A lot of the biggest problems we’ve ever had on the farm were related to unwanted critters trying to get at the chicken feed. Recently, we put some pullets into a pasture house and put a feeder inside the house with them as part of the transition. Since this was an open-front house, the local crows started coming in for lunch, which scared the pullets. Moving the feeder outside didn’t get rid of the crows, but there’s a lot more room outdoors, and their occasional presence didn’t terrorize the pullets.
We once had rats in the brooder house. They were attracted by the feed but killed a lot of baby chicks when they were given the opportunity. Rats living in tunnels in the wood shavings are surprisingly hard to detect, so they can do a lot of damage and leave you scratching your head and wondering, “Weren’t there a lot more chicks here yesterday?”
I’ve even lost chicks to hens. Not because the hens do anything to the chicks, but because they frighten the chicks, who then pile into the corners of the house to get away from them. Birds have very weak lungs, so the chicks on the bottom of a pileup can’t breathe.
Raccoons and even goats will go to a lot of trouble to get at chicken feed, too.
So the moral of the story is that you either want your chicken houses to be absolutely tight against any kind of intruder, bird or mammal, or you want your feeders outdoors — at least when the chickens are small.
If your chickens free-range, then they’re entering and leaving the houses all the time, so making the house intruder-proof during the daytime isn’t practical, though you can close it up at night. Outdoor feeders can save you trouble here.
What I try to do is to keep the brooder houses tight and not let the chicks outdoors at all. After they are moved to a pasture house, they get fed outdoors. There’s a transition period that’s troublesome — they tend to be too scared after moving to go check out any outdoor feeders for a few days, so feeding them indoors is necessary. The house needs to be either made tight for this period, or the chickens need to be fed only small amounts of feed so they eat it all right away, and there’s none left over to attract bigger chickens, crows, or whatever.
Of course, outdoor feeders have their own problems (they should be weatherproof and serve more as a chicken feeder than a wildlife feeder), but that’s a topic for another posting.