One late afternoon several years ago, I arrived at home to find that there had been a massacre of my flock. There were chickens everywhere – on the lawn, in the weeds, over the embankment… it was brutal. There are many foxes in my area, and when they have kits, they become killing machines. One lucky lady fox found my chickens out free ranging and did her worst. Chickens are on the menu of many predators. Will raccoons kill chickens? Yes. Opossums? Yes. Hawks? Yes.
Let’s look at some of these predators and see what we can do about them.
What is a Chicken’s Biggest Predator?
The number one killer of chickens is probably dogs during the daytime. My big Bully, Chip (below) accidentally killed three of my pullets while trying to play with them. I didn’t realize what was going on until I saw him nudging a carcass, trying to get it to keep playing. One good scolding is all it took to get him to never do it again. Stray dogs can also be a problem.
Other daytime predators include, but are not limited to:
- Hawks and Eagles
- Foxes while raising kits
- Domestic cats
- Mink and Weasels
- Fox, Coyotes
- Mink, Weasels, Opossums
- Owls at dusk
How Do I Know If A Predator Killed My Chickens?
When the fox attacked my chickens, she left feathers where the initial grab took place. It was easy to discern where each kill took place by an area of feathers about 3-4 feet in diameter. There were also dead chickens left behind. She killed about 10 chickens in all. I have read that foxes only kill one chicken per visit, and don’t come back until they need another. My experience has been otherwise.
Birds of prey will kill a chicken with their powerful talons and, if undisturbed, consume it on the spot. If it is so inclined, it will fly off with the chicken. Generally, this affects only free-range chickens unless your run is open on top. Chickens that survive a bird of prey attack will have missing feathers and puncture wounds most likely. It is hard to find signs of an eagle attack since they grab and go, leaving little to no sign. An owl might swoop in around dusk, but this is rare.
Mink and Weasels look similar to the untrained eye, but they kill chickens for different reasons. A mink will kill for the blood that they can drink. Drinking blood sounds pretty gruesome, but there is no more easily assimilable food on the planet. It comes with all the nutrients a critter needs in one tasty cocktail. All mink need to get into a coop is a one-inch hole, so button up your coops if you want to keep your chickens. Weasels are curious, opportunistic creatures that will kill chickens in a coop, eat eggs on the spot, pull entrails from their kills, and take more birds than they need. If heads are missing from your chickens, it could be that you had a weasel attack.
Canines will kill chickens; Dogs by accident, either by chasing, or crushing during play, or giving the birds a heart attack. The only reason a dog would eat a chicken is because it is starving. All the other canines – wolves, coyotes, foxes, will take and eat chickens. Generally there will be some feathers left behind as canines kill in a rough manner.
Felines, like bobcats and mountain lions will grab and go in a similar fashion as canines. It’s hard to tell the difference between a large cat attack and a large canine attack. A few feathers are usually left behind. Bobcats will kill many birds in one attack, your entire flock if the cat can find them. House cats probably won’t bother an adult chicken unless they’re starving, but they will gobble up chicks if given the opportunity.
Opossums will eat eggs, chicks, and will kill an adult chicken. They attack the neck and breast area, leaving bite marks as a telltale sign of their presence. They tend to eat where they kill, so there will be bodies, feathers, tracks, and possibly droppings which look like small dog poo – cylindrical and an inch or two long.
Raccoon will kill and tear chickens into pieces. You can’t get too upset about that since we humans do the same thing. The difference being that a raccoon will rip off the chicken’s head and leave parts scattered around. They will eat the crop and breast, and internal organs as well. Other signs of a raccoon attack is that they may make a mess of your garbage can and bird feeder.
Snakes will eat eggs and chicks. Generally, they are not a threat to adult birds. There are, of course, snakes that can eat chickens, but that is not much of a concern in the U.S.
Bears will eat chickens, chicks, eggs, feed, your garbage, and anything else it finds that is edible. Sign that a bear has attacked your flock is total destruction of everything blocking its way to achieving its goal. Bears mostly forage during the day, so night visits are rare.
Fishers are determined killers that will work to get into your coop. They can dig, chew, and climb. Fishers eat the head, neck, and breast.
When trying to figure out what predator went after your birds, look for the indications mentioned. Other things to look for are tracks – familiarize yourself with the predator tracks that might be in your area. Droppings are another indicator to look for.
How Do I Keep My Chickens Safe?
Not all areas have all the predators listed above in them. If your area does, then you will want to utilize an all encompassing program to keep your chickens safe. Starting with the worst of the bunch, to keep a bear that really wants to get to your chickens will have to be met with an electric fence completely surrounding your chicken coop. Electric poultry fencing is simple to set up and makes a nice barrier to keep ground predators from getting to your flock. A decent 150-foot fence runs around $200.00-$300.00.
For aerial attacks, you will need to put netting over your chicken run area – the heavier, the better.
In the event that a weasel gets past your electric fence, you will want to make certain that there are no holes in your coop large enough for it to sneak through. All vent holes must be covered with a heavy hardware cloth, or similar screening.
To keep critters from digging under fences, hardware cloth or heavy fencing should be buried about a foot down around the perimeter of your fence.
What Steps Can I Take When A Predator Attacks?
After a predator attacks, there are several steps you must take to address the problem. First, you have to assess the damage and help any chickens that are not mortally wounded. Next, you must fix the issue that allowed the attack – plug holes in coop, apply netting, buy electric fencing, and so on. Finally, you must deal with the predator.
Many species of animals are either protected or have seasons, restrictions, or prohibitions on their killing, trapping, or harassing in any way, so upon identifying your offending animal, be sure to check with wildlife management in your area to find out how best to proceed. Once they have responded, you can take care of your predator using legal means. That may mean getting an outside agency involved in a relocation plan.
To care for your injured chickens you must move them to a safe location where they can be treated in isolation. Try to stop any bleeding and clean with an antiseptic, or wound care treatment from any farm store. Try to get into deeper wounds with a syringe. Chance of infection must be mitigated as much as possible. Give the injured birds plenty of food and water. Mixing 5 aspirin tablets in a gallon of water can help ease any pain. Keep the wounds clean and germ free with a wound spray (follow directions on container) until the chicken is back in shape. Return the birds to the flock only when they are in perfect health.
Wrapping it Up
Chickens have many predators. They attack at night and during the day. Keeping your chickens safe is challenging, but not impossible. Learn the signs that predators are around, and take steps to keep predators at bay. If the worst happens, know what to do to save as many chickens as you can.
Thanks a lot for reading. I’d love to hear what you think about what I’ve written. If you have any questions, or just want to add to what I’ve said, please leave a comment below. I’ll get back to you in less than 24. Take care.