How to keep your hens safe
As we liberate each hen from her life of suffering, we promise her that now she will be safe, loved and cared for, for the rest of her life. Imagine what a betrayal it would be if we left her open to predator attacks. Trauma and death by predator should not be written off as the way things are. We should also be careful not to blame the animals that need to hunt for food. It is up to us to protect our feathered family members.
Living in Suburbia
If you live in the suburbs or the city there may be less risk of predator attacks than in rural areas. But please don’t be complacent. We have heard of hens being attacked in towns and cities. Even if you never see predators in your area, be sure to provide a secure coop for night time.
How to make your coop safe for hens
A coop should be well ventilated with strong, galvanised wire mesh included in its design.
Remember predators can climb so ensure the coop is covered at the top.
Prevent foxes from digging underneath the coop by adding a mesh skirt to the bottom of the coop or ensuring the mesh is buried into the ground all the way along the edges of the coop. You can also place the coop on concrete to stop a predator gaining access.
Determined and hungry animals will tear into damaged or rusty wire. Sturdy, steel mesh is required. It should be too thick for a quoll or fox to bite through and the spacing should be too small for a rodent to squeeze through. We have heard of a sad incident where a predator reached through a crate with wide enough spacing and pulled a hen’s leg through. The injuries resulted in euthanasia for the poor hen and trauma for her friends.
Make sure there are no weak patches in your enclosure and check your coop every day at dusk to ensure that it remains predator proof. Rain can rust steel mesh and cause it to move out of place, split or weaken.
Ensure the coop doors are locked every night. Count your chickens before you close the coop to ensure everyone is safe, sound and accounted for. Ensure your chicken coop has latching bolts on any openings as foxes can easily knock open simple twist catches.
Remember that predators can hunt during the day. Cats and dogs may also roam neighbouring yards, therefore ensure your hens’ run meets the same standards as your coop, or if they roam in your garden during the day, ensure you have adequate fencing.
Pro-tip: Count Your Chickens!
Automatic opening and closing doors for chicken coops are sold as a way to save time and automate the care of your chickens. Please be careful not to rely on them. We have heard of several occasions where people have caused the deaths of hens by relying on automatic doors.
One lady assured me that her hens were trained to come into the coop every single night. They knew their routine. At dusk the door closed behind them keeping them safe and sound. That was until the night one of the hens got stuck under a large tree root and didn’t get herself to bed. She was killed by a predator.
If a hen is injured, stuck or has escaped you won’t know unless you check.
Relying on an automatic door opener means that you are missing out on checking that everyone is okay in the morning. Always count your chickens morning and night. Make sure everyone is safe and well and then we can all sleep soundly.
When Catherine volunteered at A Poultry Place sanctuary, Bede, the sanctuarian, had her write down the number of birds in each shed. She counted them all every night before closing the doors, even though there were dozens of chickens inside. Bede teaches that counting your hens is the only way to ensure everyone is safe and sound.
Extra Steps for Acreage and High Risk Areas
Whilst there are predators everywhere, rural properties may pose extra challenges when it comes to predator protection. A small acreage may provide excellent roaming space for the hens, but there are also a lot more places for predators to live and hunt. Even small blocks in some areas have a high chance of predator attacks. For example, the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands and blocks that back onto bush or creeks.
In these situations you will need an enclosure. This is an additional space to the coop where the hens can roam inside without risk of being injured when you are not there to supervise them.
When well-intentioned people build a safe enclosure there is often the chance of them making it far too small. If hens are spending most of their time in there, then it needs to be as big and as interesting as possible. Think of it as a fun challenge as you aim to create a safe and secure garden for the girls but within an enclosed area.
People with small enclosures will sometimes say, ‘it will seem like a palace after the battery cage,’ and yes, it’s true that anything is better than that. But we aren’t aiming for just anything. We promise the girls a safe, fun and interesting life, not just a bigger cage.
Hens originate from red jungle fowl so it makes sense that they love to explore jungle like flower beds and shrubs. They love to dig in dirt baths, have areas of shade and sun and plenty of places to run, hide and explore. They are never going to get this quality of life in a chicken tractor.
You can create a safe enclosure for daytime with chicken wire, star pickets, and netting above. Ground wire or buried wire are also important for some areas. Remember the more like a garden you can make your enclosure the better.
If you’re not sure ask yourself, does this living space resemble a garden or a cage?
Predators to be Aware of:
Foxes are the number one predator to be aware of. Some people will tell us that they haven’t had a fox attack in all the years they’ve had chickens, despite not having predator protection. The hens may have been safe for years, but that doesn’t mean they will be safe in the future. It is worth being vigilant.
We also hear from some people that they are happy that the council baits foxes in their area. Baiting is a cruel, hideous death and it is important to remember that foxes are not villains. They were brought here by humans and are now just trying to survive. It is up to us to protect our little ones from them.
Hungry foxes can hunt in the day, but are especially prevalent at night, dusk and dawn. They can jump and climb fences, dig under enclosures and push open doors with their nose. They are quick hunters with the ability to climb high and fit into the smallest of spaces (an adult fox can pass through a 10cm diameter hole and can easily scale a 6ft fence or wall). A fox can tear chicken wire using their teeth and quickly enter a small gap in the fence.
Cats and Dogs
Many people care for cats and dogs in addition to hens and have no problems. You still need to ensure that your garden is safe from stray dogs that may jump in. Cats will usually only attack small chickens, but better to air on the side of caution. Your steps against foxes will also suffice for cats and dogs
Note: We get contacted regularly from people who adopt a dog who then poses a danger to the hens. These people want us to take the hens off their hands as they cannot keep both species of animals. Please consider your feathered family members before choosing a dog friend. Many dogs get on wonderfully with hens, but some can be a lethal threat. Even with the sookiest dogs make sure to do a careful introduction and take no risks.
Brown (pictured) and Grey Goshawks are native Australian birds. Females can kill full-sized chickens. From experience, these birds hunt small doves in suburban gardens.
Even if you have excellent tree coverage, this does not protect against goshawks, as they love sweeping in and out of tree canopies for hunting. They are ambush predators and will continue their to hunt on the ground, chasing their prey under bushes. The only solution is full netting in these situations.
Quolls are probably the most skilled hunter. Quolls keep themselves well hidden and many people may not even be aware they have them in their area. If you live in the Blue Mountains or other bushy areas you may well have a local quoll population. Quolls are crafty with their little paws. They use their sharp teeth to bite through rusted or insecure wire and are small enough to squeeze through gaps that a fox could not.
Rats – Rats and mice will not usually pose a threat to your hens, although could cause harm to chicks. Try to minimise local rodent populations by being sure to pack away all food at night in rat proof bins. Ensure that your rubbish is confined and not on the floor in plastic bags, as rats are scavengers and may be attracted to your rubbish.
Remember that rats are simply trying to exist. They are intelligent and curious animals. If you are concerned about the rodent population around the coop, you can use humane traps. Check out PETA’s guide to releasing rodents safely away from your home.
Goanna, snakes and lizards
Reptiles are usually more interested in eating eggs than chickens. Minimise risks by collecting the eggs and feeding them back to the hens straight away. If a hen is broody and sitting on eggs, make sure she is somewhere safe from predators such as inside your house.
It is not unknown for a goanna to take a bite of a hen or kill a small chicken. Even if a hen is just wounded a goanna bite is often lethal as they have a lot of bacteria in their mouth which will cause infection. Your hen would need immediate antibiotics, pain relief and vet care to get her well again.
Okay, so they are not officially a predator, but we have heard some very sad cases of hens being killed or injured by bush turkeys so it is important to include them in our list. For much of the year bush turkeys and hens seem to coexist fairly happily. In Springtime the hormones get going and male bush turkeys can cause great damage to chickens by either fighting with them or trying to mate with them. Please protect your hens from these attacks. In extreme cases there are bush turkey relocation services to relocate aggressive turkeys, but remember it is always our responsibility to protect our companion animals.
The biggest threat to hens is humans. Your girls have just been liberated from a human built system of exploitation. Right now millions of chickens are suffering at the hands of humans. Please bear this in mind as you protect them from other predators. Removing your money from the animal exploitation industries (meat, eggs and dairy) will go far to help protect chickens from their number 1 predator.
After a predator attack
If a predator attack has occurred you can assume that the predator will be back now that they have located a food source.
If hens have been injured they must be taken to a bird vet immediately for pain relief, antibiotics and possibly further treatment.
Healthy survivors will be traumatised. They should be kept inside a safe enclosure whilst changes are made to make their environment safe. If it is impossible to give them a safe environment then please contact us so we can find a safe alternative for your girls.
Other Predator Deterrents:
Sensor lights can be used as an additional tool to deter predators. When an animal triggers the motion sensor, the light will go off and startle them. The fact that they are exposed to such a bright light may prevent the predator from making further efforts to gain access to the coop.