There are many joys which come with rearing chickens, such as watching them grow up and collecting delicious eggs. Some even treat their chickens as pets and consider them part of the family! This is especially true if you have watched them hatch out from an egg and grow up into a full grown chicken.
It is therefore extremely frustrating when you discover that your birds were killed by a predator that found its way into your chicken coop without your knowledge. What could have gone wrong? Could it be that your chicken coop was not secure enough? You can protect your chickens by either killing the predators or by employing tactics that prevent predators from gaining entry into your coop.
How predators usually access chickens
Due to their size, snakes and rats can get to your chickens by going through holes in the roof, fence or floor of the coop. Snakes can fit into holes that are larger than a quarter inch and that are not covered by hardware cloth. Birds of prey access chickens that are enclosed in a coop with neither overhead wires nor nylon netting. Owls and hawks, for instance, enter coops through small openings on the roof or fly in through open windows. These birds can also access hens through wire mesh that is not firmly secured to a wooden framework using nails.
Chickens that are kept in a poultry run that is neither secure nor enclosed are easy target for coyotes. If the fencing is not high enough, a coyote can find its way into the coop by jumping over the fence. Other predators such as raccoons can even unlock latches and door openings. They can also break into a coop by tearing apart chicken wire. It is thus recommended that you use hardware cloth instead of chicken wire.
Predator-proofing a Chicken Coop
Eliminate pet food and debris
It is important to keep your chicken coop clean. There should be no pet food or debris left inside and outside the coop as this will encourage raccoons, weasels, mice and rats to nest and multiply. Depending on where you live, the presence of mice and rats may then attract snakes. Chicken feed should be stored away from the chicken coop or in rodent-proof metal containers.
Sealing all windows and openings with hardware cloth
All openings and windows need to be sealed with half an inch or a quarter inch galvanized hardware cloth. Do not use chicken wire as most predators can easily tear through the wire. Chicken wire is only effective to keep the chickens in, but not predators out!
Fencing which is at least five feet high is ideal for chicken coops. I would recommend using one by two inch or smaller welded wire mesh or electric netting. This height is necessary as it bars predators from jumping into the coop, such as coyotes which can jump up to four feet high.
If you live in an area where there are weasels or any types of predators which can dig, I would advise that you bury a galvanized hardware cloth six to twelve inches below the ground and around the perimeter of the chicken run bent outward. This will effectively deter digging predators (such as weasels) that would otherwise burrow under the chicken coop.
Once again depending on where you live and the types of predators living in your neighborhood, it may be required to cover the chicken run to keep away flying predators such as hawks and owls. This can be done by installing a roof of crisscrossed wires over the coop.
Providing a night light that is motion sensor activated to light after dusk will flood the chicken run with light after dark and as a result bar nocturnal predators from accessing the coop.
Securing unlatched locks will prevent predators, such as raccoons, from gaining entry through opening doors and windows. It is preferable to use spring locks and barrel style locks which require multiple steps to unlatch.
Tamed pets such as dogs and geese that have been trained to co-exist peacefully with poultry can also help in protecting your chickens! They are usually territorial in nature and would chase away preying creatures.