Protecting chickens from predators is one of the biggest challenges a backyard chicken keeper faces. The best offense is a good defense and knowing the basics of coop security is essential to keeping chickens safe from harm. The following are my best recommendations for predator-proofing chickens based on my experiences.
1. Don’t allow Chickens to Roost Outside
Chickens are most vulnerable when they are asleep and many chicken predators are active at night, making the inside of a locked coop the safest place for them. Teaching chickens to return to the coop at night is best done from the time they first take up residence in the coop, but they can also be trained at a later date if necessary.
2. Never Rely on Chicken Wire for Safety
Chicken wire is meant to contain chickens, not to exclude predators. A hungry raccoon can defeat chicken wire as easily as opening an envelope. Hawks can reach in through chicken wire with their talons, pulling a bird to its death. Never rely on chicken wire as a safety fencing.
3. Install ¼ inch Hardware Cloth Liberally
Snakes and members of the weasel family can get into the coop through very small openings, devastating a flock in very short order. Using hardware cloth, cover any opening in the coop and around the run that is greater than ¼ inch. All windows should be secured with hardware cloth. Window screens will not keep predators out. Screws and washers should secure the hardware cloth to the structure, not staples.
My chickens free-range all day and the coop doors are left open. The eastern rat snake in this video slithered into the coop nest box for a three egg lunch. He was scared off into the woods from whence he came. The only way to keep snakes out of the chicken coop completely is to secure it day and night with 1/4″ hardware cloth at every possible access point into the coop and run.
4. Bury it or put an Apron on It
To deter digging predators, dig a 12″ trench all the way around the perimeter of the coop, burying the hardware cloth. Dirt floors should have hardware cloth buried at least 12″ beneath them. An alternative to a trench is to extend a 12″ hardware cloth apron out from the perimeter of the run. An apron isn’t as effective as a trench, but will provide a degree of security from less ambitious digging critters.
5. Cover the Run
For maximum security, cover the run to protect against flying and climbing predators. A lesser degree of protection can be obtained by stringing netting on top of the run to deter hawks, owls, etc. Climbing predators will not be deterred by netting, however.
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