Identifying Predators and Protecting Your Poultry
Oh no! You walk to your coop and notice something has killed your birds. The devastation and frustration sets in immediately. What is your next step? Ideally, you will want to identify the predator if possible to prevent any further loss.
First, Identify the Culprit
Living in a rural area that is surrounded by woods and water, predators are very common. Unfortunately, I have experienced several different predator attacks with my flocks, from dogs, raccoons, hawks, coyotes, and minks. Predators usually leave behind some type of evidence of their bad behavior whether it be scat, their distinct ways of attacking and killing the birds, and much more. When determining the culprit here is what to look for with the following predators.
Hawk: Hawks are notorious for scouting their prey before attacking. You may notice the hawk circling your coop or where the flock forages. If you have a rooster in your flock you may notice him crowing more than normal in order to alert the flock there is a predator near.
Dog: Dogs kill both for food and play. When dogs attack you will likely find feathers scattered throughout an area. If they kill more than one you may find a trail of carcasses. You can also look for paw prints that will also be another sign to confirm a dog attack.
Raccoon: These masked faced predators are some of the most clever creatures that can manipulate latches and kill chickens by reaching through fences. Raccoons will leave behind feathers, footprints, and carcasses that are missing the neck and part of the chest.
Coyote: Coyotes are not as common to attack flocks as dogs are, as they tend to stay clear of houses and busy areas. They are threatened by humans. Coyotes are prone to hunt at night and will hunt in packs. You can expect carcasses to be removed entirely from the coop leaving a trail of feathers.
Mink: Mink and weasel attacks are very similar to raccoons. They will leave behind feathers and footprints. You will notice signs that a struggle has occurred since they are small rodents and are not as large and strong as a raccoon. Weasels will leave behind the carcass but you will notice that the neck and chest cavities are missing. Minks and weasels attack at night and can fit through the smallest holes in a coop.
Skunk: A very easy way to identify skunk attacks is the horrendous odor they leave behind. In the coop, you may notice missing or cracked eggs in addition to wounded chickens. Skunks are considered to be more scavengers than hunters.
Opossum: These nocturnal predators will enjoy both eggs and smaller chicks. They tend to be lazy however if they have an opportunity to attack a mature hen or rooster, they will.
Second, Secure the Area
Once you determine the predator or predators it is time to fix the problem. There are various ways to keep predators out and away from the coop. Make sure that the wiring in the coop is tightly secure and cannot be lifted. With the wire you want to make sure you are using small wire such as “hardware cloth” that the smaller predators like weasels cannot sneak in. Be sure to check the boards and the base of the coop to make sure there are no holes or loose areas that critters can enter.
Secure the Run Area
After securing the coop make sure the run or area that your chickens free range in is properly secure. Be sure to keep in mind predators that may dig under fencing. Burying your fencing several inches underground can be helpful. If you choose to free range your flock it can be a bit more challenging to keep them safe but it is not impossible. I like to use electric poultry netting as it helps to keep dogs and larger predators out. To deter overhead predators such as hawks, place decoys such as scarecrows and reflecting tape in the area will aid in keeping them and other flying predators away.
Trapping has proved to be successful as well. There are different styles of traps one can purchase based on the predator you are trying to trap. After the predator is caught you can determine how to handle it.
By being able to identify the predators that have attacked my flocks in the past, I have been able to secure my coop properly. Knock on wood, I have not had any predators attack my flock in over a year. Take the time to check your coop, perimeter, and watch for any signs of predators in order to protect your flock. Remember, happy and safe chickens, lay happy eggs.
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