How to protect free-range chickens from predators
Chickens are highly susceptible to predators, especially if they're free range. Foxes, raccoons, birds of prey and even snakes can all pose a threat to a free-range flock. To protect your chickens from predators, you'll need to consider installing appropriate fencing, providing shelter, keeping your chickens indoors at night and using guard animals to keep predators at bay.
How to Keep Predators Away From Chickens
Perhaps the most obvious answer to dealing with predators is to simply install a fence around your flock's territory. Use firm wire to prevent predators from breaking through, and bury the wire at least 6-8 inches deep in the ground to prevent them from digging under it. Remember to walk the perimeter of the fence frequently to look for any breaks or damaged areas that could lead to injury to your chickens or allow predators to slip through.
If wire fencing is not feasible, electric fences are often a solution that's both affordable and easy to install. Electric fencing will not deter smaller predators such as weasels, but it may help to keep larger predators like coyotes and foxes at bay.
Birds of prey, such as hawks and eagles, are particularly difficult to ward off because they won't be deterred by fences or other physical barriers. If possible, stringing netting or wire over the chickens' territory can help to keep other birds out. Hanging moving objects such as old CDs or strips of cloth may also deter these predators for a short time. However, birds of prey are very smart and will quickly learn that these objects don't pose a threat. Rotating the objects frequently encourages these predators to stay away.
How to Keep Chickens Safe from Predators
Keeping predators away from a free-range flock can be difficult, especially if the flock is ranging over a large area. Another option is to ensure the flock has plenty of safe areas to hide and roost. Keeping the flock near thickets of dense brush or planting shrubs in their territory can help provide cover for them to hide from predators, particularly birds of prey. Man-made structures such as plastic tunnels, lean-tos and portable shelters can also help the chickens protect themselves from harm.
Although your flock may be free range during the day, keeping them cooped at night will keep them protected from many predators. Your coop should be slightly raised off the ground to prevent predators from digging under it, and it should include elevated roosts to allow the hens to rest safely out of reach.
How to Use Guard Animals to Protect Chickens
Adding a rooster to your flock is one way to provide your hens with an extra measure of protection without significant added expense. Roosters are naturally protective of their hens and may intimidate small predators. However, roosters can be a nuisance to hens and humans alike, and many communities don't allow them to be kept in backyard flocks.
Another option is to use a guard dog to protect your birds. Choosing and training the right dog for this type of work can be difficult. A dog with a high prey drive may be inclined to chase the chickens and this self-rewarding behavior is difficult to curb. Working with an experienced positive reinforcement dog trainer or a board certified veterinary behaviorist may be necessary to teach the dog to leave the chickens alone.
Many farms have successfully used other guard animals, such as llamas and donkeys, to protect their livestock. These animals are often fiercely territorial and will chase away many predators while posing little threat to the poultry flock.
Remember to check your local statutes to see if hens, roosters and livestock are permitted in your neighborhood.
Protecting Your Free-Range Chickens
Predators are a menace to free-range chickens. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to deter, especially if the chickens tend to stray far from home. Keepers of free-range flocks may need to accept that some degree of loss is inevitable. However, by securing the area as much as possible and using deterrents, such as guard animals, poultry enthusiasts can minimize the risk of losing free-range chickens to predators.
- “Predator Management for Small and Backyard Poultry Flocks." Small and Backyard Poultry, United States Cooperative Extension System, poultry.extension.org/articles/poultry-management/predator-management-for-small-and-backyard-poultry-flocks/
- “Raising Poultry in New Hampshire: Preventing Loss By Predators." New Hampshire Fish and Game, 2018, www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/documents/chickens.pdf
- Tabler, Tom, et al. “Protect Backyard Birds From Predators." Texas A&M AgriLife, 2014, agrilifecdn.tamu.edu/urbantarrantag/files/2015/12/Protect-backyard-birds-from-predators.pdf