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How to Make Your Chicken Coop Predator-Proof

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

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

Eight Ways to Protect 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, and adding a predator-proof chicken run will prevent daytime predators from attacking your chickens.

  1. Elevate the Chicken Coop
  2. Use Hardware Cloth to Secure Openings
  3. Install Secure Latches on Coop Doors
  4. Use Automatic Coop Doors
  5. Store Feed Properly
  6. Consider the Coop's Location
  7. Use a Guard Dog to Protect the Flock
  8. Consider Getting a Rooster
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 and poor air circulation, and they 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.

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.

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.

Creating a Run From Hardware Cloth

Hardware cloth can be placed over all windows and vents, and it can be used to make a predator-proof chicken run.

  • Skirt: 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.
  • Roof: 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.

Netting

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 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.

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.

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 they may be well worth the investment for people who travel or work during the evening hours.

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.

How High Should You Hang the Feeders?

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!