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Top Winter Predators: How To Keep Your Flock Safe

7 Deadly Winter Predators How to Stop Them

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.

Top Winter Predators infographics

7 Winter Predators for Chickens

#1: Raccoons

I have put these first as from my experience, they are the smartest, most persistent predator.

Raccoons have easily adapted 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), making 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 lock every entrance to your coop- including the nesting box.

#2: Foxes

Fox attacking ChickensThe 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.

#3: Weasels

Weasel HuntingThe weasel is a skilled hunter of rodents and voles. Its body is perfectly adapted for the 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.

It is truly shocking that such a small creature (5-18 inches length), can do so much damage.

They can fit into the smallest holes and often break into coops through small cracks in the coop’s floor- ensure you seal up your coop to prevent them from breaking in.

#4: Possums

Possum ScavengingPossums 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.

#5: Dogs

We may not think of our pets as predators, but the neighbors’ dog might just enjoy chicken for dinner!

I have recently read and heard of 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.

#6: Coyotes

Coyotes Hunting

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.

#8: Cats

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 look for bobcats or cougars.

Most of these smarty cats won’t even think about attacking a coop unless they feel 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.

Feral cats jump out of my coop after feasting on eggs.

They use their paws to open the eggs 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 a 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’.

Winter Predators For Chickens: Summary

Many hungry animals out there 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!

Read: Are You Buying A Pullet or Hen? What’s The Difference and How to Spot It?

8 thoughts on “Top Winter Predators: How To Keep Your Flock Safe

  1. I would add bobcats to this list. We have an fully enclosed and roofed coop and run, but also a large area with five foot wire fences for the day time. Today we saw a Bob cat at about 8am. We watched it looking through the fence – it was beautiful, and it never occurred to us it could leap a 5 foot fence. It did, however, and grabbed and killed on of our chickens before we could get there. It kept back over when it saw us coming. Our remaining chickens will now be staying in the fully enclosed yard.

  2. In Australia foxes are number 1-10. Foxes here do kill for fun. The whole hen house can be decimated in one night.
    Glad we don’t have raccoons and weasels in Australia. Enjoyed your article

  3. I have killed more dogs than any other predator. We don’t have a county dog catcher and the sheriff’s office said I am entitled to do what is necessary for the safety of my hens.
    By far, the hardest to kill predator so far was a bobcat. It took 25 of my hens and 83 hens from a neighbor. I finally got it after, literally, camping outside of the run for 7 hours a day for 30 days straight. The cat tried to take a bird but ran before I got a shot off. An hour later, he grabbed a hen on the other side of the house in the gardens. Boom, boom, out go the lights.

  4. Thanks. I’ve only lost one chicken to a predator to date (probably to a hawk). Back in October, there was another hawk circling down and towards the free-ranging chickens – I went out on the deck and mimicked a barn owl cry as loud as possible. The hawk freaked out and flew off into the woods. The hens and the cockerels here were safe. Of course, this method means one has to be at home for this to be effective!

  5. I use dogs for protection. The ONLY way, I can keep out all the creatures mentioned above, AND hawks. The birds of prey are the WORST….. but they wont come down if a dog is out. And nothing is coming into the barnyard with the livestock guardian dog around, she barks at EVERYTHING, and will attack anything that is a threat to her flock. Some of the birds love and trust her so much, they SLEEP with her, because they know they are safe! They will sleep 4 inches from her! I have pictures of them! Last one I took, I had 3 hens and a rooster staked all around her, as they took an afternoon nap. I also provide cover with weeds. Even in the winter….the ones that dont nap with the LGD, will nap out in the super thick dead thicket of weeds, which I also pit a fence around. So they can get in it, but are safe from any immediate attack.as if something were to happen, the livestock guardian dog would be alerted to it. The LGD, KNOWS the difference, between a laying hen cackle and a “I’m in danger”call. The LGDs are great!!

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