Murder In The Barnyard: Chicken Predators

by Texas Homesteader 

It’s loads of fun raising hens so we decided to give chicken-raising another go. We purchased four young hens early this spring. Soon they were into the free-range routine and providing plenty of eggs for us.

Because we live in the country there are all manor of predator dangers present for our free-range chickens. Predators such as coyotes, bobcats, feral cats, foxes, skunks & more. But with a secured coop and by locking them safely inside each night we were spared any deaths.

Then one night when we went to lock them up we noticed the black hen was nowhere to be found. Although we hated it, we understood that there are predators out here and that it was just one of those things. We never found her. 

Then a week later we noticed the white one was missing. But this time we knew exactly what happened to her.

Mysterious daytime predators have been taking our hens. Coyotes? Hawks? Bobcats? Something else? We don't know. Offer advice if you can. #TexasHomesteader

Trying To Catch A Killer

These free-ranging hens usually stay pretty close to the coop, although they’ve been known to range into adjoining pastures. Not knowing what our predator was, RancherMan installed his game-cam close to the area. He wanted to try to see what critters were roaming through.

We only captured images of the goats from time to time when we let them out to graze. And one night caught an image of coyotes, but the time stamp was well past the time we would have the girls locked up.

Trail camera. Mysterious daytime predators have been taking our hens. Coyotes? Hawks? Bobcats? Something else? We don't know. Offer advice if you can. #TexasHomesteader
So we kept a close eye on the two remaining hens – they were afraid to range too far from the barn so keeping an eye on them was easy. We suffered no further losses.

So after I was reasonably assured that the “chicken-dinner-buffet-HERE” pattern was broken we decided to purchase four more young chickens from a local breeder. We’re told these girls should start laying in about 6-8 weeks so we’re looking forward to having loads of fresh free-range eggs again.

I know many of our readers raise their own chickens. If you free-range your girls – please weigh in:

  • What are your biggest predator dangers?
  • Can a hawk carry off a full-grown chicken?
  • What predators do you find hunting during the daytime hours
  • How do you protect your free-range hens from natural predators during the day?


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41 thoughts on “Murder In The Barnyard: Chicken Predators

  1. Alicia Owen

    We’ve had several chicken deaths already this year…but we are currently at 16 chickens altogether, so it’s to be expected, unfortunately. Most were “natural” deaths for one reason or another. We think one of our bigger girls got taken by a hawk or falcon. 🙁 She was one of our faves too: a really pretty silver laced wyandotte.
    I think we’ve finally gotten it through our cats’ heads that they’re not to mess with the chickens. I’m mostly still worried about birds of prey and random dogs and stray cats running through the yard during the day, but we are outside a lot. Plus the big girls that are already free ranging during the day like to hang out in the honeysuckle bush a lot. 😉
    We did notice about a week or so ago that something tried to break into the coop at night, so we had to fix some boards up. At least whatever it was didn’t get in!

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Wow Alicia, I’m impressed you’ve been able to get it through the cat’s heads not to mess with the chickens. It gives me hope in training our mini-schnauzer Bailey. She gets so excited around them! ~TxH~

  2. Zenda

    We just had another incident here this weekend. Our flock of four soon became a flock of two but the remaining ladies adjusted and carried on. They enjoyed days of circling the house, foraging in the woods just yards from our house and even spending a little time in the garden. Friday, i was eating after mowing the yard and saw a commotion near the yard/woods boundary and ran outside just in time to see a rust colored back bouncing off into the woods. Only one lady was there and a pile of feathers. My border collie and I ran down in the woods but found no other sign of our missing hen. The remaining hen looked a little shell shocked so I picked her up and locked her in the coop. Later in the evening, I went in the garage and there was the missing hen, sitting on the dog bed with our border!! I picked her up and locked her in the coop, too. Those girls were sure glad to see each other. I have no ide how she got away. Saturday, our son, his girlfriend and I actually saw that fox in the same area of the attact. We ran out and chased it away. We’ve never seen a fox in our yard before. Needless to say, the ladies have stayed close to the house these last several days and our border has been on chicken-sitting duty in the yard. We’ve planning to move later this summer we’ll have to make plan for the ladies, if they make it till then!!

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Oh no Zenda. There’s nothing like the heart-sinking feeling you get seeing that pile of feathers. The hoping against all hope that your hen somehow escaped. I’m THRILLED that one of your girls surprised you with a triumphant return! Fingers crossed that the predators will stay far away. ~TxH~

  3. Angi @ SchneiderPeeps

    Sometimes this homesteading life is hard. Our biggest predator problem is from ferral cats. We have 2 new dogs and the cats are now staying way. Thanks for sharing at Simple Lives Thursday; hope to see you again this week.

  4. Amie

    A quick google search on kill patterns of chicken predators will give you a great visual. All predators of chickens leave behind a pretty decent “marking” as they all hunt differently. From the pile of feathers my guess would be fox, coyote, or dog. Great horned owls hunt during the day and are one of the few owls that are not necessarily nocturnal- they also do not leave behind any sign of a kill in my experience, the bird just disappears. Birds of prey (eagles, other owls, and hawks) tend to only eat the entrails (guts) and leave behind a carcass. Racoons and weasels do not eat the meat, but will behead and drink the blood only. Usually a pile of feathers is from an animal that pounces – bobcat, fox, wolf, coyote, dog and cats- I have found that all of these hunt during the day for an easy meal like chicken and will keep coming back until you make the food unavailable. I also had a bear take out half of my birds–that is super rare though as bears do not have an easy time catching chickens 🙂 I hope this helps- we have been keeping chickens in the woods for 10 years now–not an easy task 🙂

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      This is lots of good info Amie. I was thinking the same thing about pouncing prey given the fact that there were two circles of feathers relatively close to each other. Good to know the other fact-finding facts about the other predators, thanks for your help. ~TxH~

  5. Jo May

    I’m saw this at g+ and popped over to see how the chickens are doing? It has been a dream of mind to have a chicken pen/coop/yard. Hopefully I am getting closer to getting one, maybe next year.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      JoMay, we raised chickens last year as well and didn’t lose a single one to a varmint predator. Not sure what was going on this year but we lost several early on. I’ve seen more feral cats than usual this year so… But thankfully no more hens have been lost in several months. I think locking them up securely in the coop at night helps tremendously. I absolutely love raising chickens plus their freeranging reduces fly populations for our calves in the barnyard and also the grasshopper and bug populations. Oh yeah, and fresh eggs too! 😉 ~TxH~

  6. Lisa from Iroquois

    Our two biggest worries were foxes and coyotes. I always fancied I could tell the difference because a fox was small enough that the hens fought back and there were always feathers as evidence but when a bird would just outright disappear I put that down to coyotes because they were bigger and could just snatch a bird with less of a battle. But that’s just my theory.

  7. Janolyn Keller

    I am sorry to hear of your losses. I found out the hard way that raccoons can get into very small spaces to wipe out a flock. But that was nighttime losses. During the day I have had very little problems. This year I have my Great Pyrenees that hates crows and hawks. He goes crazy when they fly over. But I have never had daytime losses……even the babies that are free range have made it so far. I hope that you find what is killing them.

    Love the comments and suggestions also.! Great ideas to look for.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Thank you Janolyn, I’m learning so much from all the sweet commenters as well who are willing to offer advice. We’ve not suffered any further losses so my fingers are crossed that we’re done for now with the troubles. ~TxH~

  8. Elizabeth

    I really enjoy your site and am so sorry to hear about your losses. My homestead is in Upstate NY and our biggest predators are hawks and foxes. We have had a hawk kill 4 chickens over the last 4 years. Three the first year at the end of November and one the following November. A fox has taken a number of our hens over the last two years. and one this past week. Since foxes and hawks hunt during the day and foxes at night also, we just try to keep an eye on them during the late spring/early summer. This is the time they have pups and are more likely to risk getting close to the house. Our dog is by far the best protection. We let he patrol the yard with us and make sure that we lock the girls up as soon as they all roost at night. We currently have two roosters as well and while I am not sure whether they would defend the girls, one thing is certain: S2 must have seen the fox take one of our Comets the other night because for the next four days he kept every hen out of the field and away from the garden fence line.

    My best advice is to get a rooster and a dog. Between them, they should keep all your predators away or mostly away. Good luck in the future.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Elizabeth, you’ve shared quite a bit for me to think about. I love the no-nonsense thoughts you’ve offered. I know we have foxes, although I’ve never seen one here. I absolutely know we have hawks and they are certainly close to the house, but I wasn’t aware they would take a full-grown hen. Thanks for sharing. ~TxH~

  9. Glenda

    This story hits so close to home for me. We live in rural Nevada. I learned the hard way that chickens need to be protected day and night. Free roaming is a free meal 24/7 for predators.

    One chicken I named “Henny Penny” was so unusual. She loved me from the get go. Followed me everywhere and loved to be held. She was different from the rest and was a golden yellow color. Before I understood the daytime threat well enough, I was on the phone and heard the chickens sounding upset. I went out to find them gone. I went searching and found under a big juniper a scattering of golden yellow feathers.

    I get attached and heart broken so easily. I haven’t had it in me to get more chickens. I can hear the neighbors’ flocks every day. The sound is so familiar and I miss the antics of my own flock.

    Lesson learned: Protect the flock day and night. Make them a nice protected chicken run and coop. Especially if you’re an over the top sappy geek like me.

    Guess I wasn’t cut out for the losses associated with raising farm animals. I’ll stick to gardening and herbal cures.

    Sorry for your loss and hope things are going much better for you now. God bless you, your family, and all those associated with this blog.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      I’m sorry, losing your sweet hen must have been hard for you Glenda. (hugs) A fully-confined chicken living quarters doesn’t work in our cattle operation and I’m aware that we may lose a few hens to natural predators from time to time. Although I absolutely hate it, I realize those critters are just doing what comes naturally to them, and I personally feel they deserve to eat just as much as God’s more beautiful creatures do, I just wish they would eat somewhere else besides my barnyard. We’re trying to educate ourselves & understand the dynamics of daytime predators and do as much as we possibly can to keep our girls safe while providing them the healthy free-range environment I strive for. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us Glenda. ~TxH~

  10. Rancher Girl

    My son has a Free Range Farm Fresh Egg business. We struggle with the same issues you are having. We live on a creek, therefore our largest predator dangers are raccoon, fox and bobcat. Raccoon at night, but the fox and bobcat prey during the day. They will snatch a hen right out of the yard, leaving nothing but feathers.
    I have witnessed a hawk attempt to carry off a hen, but taking only her head.
    We have a live trap set all the time. Catching everything from hens, opossums and raccoon.
    During times of “mass murder” in the yard, the hens are cooped in their pens when no one is home or with them. Eventually, the predator will move on to another location.
    Our dogs are also on receiver collars. The hens have learned to stay inside the barriers so the dogs will protect them.
    We also coop all the hens up at night. This helps to lessen the “night murders”.
    Good Luck! Hopefully you won’t have any more murders.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      This is such great information, thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experiences. At least I now have something to be watching for, up until now it’s all been one big mystery. ~TxH~

  11. Joan @ The Chicken Mama

    I lost one hen to a fox and one to a raccoon this spring. The fox came around every day or two for a month afterward, but the ladies were locked up tight in the coop. I do have two hens that refuse to roost in the coop and stay in the shed with the goats and my pet pig. Woe is the animal that would scare the pig at night – his startle reflex is uncharacteristically fierce!

    I’ve lost one other hen to the dog next door – she flew across the fence, so I guess it was her fault. She was my favorite, of course. My dog watches over the hens that fly into our backyard from the barnyard, but is not so good with chicks 🙁

    I’ve got babies with a protective mama now. They’re about two weeks old and I’ll let them out into the barnyard for the first time for a few hours today. I know the mama will take good care of them.

    It’s hard losing these wonderful chickens, isn’t it?

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Joan. When the fox & raccoon got your girls, was it during the day or overnight? Just wondering, I know we have raccoons but I assumed they hunted at night (I could be wrong) I’m pretty new to raising chickens but I find I really enjoy it. How exciting to allow your newbies a few hours in the barnyard today. ~TxH~

  12. CTY

    I think your day time predators are mostly feral cats, but don’t rule out coyote pups or fox kits during the day. When the young first begin hunting they don’t follow the patterns of the adults. Also, do not rule out daytime hunting by the owls. If they have not had a successful hunt in awhile, all bets and patterns are off.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      I think you’re right about the feral cats, and I also had wondered about the daytime hunting of coyotes but hadn’t thought about them being pups. Good points made here, thanks for weighing in. ~TxH~

  13. Judith C

    I live in the suburbs, and though I don’t have chickens (the neighbors do) I still have to worry about predators that could do harm to our cat. We have coyotes to the extent that walkers and runners carry clubs and mace to ward them off. We also have owls and hawks which I have seen in the daylight hours. Possums and raccoons roam through the neighborhood too. But the biggest threat are dogs and other cats. Some of my neighbors just turn their animals out in the evenings so they can ‘walk’ themselves or do their business.

    Hope you get your egg production back underway real soon.

  14. Karen

    Our predator pressure includes foxes (seen during the day!), hawks, owls and raccoons (the worst). Neighbors dogs also run loose occasionally. We keep our girls in a covered pen for this reason and move them to fresh grass daily. No free ranging for our girls. We’ve had chickens for about three years and, so far, haven’t lost one to a predator (knock on wood!). We’re very careful about securing them in their coop in the evening. It would be very hard to lose one. So sorry you had this happen.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      I kept them in a chicken tractor when they were small and move them to fresh grass each day. It worked well for us when they were small but I’m not sure that particular setup would work now that they’re grown, but I’m thinking about at least using it for a while just to make sure the cycle is broken. Thanks for your input. ~TxH~

  15. Jane

    I do not get to raise chickens but I have a friend that does and she had a problem with raccoons (and they are very clever in breaking into a coup) getting in and eating the chickens they finally stopped it but there are a lot of predators out there evidently, sorry you lost some of your chickens!

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Oh yes Jane, raccoons can be very crafty in successfully breaking into pens of all kinds. Thankfully we’ve been successful in fortifying our coop where (at least so far) they haven’t been able to get in. Not sure what’s snatching our girls during the daylight hours though – quite a puzzler. ~TxH~

  16. Ellen C

    We live on one acre in San Diego’s east county. It is not a remote area but there is a several hundred acre preserve near our property. There are coyotes but I don’t consider them a threat because our girls who free range during the day are locked up tight at night in their new hen house. We try our best to secure the house and conduct the head count just before dark – there are always the one or two hens that just don’t want to go to bed yet! Unfortunately, we did lose one hen to a great horned owl this past winter. We got outside just past dusk and the girls were all terrified. A head count revealed the missing hen and she was the one who had a penchant for perching on the fence and I would have to put her away to bed every night. I actually saw the owl sitting in a large pine tree but couldn’t find the kill until the next day when her two wings were deposited under our large mulberry tree. I do have hawks – even a nesting pair who successfully fledged a youngster about a week ago – but they have not bothered the hens fortunately. After over 20 years of keeping chickens, I think we’ve got night time predation prevention down with the appropriate housing. In the early years, a neighbor’s cat killed a couple of young pullets. Nowadays, the young ones remain in the ‘pen’itentiary until they are a good size.
    Even so, I know that we can’t control everything and losses will occur. It is upsetting and I am sorry you lost some of your hens to predators.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Interesting Ellen. We have a few owls I can hear calling in the area but (at least the white hen) was taken during daylight hours so I’m reasonably sure we’re good there, although you never know if they might hunt a few hours early. Interesting about the hawks – we’ve got several in the area too but they all just seem too small to me to be able to take a full-grown hen. I worry about feral cats too as I see them roaming through the pasture periodically. I’ve not seen any rogue dogs about. Hummm… ~TxH~

  17. ColleenB.~Texas

    Sorry to hear about you chickens.

    In wide open areas hawks (and other raptors) can be a threat. Chickens recognize the hawk outline and often will run for cover when one is overhead. They can distinguish this silhouette from non-threatening birds like vultures. The hawk will attempt to land and kill the chicken on the ground. A young chick or bantam chicken may be in danger of being carried off. The only absolute protection from a hawk for birds allowed outside is to keep them in an enclosure with a top cover of chicken wire. Hawks are a low volume predator-they won’t kill more than one at a time, and more often than not are unsuccessful in their attempts. Keeping your birds in a yard with access to bushes to run into should suffice unless you have a really persistent hawk population. I don’t think a hawk would take something that large, but an Eagle would.

    If your farm is near woods then you will have a much higher predator population. Woods are home to foxes, weasels and raccoons. Poultry near the woods must be locked up in the coop at night. Even though these arboreal predators tend to be nocturnal, they are able to adjust to the daytime pattern of chickens coming outside. Once your chickens have been “discovered” by a predator they will return on a regular basis.

    A fox is likely to visit once every week or two and will take one chicken. A raccoon can’t catch chickens in the open, but if he gets in the henhouse he can do a lot of damage just by riling up the birds, pulling out tail feathers and occasionally killing one or more chickens. A weasel is the mass murderer of poultry and can kill ten at a time and cause others to die of fright. Then, more often than not, the weasel just leaves the bodies behind. If you find decapitated chickens you know it is a weasel. They are said to like the blood of the birds.

    Various animals are widely considered excellent guardians of chickens, including llamas, donkeys and certain dogs. Two dog breeds that make excellent livestock guardians are Great Pyrenees and Akbash. A rooster will serve as an attentive, early warning alarm for flock members to hide when danger is near.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Thanks for the great info Colleen. I guess free-ranging chickens are just a risk and we were lucky last year. I’ll still free-range and hope that by locking them up each night I can successfully raise our birds with smaller losses. ~TxH~

    2. Kathy

      Our neighbors raise goats which are kept on 5 acres surrounded by woods. They too have a Great Pyrenees but theirs is a mix with Australian Shepherd. The dogs are massive but so loveable to people- one thinks it’s a lap dog and it’s taller than I am when it stands! They are very protective.

  18. Patricia

    Hello TMR–
    We do free range our hens.
    We had the worst time last year– I believe Coyotes were are biggest problem, but also know that we had Owls, in the back Oak tree– and I actually saw a Hawk near by on several occasions.
    Some of our smaller hens that were taken without any signs or noise, I believe were taken by birds of prey.
    There have been coyote sightings by my husband, my grandson and myself…on different occasions. The husband has shot at them on a couple of those occasions.
    Last year– on Memorial Day weekend (May 26,2013, to be exact) a puppy was dropped off near our home (not uncommon the past 2 decades) Anyway– for a time he was a predator. He has been trained NOT to eat our chickens. I was afraid he wouldn’t quit…he only goes after the white ones. We do still have one white chicken– but he is a good boy and no longer goes after them.
    However, he HAS BECOME my greatest defender of the yard! I have seen him chase coyotes off the property about 5 times since he has gotten big. He will lie on the back porch and wait …
    unfortunately, he has chased off the HOGS we are trying to trap too. :/
    And…he chases skunks too! He can be quite stinky.
    That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know… but it’s all I’ve got! 🙂

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      That’s all great information Patricia, thanks for weighing in. You said coyotes were your worst problems – do you lock your hens up at night or were the coyotes actually taking them during the day? I’ve seen coyotes hunting small game during the day so I know it happens but the barn pen is pretty close to the house. Although I know if they’re hungry enough they’ll go for it anyway, they have typically preferred rummaging around for rats & mice out in the pasture & creeks around here. ~TxH~


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