Protecting Chickens From Predators

This is the view from my home office window. I took this photo yesterday morning. Do you see the fox?


Here’s a closer view (taken with a zoom lens from inside, through a screen.)


I wonder what happened to its tail. It’s a hard life, even for the predators. I watched this fox leap and pounce in the tall grasses, likely hunting voles and other small creatures. Even in the act of killing, a fox is charming and beautiful. It was a warm day, and the snow had melted away. I was going to let the girls out, but I did not. A fox would rather fill its belly with one large chicken than a multitude of mice.

I have heard several very sad stories lately of entire flocks decimated by predators. I’ve been told of favorite hens taken in the night. Do not underestimate how hungry the predators are. Do not think that your fencing is secure. Years ago, I learned the hard way. We had installed chicken wire 5 feet high, and buried 6 inches underground. Hawk netting was tightly secured above. In the hot summer we left the windows and pop door open, thinking that the hens were safe. We’d never had a problem. The fenced coop was inside of a fenced backyard. I had a good dog who kept predators away. One night a raccoon climbed up, ripped the netting off of the enclosure and strode right into the coop. She killed four hens.

You might go for a couple of years without a predator attack and think that your hens are well-protected. I know someone who surrounded the coop with a sturdy dog pen; it was even enclosed overhead with the wire panels. A weasel slipped through the 2- inch gap in the gate.

Learn from my experiences and not your own heartache. Close your hens up at night. Latch them from the inside. Plan for daytime attacks, too. Even if you free-range your chickens, build a coop and pen that is spacious enough so that the hens can be kept enclosed. There will be days when foxes are hunting nearby.


  1. Even living in the San Fernando Valley, the most populated area of Los Angeles, we have a coyote that lives in a vacant lot on the next block, raccoons in the tree next door and hawks that circle overhead. So I am always on guard and the hens get locked into their fortress every night: a coop with enclosed run clad with hardware wire, not chicken wire.

    • Dan, we are in urban So Cal too, and was I ever shocked to learn that there are weasels in the neighborhood. From all I’ve read they are fairly newcomers, so it’s no wonder I never worried before… one got into our “secure” hen enclosure… through a small section I used to think was inconsequential (about two inches). Now, like you, we watch for those coyotes, raccoons, hawks, bobcats, and weasels.

  2. Oy. Finding the fox in that first photo was like finding Waldo! :) Maybe the fox was going for the Lion look. I suppose even foxes have style issues.

  3. We have our pen made up of 6′ chain link panels which also cover the top. We did cover the sides up about 3 feet with small welded wire, and all the gaps where the panels reach with the same small welded wire. There is a concrete footing around the entire fence and coop. One hot summer, thinking our hens were safe, we’d left the coop door open and a window (with a box fan outside for circulation) with only a regular house screen open. To my sorrow, that was the night a hungry Vixen broke in (we never did figure out where she got in), killed all but four or five of our 25 hens to feed her young. It was devestating.
    Since then, Jim has reinforced all the footings (seems we thought that where there seemed to be solid rock, it wasn’t so solid that fox couldn’t dig under it), enlarged our coop adding another door and window. Both windows are now covered with welded wire on the outside. We lock our girls up tight EVERY night. With the addition of another window, we can put the fan outside one window and there is cross ventilation.
    I am sure that a time will come when some preditator will get into the pen. Hopefully the coop is secure, but I now know that we can only do our best. The most secure building can be breached. We continue to be vigilant, and pray that our girls will remain safe. How I wish they could be free to scratch and peck, but where we are, that simply is not an option.

  4. A friend of mine kept losing hens during the day, and could not figure out how, because she had her chicken run inside her dog’s yard. So, fencing within fencing, surrounded by three dogs that thought the chickens were part of the pack. Over the top of the chicken area my friend had placed netting to keep out flying predators. However, she had not counted on the smarts of a red-tailed hawk. She finally saw it happen one day, and it was jaw dropping. A hawk swept down out of the trees and landed on a tall post that held up part of the netting. In amazement she watched as the hawk lifted the netting with its head, and neatly floated almost straight down into the pen, and then it WALKED up to a chicken, and killed it. Apparently chickens do not see a walking hawk as a danger, and treat it as another chicken. It picked up the chicken, and half flew, half climbed back up the post, lifted the net and flew away with its catch, and NEVER once setting off the chicken alarm, or the dogs. The dogs only saw another chicken. Needless to say my friend laid down heavy secure fencing over the top, and the hawk still wanders around the edges of it trying to figure out how to get in.

    • Wow, that is a crafty hawk. It seems no matter what you do, some predator will figure away to get through it.

    • That is frightening how clever Hawks can be! The Hawks here have an un-ending supply of wild bunnies to feast on and have not been a problem for our free-range chickens so far…..We do not have foxes or coyotes, but do have the night-time raiders…Racoons, weasles,rats etc. Our inclosure is tightly wrapped in hardware cloth(wire) that also goes a foot underground, and has an asphalt roof. The doors are very tight and lock so I feel the girls are safe at night, anyways. One of the biggest pleasures we get from raising our Hens is watching them happily forage in our garden. I can only hope they continue to be left alone by prey so we don`t have to resort to containing what`s left of the 5 girls,in their enclosure.

    • Wow! That IS quite a story. When I was having my chicken yard built, I changed the netting on the top for welded wire – the people involved rolled their eyes at that. Now I feel vindicated.

      The weasle thing bothers me, though. Now that things are settling with my new coop, I see a couple of new one inch holes that I think I should plug somehow.

      We have a hawk that walks around the coop and yard now and then, apparently looking for a way in. Scarey, now that I know the chickens will not fear it.

      We used to live in the San Fernando Valley, too, and the coyotes would work in packs to capture a pet dog for dinner. We had hawks and possum as well. And really big skunks!

      As far as that fox’s tail, when we see a fox that has problems like that, the locals tell us to shoot it, as it is diseased. However, I cannot remember what they say is wrong with it, but apparently it is suffering. (not sure, though.) Our fox often spend hours hunting grasshoppers, they are so desperate for food.

  5. Terry, I think the fox might have sarcoptic mange. I know foxes can get, as well as raccoons and coyotes. I know usually is the news or people start reporting chupacabra sightings, then more likely than not it was a coyote, dog, raccoon, or fox suffering from mange. So if you see any news about chupacabras, don’t be suprised that if they catch it might be a fox suffering from mange. I know a raccoon suffering from mange really scared some people, until they caught it and people thought it was everything from a walby to some unknown species, until they looked at the animal’s hands and realized it was a raccoon.

  6. When I first got my hens, I let them freely wander where they wanted. One Sunday, looking out of the kitchen window at 9am waiting for the coffee, I saw a fox leap out of the bush on to the patio and steal my Lizzy. I couldn’t believe the girls could be murdered in broad daylight, on the patio, in front of me. Then I realised that true free-ranging wasn’t a possibility, sadly. The girls weren’t at risk of death, they were facing the certainty of it. So now they are behind yards and yards of electric fencing. It has worked brilliantly, until now: I have a girl who can fly out. So everyday she acts out The Great Escape in the chicken run. I will have to clip her wings or she will get eaten. The foxes become a real problem in a month or two when they have got cubs.

    • “The girls weren’t at risk of death, they were facing the certainty of it.”

      Yes, this is a good statement! Not a risk, but a certainty. It is the same for my ladies.

  7. Ok now im nervous my run needs a bit of work securing the wire overhead (there are some loose spots. Was trying to wait till spring but after this I may not, now its just finding the time

  8. Yes, Kit is exactly correct. That fox has sarcoptic mange. You don’t want it lounging around in your backyard. Your dogs can easily pick it up and even pass it on to you. I speak from experience. Our Great Dane acquired it, we think from a squirll that frequented our back deck. Miserable situation. The itch will drive you bonkers.

    It usually starts on the foxes tail, but he lives long enough, it will spread to the whole body. Here in Bucks County, PA, I seldom see a fox with a healthy tail. Most of the time they have some degree of mange.

    • Oh man, I am so sorry to hear that. I know when we first got our dog Morgan he had Giardia and ended up spreading it to our three cats and us at that time. Ugh, those meds to get rid of them were horrible, and having to give it multiple times a day to the cats as well as Morgan.

  9. We lost our first flock to a weasel who found it’s way in through the small holes in regular chicken wire. We were newbies and had no idea, so it came back every night until it got our last hen. I was devastated and so angry with myself for my stupidity. I’m a lot smarter when it comes to predators now. Our girls don’t go out of their pen unless supervised. I just don’t want to take that chance. I’m glad our girls have a nice little area in their pen to roam during the day…safely.

  10. Terry, or anyone familiar with this item. Nightguard
    Has anyone used this, any opinions will be much appreciated

  11. I have been reading about Nightguard and have thought about getting one or two….Very reasonable on the price…just wondering if it works. Our predators here are hawks, coyotes, bobcat, and ocassionally a mountain lion has been spotted. I have not lost a hen in years because I have built a pretty predator proof enclosure. Chain link all the way around and chain link fencing on top. I play soldier woman when they are let out. I walk my property line watching. Needless to say..on cold days they don’t get let out. Mama Hen is too cold to stand guard.

  12. When my grandfather (1892-1986) came to dinner in the summer time, he always left right after dinner to put in the hens. In the winter they were put in before he came to dinner.

  13. i see the fox! i do. i see a fox .
    but. . . who is sleeping on the limb of the tree? whose long brown body, whose little black eye, little black nose? sound asleep.
    i have a squirrel who takes his nap in my maple tree out front – not always, but a couple of times i’ve seen him. just runs out on a limb, lays his head down and naps.
    is that who is sleeping in your tree??

    • It looks like one, doesn’t it? But when I zoom in, it’s just a reddened dead branch. But, on a walk into the woods, at the base of a large white pine, are piles of pinecone bits, dropped when the red squirrels feed.

  14. My predators are dogs – other people’s pets. I lost several hens before I found my solar charged electric mesh chicken fence. I have had it almost 3 years with no losses. I got it online from premiere fencing and they were very helpful. It wont help with hawks though!

  15. I had a mink come up out of the beaver pond in December, get through a 2″ gap under my duck house, into my duck run and kill two of my ducks while we were home and checking on them every two hours. So, don’t ever assume that it won’t happen. And weasels will also kill during the day. My ducks are now living during the day in a hardware-cloth run with a solid metal roof. Once the ground thaws, I will be lining the entire bottom of their run with hardware cloth. At the moment there is an L-shaped skirt around it. My chickens will have a similar run once the handyman builds it for us in April. Until then, they only come out of the sturdy coop during the day when I am directly watching them. The mink came back the next day and tried again but was not successful in killing anyone (he bit Pearl duck while I was watching, though; she is fine now).

  16. Hi Terry; such interesting input today. I too wonder and would love to know if any of your readers have successfully used Nightguard to keep predators at bay. I don’t have chickens but I do have two small dogs and an aggressive coyote/fox problem in the area.

    BTW – poor Mr. Fox could possibly have mange. My vet tells me this is a particularly bad year for foxes and coyotes who are the predominant carriers of Sarcoptic mange (Scabies) up here in NH. Unfortunately, they can pass it on to other wildlife and our own domestic animals – as I recently discovered by needing to have both of my dogs treated. Thankfully, early intervention cleared it up quickly. But the poor things had a rough couple of weeks until we finally figured out what the heck was going on. Actually thought it could be allergies or any number of other things. Nope. The skin scraping results from the lab came back showing it as sarcoptic mange. Ack!

    They each received a series of three shots over a three week period of time. The intense itching stopped within a week of the first treatment. I was told that they had to have contracted it by sharing the same area (my back yard!) that wildlife regularly passes through. Poor Mr. Fox…it’s a rough way to go.

    • A couple of readers (see above comments) said the nite-guard not effective. Certainly, it won’t help with daytime issues. How did your dogs get the mange? Did they recently tangle with wildlife?

      • Thanks, I missed the nite-guard comment above. Won’t waste my time or money on it.

        RE: Mange – According to vet, no direct contact is needed between animals to get mange. All that’s required for the mites to be passed on is for each animal to brush up against the same trees, shrubs, grasses, etc., which is how my pups had to have picked it up. The good news is that while humans can indeed get the mange – it’s not very common and is self limiting. In other words, we can catch it, but scabies mites do not thrive on our blood type and die off after a couple of weeks. Blech. Thankfully, we did manage to dodge that situation…although I felt itchy for weeks just thinking about it :-)

        • I’m itchy just reading your comments. Well, I will no longer take Lily across the street to sniff at the fox trail if that puts her at risk of getting mange! Thanks for that info!

  17. I bet the fox has mange as well.
    My biggest predator problems are hawks, especially Coopers Hawks. I lost one on Tueday, that makes the fourth one in about four mths. I let the hens out to free range and was out with them for about an hour, i came in for 5 minutes to refresh my drink and use the restroom. When I went back out I heard the flock raising a racket. I knew something was up. I grabbed by hawk deterent (my secret) and started looking. Much to my dismay he had, it’s actually a female, one of my bantam hens, she tried to take off with her but she was too heavy. The hen was already dead. There where no obvious marks on the hen so how it killed it is a mystery.
    The hawk didn’t get it’s meal though. I quickly round the hens up and put them in their run. The hawk was back in about an hour looking for her kill. I got a little bit of pleasure out of her loss of her hard work.
    I too like the one commenter had a Coopers hawk that figured out how to get past my netting and killed two hens. That hawk is no longer an issue, however, I still never figured out how he was getting in.

  18. We use hardware cloth on the entire coop, with heavy, tight, swivel latchs. The girls are put in every night, locked up tight. We’ve learned to check inside the coop and winter sunroom, as a cat got stuck inside one night. I can say it was one scared cat! It was hunkered in a corner as far away from the girls as it could get. We have hawks, but the girls head inside or by the tall berries. You never know, but it pays to overbuild….

  19. I would like to thank all you folks for posting these very informative comments! I am planning to build a coop/run this spring. Looks like it will be hardware cloth all the way around, above and perhaps below.

    • Yes. Put it below as well. I think it’s worth the trouble for the peace of mind it will give you. I love my run. It is a solid wood structure framed out like a shed with 1/2 inch hardware cloth on top, bottom, and sides attached to the frame with washers and screws. The base is laid out with landscape timbers. I put down a layer of gravel for drainage, then hardware cloth attached securely to the base, and then filled in with soil. This raises it up a little, just enough to keep it dry as well as secure. No muddy feet. No weasels.

  20. I feel bad, I’m sure that fox is missing that fluffy warm tail, this time of year.

    Found this amusing line, from “A Book of Country Things” (memoirs of Walter Needham, with some other tidbits about his grandfather’s laissez-faire chicken keeping):

    “Of course foxes and skunks would get some of the chickens and eggs, but not enough to be missed very badly.”

  21. Sorry for the lose of your hens. My husband and I also lost most of our hens in the middle of the night due to a raccoon. We just make sure we latch our hens inside the coop now at night. Its pretty sad when you wake up finding out your chickens are gone when you went for a couple years without an attack.

  22. I am so glad that I saw you on Martha Stewart TV Show! We enjoy watching your chickens & goats on the cams. Thanks so much for sharing good information. Brings back memories when I was younger my parents had a chicken coup in our back yard. Enjoyed watching the chickens & having fresh eggs was a plus too! ;)
    Stay warm & safe during this winter storm.