Engormix/Poultry Industry/Technical articles

Free-range poultry predators

Published on: 8/17/2022
Author/s : Dr. Leonie Jacobs, Virginia Tech. Reviewers: Dr. Marisa Erasmus, Purdue University; Dr. Prafulla Regmi, University of Georgia; Dr. Shawna Weimer, University of Maryland.
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This newsletter provides an overview of potential flock predators, how to identify the predator, and approaches to avoid predation in your free-range poultry flock.
Predation is a common risk for poultry that are allowed to roam freely outdoors. Predator types may differ depending on the region. Therefore, this newsletter may not cover all possible predators for a specific geographical region.
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Predator risks depend on the time of day
Predator risk depends on the time of day. Predators can be nocturnal (active during the night), diurnal (active during the day), crepuscular (active mostly during twilight), or cathemeral (active during hours of daylight and darkness). The majority of mammalian predators are nocturnal.
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Both owned and feral cats and dogs may predate on birds or eggs in the flock. Most predation will occur at night, in part because of the lack of people keeping the predator at bay.
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Determining the predator based on evidence at the 'crime scene'
If predation occurs in the flock, it is sometimes possible to determine which predator attacked the flock. Predators can leave behind tell-tale signs that will be helpful in preventing future attacks.
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Prevention of predation
There are some options to prevent predation. Knowing what predator is roaming around your flock will help with choosing the best method of prevention. A digging predator will require a different approach than a flying predator. Improving flock housing and surrounding fences will be key to prevent predation. A forest-like area for the chickens will reduce chances of birds of prey attacking the flock, as these predators prefer open fields.
Tips for prevention
  • Keep birds inside (during certain times of the day)
  • Keep birds constrained to a specific area using a fence or enclosed run with overhead cover
            - Bury the wire (1-2 ft)
            - Include a skirt on the outside to prevent (successful) digging
            - Low voltage electric fencing
  • Provide overhead cover for poultry on the range
            - Natural shelter like trees, shrubs, and other vegetation to hide in/under
            - Artificial shelters to avoid and hide from predators
  • Owl/coyote decoys may work, but not for the long-term
  • Remove debris for predators to hide/nest in near the coop
  • Lock up/remove attractants such as feed, waste, and eggs
  • Use a guard animal such as an alpaca, guard dog, donkey or even geese
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Summary: predators and prevention
Poultry flocks that are allowed to range outside are at risk of being preyed upon by domestic and wild animals. Preventative measures can be taken to limit this risk. If predation does occur, there are clues to find out which predator has attacked to prevent future attacks.
This article was originally published on Poultry Extension Collaborative (PEC) and it is reproduced here with permission from the authors. 

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