Yipe! Starting a couple of weeks ago, something was killing my chickens, as many as five per night. This is not only heartbreaking, it’s the sort of thing that can leave you with no chickens at all in very short order.
The dead chickens were in various places, but always on the fenced pasture, or so I supposed. A strong predator like a bobcat can leap a fence with a dead chicken in its mouth, leaving nothing behind but a splash of feathers where the kill took place. Coyotes are much the same. Hawks and owls eat the chickens without moving them, and raccoons will go either way, sometimes dragging the dead chicken long distances, sometimes not moving them at all.
I searched the perimeter of the fence and found no obvious game trails leading onto my chicken pasture, which made me wonder if I didn’t have a problem with owls. I readjusted the electric fence to make sure there were no high or low spots where a raccoon could squeeze through. Making a truly raccoon-proof fence is difficult, because, unlike other animals, they have no fear and probe the fence for weak spots. I found one trail leading to where a chicken had been killed outside the fence. Otherwise, nothing.
Next, I pulled out my snares. I don’t like using snares except on a well-defined game trail that’s leading straight to my chickens, since I have no quarrel with critters that are leaving my chickens alone. I started with the one trail leading to a chicken kill, and put a couple more in likely spots. After several nights I had caught two raccoons, and the predation ceased.
I’d lost many more chickens than could possibly be eaten by two raccoons. This doesn’t mean that there were lots more chicken-eating predators: it means that the raccoons killed far more than they could eat. Nature is neither nice nor efficient!
I used to rely on the federal trapper for this sort of thing, but Benton County has become very stingy on supplying matching funds to the wildlife control program, and this has taken a toll on everyone’s livestock. So I learned how to do trapping myself. Snares are particularly easy to use, and if you do it right, cause no collateral damage. As I said, you want to find a trail that’s used exclusively by predators who are commuting to what they imagine is a 24-hour chicken buffet. I learned most of my techniques from the works of Hal Sullivan. His snaring book and video are unpretentious but good. I recommend that you buy both, and his snaring starter kit, if you have a predator problem. This is the sort of activity where you want to exercise due care from the start.
I don’t like snares very much, but it’s a lot better than having all your chickens killed. I’m responsible for the well-being of my chickens, while the predators are quite literally crossing the line to get at them: they have to brave an electric fence.
Staying up all night and shooting the predators is an option if you can manage it: I can’t pull all-nighters anymore. Some people have excellent luck with livestock guardian dogs, which intimidate predators. But fencing alone generally isn’t enough.