No matter where you live, if you have livestock, there are predators. Well, okay, there might be some places where predators don’t go, but even dogs and cats can be considered predators if you live inside city limits. The way to protect your flock is to fully understand each species your birds are likely to encounter and act on that knowledge.
Because humans have encroached so far into the habitat of wild species, many towns now have a showing of skunks, opossums, raccoon, snakes, predatory birds, coyotes, bob cats, foxes, alligators, and last but certainly not least, bears. To this list of native North American species add the list of exotic species in Florida and other states where such things have escaped and made their home.
Many species of wildlife carry deadly rabies, lice, fleas, ticks, and other unwelcome parasites that can be spread to other living creatures such as your birds and you. The less exposure they have to these things, the better. Ever since the discovery that you don’t have to get bitten by, or even seen, a rabid animal to get rabies, it should cause everyone to stop and think about how they manage their animals.
Lets start with the smallest of creatures and work our way up to the biggest. Snakes. Make sure you know what species of snakes live in your region and what they like to eat. All parts of the U. S. has some form a rattlesnake and most of the country has cotton mouth snakes (also called water moccasin) . Some non-venomous snakes are also predators and will enjoy your flock as much as you do. Snake are interested in eggs and baby chicks. Many move so slowly into the hen house that hens don’t notice them until the snake is in the nests waiting for his dinner. When gathering eggs, make certain there isn’t a snake in the nest BEFORE you put your hand in there.
If a snake is in one of the nests the birds won’t have laid any eggs in nests near the snake. Which means they will be fighting amongst themselves to use the other available nests. You might even hear the commotion from a distance. The snake is only interested in the food it can eat, eggs and chicks. It usually won’t bother a hen if the hen does not act aggressive towards the snake. The snakes wait until the nests are unattended and slither over to enjoy an egg. He then slithers back to the other nest and lays down for a nap until next meal time.
To keep snakes out of the hen house make certain there are no holes a snake can fit through. Cover openings with wire mesh with a small enough grid to prevent snakes from entering. Check from floor to ceiling. If you see daylight, cover it up! The good news is that what will keep out snakes will also keep out skunks, raccoon, opossum, foxes and coyotes.
Skunks, raccoon and opossums bumble along and pretty much eat what ever they find. But they do hunt for eggs, among other things. However, if a skunk were to wander into a chicken yard during the daytime, the chickens will peck it and the rooster will spur it. At night, chickens are almost helpless because that is when they are their most docile. Raccoon and opossum will kill your birds as well as eat the eggs. If you find any of these in your hen house, culling them is the best solution because they will return. Since they already know where the good stuff is, the animals might work until they get a hole in the screen or even the wood. For this reason, inspect the hen house every day as you feed and water the birds or collect eggs. Which brings us to the issue of pen or no pen.
If you do not have a pen for your birds, since they are free to come and go from the coop as they wish, so can other animals. The only way to keep out invaders is to have a pen enclosure. Animals that can’t get into the pen will not be able to get into the coop. If you are concerned about your hens having a large enough area to roam, just make the pen bigger. It’s our opinion that it’s not worth letting them roam free if it means they will attract predators and get killed, or worse, a human tending them gets injured or sick from wild predators in the coop.
Alligators… yikes! Just because you live in an area with alligators doesn’t mean you can’t have chickens. If someone tries to tell you different, walk away. We had a six foot alligator in our pond for almost two years. He was happy there too. He ate all my ducks and geese. Then he ate my cat and any dog or other creature that went to the pond. Never once did he come out of the pond and wander around the property. However, we never did know how he got there. He could have been there a lot longer than two years and was just not noticed until he was big enough to see from a distance. Just don’t put your chickens near the alligator habitat. It’s their home and anything you put there should be considered food for them.
Now that all the four legged and slithering creatures have been dealt with, it’s time to turn our attention to flying predators. Hawks, eagles, owls, osprey and other predatory birds enjoy chicken, chicks, ducks, eggs and other prey they can find. They even eat other birds of any species. There are hawks and osprey who like to bring their meals to our back yard to eat them. When they have killed a bird or squirrel and left the feathers or skin and bones on the ground below, it really upsets our dogs. But, it serves as a reminder that even flighted birds can’t escape from the swiftness of their predator.
To protect your flock from predators, cover the pen with chicken wire or any other light weight fencing. Depending on the size of the pen enclosure, it might be necessary to place posts under the fence in places to make sure it remains suspended. It works and it’s easy.
Which brings us to coyotes and foxes. These critters will dig a hole under the fence to get to your flock. The easiest way to make sure they don’t get to them is to close the hen house at night. Simply shut the door. Just remember to open it in the morning. Chickens want to go outside at the crack of dawn and go to roost at sunset. Coyotes and foxes like to show up when the birds are sleeping. They will circle the coop to look for vulnerabilities. Any thing they can dig or pull to make a way inside. This is why you inspect the screen you put up to keep out snakes.
Our solution was to simply pour concrete in the areas of the barn floor where you could see daylight. Since the barn does not have a floor, it’s fine. We put chicken wire and wire mesh in areas prone to other critters.
Where we live, there are no bears. However, in parts of Texas, small bears are reported. Bears are common in many areas of the country, so take them seriously. Just because you have never seen one in your area does not mean that you won’t ever see one. If you get a report that a bear has been sited within a reasonable distance from your property, take action. Male black bears have been known to wander a 15 to 80 square mile territory. Bears will tear down your chicken coop and fences. They will eat your birds and eggs. If you try to defend them, they might attack you too. Once they know there is food there, they will come back for more. Momma bears will bring her cubs along on the second trip. So far, the only effective deterrent seems to be an electric fence outside the perimeter of the coop and chicken pen.
There is another purpose for protecting your flock in a responsible manner. Wild animals tend to be executed because they managed to find their way into human and livestock habitats. By using barriers to protect your flock, you are also protecting wildlife from becoming endangered or extinct.