Locking chickens up at night - is it necessary because of predation?

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I have never kept chickens before, and am dearly looking forward to doing so, some nice gentle egg and meat and yard art birds. Can you give me advice on whether chickens need to be in a "locked and sealed" coop during the night in order to protect them from predators? The neighborhood has raccoons and 'possums and kitties. We have a 5-1/2 foot board fence around the back yard. I am hoping that a simple mesh fence around half my backyard that has the coop (old shed) will be adequate, since I frequently go to work before light and come back after dark, preventing me from closing the door to the coop at sunset. Would a loose top roll-over fence work to keep varmints out, as someone suggested, or should there be a mesh roof completely over the yard :-(?

Another incidental question is whether the *chickens* would fly out from the fenced area... Thanks for your help!

-- Lily in Central Coast California (mdtinkle@earthlink.net), January 25, 2002


Lily, the answer to your question is ABSO DOODLE LUTELY!!! You will need to put them in a secure, night time house at night. There are discussions on this forum already about protecting against predators. Do some searching. Whatever you do, do NOT rely on "chicken wire". it will keep nothing OUT, only poultry IN. Also, for in depth chicken care and plans for building safe housing go to "The Poultry Connection Forum"(I should have a stamp made up. LOL) Good Luck, LQ

-- Little Quacker (carouselxing@juno.com), January 25, 2002.

The smaller the chicken, the higher it flies. Chickens are the best kind of dinner for hawks and other predators, too, so definitely cover the top. Cats, raccoon, dogs (just wait until you see how many nice dogs are chicken killers!), etc. must be kept out with strong fencing that cannot be dug under.

-- seraphima (seraphima@ak.net), January 25, 2002.

I must have a "weird" farm. I never lock my chickens up, and the only time we've EVER lost any is when a new "Rentor" moves in the place next to us, and I have to instruct them to keep their dog either controlled or chained. We have 20 acres, and though the chickens usually stay within an acre area around their coop, I have found them wandering halfway up the pasture, but they always seem to make it back okay.

-- CJ (cjtinkle@getgoin.net), January 25, 2002.

Has anyone ever lost chickens to coons? We must have a zillion of them and skunks (I'm told will eat a chicken also?) as well as foxes and coyotes and huge hawks and I only had about 4 birds I could not account for out of 150.

I too let my chickens run free. I have some huge hawks around here but the wild pigeons hanging out in the loft seem to be better prey. i actually lost more to my dumb pig who liked them better than grain! She let the grain set then when the chickens came in to clean it up she'd snag em! And my nice sweet doggie has to be contained.

If your birds return to the roost in the shed each night it would still help to simply shut the door when you come home and open before you go. At least it would cut down on the middle of the nite baddies.

If you can in your area, it is nice to have them running free, they don't have any pecking problems, they keep the local bug population down (my neighbor noticed I had so few flies in a yard were I had 20 sheep 4 pigs a goat and dozen geese),they need very little cheap feed in the warm months as well as it being a more real and balanced 'natural' diet, their area stays cleaner if they are spread out, and if you have other animals they clean up all the spilt grains and churn up manure piles (rabbits need a good cover however so no chicken feces can get in there cage or you are liable to have dead rabbits, but then the chickens will keep the underneath churned, bug free and freesher smelling.)

-- Novina in ND (homespun@stellarnet.com), January 25, 2002.

Bantams fly like robins. After I clipped a wing on each, they flew like HEAVY robins! Really, if I had it to do over again I would have started with something larger and calmer: my yard is fenced also but the older, bolder birds go over it and the neighbors dogs have gotten 2 that I know of. It's my fault: the neighbors kept their dogs in their yard, I failed to keep my chickens in mine!

-- Terri (hooperterri@prodigy.net), January 25, 2002.

I'd say yes you need to shut them up at night. I have an eagle's nest that more or less over looks my yard and the eagles have never bothered my chickens, or any of my other animals. I had problems with fox, skunk, raccoon, and dog. Usually it is smaller sneaker animals that comein at night. But them again I have had fox come right into my yard with me not more than 10 feet away and try for a chicken. I only wish I had enough to feed the wildlife too! My philosophy seems to be if the chickens can out run what ever is after them during the day they are pretty much fair game. But I draw the line when they are asleep and VERY vulnerable.

I'm a sucker, what can I say!

-- Susan northern MN (nanaboo@paulbunyan.net), January 25, 2002.

We've had possums take some birds. Guineas that wouldn't come back to the coop. Our chickens generally head for the coop at sunset, and we have a nice secure door. Their yard is 20 X 32, six foot high 1 X 1 woven wire with plastic bird netting covering the entire yard. We have lots of hawks and falcons and the occasional (specially this time of year) eagle.

-- Rickstir (rpowell@email.ccis.edu), January 25, 2002.

My hens are in a fortified coop, but I was thinking of, in a few years when they are too old to lay well, let them go out during the day. Could a hawk or an eagle go after a heavy meat bird that ways 6- 7 pounds?

-- Ann Markson (tngreenacres@hotmail.com), January 25, 2002.

The Bantams aren't much for flying. Some can't. But most Standards are good flyers.

Raccoons and 'possum can reach thru one inch fencing to grab the birds. They only get the heads, since the bird's bodies won't fit thru. Those predators can also get over your outer fence, or dig under. Overhead mesh would also prevent the hawks and owls from picking off the chooks. Then there's the snakes!

My pens are chainlink and I've attached 1/2 inch hardware from the ground up 4 feet. Predators can't climb it or reach in and grab a bird. The hardware cloth is also on the ground of the pens, extending 2 feet beyond the pens to prevent predators from digging under to gain entrance.

Life sure would be easier without the dang predators!

-- ~Rogo (rogo2222@hotmail.com), January 25, 2002.

Hi Lily... After 20 years of raising chickens and losing some to Minks, Racoons, and Opposums. I always lock up the chickens at night. When you go out to let them loose in the mornings, you can casually inspect them as they go out the door. We solve the flying problem (of them escaping from their pen) by clipping one of their wings. It messes up their equilibrium and they can't fly and it hurts like a haircut. Harmony

-- Harmony (harmonyfarm57@hotmail.com), January 25, 2002.

I have been raising chickens for 26 years. I have lost chicken to 'coons, 'possums, hawks, and unknowns. The neighbor's young dogs got several a couple of years ago. During the day the only ones killed seem to be by hawks - once a hawk apparently went into the chicken house through a 15 inch square door. I frequently don't get home until after dark - if it is an occassional thing it seems to get by but if it gets to be regular I loose some. If I were away regularly I would build an automated door closer. The world record distance chicken flight is by a bantam hen. Years ago I had to break my barred rock hens from roosting in trees up as much as 40 or 50 feet.

-- kirby (kirbyj@deskmedia.com), January 25, 2002.

Lily, you certainly got a lot of responses for that question! We lost chickens to racoons as well and always locked them up at night because of it. One thing that helps is having a light on in the hen house. Not only to steer them in at night if they have wandered far, but I always had better egg production when the light was on all night. One other thought.....a happy hen is a better layer. : ))

-- Pam in Oregon (pamalimabean@hotmail.com), January 25, 2002.

We've never lost chickens at night, prolly because the coop is next to our house and our dogs patrol at night. We're getting ready to move the chicken house a little farther away and then I'll start closing the door at night if I can remember.

-- Elizabeth in E TX (kimprice@peoplescom.net), January 25, 2002.

Our girls (barred rock and aracauna) don't really fly enough to fly out of a pen, but we have lost several to dogs. Two or three to a stray beagle, one to our dalmatian, two to huskies, one or two to a fox and one or two to a coyote! We have almost no problem with any other predators, only the canine breed!

We did run a concrete footer about one foot down into the ground around our pen just to keep anything from digging under! I don't believe anything has tried digging under though, they just get them (in daylight, nonetheless) while they are OUT of the pen!

-- Christine in OK (cljford@mmcable.com), January 25, 2002.

I lock up my girls every night. I'd say it's necessary. There have been a couple of times I"ve forgotten to lock them up at night, and they were fine, but I wouldn't do this all the time. Even though you get home after dark, make it part of your routine to shut the coop when you are walking from your car to the house. That is usually what I do, because it's usually after dark when I get home from work in the winter.

-- amy (acook@in4web.com), January 25, 2002.

My goodness, thank you all very kindly for the many informative and kind responses to a chicken novice. You folks definitely have a ton of experience! I'm also grateful for the many leads to other sources for information, and suggestions for other aspects of chicken care I hadn't thought much about.

I'll definitely be wary of the wildlife. Here are my thoughts so far, further commentary is welcome... I hope that my regular fence will keep out dogs, and I'll put up welded wire fence with a footing to keep other fourlegged predators at a distance. I will close the coop door at night whenever I do get home, and reinforce the structure with hardware cloth where there are gaps. I hope that flying predators will not notice the chickens, as my plan is for the chickens to roam freely about a good sized area of the property. On the other hand, I will undoubtedly buy too many chicks to start with and perhaps a little natural pruning will be appropriate!

Thanks again, and I will continue to read any further advice!

-- Lily in Central Coast California (mdtinkle@earthlink.net), January 25, 2002.

For me, this is a no brainer. ABSOLUTELY lock up chickens at night! I lost my favorite RI Red hen to a stray dog because she was in the garage with the door open. Now I have a small coop which my chickens dutifully head for each night. And be careful to fortify it, because weasels can get into a very small opening.

-- Lynn (moonspinner@bluefrognet.net), January 25, 2002.

It seems to me that your question is how to lock them up at night when you leave before light and get home after dark? I have the same problem. We have racoons, skunks and possums here-sooo-What I have done that seems to have worked for several years now is this. I have a fully enclosed chicken yard made of poultry wire fastened to heavy wooden posts and a 2x4 frame with the bottom 2x4 buried, this run is attached to the chicken house (and the other half is the duck pen and house). The chicken house is framed in 2x6 and is half wire and half wood with a full roof-the weather here is seldom below 30 even in the depth of winter but it does rain. I lock up the birds when I get home at night and open the door when I leave in the morning. I put my new birds out into the coop during the spring when I get home before dark and also leave them in the coop for about 2 weeks before I open the door the first time, so they know where to roost. Bantams will and can fly out of fenced areas, and even some of the lighter layers will. My chicken pen/house is inside the already fenced yard- but I have lost ducks when I forget to lock the door at night because the duck yard never did get finished (no top on the fenced side yet)- I have 4 dogs in the yard who sleep inside at night so maybe that helps. When my pens got crushed by a tree a few years ago and all my birds roamed for several months (I'm slow and love to plan a project to death) they ALL took to the trees. Catching them was great fun- especially the bantams-had to put the feed out around early dusk to get them into the house and try to trap them there-eventally got them all, even the ones that the broody hen hatched out on the neighbors old shed roof. Hope you find an answer to your dilemma-Oh and by the way, picking up 'parts' after a racoon has picked out the dainties he wants is alot less fun than fencing properly is. By the way, where in the central coast are you? I'm in Santa Cruz county. betty

-- betty modin (betty_m9@yahoo.com), January 25, 2002.


i am also a new chicken landlord. i live on a 20+ acre farm with a golf course to the left and a horse farm to the right. therefore anything that is ALIVE in the immediate area lives on our property.

i bought 5 hens and a rooster a few months ago......a few days after that there were none. each evening something was dragging them through the cold dark night squawking and screaming. it was not very pleasant to hear, and my wife still will not hardly go out to the car at night....those chickens screaming really made that KILLER seem a lot bigger than it was. the owls are very bad here (meaning very good to me), i dont know which predator it was (coon, fox, hawk, owl, dog, etc.), but to me they are just doing what they do- therefore it is up to me to make their hunt more difficult and challenging.

so i prepared a little more-put up new fence, sealed the shed etc. which may or may not work. i purchased 17 hens and a very large egyptian rooster(?) who looks like foghorn leghorn to the kids so that is his name. all the hens are laying and ive even got a sitting hen so that i dont have to use an incubator.

they are all going in to the shed at night...(reluctantly)... after last night, it is the one of the kids chores to round up 17 hens, foghorn stays outside b/c he TOLD me he wanted to. hopefully (since ive not really ever done this before) they will take their roosting into the shed and i will not have to do this forever.

i dont mind losing a hen now and then, im just paying rent for being on THEIR land. they are just another part of the foodchain, but hopefully when the kids name a hen "peck" b/c she massages your foot, leg, and rest of body from gently pecking you to death- we will have her longer than two days. india still talks about that hen.

dont get discouraged, if you lose a hen or there is a problem with a predator, just realize it is all part of the wonderful experience of homesteading. ive only been doing it for a short time (i look forward to have the experiences of these others), but i wont get frustrated b/c im getting to do what i really love to do. we just have to remember we dont have to supply the parsley on the plate as a garnish for that owl.

flight out of nest? my pen is 30x50 so thought that was big enough. i clipped the feathers of one wing and it fixed all but one hen.... she now barely resembles a chicken in flight, b/c she now looks like she has two arms rather than wings. she does stay in the pen now though. foghorn does what he pleases, but rarely getting out now b/c there are no mia hens outside the pen to protect.

good luck-aa

-- aaron (noexit_ever@yahoo.com), January 27, 2002.

When you extend a chickens wing as if it were flying, you will notice that there is one row of long feathers that stick out past the others. Cut those feathers to be even with the row of smaller feathers directly above them. If the feathers bleed, you have cut them too short.

I have also noticed that it is almost always the white chickens that get taken first by predators. I think my black or gold and black speckled ones are hard for the varmits to see.

The fence around my yard is 3' chain link, which is low enough for even the heavier birds WITH clipped wings to go over. However, the banties went over a 5' fence easily, which would be very hard work for my americana rooster. Really, if I had to do it over again I would avoid the banties.

Chickens are delightful: I hope you enjoy your birds as much as I have enjoyed mine.

-- Terri (hooperterri@prodigy.net), January 29, 2002.

Good luck, Lily, I know you will love those birds! Just wait, too, they will come running when they see you, especially if you take them a little treat! (Mine are especially fond of melons!)

-- Christine in OK (cljford@mmcable.com), January 29, 2002.

Hi - this isn't an answer - it's another question i'm afraid. i am planning a backyard coop - have been for some time - but there's so much to learn i'm not rushing into anything.i live in ireland , so i don't have to worry about all your exotic raccoons, skunks etc. - i do have foxes + badgers to worry about - but again this i think won't be a daytime problem. my worry is of a feline nature,i have a few cats, as do all my neighbours - noone so far seems to list cats as chicken predators - are they ? also i have rabbits and guinea pigs, currently in a run that doesn't do them justice - i have a weird idea of having my fur and feathers mixing in the one large pen - am i being completly stupid here? - can they co-exist? something tells me they can't - so please confirm i'm being dumb. i also have a small terrier in the back yard - he's on a 20 foot lease when he's outdoors - is he going to upset the chooks? - so many questions - i'm sorry to burden you good people - but i feel like i've hit the motherload of chicken experience here - so if you forgive me - i'm going to exploit it. i've really enjoyed reading through your experiences and i've learned a heck of a lot already - thanks folks! I WANT CHICKENS>

-- john holden (sprog@iol.ie), March 20, 2002.

Hi John, I have no experience with guinea pigs, but I do know that you can let chickens run UNDER rabbit hutches. If the rabbits are for meat, I wouldn't want them running around in the chicken droppings. (Just my opinion.) Maybe you could build some hutches in your chicken pen. I've never had a problem with cats, even when my hens hatch out a bunch of chicks, the cats have never tried to get them. As for your terrier, he won't be a problem as long as he can't reach them. Geez, I'm just not much help at all! I would say go for it and let us know how it works out. How will you be feeding them? My chickens try to eat anything they can get their beaks on! Best wishes and keep us posted on what you try.

-- cowgirlone in OK (cowgirlone47@hotmail.com), March 20, 2002.

Lily, On this subject and in this place, ask and ye shall recieve! And it's all good stuff. If you haven't been inundated, here's my humble and superfluous contribution:

Having some knowledge of the central CA coast (though a bit dated) and assuming that you are somewhat rural, I can reassure you on one point; your chickens are safe from polar bears. Otherwise, you have every chicken-predator known to man.

If you love them a lot,or their meat and eggs, they should be almost hermetically sealed at night. If they are merely yard art (I loved that one), just keep the replacements coming.

Racoons are special; they have "hands", a high I Q and don't find it necessary to kill their prey in order to eat them (see the "screams in the night" posting). They are the only inedible creature - no offense intended to our Dixie cousins - that I kill without much reluctance. They owe us a lot of poultry.

-- Griff in OR (griff@hangnail.com), March 21, 2002.

The chicken thing being adequately covered...Apology to Dixie cousins:

My English teacher (thankfully dead these last fifty-odd years) would have enthusiastically killed and eaten me for my paragraph on 'coons.

In no way did I mean to imply that our Dixie cousins were inedible, or that under any circumstances I would kill one, however edible. On the contrary, any species that eats coons should be protected to the limit of the law.

My only defence is, that on the first day of Spring, here on the Upper Left Coast we experienced our first rainless, windless day in living memory and I may have OD'd on outside activities. And it was late. As atonemement, I promise to wear a hair Tee shirt bearing the message: "EAT A COON - SAVE A CHICKEN".

-- Griff (griff@hangnail.com), March 21, 2002.

how do i avoid getting 136 emails in my inbox this morning, all very interesting - but.....

-- john (sprog@iol.ie), March 21, 2002.

John, when you're posting, look very carefully at all the options. One of them, which defaults to "ON" until you set it otherwise, says that you want to receive email notification of all posts on any thread you've posted to. You REALLY don't want to slip past that one - take it slow and steady and when you see it turn it off.

-- Don Armstrong (from Australia)d (darmst@yahoo.com.au), March 21, 2002.

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