Hens like all poultry are prey animals and are totally reliant on their keepers to ensure their safety. It is a misconception to think only in terms of foxes when assessing your coop and hen’s ranging areas, so remember depending on where you live in the UK, predators can also include, badgers, rats, ferrets and buzzards.
Regardless of the type of housing you have for your hens, a secure run is essential, as hens are extremely vulnerable to predators whilst free-ranging.
In the summer months when daylight hours are longer it is tempting to leave your hens out overnight but you’ll be gambling with their lives. All chickens should be put to bed in their house at dusk. Sadly it is now much more common to hear about fox strikes during the day as urban foxes have become bolder, so if you plan to go out for the day, it is wise to leave the hens in a secure run.
A hen house or run is only as strong as its weakest point and you should check your coop regulary looking for signs of damage. This is especially important in times of extreme weather; high winds may have brought tree branches down onto fencing and heavy snowfall in winter can weaken roof sections.
If you plan to provide a fixed run your fencing should ideally be at least five feet high, and include an outward-facing apron of fencing, laid on the grass at right angles to prevent a predator from digging underneath. In areas where buzzards and other raptors are present in large numbers, near to moorland or in the highlands for example, it may be necessary to provide a run with netting on top. A fixed run should be located away from any overhanging branches which can provide a means of entry for foxes.
Small wooden houses are often supplied with an A-frame run attached, while plastic houses have predator-proof runs that can be extended to give a greater range area. Hens thrive on space and the larger ranging area they are given the happier they will be.
Moveable electric fencing is extremely useful where free-ranging is possible, and allows the range area to be changed or extended as the grass gets eaten down. Electric fencing runs off either mains or a battery which should be checked regularly to prevent short-circuiting through overgrown foliage. A flat battery renders electric fencing useless.
Rats can be a major problem and can kill or maim vulnerable hens and chicks. Rat activity around hen houses is normally easy to spot; disturbed soil and holes under raised houses is a tell-tale sign. Wooden coops are easily chewed and an entry hole can be made in a corner of the floor very quickly. Rats can also squeeze through ventilation gaps so we advise using fine mesh chicken wire on any large gaps in your hen house or coop.
And finally there is some evidence that foxes dislike the scent of unusual animals. Check your local garden centre for Zoo Poo, a compost made from zoo animal droppings. Scatter this around the perimeter of your run/coop or hen house and not only will it help to deter foxes but you have the added benefit of improved soil!