How to Protect Your Chickens from Overhead Predators
Whether your chicken run is stationary or moveable, this simple structure will deter birds of prey…Posted May 16, 2013
One week after establishing hens in our new chicken run, we had our first experience with overhead predators. A bald eagle, common enough in these parts, swooped down to perch on top of our henhouse and didn’t budge for the rest of the afternoon. A few days later, a barred owl took up residence on a nearby fencepost, eyeing the chickens as they pecked warily inside the fence.
Although we’d had the foresight to install overhead netting before these visitors arrived, we struggled with the unwieldy mess each time we wanted to move our chickens to new ground. We had purchased movable electric fencing for its portability, but netting the enclosure added an extra layer of work that had to be dismantled each time. When a heavy snowfall took the netting down one frigid day in December, a red-tailed hawk was quick to spot the opportunity for dinner. Two dead chickens later, we knew we needed a more permanent solution.
After more than a year of fussing about with various configurations of netting and fencing, we stumbled upon a solution that is both simple and inexpensive. Two portable garage frames sporting bird netting act as our chicken “aviary.” This aviary both contains our flock and protects them from overhead predators. A moveable electric fence bridges the gap from coop to run, allowing us to move the aviary more regularly in a variety of locations around the coop.
We like this system because it combines the portability we were looking for with the protection our chickens need. There are also other advantages:
1. Materials are low cost and widely available.
In our case, the garage frames were free – a donation from friends who no longer needed them. You can also try online sources like freecycle.org or your local classifieds. Since the frames often outlive their tarpaulin covers, there are often some for the offering. We purchased the netting at a local garden supply store.
2. Strong & Sturdy.
The metal frame provides a sturdy structure over which to stretch protective netting. Neither rain nor wind can budge the frames, and while snow sticks to the netting, it’s now supported enough not to collapse the entire system.
3. Can be easily moved by two people.
The frames are light and easily moved by two people. Together my husband and I can move the frames in less than ten minutes. The movable electric fencing that guides the chickens to and from the aviary takes a few minutes more.
4. Chickens have an expanded, protected range.
Because this system is highly portable, chickens have regular access to new ground, providing them with fresh greens while also fertilizing the plot for future garden plantings. Regular movement may also break the cycle of parasites left behind (many which live 2-3 weeks) and inhibit disease.
- Two portable garage frames placed end to end. We are using two frames measuring 12 feet wide and 20 feet long erected at their full height. Given that chickens aren’t tall, you could also assemble the top portion of the frames only for a shorter aviary. If you wanted a smaller run, you could use just one of the portable frame kits.
- Two packages of bird netting measuring 30 x 30 feet.
- 150 feet of movable electric fencing.
- Assemble the garage frames according to the manufacturer’s instructions, leaving off the tarpaulin cover.
- Stretch one package of bird netting over each frame and secure tightly on all sides. This is key if you live in a colder climate and expect snow during the winter season. We stretched the netting from end to end and beneath each of the frames’ “feet.” If your netting isn’t tight or secure, your chickens could become entangled or find a way to escape.
- Secure the two pieces of netting where the garage frames come together. You can tie them with string, twist-ties or fencing tabs (zap straps). If you use zap straps, be sure to get the ones which can be undone and reused.
- Place your coop inside or near the aviary. If you use a coop outside the aviary as we do, ensure the run to and from the coop is narrow or short enough to discourage birds of prey. Owls and hawks don’t like to swoop into a narrow or zig-zagging run. Eagles have a large wingspan that prohibits them from landing in a narrowly fenced pathway. We use movable electric fencing for this purpose.
- Ensure your chickens have fresh water close to their main living space. We have water available in the coop and in the aviary. Our chickens travel back to the coop to lay eggs, but spend the rest of their time in the netted enclosure. An extra bucket of water keeps them safe and happy.
After using this system for some time, we are pleased with the results. We move the aviary every 2-3 weeks inside a larger, fenced garden, which gets scratched up and fertilized where and when we want it to. This activity helps suppress weeds, enrich garden soil, and makes for happier chickens.
I can’t say the same for the eagles, owls, and hawks, however. They don’t come around here anymore.
Shannon Cowan is a writer and editor whose novels and articles are published in the United States and Canada. She and her family are currently building a green home and converting six acres of semi-rural brush into a working farm. She blogs about their adventures at www.agreenhearth.com.