Predator pee and 7 more keys to freedom from predation May 7, 2014

Connecticut’s state motto: “He who is transplanted still sustains.” This is so fitting! We moved in November of 2013 from a rural/suburban New England town to our current residence in Connecticut, and have been fighting ever since to sustain our dwindling flock of chickens. While we had run-ins with predators at our old haunt—including raccoons, hawks and coyote—it all seemed within reason and under control. We would react to the issue, tighten up watch, limit free ranging for a while, and then peace would return to the poultry realms of our backyard.

Coyote predate upon chickens; Wolf Pee keeps coyote away

Coyote are among the predators in our area; Wolf Pee scares them away.

However, when we moved, the ground was already frozen, preventing us from digging down and properly installing a fenced-in pen. No worries, I figured, we can free range some before the local wildlife figures it out. But I had no idea of the wild kingdom beyond my backyard. Our new property abuts a nature preserve that runs down to a sizable lake, and while we were settling in and enjoying the views the predators were scoping out our flock. They pegged our birds before we even finished unpacking our boxes. We have since expended gargantuan efforts to ensure our birds’ safety, but it is and will likely continue to be an endless game of cat and mouse. Still, we’re fighting the good fight and do what we can to keep the girls protected. Based on our experience, I’ve listed some measures you can take to limit losses due to predation, and to keep your flock healthy, happy, and laying.

Predator pee and 7 more ways to keep your flock safe

1. Build (or buy) a tight coop. Make sure the latches are secure, requiring agility and multiple steps to manipulate. Raccoons are remarkably dexterous and they, along with many other hungry critters, are phenomenally persistent. When you think about it, their primary objective, full-time job and full-blown passion is to get into your coop. If there is a weakness, they will exploit it, so make sure your coop is solid. And don’t underestimate squeezability: weasels will slink through holes just 2″ wide! If you have holes in your coop, cover the hole with  1/4″ or 1/2″ hardware cloth


Latches are inexpensive, and you’ll never regret adding a second

2. Bury your run wire. Our enclosure, 8 ft. fencing buried approximately 4 in. deep, keeps out the lurkers, diggers and climbers, including foxes, coyotes, and other ground predators. (It also keeps out pests that might be attracted to eggs or feed, such as skunks or other small rodents.) Ideally the fence would be buried 12 in. and concreted in, but we haven’t undertaken that effort—a backbreaking one given the rocky, rooty soil we contend with here in New England. To counteract the effects of erosion and digging, we’ve lined the base of the fence with rocks. We used 4 ft. T-posts and extended the height by lashing to them stakes of oak; we used wire-ties to secure the oak posts and wire to affix the fencing. We have a mixed medium fencing solution: the bottom 4 ft. is 2 in. x 3 in. coated welded wire and the top 4 ft. is chicken wire. While chicken wire is not hefty enough to keep stronger nocturnal predators like raccoons out , it does serve to keep the chickens in. Activity in our yard coupled with other precautionary measures we’ve taken have kept predator invasions to a minimum during the day, when the girls are out in the run clucking around.

3. Limit free ranging. Many people can free range their flock with no problems, but unfortunately, this doesn’t work in our particular situation. We can only let our hens roam when we are outside with them. This is far from the ideal I had envisioned: chickens clucking and cackling around the yard, eating ticks and grubs; living the good life of free range birds. But I’ve had to give up on all that (for now) because it caused the untimely death of too many-a bird in her prime. “Live free or die,” noble as it is, is not the motto of our chickens (just the state of New Hampshire—who knew?). They have a good-sized pen, I hang cabbage for them to peck at, and we do what we can to get them out to range several times a week. I keep scratch on hand to lure them back to their pen when necessary. We recently got a phenomenal Border-Collie puppy whom I’m hoping to train to stay with the flock when they’re out ranging; I will report back on our progress.


Ruby, our Border Collie puppy, who I hope to train to protect the flock

4. Cover your run. We used bird netting to cover the pen and protect the girls from avian predators. We were really reluctant to do this because it is a pain to maintain, but a grown hawk can make a meal of a full-sized hen, and we were getting hit hard and often. A hawk kill is always the messiest and grizzliest (apart from raccoons… they are really demonic). Speaking of…

5. Lock ’em up at night. Raccoons are primarily nocturnal hunters, and we had issues with them when we were late in closing up the coop. We installed an automatic door that opens and closes at set times. While not necessary to ensure the safety of a flock, we’ve found that it provides peace of mind and eliminates human error – it’s difficult to consistently close the coop after the girls return to it and before night-fall. It’s a tight window, especially when you have young kids to tend to, dinnertime is hectic, etc. And there are added benefits. We LOVE not having to run home if we’re having dinner out or with friends, and it has reopened the possibility of overnight trips for us. A WIN-WIN if running power to your coop is an option. Alternatively, there are now battery-powered and solar-powered doors on the market. This effort was also part of our “self-sustaining coop” initiative. We didn’t want to rely on the good graces of neighbors (being new to the neighborhood and all) if we wanted to go out to dinner. I will write more on our progress towards that end soon.

6. Eliminate food AND water outside of the coop. We keep all feed and water inside—even before our move we found outside food and water attracted predators and pests. Ugh!

7. Provide hiding spots. Our run has a good deal of natural cover. Last time we found a hawk in the pen (before we covered it with aviary netting) several girls were shrouded by the snarly, brambly branches of a bush. You can use wood and sticks to create protective areas if they don’t occur naturally.

8. Mark it with predator pee. We hang vials of predator pee (the wolf variety) around the perimeter of the run and routinely refresh them. This is an excellent, easy and affordable precautionary measure to take. It does not deter raptors, and when frozen doesn’t deter anything at all, but it seems to scare off coyote, foxes, coons, and all manner of ground-critters so long as temps stay above freezing. And in case you’re wondering – though it seems the chickens should be made uneasy by the scent, they do not seem bothered in the slightest. Try it if you haven’t already – your hens will thank you.


See the little vial of predator pee hanging from my run?

I know all these measures sound like a lot—and we didn’t undertake them all at once. In fact, at first all we had was a coop and a 4-foot fence. We took each measure in response to an attack, or several. Many times I’ve felt beaten down, ready to wave my white flag and slink back to the pale, tasteless “organic free-range” variety of eggs they hustle at the grocery store. But at this point my husband says we cannot retreat in battle—he is determined to defeat the local wildlife in this war over dinner.

I know I’ll need a growing arsenal of tricks up my sleeve to keep the pillagers out, the girls safe, and the eggs rolling in. The My Pet Chicken Handbook is a great resource for this.  I wish I’d had it before my move. Even though I’ve had chickens for years, I could have saved many of my hens if I’d understood all the risks of the flock management style I originally envisioned for my new location.  How many of you, like me, have changed the way you’ve managed your flock compared to what you did when you first got chickens—and why? Was it due to a move? A new coop? Predator issues you didn’t anticipate? Please share in the comments!

Noelle May 7th, 2014

where do you get wolf pee?!?

Lissa May 8th, 2014

You can buy it from My Pet Chicken. There is a link to predator pee (including wolf pee)in the article. Here it is again.

amanda g May 20th, 2014

hey! i was hoping you could tell me What breed is the rust/black speckled hen in that picture? I have 2 that have similar color but have grey legs and 5 toes! can’t figure them out#

Lissa May 21st, 2014

Which hen? There are not that many breeds with the extra toe. From your description, I wonder if you have Silver Grey Dorkings. You can read more information about them here: And here:

Bridgette October 10th, 2014

My family just keeps a few roosters around. Between them and the cover provided by our barn (the chickens can move freely in and out of the horse stalls, as we rarely put horses in them) they’re able to coexist with the hawks without any losses. We have a breeding pair that nests near our property, and now there’s a juvenile that is just too cute! I’m sure it helps that we’re in the South, where there’s plenty of other prey to go around at all times of the year.

Liz August 13th, 2015

I keep my chickens in a converted rabbit hutch inside a 15×20 wooden floored shed (the kind you buy at Home Depot…). They free range most of the day, coming and going through the shed door which is cracked open enough for chickens, but not big enough for dogs or hawks. After the first year of this setup, I made some improvements against INSECTS AND PREDATORS. The basic plan for predators is to give your birds a fighting chance, so obstacles should be added and chicken safe-zones increased. But, living in the South, (Alabama), I had a significant insect problem, so my revamp covered both situations:
First I disposed of all previous pine shavings, which had wasted feed and chicken droppings mixed in; I cleaned everything in the coop and shed, and started over.
Against the multitude of crawling insects that favored our shed, I wanted to try Diatomaceous Earth. However, I was not comfortable using DE in large amounts due to possible respiratory effects, so I sprinkled it carefully in the cracks of the wood shed floor, all around the perimeter at the base of the walls, and inside the coop (aka, wooden rabbit hutch) under the various removable wood floors and various cracks and crevices. I also placed a layer of it at the bottom of the metal ash cans I keep feed bags in. Any bug that crawls across it dies. YAY, NO ANTS!
I also spread Sweet PDZ around the coop floors and shed floor before adding back fresh pine shavings. The PDZ really helps with odors and moisture.
I placed the chicken drinker on bricks inside a rubber bin from the feed store, because I’m tired of water spills making the shed floor wet. If the drinker leaks, the rubber bin contains it well and the PDZ and wood shavings in the rubber bin keep the chickens feet dry.
I now limit the feed to feeders placed in a large deep-sided, plastic tray (the bottom of an old pet store rabbit hutch); it is big enough for them to stand in and feed, and the deep sides ensure that no pellets or crumbles escape. This keeps ants and other feed gremlins deterred. If I feed mealworms or other ant-friendly treats, I spread them on the concrete pad in front of the shed door, and only in amounts the chickens will eat quickly. Since my chickens free range a lot, they don’t miss scratching around for food particles in the shavings on the shed floor.
My chickens enjoy roosting on the top of the (former) rabbit hutch, which is covered in a green bumpy surface. Droppings were very difficult to get off of it. Then I discovered that the old moving blanket I had used to cover the hutch in cold weather made a very good droppings blanket — I just fold it to cover the roof area of the hutch. Whenever it gets too many droppings on it, I simply draw it forward over the front. Most of the droppings release from the heavy blanket right away. I don’t mind leaving them on the shed floor with the pine shavings and PDZ, but they would be easy to remove from the blanket into a container as well.
As for predators, I have had very good luck against hawks by stringing hawk-lines from the shed to the surrounding trees and buildings. I used 20-lb test fishing line tied to small eye-hooks at each end. These lines are 7-9 feet above ground. They do catch sticks and limbs that fall in our storms, but generally do not break. The smaller hawks can fly under them, but I find that they give my birds a fighting chance.
The neighborhood near me has a trio of dogs that get out of their yard occasionally. My white silkie can’t fly like the bantams can, so she has twice been in the jaws of a Rottweiler. Fortunately, he’s a good-natured dog and lets me remove her, then he just trots off. The punctures worried me, but I clipped the feathers, sprayed on Gentian Violet and hoped for the best. Amazingly, she is a little funny looking (purple feathers take a long time to grow out, and some around her butt have just stayed short, sort of like a Marine hairdo) but she is otherwise fine, and is actually my most dependable layer. Go figure. I used to keep a chicken enclosure outside the shed as an added layer of protection (made from pet-store fence sections). It kept the dogs out, but the bantams flew out of it everyday anyway, leaving the two larger hens alone at times. Plus, it sometimes prevented them from getting to the safety of the shed easily if they were free-ranging in other parts of the property. I have had my little flock for two years. Of my original six, I rehomed one rooster, and lost one bantam to a hawk. When I added three Ameraucanas this year, I lost two to an unkown predator — one bird was missing completely, the other dead near the shed with no missing feathers, only two TINY holes in her back and a small amount of blood. Still haven’t figured that one out…

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