How to Make a Predator Proof Chicken Coop
Prevent Predators from Killing Chickens
Chickens are highly vulnerable to attack from a variety of predators. Chickens 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.
An Elevated Chicken Coop
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.
What is your chicken run made out of?
Use Hardware Cloth Over 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.
Proper Chicken Coop Security
Did You Know?
Predators such as rats and weasels are able to enter a coop through an opening as small as 1" in diameter. A secure coop must have all openings covered with hardware cloth or a door with a secure latch. Inspect the coop regularly to ensure there are no hidden holes for predators to gain access to the coop!
Have 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.
Secure Chicken Coop Latches
Electrified Poultry Netting
Surrounding a coop or a chicken run with electrified netting is an effective deterrent to stubborn predators. This fence is easy to move and will work with a solar battery pack for those who do not have electricity at the coop site.
An Example of an Automatic Chicken Door
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.
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.
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.
A Chicken Guard Dog
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.
Consider 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
Time of Day
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.
Will attack multiple chickens and may not eat them. If provided access, will kill an entire flock.
Any time of day or night
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
Usually kill a single chicken, as opossums hunt alone. May take a bite out of the chicken's meaty areas.
Will kill small chicks, and maim larger birds. May chew off beaks or feet.
Like opossums, skunks hunt alone. They tend to eat the entrails and leave the rest of the bird.
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
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
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.
Will puncture the chicken's back, legs, and thighs. Will bite off the chicken's head.
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.
© 2014 Leah Lefler