How to “Predator Proof” your domestic animal enclosures
This can be a daunting task but it is an important step in keeping your pets and livestock safe from natural wildlife predation. You can have a single problem animal trapped and killed, but it does not keep other wild animals from coming and picking on your chickens, ducks, rabbits. As long as there is easily available food (i.e. your unprotected animals), predators will come to eat. The most effective way of keeping your animals safe is to create a predator proof enclosure, which can be successfully done with a little time and effort. Here are some examples of how you can make your enclosures more predator proof:
*Please Note: Pets and poultry must be put in at night. This is ultimately the safest thing for the animals. Even if you free range your animals, they need to come in to a secure coop or house at night. This is every prey animal's natural instinct anyway and you are only facilitating natural behaviors.*
Chicken Coops: There are many ways you can predator proof your chicken coop:
-For non-free range chickens the place to start is the ground. The number one way to keep predators from being able to dig underneath is to lay hardware cloth (welded wire mesh) down over the entire bottom of the enclosure, making sure it connects and overlaps with the wall fo the enclosure. The bottom of the enclosure can then be buried in dirt, so your chickens don't need to walk on wire..
-If this is not a possibility, the next best option is to dig a trench and bury wire into the ground at least 2 feet in the shape of an L. This will keep animals such as foxes or raccoons from digging underneath the enclosure and stealing chickens.
-Next you must look at the wire you used for the walls. If the wire has big enough holes for an animal to reach its arm inside (i.e. so called chicken wire- great for keeping chickens in, useless for keeping predators out), that animal will be able to grab any chicken that stands next to the fence. The smaller the hole the better, but no bigger than 1/2”. However, if you want to keep rodents such as mice or rats out, 1/4” is ideal.
-After that is the top. All pens should have a top to keep predators from climbing in. The wire gauge doesn’t matter as much on the top unless chickens can get on top of the coop and are close enough to the top to get pulled out. Chickens must always go in at night.
Free Range Chickens
-For free range chickens hot wire (electric fencing) is the ticket. There are many hot wire options out there, see the pictures to view a successful free range chicken coop and pen. Wild animals will not be able to climb over the wire and the chickens will learn not to touch it. The nice thing about this approach is you can make it as big or small as you want allowing large flocks to have lots of space and smaller flocks less space.
-A very successful free range chicken pen will have the coop on wheels so you can move it around the property, which allows the chickens to always have fresh grass to scratch at. For an even more energy efficient pen, you can make your hot wire fence solar powered. Photos show a very functional and eco-friendly chicken pen at the Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm location. Make sure you put your flock inside at night for added safety.
Rabbit Hutches: There are two ways you can predator proof outdoor rabbit hutches.
- The first is to use small gauged wire mesh that wildlife can not fit their hands into. The smaller the hole the better, no bigger than 1/2". Make sure wire is securely attached to the structure of the enclosure with no edges or lips that little fingers can get into. Raccoons are very good at finding weak points on a structure and ripping the wire off. Rabbits must be put in a secure den at night for added safety.
-The second way to predator proof rabbit hutches is to build an enclosure around the rabbit hutch. This is a good technique if you have more than one rabbit hutch. You can then have the rabbit hutches built any way you want as long as the perimeter enclosure has a roof. If rabbits are allowed out into the large enclosure during the day, the wire mesh must be no more than 1/2” gauge. You can substitute the second enclosure for hot wire- see chicken coop photos. With hot wire, rabbits must go in a den at night for added safety.
Dog Kennels: For dogs that stay out in kennels at night or during the day in high risk areas such as ranches, a predator proof enclosure is important. Most wild animals are not going to think of a dog as a tasty snack but may desire its dog food. If the dog defends its food then the wild animal may defend itself, and a skirmish occurs that can hurt both the dog and the wild animal.
-To secure a dog kennel it is best to have a wire bottom so animals cannot dig underneath. If the kennel is already in place with no wire bottom, you must trench around the perimeter about 2 feet down and lay wire down in the shape of an L. Small gauged wire is only important if you have small dogs in the kennel. If you have a dog the size of a Jack Russell or smaller, then you need wire no wider than 1/2”. You must also have a top on the enclosure to keep out animals that can climb. Again small gauged wire is not important unless small dogs can get close enough to the top that an animal can grab them and pull them out.
Ducks and Geese: See chicken coops for ducks and geese without water access. If your ducks and geese have water access, this can be tricky. Please call the office at 707-992-0276 to explain property set up for better more accurate advice. Bringing the animals in at night will reduce the possibility of predators getting them.
Livestock: Livestock is only a concern if coyotes or mountain lions are present.
-To keep coyotes out of livestock pens you can hot wire the perimeter fence. The hot wire must be tall enough that the coyote cannot jump over. For mountain lions and very high risk coyote areas an indoor shelter for nighttime use will help keep animals safe. Many people also use guardian dogs to help protect their sheep or goats, as well. Contact us if you are having livestock predation problems and we can help you find a non-lethal solution.
The number one way to keep your animals safe is to lock them in a secure enclosure at night. We cannot stress this enough. Poultry left outside at night are literally sitting ducks for hungry wild animals. Be a responsible animal caretaker and put your animals in at night.
There is always a compromise between freedom and safety. Free range animals have more freedom, but are at greater risk of predation, and you are likely to lose a few animals each year. If you don't want to lose any animals, you need to put them in a secure, predator proofed enclosure. They will have less freedom, but be safer. Decide with your family what trade offs you are willing to accept before deciding to get chickens or other backyard livestock.