Raising poultry is exciting, but it definitely takes some work to keep your birds safe while outside. You’ll want to protect your birds from hungry predators, pests and wild animals that can pass on diseases to your birds and to you!
It’s important to keep your poultry separate from wild birds, turkeys, and waterfowl, like ducks and geese. As fellow members of the bird family, wild birds can pass-off certain diseases to our domestic birds. That means it’s very important that we create barriers around our poultry, and practice good biosecurity, to minimize the risk to our birds health.
Be careful to avoid tracking wild bird droppings from your yard into your poultry area, especially if you have ponds on your property that might attract waterfowl like ducks or geese. Similarly, if you or anyone else who handles your poultry are a hunter of wild waterfowl or other wild game, you’ll want to be very careful to prevent the spread of disease. It’s important to shower, wash your hands, change clothes, disinfect or change shoes, and sanitize vehicles after hunting and before handling your poultry. To be careful, the same precautions should be taken after fishing or visiting any other natural areas where ducks, geese and other wild birds like to hang out.
While wild birds may carry disease, do not run to grab your gunshot or poison to keep them away. Almost every wild bird (except pigeons, house sparrows and starlings) are protected by federal and state laws. You cannot trap or kill any protected bird without specific permits, and illegal poisoning or shooting can be very bad for our environment, and for your pocket. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFW) suggests the following alternative for managing nuisance birds:
- Identify what is attracting the wild bird to your property and remove it
- Build a barrier between the bird and what it finds attractive. See the USFW list of suggestions on how to manage different nuisance birds in a safe and legal manner.
Remember that ducks, geese, and other birds are a natural part of our ecosystem and they do play an important role! As a poultry owner, you can make your poultry area less attractive or accessible to these birds and practice good biosecurity upon entering your poultry area. Most importantly, make sure that your poultry housing keeps bigger waterfowl out. Choose materials that curious ducks or geese can’t get through. See below for more information on structural changes that will deter bird pests and flying predators; these tips will help you to keep your wild ducks and geese out too!
Know that smaller birds like sparrows may come snooping around your poultry area for feed or water. Here are some management techniques to keep your poultry separate from small pest birds and any diseases they might carry.
- Reduce access to feed
- Feed inside: Try feeding inside the coop rather than outside. It’ll help keep birds out, and it will also keep your chicken feed dry in inclement weather
- Exclusion feeding: Try a step-activated feeder. When a chicken steps on it it will open and they’ll be able to access their food, but smaller birds like sparrows will be too light to activate it.
- Clean often! Clean up feed spills regularly, which will attract birds and other critters. Make it a daily effort to check your coop and run area
- No scraps: Compost kitchen scraps and don’t drop them into the poultry area! It will make a great invitation for wild birds and other pests.
- Make structural changes
- Add netting: If fencing or welded wire is not enough, try drape netting over your coop to deter small birds and keep them out of small holes.
- Cover it: Consider covering your run entirely, including the top, not only to prevent small birds from flying down but also to deter larger predator birds.
- No eaves: Design a roof that doesn’t overhang. Little birds will like to nest there!
- Hardware cloth: Use it, or any other durable mesh to cover any holes or cavities in your coop. The mesh shouldn’t be greater than a ¼ inch. This way, birds won’t find the holes and nest in them!
For more info about excluding and managing pest birds and other unwanted visitors, check out this article from the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System.
Other animals will be looking for more than just chicken feed to snack on. In fact, they might be looking at your chickens! Some wild birds, like hawks and owls, are predators of adult chickens, chicks or eggs. Other common non-bird predators include dogs and coyotes, house cats, foxes, racoons, weasels, skunks, opossums, and snakes. Free-range chickens or pasture-raised chickens are often the most exposed to the wild and most at-risk of being preyed upon.
Below are more ideas for keeping the bad-guys out, adapted from great article published by the eXtension Foundation:
- Fence, wire, net, cover – if possible, keep your entire chicken area completely enclosed, and repair barriers often. As the saying goes, a fence is only as strong as its weakest link, and predators will definitely find that weak link! Cover all sides of your run, including the top, with a strong welded wire or hardware cloth. You can try using an orange netting above your run which may deter predator birds who can see orange and will then steer clear.
- Check often – always check your flock and remove sick, dying and dead birds immediately, which would otherwise attract predators
- Safe at night – keep your poultry safe at night, in a coop, ensuring all doors are closed, locked and sealed with a durable sealant. Make sure you use a lock that a smart animal can’t easily get through! Try a spring-loaded lock or a barrel-style latch, something that is difficult for smart animals to get through.
- Proof the yard – look around your yard where poultry live. Eliminate perch sites within 100 yards of the flock to deter hawks and other flying predators from hanging around.
- Prevent diggers – bury hardware cloth at least a foot below the ground at your barrier to stop any digging critters who are trying to get in from underneath
- Alternatives to pasture – for flocks who have access to unprotected pasture during the day, try a floorless pen instead, which will protect your birds but will still allow grazing
- Guard animal – a well-trained animal can help protect your poultry, but it will take a good investment of your time to train that animal. You don’t want to end up with a dog doing more damage than good. It’s not enough to just let your dog outside and expect him to know their job
- Watch your pets – you might love your cat or pet dog, but it’s best to keep them away from your poultry
- Other tactics – there are motion-activated light or noise products available on the market that are supposed to scare predators away at night. Remember, though, that predators can become used to them, and after a while they may not work
You’ll also want to keep rodents away that are nosing around for food. Not only can they physically harm chicks or eggs, but rodents can also pass on diseases to your birds AND to you! The University of California Integrated Pest Management team suggests the following additional helpful tips for keeping rodents out:
- Remove feed at night – Use a feeder that is easily moved, and protect it in a rodent-proof plastic or metal container when stored
- Clean your coop regularly – Clean up spilled grain before rodents make a meal of it, and it will help to keep bird pests out too!
- Remove eggs before dusk – Mice and rats love to get a hold of them
- Repair holes in your coop – Don’t underestimate a mouse … they can get through even the tiniest holes! Regularly inspect your structures and repair them
- Keep doors and hatches closed when you aren’t using them, and try to use a sealant or caulk that rodents can easily chew through. Avoid plastic, wood, rubber, or green cement, and go for something stronger
What about traps or poison? Traps can work, but they can hurt a curious chick, so they should be placed where your birds, and especially your chicks, can’t reach. Rodenticide often comes with a lot of restrictions on application, such as distance away from any structures, especially from your neighbors.
Be careful because rodenticides are highly toxic to other animals, including your chickens, dogs, and cats. You don’t want your chickens eating a poisoned rat that is dying or dead because they will get secondary poisoning! Instead, you could place a trap outside the coop or run that has immediate-action toxins, in other words, kills the rat immediately on contact. However, be aware that immediate-action toxins can be more dangerous than slow-acting toxins (eg. warfarin) for a curious house pet; if your pet dog or cat gets into them, there’s less time for a veterinarian to intervene.
Flying insects can spread diseases to your poultry, too. Many of the steps we’ve already discussed will ALSO help to control insect pests, including regular cleaning of spilled feed in the run or coop. Also consider the following ideas from a great blog on poultry health:
- Manage your yard: Cut the grass and weeds around your coop and run to control insects (and rodents too)
- Check your coop : Replace litter and bedding when appropriate, as wet environments can attract flying insects. Do a thorough job – leaving behind even just a patch of bedding can leave behind hundreds of larvae! Check for rain leaks and seal holes appropriately
- Keep good ventilation: Less moisture means fewer bugs. Be sure to design your coop and run for good airflow.
- Manage trash: Mosquitos like wet areas, and flies love to breed in moist places. Keep compost piles well-maintained and away from poultry areas, and remove trash often.
- Eliminate stagnant water: Remove anything in your yard that is collecting rainwater, like old equipment or overturned bins, and be sure that your property is well-drained
- Screen them out: you can try to use fine mesh to cover coop windows to keep out some flies and gnats
Always call a local wildlife department before doing any re-location, trapping or killing of predators or pests, and check with a veterinarian before using any chemical insecticides, pesticides or rodenticides to make sure they are safe for your poultry.
You might also be interested in our article on common parasites of poultry.
How have you managed pests on your farm? How do you keep predators out? We’d love to hear about what has worked for you in our comments section below:
Ana Hotaling. House Sparrows: 4 Steps To Safeguard Your Chickens. Hobby Farms. Published June 21, 2017. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.hobbyfarms.com/house-sparrows-protect-chickens-flock/
Dr. Frank Jones. Wild Bird Control: Why and How. The Poultry Site. Published April 9, 2007. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://thepoultrysite.com/articles/wild-bird-control-why-and-how
Michael J. Darre P.A.S. and James S Rock, M.S. Pest Management on Poultry Farms. Accessed June 18, 2020. http://animalscience.uconn.edu/extension/articlesByFaculty_2_349742420.pdf
Niamh Quinn, Scott Parker. Rodent Control in and Around Backyard Chicken Coops. University of California Integrated Pest Management Blogs. Published May 10, 2017. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=24075
Poultry Extension. Predator Management for Small and Backyard Poultry Flocks. Poultry Extension Website. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://poultry.extension.org/articles/poultry-management/predator-management-for-small-and-backyard-poultry-flocks/
Tilly’s Nest Blog. Backyard Chickens and Flies. Tilly’s Nest. Published May 30, 2012. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.tillysnest.com/2012/05/backyard-chickens-and-flies-html/
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Backyard Birding: Bird Problems. Migratory Bird Program. Published February 19, 2016. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/bird-problems.php
UGA Cooperative Extension. Biosecurity Basics for Poultry Growers. Published March 27, 2020. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1306&title=Biosecurity%20Basics%20for%20Poultry%20Growers