Raising animals, especially smaller stock like chickens and rabbits, can be challenging. There are many predator animals as well as domestic animals that will take advantage of any weakness in your defenses to kill and eat (or in some cases as with domesticated dogs, just kill) your animals.
There are some steps you can go through to help prevent losses and live a more harmonious life in the country.
IDENTIFY PREDATORS YOU MIGHT BE FACING
Awareness of what you are up against can be the best way to put up a good defense. Some of the predators you may be facing include:
- Domestic Dogs
While most people think that coyotes are their worst enemy, I’ve seen more damage done by snakes and rats in a chicken coop than you would believe. Neighborhood dogs (or maybe even your own dog) can also prove to be very destructive if not controlled.
If you find that your animals are already under attack, but do not know the culprit, you may have to do some detective work. Each variety of predator leaves signs. There are several books that can help you track down the guilty party. Identifying prints, scat (fecal droppings) and even their method of entry can be revealing. Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by Paul Rezendes is very helpful as well as Stories In Tracks And Sign: Reading the Clues That Animals Leave Behind by Diane K. Gibbons to identify the signs you may find.
THE BEST DEFENSE
Your best bet is to predator-proof your animals’ housing, cages and runs. While there are instances where this can be come cost prohibitive, you basically have to weigh the risks for your area to determine how much security you will need and decide how much risk/loss you are willing to accept.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Train your own dogs to not harm your animals.
- Do not let your dogs run free, risking damage to others’ property or animals.
- If you think that a neighbor’s dog or stray animal is killing your livestock, rent or buy a humane trap and capture the animal.
- If you know the owner and have a good relationship with them, let them know that the animal has destroyed your property and ask for restitution and a promise of keeping their animal under control in the future.
- If you don’t know the owner, contact your local animal control officer and let them handle the situation.
COYOTES and OTHER LARGE PREDATOR ANIMALS
- Deterrence works best. Having a farm dog that is loyal, brave and a bit intimidating may be all you need. House dogs and small breeds will not work- they may just become an appetizer before the predator hits the chicken buffet…
- Strong fencing. Chicken wire was made to keep chickens in, not keep predators out. Choose a sturdy wire fencing with 1/2″ square or less spacing. For best results (although it can be expensive) use hardware cloth.
- Contain your animals at night. Make sure your barn or chicken coop, cages, etc are secure and put the animals away each night for maximum safety.
- Large cats, like bobcats and mountain lions can be the most challenging. For an entire summer, I was haunted by a bobcat who would simply hop over my fence and steal a chicken in a blink of an eye. This led to a full enclosure pen for my birds unless the dog or myself was on patrol.
SMALL PREDATORS – RATS, RACCOONS, WEASELS, etc
- Dogs are also good deterrents for small predators.
- Cats work wonders on keeping mice and rats at bay. Just the odor of a cat in the area helps a lot.
- Secure feed in metal containers. Many times these smaller predators are actually coming in after your grain and feed. Keeping the feed in tight, tamper proof containers will help.
- Clean the animals’ living quarters regularly. Feed that gets scattered around in the coop draws mice and rats. Cleanliness will lead to less predator invasion and healthier animals overall.
- Using strong fencing with 1/2 inch or less mesh. Hardware cloth is a great choice for optimum protection.
- Be aware of animals that DIG or CLIMB. For optimum safety, cages need a top AND a bottom made of mesh or solid product. Many predator animals become very creative when it comes to getting to a food source. They turn into regular Houdini’s, managing to enter places that seem virtually impossible to encroach.
- Keep things picked up. Small varmints will live under a woodpile, a cardboard box, etc.. so keeping things clean and tidy gives them less living quarters near your animals.
- Make sure brush, hedges, tall grass, etc.. are pushed back as far as you can from your pens. Don’t give wildlife a covered highway right to your animals.
BIRDS OF PREY
- Tops on cages. Hawks hunt during the daytime and will pick up chicks and small breeds of adult chickens, ducks and rabbits with ease. While these birds are very beneficial by taking care of snakes, mice, rats and wild rabbits, they will take advantage of the easy capture of caged prey.
- If it is too cost prohibitive to cover your bird coop, provide areas where they can run for cover when under attack.
- Bird netting, shade cloth, or even the cheaper plastic garden fencing can make a loose canopy to help deter birds, but keep in mind that these are really no help if an animal truly wants in.
- Owls are mostly nocturnal, though I have seen them checking out my chicken pen in the late afternoons. Since they compete with hawks for territory and really don’t want a run-in, they usually steer clear until nightfall, so securing your animals in a barn or coop at night is prudent.
Snakes can be very difficult to keep out of your coops. They seem to be able to squeeze through the tiniest cracks and holes. Using a small mesh that fully surrounds the animals’ living quarters works the best.
- Barn Cat– smaller snakes in particular can be handled by your barn cat.
- Mice/Rat control – snakes eat mice and rats, so keeping them out is key.
- Egg Boxes – the snakes are most likely after eggs and small chicks that they can swallow whole. Securing the hen house is key to your success.
- A sharp garden hoe – I don’t care how many benefits snakes might have… once you’ve reached into an egg cubby and come within inches of grabbing a snake head, you’ll understand why a very sharp garden hoe becomes your best friend in the coop!
THINGS I DON’T RECOMMEND
- Rat Poison – It’s just too risky. If you have pets, children, or even the very animals you are trying to protect, you don’t want this nasty stuff around. It is highly toxic and many even have what is known as second-hand kill. What does that mean? If your cat eats a mouse that ingested poison, it will get very sick and very likely die a painful death. Avoid poison if at all possible.
- Shot Gun Approach – I’ll be honest. I own a shot gun and if I need to use it to protect my property, I will. However, you have to realize that many times your livestock is being attacked not by a wild animal but by a neighbor’s beloved pet. No matter who is in the wrong, killing a neighbor’s dog leads to bad neighbor relations.
I could write full blown articles on each of these predators and my run-ins with them over the years, and hopefully I will… the landscape is ever-changing at our farm and so are the challenges