There are a number of predators in Australia that are keen on eating backyard chickens. Keeping chickens safe from these predators is an important part of learning to care for a happy backyard flock but it’s vital that you fully understand the threats.
The following information is based on my, monthly “Eggucational” presentation on different problems and issues that can arise when keeping backyard chickens. I have included a shortened, edited video of the presentation at the end of this post for those that wish to gain a deeper understanding of how to keep chickens safe.
Predators to watch-out for when keeping chickens
Dogs, Feral Cats, Eagles, and Hawks are all predators of chickens but none are as efficient or effective in killing as the fox. It is a very rare thing for me to ever hear of any predator other than a fox that has killed our customer’s chickens and often the entire flock!
Dogs are everywhere in suburbia and among the most common of pets. Fortunately, most dogs won’t be at all interested in your chickens and pose no threat. However, some dogs may take a keen interest in your chickens and you will need to have a safe enclosure to keep them separate from your flock at all times.
Domestic cats pose little threat to chickens and you won’t have to keep chickens separated from them as a rule. We have a number of farm cats who are definitely noticed by the chooks. However, the cats are only interested in catching mice, sunbathing and sleeping.
Feral cats aren’t so common in suburbia and can be large and aggressive to chickens. As for the protection of your chooks from aggressive dogs, a secure enclosure will reduce the possibility of a feral cat attack if you live closer to rural areas or have seen feral cats roaming.
Eagles and Hawks
Both Eagles and Hawks normally spend more time on the fringes and on farm land so are unlikely to get anywhere near your suburban chickens. Like the other non-fox predators, Eagles and Hawks are far less able to quickly kill your entire flock and of minimal threat.
The European fox was introduced into Australia in the early 1870’s for the purpose of fox hunting. Not surprisingly, the fox population exploded since that time and now numbers around eight million. Weighing between five and seven kilos and with no noticeable differences between the sexes, the adult fox has become one of the most adaptable and successful predators of Australian native wildlife and backyard chickens.
How foxes move around suburbia
Foxes are highly mobile and are happy to travel relatively large distances in order to get their meal. It’s not unusual for a fox to travel up to 15 kilometers from its den and utilise existing infrastructure such as railway lines and waterways as easy ways to access the city’s suburbs.
Why foxes thrive in the city
Foxes thrive more in the city than on farms and rural areas due to the low risks to their survival and plentiful food sources. There’s an abundance of food for the fox with the huge amount of waste that is produced from cafes and restaurants and of course household waste. It’s often much harder for a fox to safely earn a meal in the country.
Pets such as chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs are also popular meal choices for the fox when keepers don’t have robust enclosures and coops to contain their pets in at night. Other live meals come in the form of rodents, birds and native animals including Wallabies, lizards and frogs etc.
Foxes are actually omnivorous so can eat plant matter as well as meat but their preference is always meat. They will also stockpile surplus meat by burying it in the ground for when food is less plentiful and eat insects, fruit and berries when they have to.
Why foxes are so difficult to catch and see
Foxes are primarily nocturnal although they are becoming increasingly active during the daytime. Part of the reason is the lower risk of them living in the city. They won’t get shot at, baited or trapped within urban areas of a city so feel a lot less threatened.
They also have plenty of good hiding places such as underneath buildings and bridges, beside waterways, in parks and on golf courses. Their superior sense of smell and keen powers of observation means that they can usually “outfox” most other animals and humans.
Keeping chickens safe from fox attacks
Keeping chickens safe from foxes is not difficult but does require a good coop set-up and being wary of the fox threat when allowing them to roam outside. You’ll need to pay attention to the signs that a fox is visiting at night to avoid a potential break-in such as scratching or digging around the coop or being woken by frightened chickens.
A fully enclosed coop with a mesh floor is the simplest way to keep chickens safe but you will need to allow enough space for all the chooks to be happy for extended periods of time such as when you are away on holiday. Of course, your chickens are only safe while they’re inside with the door closed. The most common story that I hear is the one time that the door wasn’t closed and a fox noticed the fact.
If you don’t have a fully enclosed run area for your chickens to roam around in, make sure that mesh at the bottom perimeter is dug-in at least 100mm or extends out 200mm from the perimeter. This will stop foxes from digging-under the fence.
To protect your chickens from a climbing fox, and they are adept climbers, it’s a good idea to have a floppy top to the fence so that any climbing fox won’t be able to gain purchase and fall off (on the outside!). Another option for areas with a high density of foxes is electric poultry netting which is moveable and sends a short, sharp shock to any animal that touches it.
Ways to catch foxes
If you know that you have a fox lurking around or have lost chickens to a fox already, it may be time to catch it. Living in urban areas, chicken keepers are limited to the methods they can use for fox control.
The most effective and humane way to catch a fox is by using a cage trap purpose built to contain a fox. The good thing about a cage trap is that it’s safe and easy to release a non-targeted animal such as your pet cat or dog. I’ve caught a number of our hens in our fox trap but always find an egg inside so they make good use of their short imprisonment.
Luring foxes into your trap
Foxes are extremely smart and can detect the faintest of human smells. The more “earthy” and natural the smell of a trap the better. Fresh chicken pieces or tinned tuna are ideal to use as bait to attract foxes and leaving a trail of “breadcrumbs” for foxes will help lead them into the cage. The way to do this is to place very small amounts of the bait as the “breadcrumbs” or tie a piece of string around a fresh chicken drumstick and drag it from the edge of your property to the front of the trap.
Removing foxes from your property
There are a number of ways that you can remove a fox that you’ve been able to trap. You may even be lucky enough to find a service that will collect and dispose of the fox for you.
The first is to contact your local Council to see if they have a fox removal and disposal service in your area. You might also have a local Vet who can accept foxes for disposal or a local branch of the RSPCA that may be able to help. Lastly, you may have an Animal Shelter or Animal Pound in your area that will dispose of foxes for you.
So, in the end, you can’t completely remove the danger of predators when keeping chickens but you can go a long way in reducing the risks. Most predators are relatively harmless when compared with the fox and you must make certain that your flock is kept as safe as possible from these intelligent and highly skilled killers.