Updated: Jun 18
I set out early in my homesteading adventure, determined to raise poultry out on open pasture. I have lost a couple of hundred birds over two decades, perfecting effective strategies to control and eliminate predator loss. You need to know that there isn't a single silver bullet that will stop all predators on your farm, and keeping poultry in crowded pens that create unhealthy environments isn't the answer either. Predators come in many shapes and sizes, so you need to have a multi-pronged defense and understand the cunning ways of sly predators.
If you want your birds to roam free on pasture in the sun, pick bugs, take dust baths in the dirt and eat grass (poultry are tremendous grass feeders if given the opportunity when feeders aren't overflowing with bag feed), this is what I do that works on our farm in Kansas. You can apply all of these tactics no matter where you live and bend many of the principles to work for you.
Starting With Your Flock
Poultry have somewhat of an instinctive sense of danger. Wave a towel or a broom over a flock, and they will all scatter in fear. This deeply embedded ancient memory passed down through the generations of danger and death from aerial predators or ground attacks. Unfortunately, in modern times, most hatchery birds are raised in pens decade after decade and are losing their natural survival instincts to watch, run, and hide from predators.
Suppose you have a flock that has suffered loss from predators; hatching your own eggs will start to return the survival instincts and can be very beneficial. Birds are not as stupid as some people might think. They do learn from watching others or seeing things that happen to fellow flock mates. They all understand pecking order and that the ultimate pecking order comes in the form of death. Never, ever catch your poultry and slaughter them where they can see. They will have an innate fear of you forever, even if you still bring food.
Geese and turkeys are excellent additions to chicken flocks as geese can sometimes run off aerial predators or make enough noise to detour them. Turkeys always watch the sky and sound out a high-pitched pipping alarm to alert flock members to send them running for shelter.
A mixed flock needs to be raised together as chicks. Adding adult birds into an established community is no different from a new guy at work who dresses differently from everyone else and has new ideas about how the place will run. It is human and animal nature to want to stick with the same and comfortable group, so a judgment process occurs until the new guy finds or fights for his place in the group. Young poultry, like children, never seem to mind a new kid in the group up to a certain age. Starting your mixed flock of poultry together from hatch is essential. It also prevents foot-pecking and leg-pulling between chickens and waterfowl.
Millenia of poultry's ancestors hiding under trees and brush for survival is why they will try to hide in darker or shady places instead of a coop first. After all, chickens can't see in the dark, so they assume the predators can't see them, and they feel safe if they can't see what is scaring them. This instinct is why you find predator-killed birds under shade trees, brush or log piles, and near standing structures where there is shade. Unfortunately, most predators see better in the shade or at night.
Poultry needs a well-lit coop but shady enough to be cool in the summertime that is easy to enter and exit during the day. A pop-hole design is cute and seems somewhat functional to detour some predators, but it has its problems. When a predator is in the yard, chickens start screaming and scatter to distract the predator as they try to escape. The problem with pop-hole doors is that multiple birds can not reach safety all at once. Poultry wants to run and hide in the easiest place to go to first because they don't think ahead in a panic, so they tend to run to corners and shady areas. Figuring out a ramp and pop-hole with other birds trying to do the same is basically setting a buffet table for a predator. A coop design that allows birds to reach a shady place and roost up high where predators can't reach is what I use that has worked for years. This chicken tractor is moved every few months in winter or every few weeks in the summer, and it never requires cleaning: no more back-breaking shoveling and no more foot problems.
Frightened birds will often try to jump into the pop-hole door knocking themselves and flock-mates away from safety. A poorly lit coop also doesn't give a bird's eyes time to adjust to get away from a pop-hole door fast enough for other birds to enter. They enter the coop and stand there, blocking the door for others. It's the same as taking off sunglasses on a bright day. You can't see for a few moments until your eyes adjust. Bird's eyes work the same way.
In Kansas, owls and hawks aren't a significant threat in winter. Most of our species migrate a little more south or live on rabbits, mice, moles, songbirds, doves, and voles that are easier targets. We position the coop to spill the north wind with one side, tarp the side close