Protecting the Hens From Predators

Predators are everywhere. In the city there are raccoons and opossums. Even rats. (Uggh!) Some southern states have snakes large enough to down a chicken. There are fox and coyotes, bobcats and fisher cats. There are loose dogs (the worst) who trot through your yard and grab a hen.

I live across from 800 acres of forest, with a wildlife corridor that extends, not even a mile away, to a river that is a national wildlife refuge. I live on a street where people walk their dogs – sometime off-leash. Woodlands border my yard. These tall trees are perches for predators,

like this juvenile Red Tail Hawk that was screaming from the very top of the oak tree on Saturday.

But in the eight years that we’ve lived here, I haven’t lost a single chicken to predators.

I’m very careful. The hens do not free-range unless I’m watching. I don’t believe that a chicken would prefer a short, happy live, ended by being mauled by a predator. I think it’s better for them to have a long, happy lives in their safe pens. Do they complain? Sure. But, my kids used to ask for candy in the supermarket checkout line. They complained, too.

The HenCam run has netting stretched over the top. It keeps the taloned hunters out. But, it won’t keep out raccoons. Once, ten years ago, a raccoon climbed the six-foot fence, ripped off the netting and entered the coop. The next morning, three of my chickens were either gone or in shreds. I’ve learned my lesson, and at night the hens are inside and the door is latched.

The Big Barn run is protected from predators a different way – I’ve run string back and forth and hung shiny CDs. A hunting hawk wouldn’t dare enter and get tangled up in the twine, and the beams of light bouncing off the CDs deter wild birds from entering the barn.

I believe in good fencing, buried six-inches below ground to deter digging animals.

If you have one of these

then you’ll need to add rocks to the edge. Don’t be fooled by this photo of her calmly sleeping in the shade under the ramp. Rabbits burrow, and could star in their own version of The Great Escape.

My main defense against feeding the wildlife chicken dinners, though, is my good dog, Lily. Hyper-alert to all things moving, she chases hawks out of the sky and coyotes out of the yard. She also keeps the squirrels off the bird feeder. But, that’s another story.


  1. good girl, lily!! my pup, porter, does the same thing here on our small urban plot. he’s always vigilant and one little peep from the girls at night will send him headlong and shot quick out the dog door to chase away the lurker and ensure my fine feathered beauties are safe. we are so lucky to have such good dogs :)

  2. Thanks for the nice way you put out the information to us who want to protect our little flocks. I have a somewhat similar situation. Just cannot be to prepared.

  3. Beautiful picture of the hawk, must be the work of your new camera.

  4. I too had to build a better mousetrap, so to speak! We have bobcats and they are very wily like the coyotes…the coyotes are opportunists and only take when they can and do not like to work for it…the bobcats are tough. My coops are completely bullet proof…they still come around…I see their droppings, their spray and footprints…But the free feed wagon is closed!

  5. Great post Terry.

    I get asked often about keeping chickens and the first thing out of my mouth is predators, predator proofing and you have got to lock up every single night without fail. If you don’t or can’t do these things don’t waste your time, money and lives of the chickens.
    Many people get this dazed look in their eyes, what predators in suburbia????
    I tell folks I have more prying paws, talons and eyes in my suburban neighborhood then I did when I lived in very rural Illinois.

  6. A strand of electric rope about 2′ or so from the ground on the outside of a woven wire fence sure deters climbers like raccoons and possums. Easy for me since I use electric fence for ponies anyway but works for most critters. I also string stuff (mostly that very cheap, very strong, very light electric fence “string” across the top of the run. It is pretty visible and even though I have red-tailed hawks nesting practically next to the run, they don’t bother the hens. I’m going to put netting over the small run to protect the new chicks and to keep them from flying out! My fence is 5′ and these chickies are flying all over the place in their present box-stall quarters. Hopefully as they gain weight they’ll do less flying.

  7. I’ve lost a few to foxes and one to a couple of neighborhood pitbulls that apparently got out and came right to our place. Then we got our rooster and he keeps the hens more together as a flock when they’re out. Mine are all locked into very secure coops at night because we have skunks, raccoons, etc. We have hawks here but they have never gone after one of my hens. Plenty of ground squirrels here which seems to be their preferred meal. We built a nice large pen around the coop, but my young girls all like to fly out. So the next phase will be fully enclosed for those days when we aren’t around. I get sick at the thought of my hens being mauled to death. So I do the best I can, but they are free range hens during the day and hopefully we can keep it that way.

  8. My smaller run is covered with netting. Came home one day to find a red tail hawk inside finishing off an elder hen. Hawk flew upside down to the net and used its feet to feel for the gap and excape. Now I am more vigilant against even the smallest opening. For the large pen, this year I made a scarecrow which stands in the pen as if scattering feed. No hawks. And friends always are startled by the thing, it looks so real in my old clothes and hat. I am going to move it around, have the scarecrow sit in a chair, just for variety! Seems the white chickens attract the arial preditors the most?

  9. I use 48 inch electric chicken mesh for my run. It keeps out the dogs that are our major predator here, and only two times has a hen flown out. I’d lost several beloved chickens before I put this in. So far so good – no losses to dogs since 2009. However, the chicks are too small to expose to it until they are around 8 weeks and I’m in that process now. Once they touch it once, and run away, you know you can leave them alone in it. However, not until they’ve done that and understand it, because if they every got stuck reaching through and you weren’t there to turn it off, it would be bad. So I watch. And I wait. One done, and three to go.
    My old girls are not pleased to have these youngsters around, so they have to take turns in the run.

  10. I forgot to mention my other predator defense–one (actually 4) of those solar-powered flashing red lights. I’ve had it since 2008 and it’s still going strong. It looks like a mini version of the red light that nice officer has on top of his car (or on his dashboard). I think I got it from Northern; probably available on Amazon. Whatever it is, the combination seems to work. They’re supposed to deter deer also although I find the electric fence does a pretty good job for that.

  11. What a great pen area for your chickens. We have lots of critters here and I’ve seen giant raccoons. I don’t blame ya for wanting them penned in. If I had chickens, I would do the same thing.

  12. Looks like Candy is digging a hole to China this morning. lol

  13. Terry – your photos are amazing! What kind of camera did you just recently get? My little cell phone contraption isn’t the best -everytime I get ready to take a National Geographic Prize-winning photo, the ringer/vibration tone goes off. I have more photos of shaking animals -that doesn’t look so good when one speaks about training!

  14. I lost my first chicken today :'( Respiratory illness. But I am proud that despite a nightly fox visit we have yet to lose one chicken to a predator!

    • I’m sorry to hear that you lost a sick hen. I hope your other chickens remain healthy! I understand that the fox problem in Great Britain is severe. We have fox here, saw one the other day, but they’re easy to keep out compared to the animals in the weasel family!

      • Aw thanks. We’ve only had them since October, so it was a blow. I’m still recovering from the £100 vet bill as well!

        We made sure that we built a fortress for our chickens to live in! I was shocked by the shoddy, weak housing available to buy in pet shops. We spent three weeks building our run alone and I still feel nervous when I see foxy snooping around!

  15. Great photos! I am wondering what type of wire mesh you used for your runs (like in the photo showing the rocks)? We are making a bigger better run for our girls this summer and have been searching for the right type of fencing locally (we’re also in Eastern MA).

    • Chicken wire works just fine – get a sturdy gauge. The fence around the HenCam coop is coated wire. Very strong. It doesn’t unroll – you have to install it in panels. It’s pretty if your coop is a garden feature, and can withstand goats putting their feet up on it (goats will do in chicken wire) but not necessary if all you have is hens.

      • Our coop is also enclosed with 48 in high 1cm guagewire. We are stuck on enclosing the top and if we want a small entry way to the pen. Any ideas?

        • I don’t know how you could make that higher – that’s why I have 6 foot fencing. Some people just bend over double going in the run :)