Poultry producers must take special precautions to protect their birds from predators
Every livestock species comes with its own set of challenges, but poultry certainly seem to be one of the most vulnerable to predators. Most farmers can relate to having chickens or other poultry snatched up from above by aerial predators, carried off by ground dwelling critters, or even losing a few to a dog.
Poultry can be a profitable enterprise for a farm, if predator losses don’t cut into the bottom line, so predator-proofing the farm is a must.
Know Your Enemy: The first step toward protecting the flock is to know what predators are common in the area. This can be challenging, considering that a chicken, turkey or gamebird seems to be on just about everyone’s menu, but speaking with the local Extension office or conservation department can help pinpoint the worst of the wild predators. Free ranging dogs are often an issue with poultry; talking to the neighbors might help determine if any are around. Walking, driving or riding the property, if possible, can help identify potential predator habitats or other attractants.
Secure Housing and Fencing: A common predation prevention plan is tightening up any gaps in housing and fencing. For coops and houses, fix any holes and secure any loose material that could provide an entrance for a predator. Latches should also be evaluated. Many predators, like raccoons and some dogs, are quite intelligent and can open simple latches. A different type of latch or adding some additional safeguards to existing latches can help keep poultry housing secure.
For outdoor runs, burying chicken wire or preferably hardware mesh (while the cost is higher, hardware mesh is much sturdier, and the additional cost should be weighed against the cost of losing birds when constructing a poultry yard) can prevent predators from digging into the run. Here in the Ozarks, however, many areas are too rocky for digging trenches. Installing a strand of electric wire around the base and top (to prevent predators from climbing or jumping) of poultry fencing is a good predator deterrent. Electric netting can also be used for pastured poultry, as it is portable and allows for rotation.
Put a Roof on It: If hawks, owls or other raptors are present, it’s best to construct a roof of some kind for an outdoor yard. A net, chicken wire or a large tarp will prevent aerial predators from diving into the poultry yard and carrying birds off. A tarp also has the additional benefit of providing shade. If poultry are free ranging or pastured, ensure that they have shelter to escape to. A chicken tractor (moveable coop), shade structures, etc., can provide protection.
Get a Guard Dog: The vast majority of predators are deterred by the presence of a livestock guardian dog. Great Pyrenees or Anatolian Shepherds are popular choices for guarding poultry and other stock. Choose a reputable breeder; while it can be tempting to go with the cheapest option, you often get what you pay for. A good breeder will produce dogs that are geared towards a specific job and provide assurance that the puppy came from healthy parents. While these breeds of dogs do have many natural tendencies that make them good guardians, they still require training and guidance from their owners to properly learn their jobs. Supervision, correction of undesirable behaviors around birds and rewarding the proper behaviors are all required to shape a good guardian dog. Adequate nutrition is also required; a hungry guardian dog will go into survival mode. A veterinarian or a reputable breeder will be able to advise on feeding guidelines. With proper training and management, a dog will prevent most, if not all, predator attacks, from the air or from the ground.