Those of you who have backyard flocks probably worry about them like you worry about your kids. They can be so susceptible to predators. Meat-eating mammals like raccoons, opossums, coyotes, wolves, foxes and minks are always looking for an easy meal. Common birds of prey like eagles, hawks, falcons and owls can be just as aggressive. And depending on where you live you may need to worry about even bigger pests such as bears and cougars.
There are many theories about how to best protect your flock, I use the word ‘theories’ because nothing is a guarantee against powerful predatory instincts. But there are some easy steps you can follow to help keep your backyard flock safe.
First, you should shut your chickens into their coop every night!! No exceptions!!
The number one reason backyard flocks are attacked is because owners fail to shut their chickens in their coop at night. Chickens lack natural defenses and when left out at night they will go missing sooner or later. Leaving chickens exposed at night is a careless and haphazard way to thin your flock! And once a predator is successful they will keep returning in hopes of scoring more easy meals. Taking extra precautions to avoid that first attack is the best defense. If you lock your chickens in every night, and you don't have any holes in your coop then your chickens will be quite safe. BUT predators are relentless and keeping your flock safe can seem like a constant battle. If you live in the city you will probably be dealing with smaller pests, but if you are near forests, pastures or prairies there will probably be larger more aggressive hunters lurking nearby making protecting your flock far more challenging.
Second, you should keep trash well sealed and protected. And if possible, try to avoid putting trash outside until the morning your trash is scheduled to be collected. Leaving trash out overnight will attract scavengers that may scatter trash and discarded food ultimately luring bigger predators. I talked to several animal control officers in preparing for this blog and all of them said that exposed trash keeps them employed as it attracts all kinds of animals. Keep the trash well sealed was common advice!
Third, place the coop close to the house if possible. The theory is that wild animals are afraid of humans so the sounds we make and smells that surround us will repel predators. It will also make it easier for you to keep an eye on your flock. There are many who have had success repelling predators by keeping a low powered, or solar powered slow blinking red light on during the evening or night hours. Wild animals probably associate artificial light with humans and the movement and shadows the light brings to the coop area can deter predators. Flock owners who have used this strategy suggest varying the light by moving it to different parts of the coop and even skipping a night so that predators do not get used to the light.
Fourth, install a barrier against digging predators. Coyotes and foxes can be extremely challenging as they are great jumpers and they can also dig. To deter them from tunneling under the wall into your coop you could use the apron fence method. This method provides an effective barrier against skilled diggers and it is easy to apply. Simply put some chicken wire or some other type of fencing on the ground around the coop and then use stakes to secure the wire in place. Innovation Pet does manufacture a fox resistant coop that we sell in the United Kingdom because the country has a heavily concentrated fox population. That coop has a wire floor grate that provides a built in protection against digging predators. But that particular coop is not widely distributed because chickens love to forage and scratch and the wire floor grate limits this activity.
BUT I caution that again nothing is guarantee when it comes to protecting against predators and it can be a constant battle to shepherd and protect your backyard flock! Employing some of these simple techniques will do a lot to protect them. But you should also remain vigilant looking over the coop, the area around the coop and the backyard in general for clues of nighttime visitors.
Please contact us with any ideas or techniques you have used that have proven effective at protecting your backyard flocks and we will share them. The more information we all have the more successful we will all be at protecting our backyard flocks!