|The goal of predator proofing is to balance safety with freedom for the chickens and other domestic fowl we care for. We want to provide them with every opportunity to exercise their free will and natural instincts, but because they are here at our whim we are responsible for keeping them out of harm's way. We also need to safeguard them in a way that respects and protects the wild animals we live among who are entitled to equal consideration. It is important to know the wildlife in your particular area. The most common Minnesota species that present a threat to chickens are: Raccoon, Dog, Coyote, Fox, Mink, Opossum, Rat, Owl, Bobcat, Hawk, Snake, Weasel, Ferret, Fisher, and Marten. Neighbors with chickens and local animal control agencies are valuable sources for this information.|
-Mary Britton Clouse, Chicken Run Rescue
|NON-LETHAL PREDATOR CONTROL|
|By Carmen Vaz Altenberg, Wildlife biologist and rehabilitator; Heidi A. Greger, Editor|
The most effective means of predator proofing is locking up chickens at night before twilight. A secure coop needs to have four walls, a roof, a real floor (cement pad), and a door that can be locked tight. Situating the coop in close proximity to the house or other areas of frequent and regular human and animal activity not only discourages wild visitors but also allows for quick action if an invasion occurs. Chicken-friendly dogs, other fowl, such as guinea fowl or geese, or even goats can sometimes be a deterrent to predators. Many people install baby monitors and security cameras in their coops and barns.
A perimeter fence is needed to keep the chickens in a protected outdoor area during the day. Any fence has to be at least five feet high. If the area adjacent has overhanging tree branches expect lightweight chickens to fly up to roam the tree tops. Fences can be made from a variety of materials but durability is essential for long-term security. Those made of chicken wire will rust and break down in a couple of years. The more common and widely available welded wire fencing can break and an insistent raccoon can push his way through. Woven wire fencing is best (two-inch gauge or less) because there are no welds to corrode and break. The fencing has to be buried underground at least a foot or folded outward on the ground for a foot and a half to deter burrowing predators.
An alternative to perimeter fencing is to erect a secure outdoor pen with prefabricated chain link panels (available at most pet stores and home building supply stores). The panels are economical, very sturdy, lightweight, easily assembled, and can be moved around and reconfigured easily. The panels are securely attached to the coop or other structure with appropriate wood adaptor fence clamps or brackets (Figure 1) . The top of the pen is covered with UV resistant golf netting or a prefab kennel cover (Figure 2). The open chain link panels are supplemented with a smaller mesh chicken wire secured with UV resistant cable ties at the top and bottom perimeters to deter climbing and digging (Figures 3 & 4). Planting or landscaping can cover the mesh over the ground. Large concrete patio pavers can also be placed under the fencing instead of mesh to prevent digging.
Figure 1-outdoor pen with prefabricated chain link panels
Figure 2- pen covered with kennel cover
Figure 3- chain link supplemented with a smaller mesh to deter climbing and digging. Planting or landscaping can cover the mesh over the ground.
|Figure 4- 1' mesh golf netting|
|Furnishing the pen with features like branches to perch on, shrubs to hide in, non-toxic plants to pick at and dirt to scratch in will keep your birds occupied and fulfilled when they are confined. (Figure 5)|
|Figue 5- furnished pen|
Raccoons, the most prevalent potential chicken predators in Minnesota, mostly climb and aren't big diggers, but they can and do dig. Even with predator proofing they will try repeatedly to gain access; however, at some point instinct kicks in and tells them they are expending more calories than they might gain from getting a chicken, so they give up. Having a frustrated raccoon around is better than having eager, inexperienced raccoons. Raccoons are territorial, and once a raccoon has learned that he cannot gain access to the chickens he will focus on other prey (rodents, insects, snakes, frogs, eggs, etc.) and protect his territory from other raccoons. When this raccoon dies or is live trapped, a new raccoon will move into the abandoned territory and begin to test all the fencing and predator proofing, hopefully getting frustrated and abandoning that endeavor. However, if raccoons are constantly being removed (live trapped, killed) new ones will constantly be moving in and testing the fencing, and eventually one might get through. Better to keep that old frustrated raccoon around.
If perimeter fencing is used, all overhanging tree branches that can serve as a bridge for raccoons to go over the fence must be trimmed. The best anti-raccoon device is an electric fence. An electric fence requires an electric fencing low-impedance charger (solar powered ones are also available), electric conductive wire, four or more ground rods, and vinyl stakes. The electric wire must be positioned eight inches above the ground and eight inches from the fence on the outside of the fence (no point in shocking the chickens!). This ensures that the raccoon will get shocked if he tries to go over the wire to climb the fence or under the wire to dig.
For information on electric fencing and chargers go to:
Wildlife Conservation Society's Saving Wildlife with Electric Fences
All Pet Vet Supply's Electric Fence Controller
Another option is to attach flexible wire fencing or mesh (approximately two feet wide) to the top of the five-foot perimeter fence. It must flop or lean outward. This is very unattractive but effective, unless you skimp and leave fence posts exposed. Raccoons don't like climbing on loose floppy things.
When they climb a fence they usually do so at the corners where the fence posts offer better support, so loose floppy fencing at these areas is a must. Looping big close loops of barbed wire over the top of fences will discourage raccoons (and home & garden magazine photographers) but it is treacherous to work with, dangerous to humans and animals, and not recommended.
DOGS, COYOTES, FOX
Free roaming dogs can dig easily under fencing, killing at random and sometimes just for the thrill of it. Some state and local laws allow property owners to shoot trespassing dogs who harass livestock but legal definitions of livestock may be inconsistent and vague with regard to domestic fowl, and harming any animal should be avoided at all costs.
Making it known to the dog's guardians that shooting is a legal option may give them the incentive to ensure that their dog stays off your property.
However, for a persistent prey driven dog (or coyote or fox), a small, inexpensive air pressure BB gun may be necessary. One or two pumps will create a memorable sting without breaking through flesh. Dogs are smart and learn quickly when stung by a BB gun. Raccoons, coyotes, and fox will also learn to avoid the sting of the BB gun . . . if they know you are around to shoot it.
Like dogs, both coyotes and fox will dig, but only at night (unless it's spring and they are desperate to feed hungry babies). The electric wire and buried fencing should deter them.
Minks dig but not avidly. They will use abandoned gopher holes or muskrat dens rather than dig a new home for themselves. Mink can easily get past the electric wire around the perimeter fence but can't climb a five-foot fence.
They can, however, easily get through two-inch wire gauge; hence, smaller gauge wire fencing is a must. Most mink cannot run down a chicken or a rooster, but they can corner them in the coop and are stealthy enough to approach a sleeping rooster in the dark. Keeping minks from getting into the coop in the first place is the best way to prevent predation by them.
Minks will chew through soft wood; therefore, metal flashing (at least 18 inches wide) needs to be attached to the bottom of all older (possibly
rotten) wood walls of a coop.
Opossums are lumbering sleepy creatures who are more interested in eggs and leftover chicken feed than in lively, skittish chickens. Healthy, adult birds can evade them easily. But opossums are opportunistic and any easy protein is fair game. Cornered, sick or weak chickens, and baby chicks are all vulnerable. Opossums need a gaping hole in a fence, a tunnel under the fence or coop, or an open coop door to gain access. Most Minnesota opossums older than one year have severely frostbitten fingers and toes that are inadequate for effective digging or climbing. They usually don't survive beyond two years in Minnesota.
Rats are voracious nocturnal opportunistic predators. They can dig and chew their way through and around anything and are too small to be deterred by the electric fence. At first they will be attracted to leftover chicken feed and won't bother with the chickens. If rats have shelter, however (for example, under a coop, shed, or in barn walls), they multiply quickly. Rats will eat up all the leftover chicken feed, then the chicken feces, and, once they become numerous enough, will move on to eating the chickens, especially if they can knock one off her perch at night and overwhelm her on the ground. The best way to deter rats is to prevent them from multiplying. Block all holes in walls and eliminate spaces that they can use as shelter. Additionally, always feed the chickens outside, especially if you have an open top pen.
Rats who go outside to eat leftover chicken feed at night will fall prey to owls. Encourage native rodent populations that occupy similar ecological niches such as chipmunks, ground squirrels, and gophers. These animals will use up the resources available to rats thus preventing rat populations from taking hold.
Please note that cats do not deter rats. Rats evolved alongside cats and know how to avoid getting caught. A cat will only eat easy prey, like our native harmless rodents (chipmunks, ground squirrels, voles, gophers) who did not evolve alongside cats. When these harmless rodents are killed, the burrows they leave vacant provide homes and hiding places for more rats, making the rat problem worse. Also, feral cats will kill chicks and small chickens.
Owls will venture into sheds and lean-to's following prey, but they only hunt at night; closing hens up in a four-wall coop at night should protect them. A Leghorn rooster might be too big for a great horned owl but a hen or a bantam is not. Most regular sized adult chickens are too big for most birds of prey except great horned owls, eagles and red-tailed hawks. These species are more prevalent in proximity to rivers. If birds of prey are a problem, the fenced chicken pen or chicken run should be made smaller (less than 25' wide makes it more difficult for large birds to access) with a couple of 18' or 12' posts in the middle of the run holding up durable one inch mesh golf netting (See Figure 5) that is stretched over the entire pen. Netting is sold at any length in 25' or 50' widths. If a chain link panel pen is used, sturdy woven fabric kennel covers in standard pen sizes can be purchased. NOTE: Kennel covers will require periodic snow removal to prevent excessive weight.
Most coops in open farm areas with no nearby trees or shelter for predators will probably do fine without many of the above measures. Raccoons and mink don't like hanging out in open fields. However, fox and dogs don't mind the exposure and will be the more likely culprits of predation there. If the coop is in a wildlife-rich, heavily wooded area, things may be fine for the first few months to a year of having chickens because most potential mature predators have their food sources established and are set in their routine.
However, when these mature predators reproduce and their babies grow up and learn to fend for themselves, or when an existing food source is exhausted, it's then that incidents start to happen. If raccoons are successful at supplementing their diet with chickens they will teach their babies how to do this.
Safeguarding your chickens or other domestic fowl requires planning and a little elbow grease but is well worth the effort and expense. When you are present to protect and supervise, let the chickens out to explore, and enjoy watching them express their true natures.
Poultry Predator Identification: The First Step to Deterrence
By Gail Damerow
Free-ranging birds & predators
By Ron Kean, Extension Poultry Specialist, University of Wisconsin-Madison