Living smack in the middle of two of Michigan’s largest forest regions means that my husband and I must be extra vigilant to keep our flocks safe from predators. You don’t need to live in the wilderness, however, to want to ensure your birds’ safety. Whether you keep urban backyard birds or a large rural flock, here are four ways to protect your chickens.
The best way to protect your chickens is to provide them with as sturdy and impregnable a henhouse as possible. Because of location, you may not have the ability to sink foundational posts in concrete or dig a protective apron around your coop and run.
You can, however, take such precautions as covering gaps with quarter-inch hardware mesh. This will prevent even the slimmest weasel, raccoon and rat from slipping through. Regularly inspect the structure and effect repairs as needed, and use carabiners to prevent nimble-pawed predators from accessing your nest box and pop door.
It may not be your chickens that are attracting local predators. If you keep your pet’s food bowl or your household trash bin outside, the scent coming from these may draw uninvited guests. Even wild-bird feeders are fair game for agile climbers like raccoons.
Once on your property, hungry predators may discover your flock’s existence. To minimize this risk of notice, feed your household pets inside. Purchase an animal-proof trash bin (and keep it inside a shed or garage if possible), and bring your wild-bird feeders in at dusk.
If you have a grill, keep it covered and clean it frequently to keep pests out. Most importantly, store your chicken feed in airtight containers well away from your coop.
In locations with a high percentage of feral animals (for example, rats in New York City or, in our case, raccoons and opossum in the Michigan wilderness), it may simply not be possible to predator-proof your property. In these situations, live trapping may be a feasible option.
Live traps can be purchased or rented, then baited (canned cat food is our bait of choice) and set out in your yard, near your deck, by your shed, or anywhere else you have witnessed wild animals.
Once you have trapped a predator, you can contact Animal Services or your local fish and wildlife office to have them take the animal. Another option is to release the animal in a forest or park at some distance from your home. You can also contract a commercial critter-control company to handle the trapping and removal for you.
Livestock Guardian Dogs
If you’re a poultry keeper with a large free-ranging flock, a livestock guardian dog (LGD) may be a great option to protect your chickens. An LGD bonds with its flock at a very early age and is meticulously trained and supervised to protect it from predators.
Usually the mere presence of an LGD is enough to keep wild animals away. Those curious, hungry or brazen enough to approach quickly find themselves confronted by a growling, snarling, barking LGD displaying aggressive behavior.
An LGD will physically fight a predator if the dog deems it necessary.
An LGD is not cheap. These are specific breeds of dogs, such as a Great Pyrenees or an Anatolian Shepherd, and an LGD pup requires continual training and guidance for the first two years of its life. Given the potential decimation of a flock, however, an LGD may be a valuable investment.