Our Top Tips to Protect Your Pretty Biddies.
By: Hen Up
It’s time for another installment of Chicken Confidential, our ongoing series of insider know-how and answers to frequently asked questions about everything hens. This month, we’re talking about the best ways to protect your hens from predators and other dangers. Check out our previous posts on Welcoming New Chicks and Setting Up Your Coop.
Here at Hen Up, we are all about the joy of chickens in every sense. The joy of fresh eggs, the joy of watching wonderful, funny creatures who do entertaining and hilarious things, and the joy of sharing that experience with family and friends. But as you know, there’s often more to life than just joy.
Chickens have an average lifespan of 8-10 years, and hopefully your hens will live long and happy lives by poultry standards. But if you ask anyone who’s kept chickens, they will tell you that they can be prone to dangers that range from microscopic bad bugs to furry and feathered predators to plain old bad luck, and that losing birds for one reason or another is part of the backyard chicken experience.
Here are a few things you can do in setting up your coop and caring for your backyard flock to keep your chickens as safe and happy as possible.
Beware and be prepared
In the greater scheme of the animal world, chickens don’t possess many defenses of their own, especially when they live in a coop. So your coop has to be built to protect them from a wide variety of potential predators — including a few you might not expect
On the domestic front, both cats and dogs can be bad news for chickens. On the wild side, predators vary by region, but some of the most common ones include foxes, coyotes, raccoons, possums, hawks and falcons. If possible, connect with other backyard chicken keepers in your neighborhood or town and ask about their experiences with predators, which animals you need to watch out for, and what’s worked best for them.
Security from the ground up
When you’re building your coop, make sure walls, doors, floors and windows don’t have gaps or cracks that predators can squeeze through. Though the name suggests otherwise, chicken wire isn’t the best choice for coop security. Use galvanized welded wire or hardware cloth instead. If your coop has windows or doors with traditional mesh screening, be sure to add a layer of hardware cloth to keep predators out. A general rule: The openings in whatever material you use should be no larger than ½” x ½” and sturdy enough to resist tearing or breaking.
Predators will also try to dig their way into the coop, so you’ll want to install another layer of galvanized wire around the perimeter to keep them out. Run galvanized wire 6 inches deep, then bend it 90 degrees to run parallel to the ground for another 12 inches and cover it all with dirt. If a predator tries to dig their way in, they’ll stop when they hit the buried wire.
In the area outside the coop itself, having some form of overhead coverage is important for a few reasons. It provides shelter from harsh weather and sunlight, but it also offers protection against attacks from birds of prey. And perhaps just as importantly, it can help prevent wild bird droppings from getting your flock’s food and water, or anywhere they might get pecked up by curious, hungry chickens.
A clean coop is a happy coop
There’s a lot you can do with location and construction of your coop to protect your flock. But perhaps the most important aspect of keeping hens happy and healthy is the not-so-much-fun stuff: specifically, keeping the coop and nesting boxes clean. But if you do it regularly, you’ll make quick work of it and your birds will appreciate it.
Start with a layer of absorbent wood shavings in your nesting boxes and on the coop floor, about 3 to 4 inches deep. Check the condition of the shavings daily, removing and replacing wet or soiled material immediately — especially in the nesting boxes. Damp shavings can create ideal conditions for parasites, viruses and bacteria that can all spell trouble for your hens.
Change all of the shavings in the nesting boxes weekly, thoroughly cleaning your feeders, waterers and roosts with a cleaning solution that’s safe for animals. A mixture of 10% bleach and 90% water works just fine. Just be sure to rinse everything thoroughly with water afterward. Twice a year, you should also remove everything from the coop for a deep cleaning and sanitizing using that same diluted bleach and water solution.
Next month, we’ll have some hot tips for summer hen care to share with you. Got a question about your backyard flock? Send it to us! We’ll do our best to answer it for you and maybe even feature it in a future edition of Chicken Confidential.
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