Making sure your chickens are safe is a must. If you’re wondering what you can do to keep your hens safe listen in as Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s Poultry Expert, informs us on best practices to build a safe coop.
If you are new to chickens, or are looking at upgrading your current coop, there’s a few key things to consider when building a home for your flock. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart how to keep your girls happy, healthy, and safe from predators in their coop.
- Use hardware cloth instead of chicken wire to keep chickens safe from predators
- Chickens need about 16 hours a day of daylight to get eggs
- It’s very important for chickens to be positioned so they are exposed to natural sunset
- Four chickens per nest box is a good rule of thumb
- Make sure the coop is well ventilated, but not drafty
The only difference between a breeze and a draft is temperature. Pay attention to chicken coop airflow.
Both people and chickens savor a cool breeze on a sultry summer evening but that pleasant summer air transforms into a knifelike January draft that slices through the coop and chills hens.
It can frostbite tender combs, freeze water containers quickly and make life miserable for the coop’s occupants.
Proper ventilation is critically important to keep chickens comfortable, safe, and productive. Well-made coops enable managing airflow to welcome summer breezes yet bar frigid drafts.
Managing a coop’s air starts with litter and manure. Almost as soon as litter gets wet odor permeates the coop.
Soggy litter, caused by leaky roofs or tipped over water buckets, generates ammonia that no amount of ventilation can transport outdoors. Well managed coops don’t smell.
The secret in preventing odor is to make sure no rain can enter and that any damp litter is immediately removed and added to the compost bin. It also helps to keep chicken density low. Crowded coops are more likely to be pungent than those where chickens have plenty of individual space.
Managing Coop Airflow
A well-designed coop has at least two windows on opposite sides for cross ventilation. Ideally the chickens’ roost is located between them so the birds enjoy summer breezes while snoozing.
Windows should be easy to open and close so the volume of air that passes through them can be adjusted depending on the temperature.
During summer’s inferno, they should be wide open but cramped shut in winter.
Spring and fall bring mild temperatures and windows only need to be open an inch or two to let enough fresh air in.
Windows do more than admit air and light. They can be the entryway for raccoons, opossums, and even mink dreaming of a tasty chicken dinner. Windows should be configured to exclude predators while welcoming fresh air and light.
Good coop windows have three layers. The first is the glass that permits or excludes breezes depending on how far they are opened. The second is mosquito netting to keep biting bugs outside.
Insect screening is not strong enough to even slow a hungry raccoon, so the third layer is a mesh of wire strong enough to deter powerful predators. A heavy-duty mesh screen can be made of 2X2 lumber with wire stapled onto it.
The frame is then screwed over the window. One half inch square hardware cloth will even keep out lithe mink.
Glass plus netting plus wire screen let in a summer breeze while frustrating hungry bugs and furry predators.
Breezes and drafts don’t just enter at windows. They discover every crack and hole in the coop and enter uninvited.
Even in the coldest weather fresh air entering through a few cracks brings the oxygen chickens need and voids moisture coming from their breath and manure.
A few narrow cracks are good but too many let frigid air in and can be an entryway for weasels.
Filling most cracks with caulking or expanding foam every fall helps keep both the cold and skinny predators outside.
Chickens have a high heat generating metabolism and feathers, nature’s best insulation, to keep the warm. In an uninsulated but draft free coop body heat raises the interior temperature a few degrees on the coldest nights.
When nature’s mid-summer furnace is going full bore roosting chickens pant to increase cooling evaporation from their throats, and they often hold their wings outward to void body heat.
Having plenty of roost space allows them to partly spread their wings. That and a cooling breeze helps hens enjoy a good night’s sleep. On the hottest and stillest nights hens may appreciate an artificial breeze from an electric fan.
Managing coop ventilation keeps chickens comfortable, clean and productive and is an important task of any flock owner.
Humans aren’t the only animal that enjoys a delicious chicken dinner.
Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, dogs, mink, owls, and some hawks also find chickens a meaty, easy-to-catch meal.
Discovering chickens killed by a mink or carried off by a fox is frustrating. Fortunately, predators can be foiled.
Chicken predators are everywhere. No flock is completely safe from some carnivorous species that would like to eat them.
Raccoons and domestic dogs probably kill more chickens than any other animals and live in both rural and urban areas. Raccoons are surprisingly abundant even in New York City!
Often the first reaction a flockowner has when birds are killed is to seek revenge.
Shotguns and traps are sometimes used but killing a chicken-eating fox or raccoon can be both illegal and dangerous. Preventing predation is far more effective than shooting or trapping an animal or two.
Most chicken losses occur at night when raccoons, skunks, opossums, owls, mink, and weasels are most likely to prowl.
The best defense against night shift chicken predators is a sturdy tight coop. Chickens come inside at dusk and are almost comatose when sleeping. Once they get inside predators can easily pluck a plump hen off the roost.
The solution is making entry nearly impossible. That can be easier said than done, since a mink can ooze through a one-inch diameter hole while weasels can fit through even smaller cracks.
Some ways to keep predators out of the coop include:
- At dusk and when you plan to be away until after dark, close and securely latch all doors, especially the pop hole door.
- Cover all windows with sturdy wire mesh. Raccoons can tear through hexagonal chicken wire, so stronger wire is essential. One half inch square hardware cloth thwarts raccoons and even keeps mink out.
- Fill in any holes or cracks in walls or around doors with concrete, caulking, wire, or expanding foam.
- Watch for signs of animals digging tunnels under the coop walls. A concrete coop floor prevents this type of entry, but wire mesh placed on a dirt floor beneath litter and tacked to the coop’s side walls also works.
- Eliminate predator hiding places near the coop. Piles of firewood, debris, old vacant sheds, and brush piles offer predators a safe haven as they approach. The fewer places they have to hide the less likely they are to invade.
- Install a sensor activated light that turns on as a hungry raccoon approaches.
Preventing daytime chicken predators from snatching your birds is more challenging as the birds are often outside.
Dogs are probably the major daytime chicken killers, but several species of hawks may also prey on hens.
Mink, foxes, and weasels are occasionally active during daylight hours but raccoons, opossums, and skunks rarely are. Preparing the run in two ways will reduce predation.
First, confine the flock with a sturdy fence that keeps chickens in and dogs out. Usually a stout four-foot-tall fence will prevent heavy chicken breeds from flying over it while excluding dogs and foxes. Light breed chickens are adept flyers and a six or eight-foot-tall fence may be needed to confine them.
Second, provide overhead protection. A sure-fire way to keep raptors from snatching an occasional chicken is to cover the run with wire mesh. Small outdoor runs can feature a roof that also keeps rain and snow off the ground.
Chickens, like rabbits and other prey species, recognize that danger can come from the sky. They are safer when the run provides some overhead cover.
A few shrubs planted in the run give chicken’s places to safely loiter beneath their intertwined branches. A picnic table placed in the run also gives birds a safe haven from the bright sun and overhead predators.
Chicken predators are crafty and often catch birds and their owners by surprise. Months can go by with no loss and then many birds can be killed in just a short time. Preventing predators from accessing chickens is the best way to keep them safe.