How to Protect Chickens From Predators

Here's How to Keep Your Flock Safe

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by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart
PHOTO: jadimages/Adobe Stock

Knowing how to protect chickens from predators is important if you want to keep a productive flock. On the list of predators are often rodents, skunks and snakes, but they are rarely a danger to adult chickens.

Do Snakes Kill Chickens?

If snakes are allowed access to a chicken coop, they will happily dine on young birds and eggs, but they pose little threat to grown birds. While it’s possible for some large, exotic snakes to kill and consume whole adult chickens, it would be rather rare. In fact, it’s more likely that an adult hen will make a meal out of a snake than the other way around.

Signs of Snakes in the Chicken Coop

Unless you’re able to catch a glimpse of snakes entering the coop, there will be only a few mysterious signs of their presence:

  •   missing chicks; no other clues
  •   whole, missing eggs; no other clues
  •   dead, adult chickens with a wet head (where the snake attempted to swallow it)

How to Keep Snakes Out of the Chicken Coop

Snakes prefer to feast on rodents, such as mice and rats, and will take up residence where and when there are ample food sources. That means if you have a resident snake, you likely have a rodent problem as well.

Knowing how to protect chickens from predators means following all the precautions for securing the coop. Like rodents, snakes can fit through very small openings in the coop. Eliminate the food source and the snake will move on.

Do Opossums Kill Chickens?

Several other common critters may pose a threat to your flock, though many of these scavengers are more of an issue for keepers with young birds or lots of eggs.

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Opossums are rather common and live in nearly every corner of the country, in some cities and most rural areas. Opossums prefer to scavenge for food rather than hunt for it. If she finds a way into a chicken coop, she’ll go for eggs first, eating them on the spot. Young chicks make easy pickings as well, and if in the mood to hunt, an opossum will target grown chickens as well.

Mice in the Chicken Coop – Friend or Foe?

Know that mice and rats are more of a nuisance when you’re wondering how to protect chickens from predators than a true threat to adult chickens. While they are certainly capable of killing baby chicks, only a very large, very hungry and very motivated rodent will attempt to kill an adult chicken. Rats and mice tend to view the coop as a warm, dry shelter in which to make a nest, particularly if there is chicken feed to feast on nearby.

Do Skunks Kill Chickens?

Unlike the mammals in the weasel family, skunks rarely hunt grown birds. They tend to go for young chicks or eggs almost exclusively. The skunk’s smell is much stronger than that of the mustelid mammals, so if you are aware of its smell, you can be fairly certain it has paid your flock a visit. 

How to Protect Chickens from Predators

Chicken predators come in all shapes, sizes and species. They fly, crawl, walk, stalk and slither.

Some gain access to your birds by climbing walls, others by slipping through fences, some by digging under enclosure perimeters and a few by simply charging in the light of day. Some are big. Some are small. Some are so crafty they can pass undetected until they strike. 

Chickens are rarely safe, and they know it. By nature, chickens tend to be standoffish, skittish, flighty and a tad bit paranoid. Chicken fanciers often find their behavior quirky and endearing, but what we see as “just being weird” is really a well-honed defense mechanism. It’s no wonder chickens are constantly on the alert. Nearly every predatory creature, domestic or feral, finds them to be easy, tasty prey. On top of that, chickens have very few natural defenses. They have poor eyesight in low light and no teeth or strength with which to defend themselves. Between the natural fight-or-flight response, flight is the only viable option—and they can’t even do that very well.

So, as their keeper, it’s your duty to use your wits, tools and resources to ensure the flock’s safety. Here’s how…

1. Maintain a Secure Coop

The first defense, of course, is by building and maintaining a secure coop. Lock up behind your birds each evening, making sure they’re safe at the most vulnerable time of day.

2. Think Like a Predator

This is the best way to stay one step ahead of the marauders and to truly keep your birds safe. What are your local predators’ strengths? How do they gain access to chickens? How would they maim or kill, and what time of day do they tend to strike? These are all important questions any chicken keeper must ask about the predators that hunt nearby.

3. Be Diligent 

Chickens are so easy to care for and have so few needs compared to other pets and livestock that it’s sometimes easy to forget that they are one of the most vulnerable. It’s easy to become complacent in the daily routine and let your guard down, even just once. That one slip-up—the one, tiny gap in fencing or the one time you forget to lock them up at night—could be a predator’s way in and spell disaster for your flock.

It’s critically important to take the necessary precautions and establish a good defense from the get-go. Don’t wait until a predator has already visited your flock.

What To Do If a Predator Attacks

If and when an attack happens, be prepared to don your detective’s cap. Unless you catch the marauder in the act, you’ll be relying on clues at the crime scene to determine which species made the attack. It can be surprisingly hard to figure out who was responsible.

1. Check for Obvious Points of Entry

What do you see as you scan the chicken coop and run’s perimeter? Are there gaps or torn holes in the fencing? Signs of digging? A window or door left ajar or pried open?

Check for obvious animal tracks around the enclosure. If you have muddy or snowy conditions, you may get lucky and find some.

2. Take Inventory

How many birds were killed? What time of day did the attack happen? Were any birds eaten? If so, which body parts? Are there any missing birds? If there are surviving birds, what is the nature of their wounds? 

How to Protect Chickens from Predators – Key Takeaways

Chickens are easy prey for so many predators that it’s difficult to keep track. From feral cats to foxes, hawks and snakes, each predator has its own distinctive modus operandi that serves as a calling card, providing clues to what you and your chickens are dealing with. So use preventative measures, where possible, and keep a safe and secure coop. 

This article about how to protect chickens from predators originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2023 issue of Chickens magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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