How to predator-proof my chicken coop and run?
Protecting your chickens from predators is often a constant battle for chicken keepers. Predators are active both during the day and night, all year long. In the fall, predators get even more aggressive and taking preventative measures is critical. You’ve heard the saying, “The best offense is a good defense” definitely applies to protecting your chickens from predators.
Measures you can take to keep your flock safe:
- Build a sturdy coop
Of course, a sturdy coop isn’t foolproof, but it’s like a Berlin Wall between your chickens and the hungry predators on the other side. If your hen house is not properly designed and constructed, it could compromise the safety of your flock not only to predation, but also bad weather. Whether you buy it pre-made or build the coop yourself, ensure that it’s strong and sturdy so your chickens will be protected from predators — this is your first and last line of defense.
Foxes, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons can climb and scale fences with ease, even if they are electrified.
Consider to add Coyote Rollers (see Coyote Roller diagram below) along the top of the fence to keep coyotes and other wildlife from gripping the top of the fence to climb it. A coyote roller is an aluminum extruded ribbed roller that mounts to the top of your fence to stop animals from scaling the top of a fence. Coyote Rollers work with various fence types, including wood, wrought iron, vinyl and chain link. They require nothing more than proper installation on at least a 6-foot or taller fence, need little to no maintenance, no electricity, they are attractive, and spin with only 2 ounces of pressure (a lot of birds can’t even sit on them).
With Coyote Rollers animals cannot gain the paw-hold they need to pull themselves over your fence.
- Use galvanized hardware cloth
As for the fencing itself, most runs are constructed from some type of chicken wire. The truth is chicken wire is not strong enough to prevent outside attack. I agree that chicken wire is cheap, but it rusts quickly and has no structural strength to keep the predators out. Chicken wire could work fine as a fence for a daytime yard, where you can keep a watchful eye on your chickens. The best choice for your run is hardware cloth. In particular, you want ½-inch square (19 gauge*) galvanized hardware cloth, which is tight enough to leave out ground crawling arachnids such as snakes and rats. Hardware cloth comes in 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-foot rolls — with 3′ and 4′ being the most common — and in roll lengths anywhere from 5, 25, 50 to 100 feet. Make sure to get the right size for your coop design.
*Wire gauge is the measurement of the diameter of a wire or the thickness of the wire. The larger the gauge, the thinner the wire. The following values show in inches the most common gauges of wires used in welded and woven wire mesh and fence:
|American Wire Gauge (AWG), also known as the Brown & Sharpe Wire Gauge||Inches
Fence pricing varies widely, depending on the material, the type of fence, the size, style, and gauge of the wire. To get a feel for how much it can cost, check out Estimated Costs for Livestock Fencing by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Fence installation best practices:
- Bury fencing at least 2 ft or put down a 4 to 6 ft wire apron around the perimeter of your coop to prevent digging. Only use welded wire or hardware cloth fencing — never chicken wire.
- Secure hardware cloth with screws and washers. Avoid using staples because they are easy to pull out for a determined predator, and they rust easily.
- Cover all coop windows and seal all openings larger than one inch with ½-inch square (19 gauge*) galvanized hardware cloth.
- Enclose your coop within a secure poultry run and electrify it
Make sure your enclosure is high enough or add a cover net, so wild cats, foxes, raccoons, possums and coyotes cannot jump in, and also to prevent your chickens from flying over the fence.
Yes, you can clip their wings, but only if it is necessary. A typical chicken could probably easily deal with a fence of about 5–7 ft high without her wings clipped. After a chicken’s wing is clipped, they usually cannot scale much over 3 ft. You only need to cut the tips of the primary flight feathers of one wing to throw her off balance. Think of it as a chicken haircut. Here’s a great article from Instructables showing you exactly how it’s done, it’s quick and painless if it’s done correctly.
Click on to learn how to clip a chicken’s wing.
And there’s also a short video, if you prefer watching over reading:
Some important points to note for basic (primary flight feathers) wing clipping:
- With a clipped wing, it will also make it harder for your chickens to fly away from any predators.
- Do not cut growing feathers that are full of blood.
- Feathers will re-grow after a molt and you will need to clip the wing again.
You can use electric netting as well to double up your defense against predators. I know it keeps the critters away. Don’t allow your chickens to roost outside the poultry run.
- Use automatic door kit
Add an auto shut, auto open coop door to keep your flock safe. They’re fairly easy to install, and they free you from being a doorman for your pet early every morning. If you rely on one of these to close up your coop at night, just be sure none of your hens get locked out.
Watch an automatic coop door at work in the video below:
- Raise your coop off the ground
Raise your coop from the ground by about a foot. This will discourage rats, skunks and snakes from coming up into the coop to steal eggs, chicks or young hens.
- Know who your enemies are
The first step to deterring predators is to identify them. Some common predators for your chickens are:
- Birds of prey
- Weasels, especially least and long-tailed weasels
- Foxes, especially red foxes
- Domestic dogs and cats
- All wild dogs and cats
Every predator has a distinctive way of killing. Use this Poultry Predator Identifier Tool by PoultryDVM.com to help you figure out which predator is behind attacks on your flock of chickens, and other poultry members.
- Tuck your chickens in early
Make sure your chickens are safe inside the coop before sundown. Don’t wait until it’s dark to put the chickens inside the coop. This is when a lot of predators attack, so make sure you tuck them in early.
- Collect eggs daily
A lot of predators will break into your coop just to steal chicken eggs as they are yummy indeed. Racoons, dogs, coyotes, snakes, rats, birds — even humans can break into your coop to steal eggs.
So it is a good idea to collect your eggs frequently during the day to remove this likely food source for rats and snakes especially.
Also, don’t leave food in the run. Clean up food scraps and spills before nightfall, as these can attract rats and rodents.
- Keep the eggs safe
A chicken nest box provides a safe place for chickens to lay eggs. Although chicken nest box designs seem like a no-brainer, they should be planned carefully to ensure that they are not easily got at by egg-eating predators. At night, make sure to lock the nest box lid with a padlock or carabiner hook for good measure.
- Set up a trail camera
Setting up a trail camera can help catch any egg thieves or predators. To catch a thief, you must be able to see the thief, right?
- Set up predator-deterrent lights
Predator-deterrent lights (either motion sensor-activated or automatically comes on at night), oftentimes mimicking another predator’s eyes, can scare nocturnal predators away. This will make them feel unsafe and they will turn tail and run. However, some animals like foxes are cunning, if they suss out that the lights are static, then this technique will have less effect. So go for one that has random flashing patterns.
- Use guard dogs
If well-trained, guardian dogs are extremely effective at deterring predators, both during the day and at night. This predation-control approach requires that the dogs stay with the flock at all times.
- Use quality locks
If you didn’t use auto door kit, replace easy open door latches with 2-step locks and padlocked it for good measure. Alternatively, you can use carabiner hook option to ‘lock’ the latches. Carabiners are strong, sturdy, cheap, and you don’t have to worry about losing the key.
Keep in mind that raccoons are quite strong and can open simple latch mechanisms! The latches should be made out of galvanized metal or stainless steel, which makes them weather proof.
Alternatively, you can try this solution:
- Cover the run with bird netting to protect against climbing or flying predators
For maximum security, top the run with bird netting. Bird netting can help keep desperate aerial predators such as hawks, crows and owls at bay.
Here’s a good article on how to build a predator-proof chicken run:
- Hang your old CDs
Hang unwanted CDs around the perimeter of the poultry run to scare off birds, and squirrels too from vandalizing your garden. You can also use mirror disco balls or bird scare tape — anything that will reflect light.
- Seek assistance from Wildlife Services
Check with local wildlife officials for a list of predators that frequent your area and for regulations for legal means to control them.
- Be vigilant
It should come as no surprise that human negligence and carelessness are responsible for most predator strikes. Don’t get sloppy and/or lazy and think that, “Oh I’m tired and I can forgo closing the door tonight, there hasn’t been anything bothering the hens lately.” Sure as you do, that’s the night they’ll strike. So, make sure you lock and secure the coop every night. Always stay vigilant and defensive against potential security attacks. Check around your fencing for any holes in the wire at least once a month. Check the ground for any signs of a fox attempting to enter the run. And check the coop itself that it is still tight and secure. Check the batteries on your auto coop door, and predator-deterrent lights.
Here are some additional videos you may find helpful in the quest to protect your flock from unwanted visitors:
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