As you wash the breakfast dishes, you look out the window and watch the chickens scratching for their morning bugs and weed seeds. It’s a nice sight- a pretty flock of chickens doing what God intended them to. But wait- yesterday you had 12 hens and now you only have 10.
When we first moved to our farm, it seemed that we got a grace period to adjust to the realities of the circle of life. For the first several months, we had no predator problems and things were just hunky-dory.
Then in the spring, we got a batch of 25 chicks, raised them in the brooder until they were feathered out, and then turned them loose in the yard to live that idyllic “free range” life. Enter the neighbor’s dog.
We had a pair of beautiful White Faced Black Spanish roosters that we called the Goofball Brothers because of their constant antics of trying to one-up each other in the pecking order. Usually, they would face off and make silly attempts at sparring and then King Percy would come along and put them both in their places. Then one day we only had one Goofball.
We never caught “Puppy” (as in, “my sweet Puppy wouldn’t bother your chickens…”) with a chicken (though other neighbors reported seeing him carrying them home), but chickens kept disappearing. We started confining them unless we were outside with them. That helped some, but other things got them in the night, right off their roosts. Grrrr…..
The Biggest Problem
For us, our greatest predator problem is definitely dogs allowed to run loose. Besides that, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, hawks, and owls all take their toll on small livestock. I’ve heard that you can sometimes determine what kind of predator you are dealing with by the method of kill and what parts are eaten.
For example, raccoons are said to often bite the head or neck, often decapitating it. They will usually eat the breast meat and sometimes entrails. They will try to reach through coops and pull the chicken through. They may go after more than one and often strike at night. This is how we lost our best broody hen and all her chicks.
It is very hard to completely prevent losses to predators, but there are some things you can do to help quite a bit.
- Get at least one good-sized dog, preferably a Livestock Guardian Dog, and go check if the dog starts making a fuss.
- Close the birds in at night especially.
- Make sure the coop has no gaps that would allow a small determined critter in. Weasels, minks, and ermines are known to be particularly adept at squeezing through tiny spaces.
- Consider burying the bottom edge of your coop fencing several inches underground to deter burrowing in.
What do you do when you catch it?
That’s a hard one that you will have to decide for yourself. You can’t talk it out of raiding your henhouse or “cure” it of its penchant for your buffet. If it’s a neighbor dog, you may be able to talk to the owner about keeping it confined at home. Wild animals are something else.
Live traps are a possibility. But then what will you do with it? Relocate it? Kill it?
One thing to keep in mind though is that predators often have a particular range that they work and keep each other in check somewhat. If you eliminate a raccoon, for example, that may make room for a whole family of opossums to move into your territory.