Nothing can dig into it, as we dug trenches and lined the trenches with hardware cloth.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

Roosters can be very helpful, MartieG. We live in an area that forbids them, unfortunately, so we rely on our trusty dog and a strong coop. Sometimes I wish we could have a rooster here!

Lambservant on September 15, 2014:

I don't raise chickens but have many friends that do and every one of them have lost birds to predators. I will be passing this on.

MartieG aka 'survivoryea' from Jersey Shore on September 15, 2014:

Nicely covered - my uncle had a rooster guarding his fenced in coop and several dogs on the outside.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

Hens are a great addition to a back garden, annerivendell. They are quite easy to care for - I work outside the home and we feed them, water them, and interact with them daily. We only clean the coop about once per week, and it takes about 15 minutes. Quite simple! I hope you are able to get some chickens one day!

annerivendell from Dublin, Ireland on September 15, 2014:

What a great hub. Well deserved to be the hub of the day! We've been thinking of getting some hens so the tips will be taken on board. Voted up.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

SusanDeppner, we originally obtained our chickens as a "life experience" for our boys - to have them raise the hens and learn about where food comes from. It has been a fantastic experience, and the hens are definitely a fun addition to our family. We are also nestled in the woods, but our coop has withstood every predator attack so far! We have not had a bear try to get into the coop yet, though - I don't think there is much you can do to ward off a bear (other than to use electrified fencing).

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

Hawks are so awful, gator strong. Our chickens are usually in a covered chicken tractor (netting over the top of the structure), but sometimes I let them out with me. Our dog tends to deter most predators, but it is a risk when they're out in the open. They love to free-range, though! I don't have any silkies, but my friend does and loves them. They are so soft!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

I hope you do get to move to a place that allows chickens, Lionrhod. We have a small flock of 5 hens and truly enjoy them!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

There are so many different predators for chickens, MarleneB. They all attack in a slightly different manner, so sometimes you can determine which predator is attacking your flock by the signs. A missing chicken was probably taken by a fox - but an entire flock massacred is probably the work of a domesticated dog. Fortunately, our hens are safe and sound, the predators can't get through our hardware cloth!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

Good luck with your coop, Pawpawwrites. We were able to obtain a second-hand coop and renovate it, which was a fantastic cost-saver for us.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

Thank you, nightcats. We have been working on our coop for quite some time!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

Thanks, Mary615! We love our hens. They are wonderful - our coop was purchased second-hand, but we had to make a lot of modifications to keep the predators out. The original coop had regular window screen over the openings! We have been working hard to fortify the structure - it is now safe for our "girls!"

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on September 15, 2014:

Great information, very well documented with the photos! We don't have chickens but think more and more about the possibility. We live near woods and would be concerned with just about every predator on your list. It would be an adventure for sure. Congratulations on the well-deserved HOTD honors!

gator strong from USA on September 15, 2014:

great post I lost one of my silkies to a hawk. I haven't heard a hawk for a few years. So I would let them free range when I was outside.One day I went in for a bit and that fast a hawk killed my smallest silky.

Lionrhod from Orlando, FL on September 15, 2014:

Congrats on Hub of the Day! Excellent hub.

I don't have chickens right now, but am hoping to move to a place where I can have them again. I'll definitely be referring back here when I'm ready to build a coop.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on September 15, 2014:

This is very informative. The suggestion to use the hardware cloth is invaluable. I also found the table helpful. The information is good for understanding when predators are likely to come out. The knowledge is valuable for humans, too. Congratulations on a great hub and for receiving Hub of the Day.

Jim from Kansas on September 15, 2014:

This information is very useful. I plan to build one soon. Thanks.

June Campbell from North Vancouver on September 15, 2014:

This is an amazingly thorough hub. Well deserved HOTD

Mary Hyatt from Florida on September 15, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD! I love chickens! Your chicken coop is so great, some people might just move in there! I bought a few hens for my children once, but lost them to racoons. I did not have a good coop like yours.

Voted UP, etc.etc. Great Hub.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on September 15, 2014:

Useful and interesting information here. I've been reading up on raising chickens and this adds important information for protecting the flock. The hardware cloth idea is really important. Congratulations on winning Hub of the Day.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

We are finishing our outdoor chicken run at the moment, mySuccess8, and have dug a 6" deep pit lined with hardware cloth (and filled with gravel). Our coop will have the security of Fort Knox by the time we are done! Our chickens have never been attacked, and we live in an area filled with wildlife.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2014:

Our dog is a fantastic chicken guard, How to do blog! He is really wonderful with the chickens - he will herd them (Golden Retrievers aren't herding dogs, but our dog will do it) and chases off predators. It is a really wonderful thing to have!

mySuccess8 on September 15, 2014:

Various security measures for Chicken Coops, being explained based on real experience, which I find amazing. And different levels of security, from the simple to the more technologically-advanced, can be introduced for different locations, depending on risks levels for that locality. Great Hub, and Congrats on HotD!

How to do blog on September 15, 2014:

A chicken guard is cool because it is a dog. This is an amazing idea that the dog who can eat chicken is now a bodyguard of chickens. Wow, thanks for share this cool hub with us.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 06, 2014:

The hardware cloth is a lifesaver (literally) - we have 1/2" hardware cloth over every opening on our coop and even the raccoons cannot get through it. Our dog is extremely helpful, too, teaches12345 - he chases off anything that wanders into our yard!

Dianna Mendez on September 05, 2014:

It makes sense to elevate the coop, clever! I have not heard of the hardware cloth but can certainly tell by your post how effective it is in keeping out pests. When I do get my farm, a dog is a must! Thanks for the great advice.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 30, 2014:

Very true, Dr. mark - we have a Golden Retriever (traditionally used to retrieve birds). He has been raised around the chickens and is absolutely fine with them. He has chased off a cat and a fisher, so he is very helpful. We live in a heavily wooded area with foxes, bears, coyotes, weasels, and other predators. We rely on our coop and run to keep our chickens safe!

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 30, 2014:

Great details. At night my chickens and other fowl are protected by a plastic covered hardware cloth since I live by the beach, but during the day they are free range and are protected by my Pitbull.

We no longer have a problem with cats, opossums, feral dogs, or kouati (similar to a racoon) because of my dog. It is hard to tell which dog breed is going to work, but for the best chances of your dog working out it is best to raise him around the chickens. Every chicken breeder needs to look into a poultry guard dog! Voted up and interesting.