There are a number of predators that would love a chance to get into your hen house and have their way with your flock. By understanding the different threats, you can better secure your chickens and reduce your losses. Some predators go after your birds, but some will really only be interested in the eggs, and there are a few that will take either one. You'll need to address both sides of the problem to be safe.
In almost all cases, you can protect both eggs and birds from predators by keeping your flock in a coop at night. During the day, a fenced pen will be safe than letting your birds roam around freely, but there are much fewer threats during the day so it may not be too risky.
While losing eggs to predators will drastically reduce the productivity of your flock, at least you won't lose any birds.
Rats are one of the most common egg predators, and one of the hardest to protect against. They can squeeze through some pretty unbelievable spaces, so you need to make sure your chicken coop has no cracks, gaps or openings. Wood isn't a reliable deterrent against rats, especially the floor. A layer of hardware cloth or metal window screening between the floor and the ground will keep them from chewing the floorboards. Standard chicken wire won't help because the holes are too large to keep out a rat.
Not all egg threats are so small though. The skunk is one of the larger mammals that is only interested in your eggs. They may occasionally take chicks as well, but if you're not raising chicks, there is little risk to a mature flock of birds. Skunks have fairly poor vision and are timid animals. A dog or even a cat outside in your yard during the night is usually enough to scare off a skunk. Skunks are seldom a problem in the daytime, so you should be able to protect your eggs by keeping your coop secure at night.
Don't assume that you can trust your nose to warn about skunks in your yard. Unless they've recently sprayed, a skunk may not have any odor at all.
Raccoons are a very common pest throughout North America, and though they will eat eggs sometimes, they are more of a threat to your chickens. The raccoon stands out among predators because they are extremely curious, intelligent, and their long "fingers" give them an advantage when trying to pry a hole in your chicken coop or fencing. A couple other possible predators in the same size-range as raccoon are possums and badgers. They're not quite as smart as a raccoon but can be just as big a danger to your chickens if they work their way into your coop or pen.
Other large mammals like foxes and coyotes will also wreak havoc on a flock. They both are more likely to attack at night, but can venture into your chicken area during the day as well. They can dig under a fence, and even climb over one with as much agility as a cat. Once inside, foxes are terrible for killing everything they can rather than just one or two birds. Foxes are prone to taking their kills with them, so you can suspect a fox if your chickens seem to disappear with just a few feathers left.
If unprotected, a pack of coyotes can kill an entire backyard flock in one go. A coyote is one of the largest and strongest predators you will likely have to contend with, and chicken enclosures must be able to stand up to them. Anyone who lives in a region with coyotes will have to build a very sturdy chicken house, and fencing that can withstand pulling and digging by an animal a bit bigger than a mid-sized dog. They'll dig and rip at the fence, but aren't as likely to climb as a fox might. Thankfully, a yard in a large city is pretty much safe from large animals like these.
Not all predators have 4 legs either. As if you didn't have enough to watch for on the ground, you will need to protect your chickens from air assault as well. Hawks will swoop down and snatch chicks or small chickens. They usually won't try to take full size chickens though. They attack quickly and silently, leaving no feathers or trace that they were there. Inside your chicken coop is safe from hawks, but their outdoor run should have a cover if you have hawks in your area.
Don't discount pets as possible predators either. Even the tamest and gentlest cat or dog can tap into its hunting instincts when a chicken walks by. This goes for your own pets, or other pets in your neighborhood. A new chicken flock may attract the attention of loose dogs that you didn't even know were in the area.
One more threat to be aware of, and that is the snake. It is a little different than the ones mentioned above as it can go after eggs or chicks. Some kinds of snakes will prefer eggs but some will prefer the live chicks, though not usually a threat to adult birds. It will depend on the type of snakes that live in your area. Its unlikely that any egg-eating snakes would go after your birds, and vice versa. As you can imagine, a snake can squeeze through the tiniest hole, crack or gap in your chicken coop. They seldom attack during the day, so you don't have to worry about making your outside pen snake-proof.
Protection from Predators
The very best protection you can provide your chickens is a secure chicken coop. If you take the time and put in the effort to make a well-built home for your birds, you will have little to worry about from predators. But if you are looking for something to keep predators away from your yard completely, there are a few choices.
A good fence for your yard is important. That will stop a number of predators before they even get to your coop. Chain-link fencing is sturdy and tough, and also very easy to climb for nimble animals like raccoons. A wooden fence won't provide quite as many footholds for climbing.
Dogs can be a great addition to your yard security plan but only if you are able to leave them outdoors during the night. This may or may not be a suitable option given your home's location. Certain breeds will do better at this than others. Dogs that aren't aggressive or protective won't care if a raccoon walks past them, and many predator animals will quickly figure out when a dog is no threat. The presence alone of a dog will not deter most animals that are out to get your chickens.
Lastly, a rooster is another good protector for your flock. Because he is kept in the pen as well as the coop, he is always present to protect the hens. Even the meanest rooster won't be much defense against larger animals like foxes or dogs, they can usually scare off a raccoon or anything smaller. There are more details about this in the Keeping Roosters chapter.
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