Winter can be a very difficult time for everyone- especially wild animals. It is a time when food is scarce and the weather is bitterly cold, making finding food difficult and dangerous.
Unfortunately, not many predators sleep through the winter months, only bears truly hibernate. Raccoons, possums and foxes will hunker down and stay in their dens until the worst of the weather has passed. Then they are out to hunt and they are hungry.
Your chicken coop looks like McDonalds to them- and they will do anything to get to your hens!
Let’s look at the top 7 winter predators and tips on how to keep your flock safe.
I have put these first as from my experience, they are the smartest, most persistent predator around.
Raccoons have been able to easily adapt to a wide variety of habitats- from cities to the urban neighborhood and countryside.
Experiments have shown that they can unscrew jars, unlatch doors and untie knots!
They can remember the solution to a problem for up to three years (more than I can do) – this makes them a superior predator and survivor.
They are omnivorous, their diet consisting of berries, fruits, frogs, insects, small mammals and chickens (if available). In cities they will eat garbage, pet food, rodents etc. They are the consummate survivor species.
The best way to deter Raccoons is to place a lock on every entrance to your coop- including the nesting box.
The fox is another superb hunter; it is versatile and has become a frequent sight in cities and urban developments.
The fox is mostly nocturnal in its hunting habit. They are able to dig their way into a poorly protected coop and kill all the chickens within.
They don’t kill for fun- they will eat what they can and then take the rest to a storage area where it will be eaten for the following days/weeks.
They rarely bother with well protected coops and runs, but once they have found a way in they will return again and again. They are smart in that they will ‘stake out’ a likely place to get familiar with the routine and then attack at the right moment.
Make sure you read 21 tips to keep your chickens safe from predators.
The weasel is a skilled hunter of rodents and voles. Its body is perfectly adapted for following prey down into burrows.
The weasel is a voracious killer- seemingly killing just for fun. It appears unafraid of anything and if cornered will attack a human.
It needs to consume about 1/3 of its body weight daily to survive but will kill much larger quantities if able to do so.
It can cause complete devastation in a henhouse in a relatively short period of time. It is truly shocking that such a small creature (5-18 inches length), can do so much damage.
They can fit into the smallest of holes and often break into coops through small cracks in the coop’s floor- make sure you seal up your coop to prevent them from breaking in.
Possums are basically lazy opportunists. They are scavengers first and foremost, dining on ‘roadkill’, garbage and other such finds.
The possum certainly qualifies as one of Mother Natures’ clean-up crew. They also eat insects, berries and fruit.
They dislike confrontation and will roll over and play dead until danger has passed.
They have been known to eat eggs and baby chicks. If the opportunity arises, they will kill adult chickens by disemboweling them.
We may not think of our pets as predators, but the neighbors’ dog might just enjoy chicken for dinner!
I have read and heard recently of more and more unleashed dog attacks than any other predator.
If it happens to you, call the law enforcement and animal control. There are usually leash laws in effect and you can be compensated for loss or damage.
You need to make a report every time your flock is harassed or injured, otherwise the authorities can do nothing to help you.
Dogs typically won’t attempt to break into the coop- they are most likely to attack free ranging hens.
Coyotes are another adaptable, omnivorous predator of chickens. They are more likely to attack your flock at dawn or dusk- their preferred hunting times. If your flock is free range, coyotes are a force you must learn to live with.
Although they can and do take poultry, they are also partial to cats and small dogs, rabbits and other small house/farm animals. A pack of coyotes can take down a full grown deer.
If your girls do free range, the best protection against coyotes is electric fencing.
#7: Birds of Prey
Hawks and owls love chicken! My only losses have been to the local redtail hawk population. These silent hunters are stealthy and have the ‘birds eye view’ advantage to hunt with.
All raptors and owls are protected by law so you cannot shoot or harm them in any way.
If you are finding that they are becoming a real issue for you, you can fit hardware cloth to the roof of your run to stop them.
Both large wild cats and small barn cats may prey on your flock during the winter.
If you live in an area where the wild cats roam, you may need to be on the lookout for bobcats or cougars. Most of these smarty cats won’t even think about attacking a coop unless they feel as though it’s an easy target and there is no threat of humans seeing them in the act.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you have barn cats, that you actively feed, make sure to keep feeding them during the winter. A hungry barn cat is a desperate force to be reckoned with. So don’t underestimate your small pride.
A large group of cats might be able to take down a small standard-sized chicken. But they most certainly could kill a bantam.
Unfortunately, barn cats or feral cats often take to eating eggs if they are accessible during the winter. I’ve witnessed feral cats jumping out of my coop after feasting on eggs. They use their paws to break the eggs open by pressing them against the nesting box wall.
So, if you don’t want to lose your eggs, or small birds, to feral cats, make sure your coop is kitty-proof.
Preventing Predators Top Tips
There are many different ways to protect your flock from predators. However, if you free range your flock, you must realize that there will inevitably be losses. Your job as keeper is to minimize the risks and losses.
Here are our top tips to prevent predators:
- A secure coop is essential to keep out so many of these hunters. The coop must be sturdily built with secure locks and latches. Although raccoons do not have opposable thumbs, they are quite brilliant at opening many common types of latch. General rule of thumb – if a 3 year old child can open the latch, so can a raccoon!
- Keep your run and coops free of leftovers. Rotting food will attract possums and vermin.
- Check your coop regularly for any holes or entrance sites. Weasels can squeeze through anything larger than ½ inch wide. If a mouse can get into your coop, so can weasels. When I build my coops, I put a layer of ½ inch hardware wire under the floor. It’s a bit expensive, but it does keep out the wildlife.
- Regulate the times you free range. Try to make so that the flock goes out after dawn and are in by dusk. This will help to keep coyotes from becoming a problem to you.
- If your birds are enclosed in a run, the bottom three feet of enclosing wire should be ½ inch hardware wire. This will prevent raccoons and possums from getting through to the chickens. You should also dig a trench around the run and bury the wire to a depth of twelve inches or so, bending out away from the coop with another six inches. This will deter foxes and dogs from digging.
- Livestock guardian dogs are becoming hugely popular. The dog is trained to protect your livestock and lives outside with the herd/flock. They will keep larger predators such as foxes and raccoons away!
- If owls or hawks are a problem, you can try to cover your runs with chicken wire. If this isn’t practical, can you form a criss-cross of string or wire to make aerial access difficult? Try hanging old CDs on fishing line so they move in the breeze causing light reflections that are distracting. If your flock free ranges, provide them with some sort of cover to hide in – shrubs, small trees and man-made covers such as tarp ‘tents’.
There are many hungry animals out there that would like chicken for dinner- specifically your chickens!
We have given you some ideas here on how to make access to your flock difficult.
We cannot be successful all the time and need to realize this. Free ranging your flock has the inherent risk of losing a chicken here or there.
If this is something you can’t live with, then you should contain your hens in a safe area and only allow them to roam in this area.
Do you have other ideas to keep predators away? We would love for you to share your ideas with us!