For backyard chicken keepers, homesteaders, and large-scale farmers alike, the single greatest challenge is protecting poultry from predators. Lately we have been receiving several inquiries about the same topic. “My chickens are dead”, “My chickens are missing” and “help me trap whatever is eating my chickens”. There is a huge trend now since new homeowners are buying their dream homes in the country and along with nice organic garden beds, so is the idea of raising backyard chickens. But if you have ambitions of living off the land and raising chickens, be prepared to deal with the threat of predation but you never know how big of an issue it is until its too late. If you own a backyard flock, more than likely, you have experienced a predator or two - especially if you allow your poultry to free-range. However, chickens that free-range are not the only chickens susceptible to predator attacks. Even if you keep your flock is kept in an enclosure, they might not be safe.
Predators are predators and they will kill or attempt to kill no matter what hurdles you put in front of them! They will dig tunnels, rip through fences, ambush in the daytime, nothing will stop them when they are craving some breast, thighs, and wings! So, before you call Loomacres Wildlife Management or any other wildlife removal company here are some things to know that will help you identify the predators you might be dealing with.
When are your chickens disappearing? Working out what could be killing the chickens in your flock can help you protect against future attacks. Predators kill in different ways and at varying times of the day. There are three types of predator groups, and you can generally identify this group by documenting when they are disappearing.
Nocturnal Hunters: If you are going to bed at night and everything is ok but waking up to a morning massacre here is a list of potential night killers.
Low Light Hunters: These are predators that use either first thing in the morning to ambush waking prey or become active as the sun is setting.
Daytime Hunters: Some predators may hunt any time and may be included in one or more groups and hungry animals or those with young to feed are likely to be more of a problem during the day.
So now that you have a list of potential predators and you have narrowed down your suspects how to you know exactly what is killing your chickens? Outside of using a trail camera to capture an image of the intruder is to examine the crime scene. No, you do not have to be a character on CSI or own a Detective Badge, but you will have to look at what was left behind. Below is a helpful guide broken down by each predator and their hunting tendencies.
Fox: Scattered feathers inside and outside coup, multiple chickens wounded or multiple dead, one missing at a time with the Fox coming back multiple times.
Coyotes: Look for scat or poop that looks a lot like your dogs but has hair, bone, or feathers in it. Multiple chickens missing during the night, multiple dead inside the coup. Many times, your fence may be ripped apart of a hole dug under the fence for entrance and exit.
Bears: Probably the easiest to tell but if your pen is completely destroyed and it looks like a mass murderer has been there, yep, it’s a bear!
Domestic Cat: Very underrated killer on this list and probably the slickest! Small chickens or chicks taken singly, single birds taken, wings, head and feet left. Cats typically do not leave anything living behind even if they do not eat it.
Skunks: Just close your eyes and smell the odor. Skunks are messy killers so look for missing organs on the chickens left behind, empty eggshells around the nest.
Raccoons: Mostly active at night and will typically only kill chicks and eggs! Raccoons are notorious for squeezing through tight places.
Rats: If your chickens are missing feet or toes, wounded, or you find a lot of partially eaten chicks you have got a rat problem.
Snake: Single dead chicken, may have a wet head showing the snake tried to swallow it. Missing eggs.
Mountain Lion: They like to hunt at Dusk/Dawn and typically will kill multiple birds (1-5) in a single visit. Look for tracks because like domestic cats they do not leave a lot of trace evidence!
Dogs: Chickens badly bitten with deep puncture wounds and rarely eaten. Kills all chickens it can get hold of. Damaged fences and feathers everywhere. They are not stealthy so picture a bull in a China Shop.
Hawks / Eagles: These daytime hunters like to enter the pen from above so look at the roof for damage. Birds of prey take a single bird and tend to eat where they kill. Remains spread on back with most of the chicken eaten. Sparrowhawks may carry birds away.
Owls: Nighttime hunters or right at dawn. Look for talon marks in any wounded chickens and scan the yard for feathers underneath a perch tree.
Fishers or Minks: These aggressive killers mostly kill for fun and are efficient. Look for bite marks around the neck area or if heads are missing and your pen looks to be untouched you probably have your suspect!
Opossums: One or two chickens killed. Bites in breast or thigh, abdomen eaten, chickens eaten on site because they are lazy and do not care to leave the scene of the crime.
Now that you have the ability to identify the critters that are ruining your chicken flock, we strongly suggest you contact us for a FREE CONSULTATION where one of our on-staff Wildlife Biologist can talk you through the next steps whether its applying for a depredation permit through your state wildlife authority or help you implement a trapping strategy. Remember that all these creatures are wild and pose a bite risk to humans so should you encounter any of them, handle the situation with great care and get help. If you are beyond the point of wanting to deal with it yourself fill out the form below and we will contact you shortly.
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