Community Ag Alliance: A fox in the henhouse
August 20, 2015
More people in Routt County are beginning to enjoy the benefits of raising chickens. Fresh eggs can be healthier, tastier and more enjoyable than the store-bought variety. Do you want organic? Do you want GMO free? How about cruelty free? You have the control when you keep your own backyard flock.
Chickens are easy to raise, relatively inexpensive, fun to watch and make great pets or 4H projects. Unfortunately, some species of wildlife in Colorado appreciate these little egg makers for the same reason we do … they make a delicious meal.
Chickens raised in a pen or run are vulnerable, because they cannot escape their enclosure. When fox, bears, weasels, raccoons and other hungry wildlife gain access to caged birds, they can wreak havoc. Going outside one morning and finding your feathered friends eaten and the flock in disarray is an upsetting discovery, especially if your prize hen or beloved pet became food for a hungry predator.
Bears are very powerful creatures, and a flimsy hen house door or roof is no barrier. Raccoons are very clever and can easily get past fencing and latches. Foxes can kill multiple birds in one fell swoop. Luckily, there are some strategies to avoid these unhappy occurrences.
I recommend removing all attractants from the area and making the coop as wildlife-proof as possible. Install half-inch or quarter-inch hardware cloth secured to the top, sides and bottom with screws and washers or heavy-duty staples. You can bury the hardware cloth a foot or two down into the ground, or install a "skirt" of hardware cloth that extends a couple of feet from the walls around the entire enclosure. Use plastic-coated or galvanized material for buried installation.
Hardware cloth and enclosure boards are effective with most small predators, but even the smallest bear can easily tear them off, so consider installing electric fencing. Three hot wires one to four feet off the ground or a perimeter of electric net fencing are effective deterrents. Wires can be installed around access doors and designed to be temporarily pulled back to allow entry. You can use either solar or plug-in style fence chargers, either of which are available at most hardware or farm and ranch stores.
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Carabiner and spring-loaded clips are other effective devices. They aren't easily manipulated by bears or raccoons and are easy to find. Use them on doors and windows, both on the enclosure and the coop.
Remember to protect both the coop and the run, since opportunistic predators may be active even in broad daylight.
A well-designed and maintained enclosure helps minimize the risk of losing your feathered friends to predators, and taking these steps during initial construction is recommended, but altering existing structures will help mitigate ongoing damage. Your local Colorado Parks and Wildlife office can provide additional information and resources.
Make your coop safe, and keep that fox out of the henhouse.
Steve Baumgartner is district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Steamboat Springs.