We all love our fluffy, feathered friends and want to do the best for them. If you already have an established flock or haven’t started yet and are still in the planning stages – this article is definitely for you.
Before I got my chickens I spent the better part of a year researching the breed of chicken I wanted, how to house them and how to keep them safe and healthy.
I was called overly obsessive at times, but so far my efforts have paid off dividends as my girls are healthy and happy and we haven’t had any issues with predators in 5 years.
Today I have put together my favorite 21 tips for keeping your chickens safe from predators and healthy.
Protecting your flock from predators starts with the coop.
Whether you buy it pre-made or build the coop yourself, there are several simple things you can do to make it safer for your chickens.
1. Know The Enemy
First of all you, need to be aware of likely predators in your area: foxes, hawks, owls, coyotes, raccoons and possums tend to be the most common.
If you know which predators are likely to attack you can create effective defenses to stop them.
Some of these predators are very smart, others opportunists. Each can be deterred by simple backyard security.
2. Bury Chicken Wire
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If you are constructing a run, it’s important to remember that many predators will try to dig under the run to attack your girls.
One thing to remember: chicken wire will keep chickens in; hardware mesh will keep predators out.
A determined, hungry animal can and will break through chicken wire.
When building your run, make sure you bury hardware mesh at least 2 feet deep around the compound- 4 feet deep would be ideal.
Dig a trench about 6 inches deep and 3 inches wide and bury the hardware mesh to create an underground security perimeter.
This will deter most predators from digging.
If you are using a chicken tractor instead of a run, the same principal applies. Cover the floor of the tractor in hardware mesh to prevent predators digging their way to your chickens.
Note: Occasionally when chickens stand on wire floors in chicken tractors for long periods of time their feet can get cut, so check their feet regularly for cuts or sores.
3. Cover Their Coop
If you live in an area with lots of hawks and owls you will need to place a cover over your run.
You can use chicken wire to cover your run- this still provides your chickens with visibility but stops any air-bound predators swopping down and attacking your flock.
If you want your birds to have some shade, as well as protection, you could use a tarp sheet instead of chicken wire.
4. Increase Visibility
If you are fortunate enough to have a large garden, make sure you cut down any tall grass, bush or overgrown areas within 50-75 feet of your coop.
The less cover a predator has, the more vulnerable they are at being seen before attacking.
This with thwart less confident predators, as they won’t risk exposing themselves to attack.
5. Block Any Access Holes
Make sure you regularly check your coop for any access holes.
Even small trivial gaps/holes can be used by predators to gain access to the coop- a weasel can squeeze through a ½ inch hole.
You do not want a weasel in your coop.
A weasel will kill seemingly for the fun of it and can kill a moderate size flock in a night.
Remember to check your coop at least monthly for signs of attempted entry and reinforce those areas.
It might also surprise you to learn that barn cats will slip into openings and, if hungry enough, they will tag-team and take out your smaller chickens.
It is helpful to prevent predators with savvy climbing skills from entering through the roof of your coop. Lining your coop, or even fencing with metal siding will prevent these agile critters from getting a grip on your fencing, and climbing to the top and over or thorough to your sleeping hens.
You’d be surprised at how easy it is for small predators, like snakes, to slither into coops and eat your eggs, and even your chickens in some cases. Closing off all access holes, while allowing for proper ventilation, can be a challenge for chicken owners.
The best way to solve this is to have openings for ventilation at the top of the coop and prevent predators from climbing into the holes.
6. Lock Your Ladies Up At Night
Most importantly, remember to lock up your ladies at night!
Use a mechanism that can’t be opened by smart creatures. Raccoons are notoriously intelligent and they can open simple locks & bolts.
I like to use a Carabiner because it requires opposable thumbs to use.
Also remember to use a padlock to keep out the ultimate predator – man.
Unfortunately several of my friends have had their chickens stolen either for dinner, or because it’s a rare breed.
I use three locks on my coop – two on the entrance door and a separate lock for the ‘pop’ door.
7. Check Your Biosecurity
Make sure you clean up your pen in the evening after your chickens have gone to roost- pay special attention to any scraps and food lying around.
We may not think of rats as predators, but they are attracted by leftover food. Once they have moved in to the neighborhood, they can and will eat eggs and chicks.
If you see rats during the daytime, it’s likely you have a serious problem.
Note: Rats dislike daylight so only the ones lower in the hierarchy will risk a daylight raid.
8. Be Alert For Snakes
Check your coop daily for snakes. Black, rat and corn snakes will pilfer eggs and on occasion, small chicks. They can simply be re-located to another area if necessary, although snakes do help keep down the vermin.
If you find that certain snakes keep returning to your coop, you will need to capture them and relocate them elsewhere.
9. Collect Eggs Daily
A lot of predators will only break into your coop to get eggs.
If you make sure to collect your eggs frequently during the day you will deter many predators- especially rats and snakes!
10. Fit Motion Sensor Lighting
Predators such as raccoons will only attack in the dark at night.
You can fit solar powered motion-detection lights to your coop to stop predators attacking.
The light will turn on when it detects any motion near the coop. They can also be modified to send you an alarm when the lights are activated.
Most predators will simply run away from the spotlight.
Free Ranging Defense
Whilst it’s relatively easy to secure a chicken coop and run, what do you do when your chickens are free-range?
Keeping free range chickens safe is hard but not impossible if you follow the tips below.
11. Hang Your Old CDs
If you have free ranging hens it can be more difficult to protect them against birds of prey.
One effective way I’ve found is to hang unwanted CDs from trees, posts etc.
The reflection of the sun from the CD will deter them. You can also use pie pans, disco balls – anything that will reflect light.
Note: Do not use mirrors; you don’t want to accidentally start a fire!
12. Use Electric Fences
If your chickens are free-ranging you can erect an electric fence around the perimeter to keep predators away.
They are fairly inexpensive and easy to install.
I don’t personally use electric fences, but people I know who have them swear by them.
13. Install Safety Shelters
Sometimes with birds of prey they can get extremely desperate and will attack no matter what.
Make a couple of safety shelters for your birds to run into. You can use a 55 gallon plastic drum cut lengthways or a wooden pallet perched on blocks.
If your chickens get caught out whilst they are roaming they can run underneath these safety shelters to keep covered.
14. Get Roosters
Within town and city limits there are usually restrictions on having roosters – they can be a noisy pest to your neighbors.
There aren’t too many folks who like to be woken up at the crack of dawn by a rooster crowing his head off!
However, if you live in the country it’s usually ok.
A good rooster will protect his ladies and will give his life to preserve theirs.
Note: Make sure to research the breed of rooster you want thoroughly before you jump in and get one.
15. Use Guard Dogs
A guard dog does the same job as a rooster – only better.
Dogs can range further away from the flock and the scent of a dog is very disturbing to most predators, so they will likely leave your flock in peace.
Make sure your dog is good with your chickens before you leave them together unattended. You don’t want your guard dog turning into the predator!
Hygiene and Cleanliness
Chickens are inquisitive creatures. They love to investigate new things and this can get them into trouble! The following tips will help you be more aware of potential hazards to your flock.
To keep your chickens safe you need to do more than just keep the predators at bay. Sometimes the biggest threats are already in your garden.
16. Avoid Toxic Chemicals
Weed killer and other commonly used garden chemicals (Insect Baits/Traps etc.) can be accidentally ingested by chickens.
As with small children, keep your flock away from any area of your garden which you may have sprayed or treated. Also keep the chemical bottles well away from your girls.
If your chickens do ingest any toxic chemical call your vet immediately.
For those of you that haven’t heard of the term Botulism before, it’s a “rare poisoning caused by toxins”.
If you use poison to keep the rodent population in check, be aware your chickens can be poisoned by pecking at the carcass. You should dispose of any dead animals you find somewhere they can’t be accessed.
Botulism can also be caused by fouled drinking water (usually by ducks). If you keep ducks, make sure the chickens don’t make a habit of drinking water which the ducks have pooped in.
18. Clean Their Feeders
Following on from Botulism you need to keep food and water dishes clean.
I use a 1:10 bleach solution weekly in all my feeders and drinkers.
19. Keep Their Feed Fresh
Ensure your feed is fresh and not moldy.
Keep it stored in waterproof containers – plastic totes, garbage bins or something similar. Moldy feed can and does kill chickens, so make sure the lid for your containers is airtight also.
20. Keep Their Coop Tidy
A dirty coop not only attracts flies but can cause a number of health issues for your birds.
For instance high levels of ammonia can cause blindness and respiratory issues. I normally clean my coop once a week and occasionally more during winter. A good test is if you can smell ammonia in your coop – cleaning is overdue!
21. Ensure Regular Health Checks
Last but by no means least is regular health checks.
Try to check your birds visually every day.
Included in your visual health check should be a vent check. They can get matted and poopy back there- this creates a perfect environment for flystrike.
If it’s dirty – clean it.
Go gently using soap and water. Sit the bird in the warm water and try to soak off the matted area. You may have to trim some feathers.
These 21 tips will definitely help keep your chickens healthy and the predators at bay!
Let us know your favorite health tip in the comments below.