How Can I Protect My Free-Range Chickens From Predators?

| 1/27/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: chickens, predators,

HawkWe are new to the free-range chicken world, and had 12 chickens that were very happily ranging about the yard. The eggs were delicious! I say “had” 12 chickens, because a hawk recently killed two of our chickens (including one of my best layers). Now the 10 remaining birds are not-so-happily fenced in. Do you have any helpful hints about flying predators? Or do we just have to expect either to pen our chickens in or have some lost to predators once in a while?

Hawks are a tough problem. We lose a few chickens a year to them. I think cover — bushes, picnic tables, shade arbors — really helps the chickens out. I have open fields around my home, and I can go out on the deck and make a red-tailed hawk whistle and the hens all charge over to the garden and hide in the asparagus patch.

— Bryan Welch, farmer and publisher

I think it is impossible to raise chickens on range without incurring some loss to predation. My only aerial losses came from night attacks by an owl — we tended to lose white chickens that way. Hawks are thick here in Kansas, but we have lots of trees and shrubs. Our birds head for cover whenever a hawk is overhead, and to my knowledge they have never been attacked by one.

Having written that, I think that pasture pens and the presence of dogs, humans or other large creatures in the area will deter the hawks. I suggest you let your birds range again after about a week to see whether the predator is still around or has moved on.

— Oscar H. Will III, editor, Grit magazine

2/12/2014 9:58:30 AM

My chickens received some unexpected guardians from hawks, I went out one day to see the 3 crows that had adopt ed us chasing the hawk away. Now I am happy to see them lounging around the pond with the ducks and chickens.

7/11/2013 4:17:22 AM

I'm going with what bellfas posted below: A Livestock Guardian Dog is the only thing that has worked for us in over twenty years of keeping poultry.

Many years ago, before we discovered LGDs, we lost a lot of chickens to hawks and even owls.

One time, we even came home to a horned owl inside of a wire kennel (we had a broody hen in there sitting on eggs) the chickens were gone and we had a lot of fun trying to figure out how to deal with the owl - he was trapped inside.  When this happened, there was a dog (but not a Livestock Guardian Dog) about 50 feet away.

As soon as hawks see an LGD with the flock, they shy away.  If they dare make a swoop where an Anatolian Shepherd is nearby - they never do it again.  Anatolians are fast and run like a greyhound.

Jeremy Smith posted a comment about an automatic chicken door which is pretty neat.  I'm sure that helps at night if you're cooping your birds, but it doesn't help when you let them free-range.  Besides, I love the dogs and it's so much easier than gadgetry.

I noticed comments (joking and non-joking) about shooting predators that are attacking your stock.  If you're hesitant to do this because you don't want to kill them, or because you're worried about getting in trouble for it, these dogs are your answer.  I'm not just talking about hawks and owls; this goes for cougars and bears, foxes, and whatever else you may be dealing with.

If you're interested in the dogs that we've had the greatest succes with half Anatolian & half Pyr), you can visit us at:

5/31/2013 9:05:20 PM

I do try to have extra chickens.  I have found that the best protection is to get a livestock guard dog and put with them.  Put them up with him for a while and then you can turn them out together.  I use the Maremma.  They are an Austrailian Sheep Dog.  There are several others that will work.  The Anatolian is a good dog.


brian mountain
2/12/2013 9:47:01 PM

Unless its a nuisance animal (killing your food) then its fair game. Dont even need a hunting permit! People over animals.

tammy ross
11/4/2011 6:27:01 PM

We have roosters that do a great job at keeping the hens protected. When they spot a hawk they gather all the hens into the wooded area.

john haendiges
10/22/2011 7:57:51 PM

"If the hawks are that thick and numerous, just SHOOT them when they attack your chickens. Sounds like a predator overpopulation problem. JUST JOKING!!!!" ALL raptors are federally protected, you have a very poor sense of humor

cheryl horning
10/22/2011 4:10:49 PM

If it is quiet inside my house I turn on a radio in the garage. It works very well. I also keep a few extra chickens. Can also keep larger chickens, not as easy prey. Motions lights seem to help keep night predators away.

jeremy smith
8/12/2011 2:08:26 PM

Upon making an Automatic Chicken Coop Door for our coop we researched many different ideas. After building well over five different prototypes we came up with one that we set on our coop and even lured the predators in to see how it held up against them. Over two years later and the door still separate the chickens from what is lurking outside. Also it lets them out at 6AM so I don't have to get up on the weekends. My family enjoys not having to come how early in the evenings to put the girls up since the door locks them all up for the evening. Here is a link to a video of predators trying to get into our coop. In the past year we have built many of these same doors and sold them on our site but still making the door as simple as possible to install. The average person can install it in a matter of 15 minutes. We have even made an installation video that is on our site. We have never had a complaint about any predators getting through our doors. Now that doesn't sound like that big of a deal until, I tell you that our doors are sold all over the world. US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Czech Republic, Italy ect. We take our time creating these doors and never try to save a few pennies, we used the most expensive glues longer staples, and master carpenters. We even linseed oil our doors to keep the door from swelling in any of the weather conditions that it may come against. We have even created a small trim kit piece we send free wit

8/10/2011 9:12:01 AM

We have recently had quite a loss of young chicks (4) and even some larger adult hens from hawks in the area. Was just looking here to see if there were any great ideas. Thank you for posting, and will look into finding some kestrels and maybe building a 'chicken-port'.. Anyone tried a scare-hawk??

8/2/2011 11:40:58 PM

I love the carport idea! Keep us posted. :-)

7/30/2011 5:29:54 PM

I have had chickens for about 3 years now. I was just looking into free-ranging them, because now we live out in the country and didn't want to have to deal with chicken tractors. We lost almost all of our small flock to day predators, especially red-tails and swayson's(sp?) hawks while they were in a penned chicken yard. After reading and reading....and reading some more, I think I am ready to go free-range. We have a few trees out in the pasture we're going to put them on and I will be adding "hiding stations" basically a 4x4 piece of plywood on a chicken car port! LOL. Just an idea, I hope it works. If not, I will chalk it up as a learning experience.

3/3/2011 7:49:55 PM

We used to lose chickens but since getting a male guinea and a peacock...they have been protectors of our free-ranging chickens and they live out long lives now!

7/21/2010 4:04:15 PM

Better yet, gather up your fertile eggs and incubate them in the spring. We hatched 30 new chickens for our flock this year and we've actually sort of enjoyed having the hunting hawks around. It's quite a show. We've enjoyed seeing just how smart chickens can be as they discover ways of avoiding the big birds, and when the kestrels nesting on a pole in the barnyard hatched their new chicks, they effectively shut down the redtails and sharp-shinned hawks by harassing them silly every time they appear.

tom roberts
7/21/2010 3:56:34 PM

If the hawks are that thick and numerous, just SHOOT them when they attack your chickens. Sounds like a predator overpopulation problem. JUST JOKING!!!! Buy lots of chickens, then if you lose a few to hawks and owls, you won't suffer as great a loss.

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