Our Chicken Massacre + Takeaway Tips for Critter-Proofing Your Chicken Coop

The day our chickens were massacred and what we learned about critter-proofing your chicken coop

Two and a half years into being backyard chicken people and we didn’t have one issue with predators.

Then, one day in March, we lost a chicken and it was all our fault. We got a little too lazy and forgot to close the chickens into their coop one night. It was an awful sight. Feathers were all over the enclosed run — almost as if someone took a pillow filled with chicken down and made it explode in the middle of everything. Bits and pieces of the chicken were found around the coop. We never found out what it was and there were no other traces of the animal coming back. We made sure that we never got too comfortable and kept the door to the run open.

Yeah, well that’s how I felt the week of July 10.

I walked out on a normal Monday morning, feed in hand and rainboots on, expecting to go about a normal day. When I opened the makeshift pallet door to our pallet fence and turned to open the shitty screen door to the run, there it was: feathers everywhere. Flashbacks of that horrible scene took place and I knew it couldn’t be good.

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Lo and behold, our Rhode Island Red was dead in the corner of the run, half of it’s body eaten. I quickly did a head count and made sure all of the other chickens were alive and well; they were fine. Then, I had to put my detective hat on and figure out how the hell something got in there. All the doors were shut and as I made my way around the run and coop, I didn’t see any holes around the bottom perimeter — only dig marks of whatever it was TRYING to get in.

We live in a pretty urban area so most predators are few and far between. However when we were building our chicken coop, we made sure to use hardware cloth along the bottom side of the run. We chose hardware cloth because the holes are much smaller than regular poultry netting and they are much stronger. We — well, I say we but really my husband and his dad — also dug a 12-16 inch trench below grade (fancy construction term for under the ground) around the perimeter so if something DID try to dig under and get the chickens, they’d have a hell of a hard time doing so.

BUT. This still didn’t explain how something got INTO the run and killed my chicken. After scouring the bottom perimeter, I then looked to the top of the run (also enclosed but with poultry netting). I saw a very minor weak spot where it was attached to one of the beams and that had to be it.

weak spot in netting

Whatever it was tried to dig under the run, failed, and then climbed up the 7-8 foot 4×4 post, found a weak spot in the netting, climbed down, killed a chicken, and then climbed back up and out with a full belly.

Sneaky and smart bastard.

Scott went out that day and made sure all the netting was tight and secure so we wouldn’t encounter another break-in like that. We set a trap that we borrowed, placed an egg and some dead chicken feathers, and hoped we’d catch something.

The following day, I apprehensively walked out to the coop to see if everyone was still alive and if we caught something. Thankfully they were but there was no predator trapped. Instead, the egg was gone and the trap hadn’t gone off. Awesome.

I did notice claw marks trying to dig near the opening of the shitty screen door that lets you into the run. We have pavers in front of the door so that stopped them from getting in, as well as the hardware cloth being under the ground. I filled the hole, put a shovel near the bottom so it was hard to move, and went about my day.

place-where-predator-tried-to-get-in

For the next 5 days, whatever it was tried to dig at that same spot. Each day I’d fill the hole, place the shovel or a piece of 4×4 at the bottom. We’d try and set the trap but it would fail us each time.

Then, a massacre happened in our backyard.

Saturday morning, Scott went out to feed the chickens while I was getting us ready to go to the beach. Very shortly, he came back in and said, “We have a problem.”

I threw Layla in the Tula on my back, put my boots on, and held my breath.

It was a straight up murder scene.

The amount of feathers that came from one chicken earlier that week was NOTHING compared to what I was seeing. Feathers of all different colors and sizes littered the entire 20 foot long run.

grazing-box-chicken

chicken-coop-feathers2

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Our sweet and annoying little Buff was dead in the empty grazing box out in the pallet area and our Blue Copper Marans was dead under the stairway into the coop. Our Wyandotte, New Hampshire Red (“Red”), and one of our Black Sex Links were seriously injured.

All of their faces had one side swollen and battered, causing their eye to shut. Red and the Wyandotte were out in the run under the coop, and when I went around the back to open the coop door where the nest boxes were, there were even MORE feathers everywhere. The Black Sex Link was in a nesting box, panting like crazy.

black-sex-link-injured

chicken-coop-feathers

It was heartbreaking.

We’re very thankful that the ones who were injured managed to recuperate and are living well, after a little TLC and bluekote. The bluekote allowed the gashes and exposed cuts to heal without attracting the other flock members to peck at them. Chickens can seriously be brutal to one another.

A couple days after the massacre, we trapped two opossums and a raccoon. Let’s just say they won’t be attacking our chickens ever again.

opossum

Take Away Tips for Critter-Proofing Your Chicken Coop

  • Absolutely invest the money into hardware cloth and put it around the bottom portion of the coop and run. Also check for small nooks and crannies that animals can get into and hardware cloth it up.
  • Even better, dig a foot into the ground and place the hardware cloth under the ground so digging predators have a difficult time getting to the chickens.
  • Routinely check your chicken coop and run for any weak spots, holes in the wire, or anything else that could possibly let a predator in.
  • Don’t ever get lazy with your coop or else Murphy’s law will take place.

 

Have you ever lost chickens because of predators? Share your story in the comments!

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About

Aside from being a wannabe backyard homesteader who wrangles chickens and free-range kids, Loriel is the owner/creator of the professional natural lifestyle blog Naturally Loriel, owner of the organic spice blend business Naturally Free, and freelance professional food photographer.


'Our Chicken Massacre + Takeaway Tips for Critter-Proofing Your Chicken Coop' has 8 comments

  1. September 1, 2016 @ 1:13 pm Janice Hebert

    I am so sorry for your loss(es) Loriel. Such an awful thing to go out and find your sweet hens killed by predators. I have a question, you mention that you found feathers and body parts scattered about the run. Was the last attack done during daylight? Do you keep your hens closed in the coop at night? Our run isn’t as secure as it should be but we are usually home and we do lock them in their coop at night – most of the time! Your post has made me realize how much we really do need to be diligent about doing this.

    Reply

  2. September 14, 2016 @ 8:17 pm Chicken Mama

    I’m sorry you experienced this. We had repeat problems as well, predators will find any weak spot. In addition to your lessons learned I had problems where I had placed the wire INSIDE the 4×4, so it was easier for the predator to just tear out the staples by pushing through. Also, we had our chicken house on the exterior of the run originally and this created too many weak spots where the wire met the house, so we just made the run bigger and put the house inside. EVERYTHING wants to eat chicken and there is no fool proof predator protection; we’ve found it very useful to have a few “alarm” birds. We accidentally bred ours (a cross of Muran and Americana), but I hear that Guinea Fowl are great alarm birds. These alarm birds happen to be lowest in the order so sleep lowest on the perch, so they give a good scream if anything tries to grab them. We can run out before anything happens. What surprised me was how quietly my “nice” birds died, but these alarm birds who are very annoying have saved the flock from a few attacks. Haven’t had any attacks in a year but that doesn’t mean we let our guard down!

    Reply

  3. September 16, 2016 @ 10:16 am JoAnn

    Sounds like it was the raccoon. This happened to me. First time chicken owner, I was careless. I trapped a raccoon shortly after, and it won’t be killing any chickens every again either. Sorry for your loss. This is truly a live and learn as you go experience!

    Reply

    • November 5, 2016 @ 3:29 pm Linda Paquette

      Hi, I am in my 6th year as a backyard chicken owner, Have three coops of various breeds, who free range on 4 acres. This is the first year we did not lose any. My first massacre, like yours was forgetting to close the Coop door one night and a raccoon went in and helped himself. With raccoons, half eaten bodies will be found in various locations outside the Coop. Our worst predators are foxes in Spring. In 2015?we lost half our flock of 60 to 4 orphaned fox cubs/ kits. I’ve only lost three or four to hawks over the years. A few babies to possum. and skunks never bother them, they actually live with them and steal their food and eggs. Homesteading is a learning process, for all of us. Best of luck. Linda P. Scantic River Farm

      Reply

  4. October 12, 2016 @ 8:18 pm danah

    Our favorite mama hen “V” and 2 of her chicks were victims last night. “V” was a little was bantam and was seriously the mother hen of our 30+ flock. It’s heartbreaking but one of the risks we take when letting our chickens free range. I hope to find or trap the predator one of these days. ugh

    Reply

  5. February 9, 2017 @ 1:41 pm Arianna

    Trapping and killing wild predators will not solve the problem. You’re simply creating a vacuum that others will come to fill. You need to work on your predator proofing and also try using urine around the perimeter. Chickens are prey, and so long as you have them, you are attracting predators to them and you are going to loose some of the flock – thats just the nature of the business. Also, these animals are just trying to survive and killing them for acting in predictable ways is an outdated control measure.

    Reply

  6. February 22, 2017 @ 12:48 pm Molly

    It’s really great that people are sharing this infimratoon.

    Reply

  7. March 7, 2017 @ 10:35 pm Cristie

    Instead of staples, we were told to use screws for securing the hardware cloth to the coop.

    Reply


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