Keep Your Chickens Safe from Predators

Two buff-colored hens in the fenced chicken run.

Chickens are vulnerable to predators, whether it's dogs, "varmints" or birds of prey. Take these steps to keep your chickens safe from predators. These three areas are critical and are often overlooked.

How to keep your chickens safe from predators

Winter is on its way, with an increase in hungry varmints who'd like nothing better than chicken for dinner.

Now is the time to make your chicken coop as predator-proof as possible, while it's still warm enough to work outside. 

This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase I might earn a small commission, but it doesn't affect the price you pay. Read my disclosure here for more info.

It's the same idea as hanging your Christmas lights on a nice weekend in November instead of waiting until the snow flies in December.

There are three important areas to focus on when you're ready to up your flock's security:

  • the chicken yard or run
  • the coop's windows
  • and the latches that hold everything securely closed

Fence the chicken run

When we rebuilt our chicken yard, The Chief said poultry wire would be adequate (and cheaper). He said that they're just chickens and it would keep them in just fine.

I pointed out that our goal isn't to keep chickens in, but to keep predators out.

A mixed flock of chickens behind the fence of their chicken run.

So we used 2"x4" welded wire fencing instead of poultry wire. The joints or intersections of the wire in this fencing are welded together.

Welded wire doesn't work well when used as goat fencing (as you can read in that post, just click the link), but it will be sufficient in the chicken yard. It should stop all but the most determined and strongest varmints from getting in.

A sample of welded wire fencing. The holes are 2"x4" and at each intersection the wires are welded together.

Young chicks could escape through the 2x4" holes, but we don't have hen-raised chicks so that isn't a concern for us.

If you often have broody hens that hatch chicks for you, you might want to line the lower portion of your run with a second layer of fencing. Chicken wire would work fine for this purpose.

An even better option for your chicken run fencing is half-inch hardware cloth, but that was way out of our budget for the amount of fencing we needed. It's pricey.

Security at ground level

To keep predators from digging underneath the fence and into the chicken yard, run a foot or two of fencing just under the ground all the way around the run.

In other words, dig out a trench along the outside of the fence, about 6-12 inches deep and about two feet wide, and lay the bottom of your fencing in this trench, then backfill the dirt.

The fencing will form an "L" shape with the shorter leg of the fencing underground and the longer part upright, forming the run fence.

Subscribe to The Acorn, Oak Hill Homestead's weekly-ish newsletter
and receive my e-booklet "How to Make Vinegar at Home for Pennies" for FREE.

Cover the chicken run to keep out birds of prey

To thwart hawks, owls and predators that can climb the fence or swoop in from above, cover the top of your run with strong fencing. Raccoons are heavy, so use appropriate fencing that will hold these critters' weight.

Even better would be a roof over the run to provide shade in summer and protect your hens from the weather so they can roam outside even in winter.

A buff Orpington hen inside the poultry run.

If your run is too large or too wide to make covering it possible, you might add a flight net instead to help keep out birds of prey.

Check the latches

All doors in the coop and poultry yard should be fastened with critter-resistant latches. 

Raccoons in particular are pretty savvy at opening latches such as hook-and-eye hardware, slide-bolts, or the simple wooden slat that turns to hold a door shut.

The chicken run gate, held shut with a latch and hook.

The best latch is one that snaps closed with a hook or a lock on it, such as the snap clip or carabiner in the image below.

A snap clip (carabiner) on a wooden background.

You can find more information on what your chickens must have inside their coop here. 

Secure the windows

Coop windows should latch securely from the inside. Hook-and-eye or similar hardware is sufficient because the varmints are outside and the latch is inside.

Cover windows with hardware cloth, not screen, to keep critters out. Screen is too easy to rip apart, and you'll probably want to keep the windows open for ventilation in the summer.

If you could see what our cats have done to the screen on our front storm door, not to mention the house dog that went right through that screen in his hurry to get outside, you'd know how flimsy screen really is. It's obviously not animal-proof!

All ventilation openings should also be covered with hardware cloth or other varmint-proof covering.

We left the space under the eaves of our coop's roof open for ventilation, without any covering. We thought that a 4" gap wouldn't be a problem. But we ended up with a skunk inside! 

Using a register cover is a great way to add a secure ventilation opening: cut a hole to the appropriate size and screw in the cover, which can be opened or closed according to the weather, just like you'd open or shut a heating vent in your home. 

A young possum
Possums are a threat to chickens.

Check for weak spots

Ready-made coops sold at feed and farm stores usually have a nesting compartment with a lift-up top to make egg-gathering easy. 

Some of these coops have a fatal flaw: the often-flimsy wooden floor in the nesting area is simply laid inside.

It makes cleaning easy, but it's also easy for a predator to push upwards from underneath and gain access to the coop easily.

The design of the coop's nesting box isn't the problem, it's the floor of the nesting box itself. Check your coop to make sure any raised floors are secure and safe. 

Replace the floors with a thicker board if needed, and screw it to the coop securely.

Another way to make this area even safer is to include the space underneath the nest box inside the fenced run area so critters don't have any way to access the underneath area of the coop.

A wooden chicken-size door to the coop.

Think like a predator - a fox, raccoon or other varmint - and check your coop thoroughly for any weak spots.

When I built the sliding door from my coop to the poultry yard, I added a board at the bottom that the closed door sits behind. This board keeps raccoons from sticking their "fingers" underneath the door to lift it up.

For chicken coop plans, check out Easy Coops' website. You'll find free plans as well as plans for sale that include cutting lists, materials needed, and detailed plans to build a safe, secure coop for your chickens.

Make this an annual fall chore

Each year before winter arrives you should do a security check of your chicken coop and run, fix any weak spots and replace anything that needs to be more secure.

By mid- to late-winter, predators have a harder time finding food and begin venturing closer to homesteads in search of a meal. Don't let your hens become their dinner.

Are you looking for more information about keeping chickens? You'll find all of my chicken-keeping articles here, including how to keep your chickens' water from freezing in the winter.

For more do-it-yourself and homesteading posts like this, subscribe to my weekly-ish newsletter The Acorn, and join me on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest. I'd love to see you there! 

Text: How to keep your chickens safe from predators this winter.


Facebook | Pinterest |  Instagram | Subscribe