Thursday, February 16, 2017

chicken predators

We are going in to the start of our third year raising chickens. We'll be ordering some meat bird chicks for starting in May, but figure our laying hens are still producing enough we will go another year with them.

 Chickens are plump, tasty morsels, and they can't fly or fight very well. So all manner of predators just love them. I had seen some signs of digging at the foundation a few times this past summer, and refilled the holes, but the hardware cloth I had buried did its job, and entry was denied. Overall, we'd been lucky, with no hawks, coyotes, or raccoons taking any.

Then...........this February, we had our first predator get in to the coop. Turns out weasels are really small, and after reading up on them a bit, I realize now that I could have avoided this, so had to start working to rectify things.

Here is what happened: First- the uneaten feed in the feeding troughs was attracting mice and rats, who helped clean things up overnight while the chicken slept in the roost. 

Second, they dug some tunnels from under the concrete slab section of the barn, providing access from a direction that had not occurred to me.

Third- they are food for weasels, who, by late winter, were getting  a might peckish. I had not minded the mice too  much, and when I saw signs of rats this late fall/winter, decided to start trapping. I got one, but then noticed that there were few new signs, and knew I hadn't scared them off, so wasn't sure what was going on. Maybe they were just getting more sneaky after one fatality?

Well, I now know that the rats attracted a weasel, who mowed through them, but with the rat's thoughtfully provided tunnel system, started taking a chicken every other night or so. 
(Weasels are actually a good thing to have on a farm, as they eat mice, voles, other critters who want their share of my garden. Just gotta keep them out of your coop!)

The first chicken had the classic weasel pattern, with the head nearly decapitated, but no the damage to the rest of the chicken ( what a waste!). I mixed up some cement, shoved it up under the slab where the rat holes emerged, and looked around for smaller holes than I had originally thought I would need to worry about. A couple days later, another two hens got it. I found a couple more holes and plugged them. Before it was all over, seven hens had been killed. 

Finally, no more hens were being taken, so I figured I had sealed all the holes. 

Then this happened

This beautiful, maybe even cute ( but blood thirsty) fellow went in to the rat zapper I had left on in another area of the barn, and got zapped. I had rather he hadn't gotten killed, and actually hope another one takes over his territory, to keep the rats away, just so long as he doesn't get in my coop.

You can see from his size that they definitely punch above their weight. It's surprising that they can take a much larger animal, but this stoat, ermine, or short tailed weasel ( all names for the same animal, you can see the black tip on his tail) is quite the fearless predator.

Anyone building a chicken coop- make it very tight, and if a rat can get in, so can a weasel.


  1. Hi Steve,
    Ouch, losing chickens to predators hurts and you have my sympathy. The rats here can attract eastern brown snakes which are the second deadliest on the planet and well... Out of curiosity, are you planning to redo any parts of your chicken coop? I buried corrugated steel sheeting in trenches for the sides of the chicken coop which I then back filled with cement = no rats for a while now and the chickens seem healthier for that. As you quite rightly point out, rats are attracted to uneaten grains.

  2. Our chicken coop is actually a section of the barn I partitioned off, so some compromises were made. My fixes just completed were just stopgap, but I think good enough for now.
    Longer term ( maybe sooner than I had thought!) I had planned to build a true coop, with more of the buried barriers like you describe.

    Always learning, aren't we.

  3. You were lucky it was only seven. I lost 12 two month old chicks last summer. A few years ago we lost 15 cornish cross meat chickens in the chicken tractor. I can't really see a way to totally protect the chickens in the tractor. Our coops are in a big metal building that does not have a cement foundation and as we hope to move in a couple years we don't want to put too much money into fortifying that building. Just found a weasel in our wood pile which was probably after the mice. The dogs treed it and now check out the wood pile daily so hopefully have discouraged it. As you say weasels have their purpose but I'm never too happy to see one.