Why chickens disappear?

  1.  She’s trying to become a mother and she’s hiding somewhere to lay and hatch her eggs. Without proper training on laying in a specific location, a hen will lay an egg anywhere she feels safe. So, you really need to train your hens to lay eggs in their nest boxes.

Additional reading: How to Find Where Your Hen Lays Eggs

 

  1. She’s been taken by a predator

The list of poultry predators is long, but there are some common ones to look out for. Depending where you live, you may have all of these or some of these common predators to worry about:

Domestic dogs

Keep in mind that NOT all dogs are chicken–friendly. Prehistoric fossils suggest that modern dogs probably descended from a single population of wolves, and thus, they have a ‘little wolf’ in them. So, always remember that chasing is a natural and instinctual behavior for dogs.

How will I know that it was a dog that killed my chicken? Let’s do some CSI work here (like the TV series) …

If your chicken shows signs of severe bites all over that looks like violent maul marks, the killer may be a dog. Dogs do not have sharp enough teeth to consume animals cleanly. So, normally, little flesh is consumed. 

Prevention tips:

  • Get a run for your chicken coop. A chicken run is an outdoor enclosure attached to the coop. Keeping your chickens in a run gives them all the benefits of free ranging — fresh grass, access to grit, worms and bugs and room to stretch their wings, whilst keeping them safe from dogs and other predators. You can learn to build one yourself, which is a fun project to do with family; or you can buy a premade run from Amazon or Omlet and assemble it at home. Walk-in Chicken Run from Omlet is easy to assemble, flexible, reliable, aesthetic and extendable as you need it to be.

  • Train your dog to be to be a guard dog and chicken-friendly. No dog is born a ‘chicken guard dog’, so you must train the dog to be one. There are ways of doing it, but it takes patience. And in most cases, patient training will pay off and your dog and chickens will happily co-exist. At OneHowTo.com explains how to prevent your dog from attacking chickens.

Please note that not all dogs are good for protecting livestock and poultry. Click here for top 10 best guard dog breeds for livestock and poultry protection.

Additional reading: Will My Dog And Chickens Get Along?

 

DOMESTIC AND FERAL CATS

According to American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there are about 74 million cats in the United States alone. Out of this figure, around 36 million of them are in households.

Figures from statistics company Statista estimated that in 2017 the total number of cats owned as a pet in the United States amounted to about 95.6 millions.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), there are about 86 million cats in households, and another 30-40 million feral cats, according to the Humane Society.

Estimates vary, but the conclusion is the same: cats will catch and kill chickens if given the chance. And you cannot fault them for doing what is in their nature. Modern domestic cats are descendants of the African wild cat.

Recent studies suggest that in the United States alone, outdoor and feral cats kill 2.4 billion birds per year and as many as 12.3 billion small mammals.

Domestic house cats do not usually attack adult chickens, but prefer to go after chicks and small bantams. Cats are active both day and night, although they tend to be slightly more active at night.

Additional reading: The Moral Cost of Cats

How will I know that it was a cat that killed my chicken?

Most cats tend to be messy when they consume their prey. They will often only eat the meaty parts of the bird while leaving the skin with the feathers attached. With smaller birds, however, cats often consume entirely.

Here’s a YouTube video of a house cat eating a day-old chick. You will be surprised of what was left of the chick at the end of the video.

Prevention tips:

The prevention measures are similar to those being taken against the dogs, plus some additional tips:

  • It is important to supervise cats around chickens, or keep the chickens in a secure run.
  • Train your cat to be pet-friendly — Yes, it’s possible! Here’s an article from Vetstreet on how to do it: How to Train Your Cat to ‘Leave It’.

 

Foxes

Foxes love a chicken dinner. Foxes are sly, quick, agile and very skillful hunters. The red fox and gray fox, two distinct species, are common and abundant in the United States. Click here for fox fact sheet.

How will I know that it was a fox that killed my chicken?

We often hear that if a fox gets into a henhouse, it goes berserk and launches a killing spree — kills every chicken, not just the one or two it needs to eat. They’re animals, they don’t kill ‘for fun’. Almost no animals kill for fun. If you leave them to it, they make several trips to carry the hens away. This is because foxes are carrion eaters. They kill more than they can eat, carry it away and bury the extra for when times are hard. It’s just like a squirrel caching nuts. Foxes are fastidious hunters, too; they normally leave very little evidence behind — scattered feathers and/or holes dug under fencing is normally all you will find.

Prevention tips:

  • Make sure your henhouse is sturdy and locked EVERY SINGLE NIGHT!!!!! If you didn’t use auto door kit, replace easy open door latches with 2-step locks and padlocked it for good measure.
  • Enclose coops and runs with ½-inch square (19 gauge) galvanized hardware cloth, which is tight enough to even leave out ground crawling arachnids such as snakes and rats. Besides that, the mesh can be used to cover the coop’s vents and the windows. Secure hardware cloth with screws and washers, not staples (to prevent predators from tearing the cloth off). Staples are easily defeated by pushing or pulling. Also, ordinary chicken wire is not strong enough to keep out determined foxes, they can easily rip it open. Even dogs or coyotes can do it without too much difficulty.

  • Foxes, possums, raccoons, coyotes jump, climb and dig like pros when they want something to eat. So bury fence at least 2ft underground and ensure there are no gaps, and/or put down a 4 to 6ft outward ground wire apron and pile hardscaping (e.g. some heavy cement type concrete slabs) around the outside of your chicken run to block their digging. In fact, many sources suggest to bury the fence 1ft deep, but there were some super persistent and super hungry ones even dug 3ft down. But of course this is rare, but possible. Only use welded wire or hardware cloth fencing — never chicken wire.
  • As foxes can jump and climb easily over a 6ft fence, your chicken pen should have a secure top on it, even if it is only bird netting.
  • Reinforce the border fence perimeter with electric net fencing. A typical electric fence is a psychological barrier in the sense that when an animal touches the electric fence, it receives a shock and becomes ‘trained’ not to go near the fence next time. Keep vegetation from touching the fence — it will reduce its charge or ground it out.

  • Foxes can also dig under fences, so make sure to utilize buried wire and wire apron. Another way would be to use Dig Defence® animal barrier. Dig Defence® is a product that was specially created for this problem. You would simply install the Dig Defence® barrier along the bottom of the fence line. It doesn’t detract from the fence’s aesthetic value and it penetrates deep into the ground to stop animals from digging under your fence. These welded strong 4-gauge steel rods are pretty thick and hardy, and completely galvanized to last for years out in the field. All type of fences can be secured with Dig Defence®, including but not limited to chain link, wood privacy, and decorative. No digging, simply use a hammer and a T-Post driver or “L” shaped steel bar to drive the products into the ground, but make sure that you don’t puncture gas, electric, water or any other type of lines.

  • Predator-deterrent lights (either motion sensor-activated or automatically comes on at night) are also a great deterrent.
  • Some people have used animal repellents like Critter Ridder® Critter Ridder® is made with three peppers — the oil of black pepper, piperine and capsaicin. Just like dogs, foxes, including raccoons, skunks and opossums have a highly developed sense of smell. These spices irritate their sense of smell and will quickly discourage them from foraging in your yard. The only downside to this animal repellent, whether homemade or store-bought, is that it is not long lasting and will have to be resprayed in a couple of days or after a hard rain.
  • Having a guard dog can be very helpful to keep the foxes at bay, too.

Additional reading:

Do Foxes Eat Chickens in Broad Daylight?

Toddler mauled by fox in bed

 

Raccoons

Raccoons are probably the most common backyard pests in the United States. Raccoons are scavengers — they are drawn to trash cans, dumpsters and any other place where things are rotting. If you leave your uncovered pet food or the chicken feeder or food scrap outside during the night, and maybe some water too, you are asking for raccoons. After all, free food is hard to resist. Raccoons come alone or as a group and they are not “garden friendly”. They can cause damage, ruin plants and leave a real mess behind them. 

How will I know that it was a raccoon that killed my chicken?

If you find your chicken is dead with its head gone, then it was probably a raccoon. Many times raccoons will grab a chicken’s head with their strong tiny paws and try to pull it through the small holes in a wire fence. Because the holes are too small for chickens, so often all they can get is the head. Also, raccoons like to go after chicks or small bantam breeds because they are an easy target.

Although raccoons are naturally nocturnal, they may venture out in the daytime in search of food. With the growth of our cities, these creatures have learned to adapt their food sources and are getting used to human presence and activity, and dogs and cats to the point where they are getting surprisingly bold.

Prevention tips:

  • Make sure your garbage cans have tightly locked lids, or at the very least keeping them closed with lid straps.

  • Store pet food, including chicken layer feed, in containers preferably made of steel, so pests like raccoons, skunks, opossums, squirrels and rodents cannot gnaw through it.
  • Overturn any water sources.
  • As mentioned above, raccoons are primarily nocturnal, using predator-deterrent lights or motion activated lights can help scare off raccoons.
  • Put a portable radio tuned to an all-night talk station, as long as your home is not in earshot of other neighbors — you don’t want to scare away your raccoons, but then face annoyed neighbors knocking on your door in the middle of the night.
  • An alternative, and possibly a better option to using radio, is to use ultrasonic animal repeller such as this solar-powered Wikoo animal pest repeller. Ultrasonic animal repeller is an electronic device emitting high-frequency sounds that are silent to most humans but bother deers, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, stray cats, neighbor’s dogs, skunks, opossums, rodents and other pesky animals.
  • Motion activated sprinklers are another method to deter raccoons because they really dislike being around water.
  • Ammonia is offensive to raccoons, as well as skunks and opossums. Place ammonia soaked rags/tennis balls or spray ammonia directly onto areas wildlife finds attractive. Reapply daily for best results.
  • Raccoons also hate cayenne pepper and habanero chilies. You can home make or buy Critter Ridder®. Here’s the homemade recipe for this natural raccoon-repellant spray:
  1. Boil one cup of cayenne pepper and 5 chopped habanero chilies with 2 quarts (about 2L) of water in a pot for about 20 minutes.
  2. Let the concoction cool.
  3. Transfer it into a spray bottle.
  4. Squirt the solution where you suspect raccoon activity. Also, spray the ground around trash cans and on the outside of cans and lids. (Please use gloves, protective eye glasses and a mask to avoid severe irritation to your respiration, eyes, and skin.)
  5. Reapply every 2 to 3 days and after it rains (source: Fischer).
  • Trim back branches from your home to prevent access to a roof.
  • Raccoons are excellent climbers. Simply fencing is not enough to deter them. A far more effective and less invasive option is to reinforce the existing fence with an electric fence, which was already mentioned in the fox prevention tips above.

A good electric fence not only deters foxes and raccoons, it also deters other unwanted pests and animals such as rats, dogs, cats, skunks, opossums, and other ‘nuisance’ creatures to your garden or property.

  • Raccoons have nimble fingers and they can easily open coop windows and doors to gain access. Be sure to either use auto door kit or use a double action latch on it as raccoons can easily figure out how to open a single action latch. For further security, my advice is to padlock your coop door.

  • If you find a raccoon infestation near or in your property (raccoons often try to find shelter in the attic or crawl space), PLEASE DO NOT try to trap and remove them yourself. This is not a job for homeowners! Call in a pro to help! It is unsafe to approach raccoons because they can become aggressive when they feel threatened; that is why it should only be handled by professionals.

Additional reading: Woman, 28, knocked down and mauled by raccoons after her dog chased them up a tree

 

Bobcats

Bobcats are 2-3 times the size of the typical household cat. They are quick, aggressive, skilled hunters with retractable claws and teeth so sharp that they can rip the flesh from bone of a chicken in a matter of seconds. One bobcat can take out a small flock of chickens in a short period of time killing as many as ten or more in an hour. Like cats, bobcats can see in low light. They prefer to hunt during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. Bobcats usually hunt alone and will travel up to a 25-mile range if necessary to find food. This quiet hunter is ferocious when cornered.

How will I know that it was a bobcat that killed my chicken?

  • Head bitten off.
  • Claw marks on neck, back, and sides.
  • Feathers scattered.

Prevention tips:

  • Having a strong, sturdy and safe coop for your chickens to spend the night in is the best way to protect your girls. I can’t stress this enough.
  • Use welded-wire fencing, chicken wire or game-bird netting to cover the top of your chicken pen. This will provide a physical barrier that is difficult for a bobcat and other wildlife to navigate. Bobcats can leap into the air up to 12ft off the ground and can cover 10ft of distance with one leap.
  • For an additional level of safety, electrified netting is always a good choice. Check daily that the fence charger is on.
  • Trim back excess vegetation that might otherwise provide cover.
  • Trim over-hanging tree branches providing easy roof and fence access. Tree branches should be far enough away from fences and structures (at least 2.5m), so that a bobcat can’t jump to them.
  • Do not feed the bobcats.
  • Do not leave pet food or water outdoors.
  • Ultrasonic animal repeller and motions-sensing lights can be effective deterrents, too. When installing lighting as an animal deterrent, keep in mind some animals aren’t bothered at all by lights of any kind, such as mice, rabbits and squirrels. More dangerous animals, such as coyotes, are also not affected by lights over the long term. These animals may stay away initially, but they will eventually realize that they have nothing to fear. There are a lot of devices out there that work to varying degrees. The most important thing is to move them about regularly to avoid the wildlife getting used to them.
  • A guard dog that is properly trained can be a great help, too.

 

COYOTES & WOLVES

Coyotes are often mistaken for small- to medium-sized domestic dogs. Although coyotes have been seen traveling in large groups, they usually hunt in pairs. Coyotes are primarily nocturnal, but often can been seen during daylight hours. They were once diurnal (active during the day), but through adaptation, have taken on more nocturnal habits to adjust to habitat pressure from humans. Click here for coyote fact sheet.

Wolves generally hunt in packs. They hunt by stealth, harassment, and active chase. Wolves are nocturnal hunters, they come alive when the rest of the world is powering down. Wolves eat what they kill, they never leave anything behind. Click here for wolf fact sheet.

How will I know that it was a coyote or wolf that killed my chicken?

Like foxes, when coyotes or wolves gain access to a chicken coop they’re known to kill all the birds, then taking a couple with them. The evidences are similar to foxes though, chickens are missing, necks are broken and feathers are scattered. So, it is sometimes hard to tell if your birds were killed by wolves, coyotes or foxes, but how they gained access may be a clue. Coyotes and wolves will more than likely tunnel under the chicken pen and require a large opening to get in as opposed to going over like foxes do.

Prevention tips:

The prevention methods are basically the same as those described for foxes, raccoons and bobcats, plus some additional tips:

  • Coyotes and wolves are good diggers and can dig a tunnel under a fence in a matter of minutes. Bury fencing at least 2ft deep and/or put down a 4 to 6ft wire apron and place hardscaping (e.g. concrete slabs) around the perimeter of your coop and run to prevent digging. This will provide added insurance. As mentioned above, only use welded wire or hardware cloth fencing — never chicken wire because wolves, coyotes and other predators can tear right through it like a tissue paper.
  • Raise the coop off the ground a foot or two — this offers protection from predators that approach low, as well as creates additional outdoor square footage for confined chickens, a shady spot in hot summer days, a dry space in the rain or snow, easier to clean, less chance of rotten wood (rot creates weak areas in the coop’s infrastructure), and prevents the growth of mold and fungi, which is detrimental to the health of chickens. For further security, some chicken keepers even cover the floor of the coop and/or run with hardware cloth to keep coyotes, big bad wolves and any other burrowing invaders like rats or raccoons from getting in.
  • If you’ve got a big tree or trees nearby your fence perimeter, it’s tree trimming time. Any branches which overhang the fence or any tree growing within 8ft (2.5m) of it will permit an agile predator to jump and leap over your privacy fence. So make your fence less accessible to them by cutting all the long branches of tree(s).

  • Coyotes can easily scale over a 6ft fence. Wolves have been known to jump heights of 5ft, and sometimes higher, but they will rarely climb a very tall fence.

Based on the research, it’s at the 6ft high mark where a coyote would need to place their front feet on top of the fence to help them get over. A 6ft fence can be improved upon in 3 ways:

(1) First, add a 45-degree or 90-degree angle outward extensions to the top of the fence, thus creating an overhang to block their climbing or jumping over. The extensions should consist of woven-wire extending out from the top of the fence approximately 15 inches. (Note: Check local ordinances before beginning your project in case your town has fencing restrictions.)

Source: Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

(2) Secondly, you can add an electric line around the top of the 6ft fence. (Note: Check local ordinances before beginning your project in case your town has fencing restrictions.)

I am against the use of barbed wire, razor wire or broken glass on fences. I don’t and will never use them, that’s my choice. Scare or threaten animals, but don’t hurt them.

(3) Thirdly, you can 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 6ft 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).

  • Keep in mind that coyotes and wolves do not only prey on chickens, they also prey on children. Here are some news reports covering incidents of coyote attacks on children:

Off-duty officer throttles coyote that attacked child in suburban New York

Coyote attacks NC girl on backyard swing set. Dad bitten trying to pull it off her

Toddler left with nearly 150 stitches after coyote attack in Burnaby

So, NEVER leave young children unattended in yards or parks, parents. And DO NOT allow your children to ‘play’ or interact with wildlife. They are not teddy bears, puppies or kittens.

 

Opossums

Opossums are not rodents as commonly believed; they are marsupials — the same animal family as kangaroos, koalas and wombats. Because of its body shape, a small opossum is sometimes mistaken for a large rat. In the wild, they usually live only one to two years. Opossums are opportunistic omnivores like raccoons and foxes that eat anything they can, including grass, nuts, fruit, birds, insects, worms, snakes (opossums are immune to all types of snake venom, except that of the coral snake), rats, chicks and eggs. They are poor diggers, but good climbers, and will easily enter a coop or run that is not properly covered. With 50 sharp teeth, an opossum can chew its way inside the henhouse or under decks.

Opossums are generally nocturnal, but at times you can see them during the daylight hours. They have poor eyesight and sense of hearing, so they need to rely on their sense of smell during the hunt.

Click here for opossum fact sheet.

How will I know that it was an opossum that killed my chicken?

Opossums love baby chicks and fresh eggs, but they are certainly known to kill adult chickens and small bantams as well. If you have missing chicks and/or eggs, it was probably an opossum. When opossums kill adult chickens, they prefer to start with the breast or thigh. So if you find bloodied bodies of dead chickens in which the chest cavity has been eaten are likely the work of opossums. And those chickens that are still alive, but stripped of feathers on their belly or rear-end can be a sign of an attempted opossum meal.

Prevention tips:

  • Since opossums are good climbers, a tall fence is not enough to keep them out. Your coop and run will need a cover on it that is secured at every point around the perimeter, leave no gaps between pieces of netting. Never assume that a gap is too small for an opossum to enter as they can fit through extremely small spaces.
  • Pick fruit and garden crops when they are ripe to discourage opossums, and do not leave rotten fruit or crops on the ground.

  • Use the bags to cover individual fruits or vegetables and secure firmly to the tree branch. Another better method is to build a sturdy enclosure to protect your delicate garden against invasion. You should cover the enclosure with ½-inch square (19 gauge) galvanized hardware cloth to keep the nibblers out. You do not want to encourage wildlife to visit, feast and live in your garden.

  • Clean up any brush piles, wood piles, tree hollows, old tires and similar debris in the backyard. Opossums love to make homes of them.

  • Trim tree branches and shrubs away from the roofs of your house, fence, sheds and chicken coop. You can also wrap galvanized metal sheets around some trees, posts, beams of structures to a height of about 3ft to make it difficult to climb.
  • Make sure garage, shed and storage area doors are tightly secured.
  • Seal any holes that you may find in the structures on your property.
  • To prevent opossums from entering into or building a nest in the chimney, install a screened fireplace cap.
  • Another possible method you could utilize is to set a trap in an area where the opossum frequents. Wear gloves when handling an animal trap to protect yourself from contact with the animal. However, please check with your local laws before attempting to trap and relocate an opossum off of your property. In many states, it is illegal to relocate animals you trap due to the threat of spreading disease or destabilizing the local ecosystem. In the case of opossums living in your house, attic, or walls, simply setting a trap will not necessarily solve your problem. Your best bet is to call in a professional wildlife remover. Click here for a nationwide list of 100’s of professional opossum trappers serving all 50 states.
  • Other preventive measures are the same as for raccoons.

 

Skunks

Like opossums, skunks very rarely attack adult chickens, but they have been known to go after the eggs and chicks. Skunks, like raccoons and opossums, are omnivores as well as opportunistic eaters — they eat almost anything that tastes, smells, or even looks like food!

The most common and recognized skunk species in North America is the striped skunk. Skunks do not travel widely in search of food. Their home range averages 1 to 2 square miles, but may increase up to 5 square miles during the breeding season.

Skunks generally den in burrows abandoned by other animals, rock crevices, brush piles, or spaces under buildings, but they will sometimes dig their own burrows.

​Skunks are nocturnal, reclusive animals. Use extra caution if you encounter a skunk during the daytime as it can be extremely aggressive and dangerous. This abnormal behavior maybe an indication that the animal is rabid.

In general, when a skunk attacks a flock, it kills only one or two birds and mauls others considerably.

Click here for skunk fact sheet.

How will I know that it was a skunk that killed my chicken?

  • Lingering smell.
  • Eggs eaten, often shells left behind.
  • If chicks killed, will only eat entrails.
  • Rarely attack adult chickens.
  • Holes under fencing/coop.

Prevention tips:

  • Skunks are diggers and wrigglers. Putting down a wire apron or burying your fence as you would with other digging animals will prevent them from tunneling in. Ensure there are no gaps in your fence where a skunk can squeeze through.
  • Other preventive measures are the same as for raccoons and opossums.

 

Rodents

Rodents include rats, mice and bandicoots. Rodents carry deadly diseases in their droppings and hair, which contaminate your chickens’ feed and cause life threatening infections. By nature, rats are nocturnal. If rats are seen during the day, it usually means that they are present in large numbers or are hungry.

Rat infestations not only spread diseases, but also cause extensive and expensive damage to the structure of your home, furnishings and chicken coop. They also generate a terrible smell. In simple terms, rodents are destructive pests.

How will I know that it was a rodent that killed my chicken?

  • Missing chicken feed.
  • Droppings found near feed and other parts of coop.
  • Missing chicks.
  • Cracked and empty egg shells.
  • May chew off beaks, gnaw on legs and pull out feathers from roosting chickens.
  • Gnaw marks on wood around the coop, shredded wood chips or coarse sawdust.
  • Also be aware of scratching sounds or scurrying heard late at night or in the early morning hours.

Prevention tips:

  • Rats have teeth harder than iron and can chew through a number of things, such as soft metal (e.g. aluminium, chicken wire, lead), cement, plastic, rubber, drywall and wood (regardless of its thickness). They will even chew on wiring, which can cause a house fire. It will be rather impossible to proof your coop against them completely. So, you have to check and maintain the coop structure on a regular basis. If you notice any damaged sections on the coop’s walls, floors or doors, then replace or repair it as soon as possible.
  • Store pet food, including chicken layer feed, preferably in tightly sealed steel containers, so they cannot gnaw through it.
  • Do not leave feed in the coop overnight — you do not want to lure them to your coop. Chickens do not attract rats, food and water attract them.
  • Collect eggs every day. Leaving eggs will attract predators like rats, snakes, crows, raccoons, opossums, weasels and other animals. They know eggs can’t run, unlike chickens, your eggs are the easiest meal for them. Remember that your chickens also like to eat the eggs, and will want to peck anything that seems edible. If there are any broken eggs, you should clean them immediately to prevent your chickens from eating them. Broken egg residue will also attract rodents.
  • Keep firewood stack away from sheds and fences and well clear (40cm) of the ground. Don’t accumulate garden refuse or junk piles in sheds or around your yard.
  • Strip fruit and nuts from trees and vines at the end of the season.
  • Block holes and other potential accesses around all buildings. For example, pipe and service entries, defective airbricks or cinder blocks to name a few.
  • Rubbish bins and compost containers should be rat-proof. Meat scraps must never be composted.
  • Keep your home clean. Throw away, donate or sell things you don’t need and try to keep everywhere neat and spacious. Rats feel very welcomed and comfortable in a dirty home that has so many hidden and dark areas.
  • Get a cat or cats: Cats and rats are biological enemies. (Love Tom and Jerry?)
  • Owl feathers. Owls are also a common predator to rats, so an owl’s feathers will scare the rats and force them to run away. Place owl feathers in rat holes and in corners of your house.
  • Like raccoons, rats can’t stand the smell of ammonia and cayenne pepper; so place ammonia-filled bowl and/or cayenne pepper or Critter Ridder® at the places where rats frequently appear.
  • Bay leaf. This leaf kills rats; put some of this leaves in rat prone areas and hidden corners of your home; repeat this process until all of them are gone.
  • You can use poison for killing rats. But be very careful during using poison. Ensure the baits are not accessible to children, chickens or pets. Use poison during night by mixing with attractive foods and remove it very early in the morning before releasing your chickens from the coop. Many brands and sizes are available in retail shops (supermarkets and hardware stores). Examples of quality products on the Amazon:
  1. Tomcat All Weather Bait Chunx, 4 Lb
  2. Farnam Just One Bite “No Touch” 1.5 oz Packs Poison Pellets
  3. Farnam Just One Bite II Bait Chunks, 8lbs (64, 2 oz chuncks)
  4. 16 Ounce Rat Poison Cake
  5. JT Eaton 166004 709-PN Bait Block Rodenticide Anticoagulant Bait, Peanut Butter Flavor, For Mice and Rats (9 lb Pail of 144)

They all work well in the same way. Or, if you prefer a less toxic alternative, you can try and make your own rat poison. Click here for recipes from wikiHow.

Some people prefer glue traps because they’re disposable and easy to use. Put peanut butter or cheese to help attract them faster to the trap. But keep in mind that there is always a chance that these glue traps catch animals that are the unintended victims of the trap — typically birds and small mammals. Sadly, many birds who are stuck on these traps do not survive, or have grave injuries to one or both of their feet or wings. But of course, this depends on where you place the traps. DO NOT place glue traps where there is a possibility of birds or non-target animals coming in contact with the traps.

What are the benefits of using glue traps?

  1. As mentioned, glue traps are simple and easy to use.
  2. Glue traps do not use any toxic baits.
  3. Glue traps are inexpensive.
  4. Rodents die on the glue trap, rather than wandering off and dying in an unknown location where they can cause odors and safety hazards.
  • In an interactive graphics project, ‘The Rise of The Rats’, the world’s largest pest-control company Rentokil revealed how a pair of rats could produce nearly half a billion descendants in just three years. For more information, see: http://www.rentokil.com/rise-of-the-rats. This means a couple of rats around your chicken coop can quickly lead to a rat population explosion if it goes unchecked. So in the circumstance that you have a rat city running out of your home, your best bet is to call in a professional wildlife remover.

 

TERMITES & CARPENTER ANTS

It may seem odd to include termites and carpenter ants on this list, but they are a genuine threat to your chickens’ safety. No, they don’t eat your chickens alive, but they cause structural damage in homes and chicken coops by boring into wood and compromise the structural integrity of your buildings. A mature colony of termites has the ability to cause structural damage to your buildings within only a few weeks! Termite colonies eat non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week! According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), it is estimated that termites cause more than $5 billion in property damage each year.

A lot of time people mistake termite damage with the timber rot or decay — it is impossible to see termite damage with the naked eyes until it is almost too late. Termites like high humidity because the moisture in the air protects their soft bodies from dehydration (loss of water).

The most common termite species found in the United States are subterranean termites.

Carpenter ants are destructive little pests that can do just as much damage as termites. Unlike termites, they don’t eat the wood, they tunnel through it to create their colonies. As they tunnel they create weakness in the structure of the wood they are tunneling through.

Prevention tips:

  • If you have or suspect you have termites or carpenter ants in your home, then PLEASE DO NOT disturb them. If the termites are disturbed, it can cause them to retreat underground and this makes it very difficult to treat them effectively. I strongly recommend hiring a licensed professional exterminator. Consider getting at least three estimates before signing a contract with a pest control company. Click here to learn more about termite eradication techniques that are regularly used in the pest control industry.
  • Carpenter ants like to eat other dead bugs, so having a pest-free environment is a good start.
  • Roofs are the first line of defense against water; as such, it’s easy to accumulate mold, which promotes rotting wood. These areas are havens for termites and carpenter ants that will weaken the structure beneath your roofs and loosen the shingles. Being sure to clear gutters, making sure your roofs are in good repair, eliminating leaking hoses and generally keeping wood parts of your home and coop dry makes them less appealing to termites and carpenter ants.
  • Termites and carpenter ants can find their way into homes by following tree branches or shrubs that touch the roof or outside walls. Vines such as ivy growing on exterior walls also provide access for carpenter ants.

 

BIRDS OF PREY (HAWKS, EAGLES, OWLS)

Free range chickens are most in danger from the attack of birds of prey or ‘raptors’ as they are also known, such as hawks and owls. Hawks are generally daytime hunters, while owls hunt at night. Most of the time an owl isn’t going to do much to your birds because by the time they are out hunting, your chickens should be cooped for the night; but occasionally they get them because not all owls are nocturnal. Some owls are active daytime hunters, such as the northern hawk owl and the northern pygmy owl. Some owls are strictly nighttime owls, including the great horned owl and barn owl. The owl that most commonly preys on poultry flocks is the great horned owl.

Hawks, however, are a much more common threat. They are fast, strong and can pick up a smaller breed or younger bird, but some large hawks will attack full-grown chickens and eat them on site. When hawks see chickens feeding, they know they are easy pickings. Hawks like to perch in trees and wait for the perfect opportunity.

The most common backyard hawks are Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk. Click here for more information about the Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk.

Bald and golden eagles and other larger birds may prey on your chickens, too.

Unlike the most ground-bound predators of chickens (which may kill many birds or an entire flock at once), raptors will normally only kill one chicken at a time.

How will I know that it was a hawk or an owl that killed my chicken?

Hawks and owls kill in similar ways. They may carry off a young or bantam bird and eat it elsewhere, leaving no indication of predation other than a missing bird and feathers scattered all over. If they eat a bird on site, they typically eat the breast, cleanly plucking the feathers. Owls will eat the head as well.

Prevention tips:

Keep in mind that in the U.S. all hawks and owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 USC, 703-711). What this means is that protecting your chickens by killing chicken predators such as owls and hawks around your home place will likely land you with a very steep fine and possibly some jail time. It is not an option.

  • The ultimate and only sure protection from aerial predators is to have a covered run or use a chicken tractor.
  • Cover the top of the chickens coop and run with bird netting. No gaps should exist anywhere in the coverage.
  • If covering your run is not an option, consider planting a variety of bushes or shrubs or put up a few temporary shelters (as shown in the video below) around your yard that can provide a handy hiding place for your chickens. While this does not guarantee their safety, it provides them some coverage and reduces the risk of an attack.

  • Place chicken feeders in covered areas such as under an awning or umbrella where the canopy will prevent aerial predators from seeing available prey.
  • Owls and hawks can enter coops or runs through small openings or fly through entryways, coop’s vents and windows. Close entryways to coops, runs, sheds, barns at all times, and cover the coop’s vents and windows with ½-inch square (19 gauge) galvanized hardware cloth that hawks and owls could possibly sneak through.
  • Mirror disco ballsbird scare tape, spinners, feedbag fringe (check out the video below), and other shiny objects (e.g. unwanted CDs) can disorient and confuse some birds of prey enough to discourage them from hunting in your yard.

What about owl or hawk decoys — do they really work? After reading lots of forum posts and blog articles on this topic, here’s my answer to this question:

The answer is both YES and NO. A study conducted at Linfield College in Oregon concluded that they’re effective bird deterrents, but only for a limited time. Cornell University also reports that they deter birds, but lasts for only a few days. Secondly, they don’t have a significant effect on all bird species. Most often, larger species of birds like crows, pigeons, seagulls and even hawks or owls are not going to scare that easily at the appearance of an owl or hawk. One person in one of the forums even showed a photo of a hawk roosting on a fake owl. On the other hand, smaller bird species are more likely to be scared away with fake owls or hawks. In addition to that, a fake bird might attract other animals that climb trees and buildings, which will either play with it or attempt to hunt it.

[Not my work. The above photo belongs to its rightful owner.]

  • You can string fishing line over the bird pen or run, from tree to tree, fencing to trees to the pen. The goal is to create a crisscross or grid type of pattern. The eyesight of birds of prey is excellent and far superior to the human eye to the point where a hawk circling above should not even attempt a dive as it will be able to see a fishing line obstacle in its intended path. Maybe because of sunlight reflecting off the surface of this almost invisible monofilament fishing line makes it visible for hawks. Hawks like to hunt in open spaces. So, when a hawk is flying and sees obstacles and barriers around the prey, maybe it will get discouraged and move on. Additional reading: Foiling Chicken Hawks

  • Get a rooster. A good rooster will protect his ladies by alerting the hens when potential threats are approaching. However, not every city, town or homeowners association allows for roosters, so check your local bylaws and ordinances before adding a rooster to your flock.

  • A well-trained dog might also deter a hawk.
  • There are many things birds of prey eat in addition to small birds and chickens. Removing additional food sources such as rodents or large insects will make the hunting ground less attractive.

 

Snakes

As with birds of prey, there are far too many snake species (around 3,000) to address them individually here. Some facts common to all snakes:

  • All snakes are strictly carnivores — you will never hear about a vegetarian snake.
  • Snakes can’t chew, so they swallow their food whole.
  • Snakes smell with their tongue.
  • Snakes are found in many habitats including in the water, forests, deserts and prairies. Generally, snakes live in cool, damp, dark areas where prey is available. Areas around the home that are attractive to snakes include piles of firewood, old lumber piles, junk piles, flower beds with heavy mulch, gardens, basements, shrubbery growing against foundations, barn lofts (especially where feed attracts rodents), attics in houses where rodents or bats are present, banks of streams and ponds, lawns with long grass, and abandoned lots and fields where boards, tires, and planks are present to provide cover.
  • Snakes hibernate during the winter.
  • All snakes bite (even a non-venomous one) when they are startled or provoked.
  • Venomous snakes inject their prey with venom, while constrictors squeeze their prey.
  • Snakes do not need to hunt everyday. Anacondas and pythons can survive for up to a year without food after feeding.
  • Snakes hunt mostly at night.
  • Different snake species eat a variety of sizes and kinds of animals. Milk snakes and rat snakes primarily eat rats, mice, chipmunks, bird eggs, and baby birds. King snakes eat other snakes, rodents, and young birds. Some snakes (e.g. green snakes) primarily eat insects. Northern red-bellied snakes and Eastern worm snakes eat earthworms, slugs, and salamanders. Water snakes primarily eat fish, frogs, and tadpoles. Anacondas eat wild pigs, cows, sheep, dogs, jaguars, bird eggs, chickens, rodents and other animals.
  • Do snakes eat people? This is among the most asked about snake facts. Yes, it is possible for the larger snakes (e.g. Green Anaconda, Reticulated python, Burmese python, African rock python, etc) to eat a human whole. If a snake can swallow a baby calf, it most certainly can swallow a man whole. Snakes have a flexible skull, which allow them to swallow large animals.

Additional reading:

Pythons can kill a human in minutes and swallow them in an hour

How a giant python swallowed an Indonesian woman

  • Snakes do not harm landscapes or gardens.
  • Snakes do not damage structures.
  • Snakes have a flexible body and can fit through chicken wire and small holes.

Click here to learn about 76 interesting facts about snakes.

How will I know that it was a snake that killed my chicken?

  • You open the nest box and a snake stares at you.
  • Missing eggs.
  • Crushed eggs.
  • Dead chicks or chickens with slime on them.

Note: Check around the coop and run for a snake(s). They may not be able to get back out where they came in if they have an undigested egg/chick in their belly.

Prevention tips:

If you have snake problems, you basically have five options for getting rid of them:

  1. First, you can call a professional wildlife expert. This person can catch and remove the snake(s) and take other actions necessary to solve the snake problem.
  2. Second, you can purchase a snake trap if you wish to catch the snake yourself. (Note: Snake trapping is dangerous, and the smallest mistake could put you in serious danger. For this reason, I DO NOT recommend this method.)
  3. Third, tidy up the yard and seal up your house to help keep snakes away and out of the yard.
  • Keep your grass cut very short. Snakes like to hide in long grasses or at the base of bushes.
  • Enclose coops and runs with ½-inch square (19 gauge) galvanized hardware cloth as it is impossible for them to find an opening big enough to squeeze through.
  • Eliminate debris such as wood or rock piles on the property.

  • Cut down heavy brush or trim back hedges.
  • Seal shut any gaps under doors or decks, etc.
  • Check regularly to make sure that your chicken coop, run and perimeter fence are secure (no holes in the wire netting and structure, gaps or other potential means of access).
  • Stop serving the snake’s preferred menu — rodents and eggs. Get rid of the rodents that snakes like to snack on. Collect eggs every day.
  • Remember that snakes can climb trees. Tall vegetation must be removed along the fence, both inside and outside.
  • If tree limbs hanging over your property or fence from your neighbor’s property, snakes may use them as an entry to your place. Consider working with your neighbor to get them trimmed.
  1. Fourth, you can try a snake repellent, such as Ortho Snake B Gon Snake Repellent Granules or Havahart 6400 Snake Shield Snake Repellent. Please keep in mind that snake repellents do not protect all users equally and have varying effectiveness against different snake species.
  2. Get a Jack Russell Terrier. Maybe two. Jack Russell Terriers are known to be great snake killers. Click here to learn more about Jack Russell Terrier.

Additional reading:

Dog kills snake which bit owner

Jack Russell terrier dies saving pregnant owner from Cape Cobra

Hero pooch praised after saving granny from snake

Dogs used to find snakes on Guam

Dog bites off baby tiger snake’s head and eats it

Note: Although a Jack Russell can and will easily kill snakes, poisonous or not; snakes can still present a danger. Some species of snakes have long, hooked fangs and will bite your dog in self-defense.

Watch your children when they are playing outside in the yard, parents!

Girl, 2, left fighting for her life after being bitten twice by 4.5ft-long SNAKE while playing in garden

NSB boy, 8, survives venomous snake bite

Pit Bulls Save Children From Venomous Snake Lurking in Their Yard

Educate your children about snakes. Children must be taught that snakes can be dangerous and that they should be avoided.

 

In Summary

  • Use ½-inch square (19 gauge) galvanized hardware cloth to secure your birds. Never use chicken wire as it is too flexible and flimsy for reinforcement.
  • Always cover the top of your coop and run with — at the very least — sturdy bird netting to prevent entry from flying or climbing predators.
  • Bury fencing at least 2ft deep and/or lay a 4 to 6ft wire apron around the perimeter of your chicken run and perimeter fence, and maybe reinforce with concrete slabs or Dig Defence® for maximum security.
  • If you have a short border fence, it may be time to look into one that is at least 6ft and add a 45-degree or 90-degree angle outward extensions to the top of it (only as permitted by city or county ordinance). Another highly effective option is to add Coyote Rollers to discourage climbing.
  • Incorporate electric fencing, livestock guardian dogs, solar-powered predator-deterrent lights or motion activated lights, solar-powered ultrasonic animal pest repeller, and other deterrents to prevent predator species from even taking an interest in your yard.
  • Use auto door kit or at minimum replace easy open door latches with 2-step locks and padlocked it for good measure.
  • Do not leave pet food or trash unsecured where it may attract wildlife to your yard.
  • Limit free-ranging time and area or keep the chickens in a secure run.
  • Check your coop, run and perimeter fence line DAILY for signs of damage, wear, or attempted entry by predators.
  • If you are unsure of what kind of predator is attacking your chickens, you can use a game trail camera to monitor the coop. This will let you know what is after your chickens, so you will have a better idea of what you need to do to get rid of them.

Additional reading:

How to predator-proof my chicken coop and run?

Additional Information:

For more guidelines on identifying predator damage to your chicken flock, please visit https://countrysidenetwork.com/daily/poultry/chicken-coops-housing/what-killed-my-chicken/

Click here for guide on how to identify paw prints left by animals.

 

  1. She’s been taken by someone in a black Mercedes.

And here’s how to get your girl back. [Peace! Please don’t kill.]

 

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