Chicken Predators -Foxes, Coyotes, Hawks, and Pets
You wake up one morning only to find out that your laying hens or your best meat chickens are missing a head, limb or are missing completely. Sadly, this is a common occurrence in some communities where raising chickens was thought to be safe. Often residents are dissuaded from maintaining their own flock due to chicken predators.
Chicken predators are a real concern for backyard poultry raisers, most of whom practice free-ranging to enable chickens to get the nutrients they need to maximize the eggs per year a hen provides. Unfortunately, when not adequately protected, the chickens you kept for eggs in your backyard could end up being food for raccoons, foxes and dogs. Instead of getting 240 eggs per chicken, you’ll end up gathering feathers the chicken predators have left.
All information on chicken predators reveals that the chickens are most vulnerable to predator attacks at night. This is further aggravated by housing that offers inadequate protection. If you are serious about keeping your birds free from their common chicken predators, continue reading.
Chicken Predators and their chicken dinner
Hawks, foxes, raccoons, coyotes and household pets like dogs and cats are the most common chicken predators. Here’s a discussion of each predator and how chickens react to them.
Hawks, being birds of prey, are deadly as far as your chickens are concerned. They have exceptionally keen eyesight (way better than humans) that allow them to survey the area from above to find an opportune time for an attack. They have very sharp beaks and talons that can leave nasty cuts on the chickens that they are not able to bring with them. However, little chicks who have wandered far from their mothers are almost always going to get carried away. Unlike other chicken predators that do their bad deeds at night, hawks attack during the day when the chickens are on free range.
Foxes are perhaps the most feared chicken predators by those rearing chickens. They are sly creatures that will patiently wait for the best time to strike. Fences are no protection since they are nimble enough to climb up and over them. Hunting a couple of hours after sundown and again two hours before sunrise, foxes will kill and take as many chickens as they can from the coop. They are most active in the spring when they need to provide food for newborn litters. The most common signs of a fox attack are strewn feathers, broken necks and several birds gone.
Raccoons are very intelligent chicken predators that can do a lot of damage when they strike. They can open simple latches and generally kill your chickens by biting into their neck or head. Because they cannot bring the poultry away from the chicken coops, they will generally pull heads or legs off. When they gain entrance to the chicken coop, however, they can eat the heads, breast and entrails. It is not uncommon for dead chickens to be dragged a few yards away.
Coyotes belong to the dog family and exhibit the same deadly hunting skills as feral dogs or wild wolves. Because they are not great climbers like foxes, coyotes will most probably tunnel under the ground to gain access to the chicken coop. Once they gain access, they can wipe out the entire chicken population. Like the fox, you will know that it was coyotes that killed your chickens based on the broken necks and feathers scattered all over the coop floor.
Your pet dog and cat may also become a chicken predator. In most cases, however, this happens accidentally or when the dogs that are acclimated to chickens get alarmed by the bird’s threatening (to the dog) movements. Unlike coyotes and foxes, dogs just maim the animal and will not eat its internal organs. Cats that are inclined to, can also prey on chickens. While they may succeed in killing a chick, they’ll have a tough time with larger chickens who will probably just suffer abrasions or scratches.
Rather than having to chase out the chicken predators at the time of attack, it is much better to anticipate the attack and prevent it from materializing.
Providing your chickens with safe and adequate housing facilities is essential. These should be durable and sturdy enough to withstand attacks. Since raccoons can slide through and pull your chickens’ legs, your housing should be free of holes and gaps. They can also be protected with high fences to deter chicken predators that cant climb. Fences should also go down to at least a foot below the ground to prevent digging predators from succeeding to get into the coop. Entrances should be locked at sundown so make sure that you “train” your chickens to go inside their hutches before then.
If you are free-ranging your chickens, consider placing a mobile chicken coop on the field where they range to give them a place to hide when the hawk strikes.
Foxes can be difficult to keep out using fences alone. A better precaution would be to get farm dogs that can do the job of patrolling your territory and keeping foxes and coyotes at bay. Reliable farm dogs do not only protect your chickens, they make good pets, too.
It is natural for roosters to protect hens and chicks. If you are planning to free-range your chickens, it would be better to consider including a rooster in your flock to serve as protector for your precious lady egg-givers. Roosters are usually the first to notice hawks and will warn the flock of danger. Make sure that roosters are allowed by your local ordinances first.
Of course, people are much more intelligent than animal predators and as such, you are one of the best protectors for your chickens. While there is no scientific evidence to back the practice yet, some chicken owners leave their socks or other items they have used at possible points where predators might gain entry to deter them with human smell.
Losing chickens to animal predators is part of poultry raising. However, it should not be considered a normal occurrence. Take steps to prevent the predators from encroaching on your territory so you and your chickens will be rewarded with long living chickens!