Predator attacks can be prevented so I feel even sadder when I hear that someone’s chickens have all been killed by a fox and the children are distraught. So I am putting down my experience of how to keep birds safe in the hope it save the birds from the terror and families from the distress of a predator attack.
Know your enemy
Foxes are the most common predator of chickens, they are strong, athletic, sneaky opportunists. They usually don’t kill just one bird, they kill all of them especially if they have got into a small enclosed area such as a run or garden. Urban foxes aren’t afraid of humans, many people feed them so they associate people with food. On one occasion a fox followed my neighbour into my garden no more than twenty yards behind him.
Your chickens are not safe in your garden even if it is fenced. I’ve come across several situations where foxes have grabbed chickens while people have been in the garden with them.
Foxes are mainly nocturnal but will hunt at all times of day, if they don’t find enough food at night they’ll still be looking during daylight. When vixens have cubs they are especially dangerous as they need several kills a day so hunt all day and because of the pressure from their young family they become usually bold. Young foxes that have recently left the vixen and not yet good at hunting will see chickens as a very easy option.
Foxes will jump, climb and scrabble to get over fences, they are every bit as agile as cats. A 2m wood panel or wire fence, or wall is no obstacle. Wobbly wire fences are much more of a deterrent and harder to climb than rigid fences.
Foxes are well equipped for digging; they will dig into a run in minutes, even through hard baked clay.
When you see a fox you think of it as dog sized; wrong!!! In fact they are mainly fluffy fur and they only need a small hole to get into your chicken coop. If they can get just their snout through they will chew and force their way until they can get their whole body through.
Despite being quite small foxes are surprisingly strong. They will push through closed doors that don’t have a foot latch. Failing that they a quite capable of trashing most cheap modern lightweight wooden coops. If you could do significant damage by wielding a claw hammer it won’t take a fox long to make a hole big enough for it to squeeze through. When thinking about whether a chicken coop is fox-proof, think about how dogs chew up wood, much their way through sticks and ask yourself could the wall of that coop be used to keep out a frantic Rottweiler? If there is slightest doubt then it is not fox-proof.
Most wire netting that is sold is not suitable for keeping chickens, the wire is too light a gauge and soft and inferior. It often it has a plastic coating that makes it looks stronger than it is. . Aviary netting is designed to keep budgies in not foxes out. I’ve seen and heard of many instances of foxes going through wire – remember the Again think about your claw hammer, if you could a catch a strand of the wire, twist and give it a few yanks can you make a home in it? If yes the fox will get through it, once there is the slightest defect it’ll squeeze in.
Badgers are becoming much common. Their natural food sources are scarce at some times of year and chicken looks like an easy meal. They are more nocturnal than foxes, most people never see badgers, you seldom see them during daylight but after dark they are even more of a menace than foxes. For strength and digging ability think fox and multiply if by five at least. They are far stronger than foxes and can trash all but the heaviest woodwork in moments. If you’ve used wire netting sunk in the ground to keep foxes from digging under the fence don’t expect it to stop a badger.
Mink, Polecats, Otters, Weasels, Stoats and Feral Ferrets
Just as fond of chicken as foxes and badgers but smaller. They will often also often kill all the birds. Good news is they can’t do so much damage to the coop but they can squeeze through the smallest gap. A ferret can get in through a rat hole. Weasels can follow mice in mouse holes.
Buzzards, Kites and Sparrowhawks
Birds of prey will all kill chickens, especially bantams or young birds.
Rats and Hedgehogs
Rats regularly kill chickens, usually just eating them alive as they roost. Hedgehogs are less of a problem but will kill birds that are on the floor of the coop. such as young birds and broodies if they can get in. Both rats and hedgehogs can flatten themselves and get in through small gaps under doors.
What to do
Protect against foxes and badgers from day one. Think also about the other predators
- Think layers of defence. We all make mistakes and forget to shut up our hens one night so two or three layers isn’t unreasonable. One isn’t enough because the night you forget to switch the electric on there’ll be a new fox in the area that isn’t afraid of the fence and will happily chew through it. If you rely on just a pop door, the night you don’t shut the pophole the fox will be in the coop.
- shut the pop hole every night
- shut the run every night
- have an electric fence
- have another fence around the perimeter of your garden. This keeps a silly hen a bit safer if she flies over the the first fence so you can put her away before a fox picks her off.
- The further away you can keep the fox with a fence that it is reluctant to jump the less hard it will try to catch your hens.
- At night make sure the fox can’t see your hens or get close to them and they won’t be so keen to get them.
- Get a well-made heavy-duty coop, that has been designed and made by experienced people who really understand about keeping chickens. Most of the cute chicken houses available online are rubbish. In the long run it a good house will be a cheaper option as it will last longer and have resale value.
- Most wire supplied with the walk-in type runs are usually soft and useless. Get the heaviest gauge wire netting you can find, don’t buy it from the garden centre buy it from an agricultural fencing supplier. If your current run isn’t strong enough wrap 3mm weld mesh or other strong wire netting up to about 75cm.
- Put heavy weldmesh under the run and/or coop. If you don’t have wire under the run your hens are about three minutes away from death if there is a fox about,
- If you want to build a big permanent run place heavy 60 x 60cm slabs all the way around or an apron of heavy-duty 3mm weldmesh 60cm wide.
- Consider wire netting across the roof of the enclosure, protects from birds of prey and foxes getting in and has the additional benefit of keeping the birds from flying out into the mouth of a predator.
- Fencing off your whole garden is a good deterrent, but it has to be high and difficult to climb. If the fox or badger can be kept many metres away from your hen house then there is less temptation to drive it to get in; don’t rely on simple six foot fencing and high garden gates but it does encourage the fox to give your garden a miss more of the time.
- The only very effective protection is an electric fencing. Mains operated energiser is usually best because there is no battery to runs down and it doesn’t need recharging. It protect the birds when they are out in the day and after the fox has had one or two belts off the fence at night when it comes snooping around it will probably go right off your garden and stop visiting. There are two sorts of electric fencing that work well.
- Electric poultry netting which needs to be properly set up, strained taught, grass cropped very short under it, or weed killed permanently. If it shorts out it stops working.
- Double strands of wire electric fence supported by insulators in front of wire-netting fence of the run. It needs to be all the way round the pen. The strands need to be about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) and 12-15 inches (30-40 cm) high and about 12 inches (30cm) from the wire fence so when the fox or other predator is trying to work out how to get in your chicken run it gets zapped. I prefer this type of fence because it doesn’t harm hedgehogs and amphibians.
Electric fencing must be checked regularly to ensure it is working correctly and delivering a good zap. It needs to be on 24/7. If it is off at night the foxes will chew through netting making holes in it which stops it working and they will get in through the holes during the day.
Things that don’t work and old wives tales
- Peeing round your chicken run, hahaha!
- Keeping a radio on might work for a few nights but foxes aren’t stupid it won’t take them long to work out the difference between you and a radio.
- Putting human hair round the chickens
- Fox deterrent spray/liquid – works for about one or two nights max!
- A security light coming on is no deterrent it just helps Mr Fox see what he’s doing better.
- Feeding the foxes and badgers doesn’t work unless you put enough food out for every badger and fox in the area to be completely stuffed at all times. For one of these predators a large chicken is the size of meal they want.
- “Foxes and badgers don’t come in our garden.” What you mean is you haven’t seen them, once you have chickens they will come.
- Don’t be duped into thinking foxes are unduly afraid of dogs. Most dogs aren’t particularly antagonistic to foxes because they are so similar to dogs and urban foxes get used to being close to dogs without coming to harm. Even when the dogs are protective the foxes just wait until the dog is indoors. To give you an idea how little respect they have for dogs I know of several occasions that foxes have walked within less than ten feet of barking kennelled or chained-up dogs to take poultry. One time I was out with my dogs one of which was on a lead, the other two less than fifteen feet away and a young fox followed me into the field and ran between me and the dog that was on the lead to try to smash its way into a coop of chickens just a few yards in front of me.
Keeping a dog only works if it is a fierce dog and when the dog is in there and loose in the garden. Foxes will even walk past a dog in a kennel or chained up at night.