While it’s good to think about how to heat up a chicken coop, your birds will require much more protection. Since predators have evolved, your defenses must be just as good and include, but not be limited to, full protection for both the coop and the run, metal barrels to protect the food, and even some hardware cloth.
Why have a coop?
Keeping backyard chickens is a wonderful way in which you can grow some of your own food, learn about keeping animals and see if you’ve got what it takes to do this for a long time. Doing this, however, will present the flock master with a few challenges and perhaps the greatest of them is keeping your girls safe from predators.
While many people argue that free-ranging your chicken is the best way to raise them, this is not entirely accurate. Of course, these birds are not sedentary and open space is essential for them in order to be healthy.
However, they still need a place to lay their eggs, be protected from the elements, and sleep during the night. If you want to keep a large and healthy flock for a large period of time, you are going to need to get a coop, whether you buy it or make it yourself.
If you do plan on building it, make sure to calculate how much the materials will run you beforehand, as you may just find out that their cost is quite similar to what it would take to simply get a kit off Amazon.
Things to remember before proofing your chicken coop
We’re happy to tell you that rising to this challenge is entirely possible with some well-documented preemptive measures because it’s not very difficult to understand what you are up against. You basically need to be able to deter anything that can dig, climb, or fly their way into your birds’ home.
Your setup needs to be fortified so it can foil creatures small enough to slip through little holes, strong enough to destroy your car, and deft enough to open one-step locks. Sound simple, right?
You must understand from the start that nothing you do will be able to protect your birds 100% of the time due to environmental factors and human error. However, it is possible to make your coop almost 100% effective by utilizing some battle-tested strategies. Another important reason why you need a coop is that allowing them to roam makes it very hard to protect them.
As a first step, you may like to inform yourself about the most common poultry predators in the United States. You can easily find such a list online and knowing what attracts and repels them will be a big step toward a more secure future coop.
Sleep time is a safe time
In order for this to work, the number one thing is working around the hours when predators like to sleep. While some of them are indeed active during daylight, most of them enjoy striking at night, while you are sleeping. It is for this reason that your chickens need to be confined to a predator-proof space as long as the sun is not in the sky.
Leave them out, and the only things you may find in the morning are their grisly remains or not even that. Also, don’t wait for your girls to come in on their own. Since many wild animals are at their most active during dawn and dusk, it’s recommended that you call them in well before sundown and keeping them there well after sunrise.
For this reason, it is highly important that one of the first things you do when building your relationship with them is training the birds to come when called.
They shall not pass
Since we’re aiming for a high-quality job, we have to point out that you need to predator-proof both the coop and the run. We understand that it takes additional time, effort, and money, but you will come to thank yourself later for doing it.
During mild weather, you can leave the pop doors open and give the chickens access to the runs. What some people like to do is use an automatic pop door that closes at night and opens in the morning, giving chickens more roaming space during daylight. The problem with this is that many predators have adapted and are willing to strike if they think they’ll get away with it.
The problem with this is that when you go away, your chickens are going to be in danger or stuck inside the coop. Therefore, rather than keeping them in harm’s way, it’s way better to go the extra mile and predator-proof both things.
Lift up the coop
If you’re going with a wood floor, put the coop on stilts because the floor will rot in the long run and create easy entries for weasels, rats, and eventually even larger, digging animals. If you choose to go all-natural and let the ground be the floor, make sure to bury fencing well below ground level or surround it with a proper skirt.
Cover the windows
On hot summer days, you may like to open up the windows and let some fresh air in for your girls. If you do that, they absolutely need to be covered with 1/2 inch hardware cloth, just to be on the safe side. Even with that protection, it’s usually best to simply close the windows at night because chickens sometimes like to roost close to them and a raccoon may cause damage even without getting in.
Keep feed from pests
The chicken feed needs to be stored in tightly-covered metal barrels that will prevent mice and rats from accessing it. Be mindful of bears and raccoons though, because opening those barrels is child’s play for them.
Some people like to keep the feeder outdoors while their chickens free-range. However, outdoor ones will attract other wild birds and animals, many of which can be dangerous not just by eating chickens or eggs, but also by transmitting diseases.
Therefore, simply keep the feeder in the coop and if your girls get hungry, rest assured they’ll come back for a bite to eat.
Some more protection
Using a half-inch hardware cloth for sides, top, and the skirt is a great way of going the extra mile to make your birds safe. Enclose runs with it to excludes weasels and snakes, although for baby chick housing you may want to go with 1/4 inch ones.
After that, secure the hardware cloth with screws and washers while keeping the space between them tight enough to keep openings less than 1/2 inch.
For those of you who opt to go with a dirt floor, bury some hardware cloth 2 feet down and also place a skirt on it 2 feet out. This is the best way of making sure not even enthusiastic diggers can give you a bad surprise during the night.
Since even galvanized hardware cloth gradually breaks down when moist, you may want to consider using plastic-coated hardware cloth for the underground. Therefore, it’s a good idea to do this around runs. If you chose not to elevate the coop, do it around it too.
Last but not least, don’t forget that the 1/2 inch hardware cloth is also great for the top of the run since many predators can climb well. While some people run fishing line across it and this does deter hawks, climbing predators are another story entirely.
Fewer bears are fewer scares
If you happen to live in bear country, you will absolutely and undoubtedly need electric wires around your chicken coop and runs if you don’ want to be out of business by dinner time. Popular fast-food chains show us what people can do when faced with the possibility of a delicious chicken dinner, so imagine a bear instead and tell us you don’t need electricity.
Think about the size of the bears that live in your area when choosing the wires, as it’s very important to consider where the animal is going to touch them if it’s going to try and get into the coop.
Since raccoons have nimble fingers and use them to their fullest extent to open simple locks, a padlock will discourage the sneaky creatures, not to mention marauding humans too. Furthermore, if you have the time and inclination for it, a livestock animal guardian could be great.