Although predator proofing your coop is important year-round, it is especially important during the winter. Wintertime can be hard on all of us, especially wildlife. Food sources are scarce and the bitter cold makes it much more difficult to find. Shorter hours of daylight and less time spent outside with our flocks also adds to the opportunity that many predators will take advantage of.
In this article, we will break down 7 of the most common wintertime predators. Next week we will take a more in-depth look at the do’s and don’ts of predator proofing your flocks habitat.
#1 Raccoons- Absolutely the smartest of all the predators who will commonly infiltrate the hen house. A raccoons diet consists of berries, fruits, frogs, insects, small mammals, chickens and eggs. Raccoons can and will open most simple latches, experiments have also shown that they can remember the answer to a problem (latch) for 3 years – so once they have figured out your security they will be returning. Latches that require 2 or more steps are best to deter raccoons. Locks need to be added to all doors, including the nesting box.
#2 Domesticated Dogs – We don’t often think of our pets as predators but I have seen many threads on social media lately about neighbors dogs getting into and killing entire flocks. When checking security, keep this in mind. Your own animals may be great with the flock but any stray dog may not be.
#3 House/Barn and Feral Cats – While we are talking about pets, another animal of concern is the cat. My outdoor cats spend tons of time around my flock without any issues but that may not always be the case. Make sure that if you are feeding feral or barn cats that you continue to have food available during the winter along with the predator proofing of the run and coop to keep your flock safe.
#4 Weasels – Veracious killers that seem to kill just for the fun of it. They can cause complete devastation in a henhouse in very little time and can fit through the smallest of holes. Often, they will come into the henhouse through small cracks in the floor.
#5 Foxes and Coyotes– Superb hunters that are able to dig their way into anything that isn’t protected and maintained. Foxes will not kill for fun and will eat what they can while inside the coop and then take the rest to a storage area to continue to feed on for the coming weeks. A buried barrier of hardware cloth is the best way to protect your coop and run from foxes, dogs and coyotes.
# 6 Opossums – The scavengers of the predator world, possums will eat just about anything from road kill and garbage to berries, fruits, eggs and chicks.
#7 Birds of Prey – Hawks and owls are the most common of these often swooping down and latching on to the birds with their talons. Bantams and chicks are the preferred targets but occasionally a full size hen will be taken. There normally is not any sign left behind with these predators, just a missing bird. If there are feathers with flesh attached, that will normally mean that the hawk has finished a bird that was killed by other means.
Although wintertime is not a typical snake season, there are 4 snakes that are particularly troublesome to the coop. These are Rat, Milk, King and Gopher snakes. All or not venomous but will eat eggs and small chicks and most snakes will not attack prey that is bigger than the widest part of their body. Entry into and exit from the coop needs to be large enough for the snake to get through after consuming their prey.