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Longshadow Farms

 

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Predators

Before Everything

Before you even get your birds, the first thing you ought to consider is where you will house them and what you need to do to protect them from predators. The purpose of this page isn't to tell you how to make pens or housing but we would be remiss in not mentioning the best deterrent to predators: a good fence and a tight coop. We have some examples of and suggestions for housing on our FAQ page. You will need to evaluate the most likely predators for your area and then decide what you need to do or are willing to do to keep them out. What we will do is give you some ideas of how certain predators might act and then let you decide for yourselves what steps you are willing to take to keep them out. Your local Conservation Officer or Game Warden (or whatever they are called in your area) would likely be an excellent source of information to get you started. They can give you an idea of what animals are prevalent in your area, help you with any legal questions you may have and may also be able to help you find a reputable, knowledgeable trapper in your area. It may also be advisable to check with them about local regulations before removing problem animals.

An electric fence is another excellent predator deterrent. Obviously the height of the fence would make a big difference in what it will keep out. A fence a few inches off the ground will help deter things like opossums, racoons and skunks but a fox or coyote could jump right over it. A higher fence might keep out the latter but not be effective for smaller predators. Perhaps the best solution would be an electric fence with strands at varying heights. The question is always how much time, effort and money you are willing to put into deterring predators and what you are willing to live with in terms of being able to easily access your birds.

Motion lights around your buildings are probably better than regular lights but a regular light is better than none. Either will allow you to see what is going on if there is a problem. A radio may also help deter some predators but they will likely grow accustomed to the noise if used for a long time. Geese and guineas can help protect against some predators but can themselves become prey in the wrong situations. A large goose can likely ward off an opossum or a skunk but not a larger animal such as a coyote, dog, wolf or bobcat. Guineas do well during the day to sound an alarm for hawks but are easy targets for owls if they are left to roost outside at night. Our guineas have even been seen circling a fox during the day and scaring it off!

There are many different options for larger animals to guard your birds. If the coops are within an enclosure of larger animals such as pigs or cows, those animals will help deter some predators. Dogs housed near the birds will be a deterrent to predators but if not the right dog or not well trained, they can end up causing more losses than they deter! There are also animals used specifically for guarding livestock such as Llamas or specially bred livestock guardian dogs. The Livestock Guardian Dog Association has an excellent web site about these great dogs.

Another great way to reduce your losses to predators is to encourage a local trapper to work your property or learn to trap yourself. Making friends with a local trapper and having them remove some animals from your property during the trapping season will also make it more likely that they will be willing to visit out of season to help with any problem animals. Having someone do this professionally can get very expensive but if you have built a relationship with a trapper before you encounter problems, you have helped yourself as well as the trapper. You may even meet someone that you can call a friend. As someone wrote to me, "I also have a new respect for the trappers in general. Many that I spoke to were very knowledgeable about the animals and very professional." The National Trappers Association has links to local organizations to help you locate local trappers or help you get started trapping yourself. Another very helpful site is Trapperman.com which has a "basic sets" section, a question and answer message board and other useful information. An excellent place to purchase trapping supplies is Minnesota Trapline Products. Their prices and selection are about the best around and the owners are very friendly and helpful. They would be able to suggest what you might need for your situation be it muskrats in your duck pond or a bobcat eating your chickens. If you feel ambitious and want to make your own trap, see this link for a Home Made Trap.

Keep in mind that not all predators will act according to our preconceived ideas. They are creatures with minds of their own and past experiences may dictate how they react to different situations. An excellent site with lots of valuable information including clear photos, track diagrams, behaviors and much more information on many of these and other predators is eNature.com. The above site could be valuable in determining how you build, figuring out what has killed your poultry or in helping you figure out how to trap it. Now for a look at the beasties...

Weasel

This predator is the number one killer on the list because they are found almost everywhere and because they are so destructive. Practically speaking, it is virtually impossible to build a pen or coop that will keep out a weasel since they can enter through a mouse-sized hole. Hardware cloth can be nailed over small holes to prevent these vicious creatures from getting into your coop. The weasel will kill everything it can catch unless it is interrupted. A bite mark on the back of the neck near the base of the skull is a clue that the weasel is your culprit. They like to dine on the entrails such as the heart, liver and kidneys. There is good news about weasels though. They love to eat rats and mice and will clean up those populations before they get to your birds. The other good news is that they are bold, curious animals and are therefore easy to trap. If you have pet mice (gerbils, hamsters, etc) you can save the cage cleanings and use those instead of bait. Rat-sized snap traps baited with fresh, bloody baits like liver are the easiest for most people to use. Set them near mouse or rat holes and along the outside walls of outbuildings near weeds that might provide cover.

Mink

Mink are beautiful little fur bearers but real bird killers. If you live in farm country or anywhere near water, you need to be on guard against mink. Although they are a land animal, their favorite hunting grounds are near water. Males will range long distances over land especially during the winter breeding season. Females generally have a smaller home range. If you are visited by a mink they leave a distinctive musky smell. They will sometimes den up so that they may return to a large kill like a duck or a goose. If not killed, it will likely be back in 10-14 days to dine again. While the mink is not afraid of traps, it is a little tougher to trap than a weasel. The easiest way I know is to make a box out of old weathered wood (this would also work for a weasel) with a 1 1/2" hole in one end. The box should be 15-20" long and about 6" square. Use a No. 1 or 1 1/2 long spring trap set very light (mink step very lightly) and set with the spring towards the bait so the animal walks through the jaws. Staple the trap ring to the box and bait with a fishy bait. Yummy! If you have pet mice (gerbils, hamsters, etc) you can save the cage cleanings and use those instead of bait. This works for weasels and fox as well but is especially effective for mink since they think they have found a mouse nest. Mink (and weasels) have a hard time resisting the instinct to explore any hole so situate the box where it will be visible to their travels. Keep in mind that they will try to stick to cover since birds of prey like to eat them. Weigh down the box with a rock or a log since racoons will want the bait too! The Weasel Box Set at Trapperman.com will show you exactly how to make this set.

Skunks

Skunks are friendly little stinkers and not at all shy. If you have a lawn with grubs, you will have skunks. They are generally not a huge problem but will eat eggs and small chicks so it is best to try to keep them away. Skunks are easily caught in a Havahart or cage trap baited with cat food. If the cage trap is sized large enough to hold the skunk but not so large to allow it to lift its tail, it should not spray when released. :) Don't hold us liable for that comment though! An old blanket slowly laid over the trap will help calm the animal during removal. Move slowly and quietly and wear old clothes!

Opossums

Opossums seem to be a leftover from another age and time. As innocuous as they seem, they are really an unheralded menace. They carry a disease that can be fatal to horses which they spread through their feces. They will also eat eggs, chicks and adult birds as they have opportunity. Not smart enough to fear people, they are easily caught in cage traps like skunks. Essentially any trap with a food-type bait will work but they prefer a meat or fish smell.

Raccoons

Why do you think they wear that mask? Raccoons are attracted by your compost pile, poultry food and the birds themselves. A big, strong animal, they are capable of tearing through poultry netting or even tearing up a small dog. Raccoons will even pull a bird right through larger, heavier fencing if they can get their grubby paws on any part of a bird. Biting the heads off seems to be the trademark of a raccoon raid. A female with kits can destroy large numbers of birds in a short period of time. I think they should be trapped using body gripping traps such as 220 Connibears in bucket sets but this may not be practical around farm buildings with dogs, cats or even birds running loose. A large cage trap may be used or a No. 1 double jawed foothold trap in a dirt hole set. There are also several raccoon specific traps available that are safe for dogs and cats. Raccoons are not afraid of traps and are easily caught using fish baits such as wet or dry cat food. Trapperman.com has a "basic sets" section that will walk you through making a dirt hole set and some other basic trap sets.

Fox

If a fox gets one of your birds, you will generally be left with little evidence. There may be a few feathers or a wing left because they will usually take the bird with them unless they have been disturbed at the kill. Fox are solitary hunters except for the late winter mating season and when a vixen is teaching her kits to hunt. When a vixen is feeding her young (late summer, early fall) she will even hunt in broad daylight to get enough food to feed them. Males and females may hunt during daylight in winter to stay warmer, to get enough calories to survive and to find game when it is difficult to find. A fox track is not much bigger than that of a house cat. Sand spread near the coop at night should bear their prints in the morning if this is your culprit.

Red fox seem to prefer open territory while greys prefer brushy areas. You may have one or both types of fox where you live. With a fox, there is not likely to be any evidence or sign left after they kill your poultry. A good dog or lights around the building will likely deter them since fox are normally quite shy. The disadvantage to their shyness is that they are incredibly wary and are thus difficult to trap. This is where your relationship with an experienced trapper will pay huge dividends. We will give some suggestions here on how to trap them but whole books have been written on the subject. Not only do your trap sets need to be visually attractive to a fox, great care needs to be taken not to have any scent on the traps themselves. Our recommendation is to provide adequate housing and fencing. Then get help from an experienced trapper.

Red fox are shyer than greys and are extremely difficult for an amateur trapper to deal with. If you wish to attempt it, you will need to treat your traps (or snares where legal) either by using a dip (such as Blackie's Blend) or by boiling in walnut hulls and then using an unscented paraffin wax to coat them. My preference is to use BMI or Sleepy Creek 1 1/2 coil spring traps. Red fox in particular are NOT apt to enter a cage type trap. The traps should also be tuned (remember the amateur point above). Refer to a book by Charles Dobbins called "Adjustment of Leg hold Traps." After traps are treated they should only be handled by gloved hands (jersey gloves washed in ivory soap or rubber gloves, either used only for trapping). Wherever you choose to "set" your trap you will need to take precautions against spreading your scent and contaminating the area. Wear rubber boots not covered with the scent (diesel fuel, gasoline, chemicals, household smells) of your barn. Need we say it again that it will be easier to befriend a trapper?

The set needs to catch the fox's eye (make them curious) as well as its nose. An old cow or deer skull or even a vertebrae on a little hummock or anthill makes an excellent eye attractor for you to use for your set location. If you have pet mice (gerbils, hamsters, etc) you can save the cage cleanings and use those instead of bait. Three excellent books that can be purchased through Minnesota Trapline Products are "The Dirt Hole and its Variations" by Dobbins (How's that for an exciting title!), "Favorite Sets of Top Trappers" by the National Trappers Association and "Professional Fox Trapping Methods" by Russ Carman.

Grey fox are more aggressive than reds. If you leave your coop door open at night, you may end up with a fox in your hen house. Greys are generally easier to trap than reds because of their boldness. A grey fox is feline in character in some ways; it can climb trees and fences and will enter a confined or enclosed space that a red will not. Use the same types of sets for greys that you would for reds but set along the edges of brushy areas.

Coyotes/Wolves

If you have problems with these predators you will soon be without stock as they will return often to good hunting grounds. You will likely know that you have coyotes around by hearing the vocalizations (aka howling). Your best bet for these predators are a good coop and secure fencing, preferably with electric. Depending on how severe a problem this is, you may want to consider a livestock guardian dog or two. As with fox, a relationship with a trapper is your best means for trapping these predators.

The coyote can be trapped using the same methods as for trapping fox. The traps need to be bigger such as 4 coiled 1 3/4's and 2's and in winter 3's or MB 650's (purchase from Minnesota Trapline Products). See the books listed under "Fox" above for specifics on how to make these sets and how to adjust traps for coyote. Coyotes seem to prefer sets that have aged at least 5 days in my experience or it may just be that it takes the pack that length of time to cover their territory. The following page deals primarily with predators of sheep but provides excellent information about larger predators such as coyote and wolves. Predator FAQ

Hawks, Eagles and Owls

If you find a bird killed in broad daylight with the breast torn out, chances are you have been visited by a hawk or eagle. Birds that vanish out of trees at night with no trace are likely owl food. Hawks will even attack through netting if they can push it down far enough to get to their prey. Below is a picture of a bird that has been killed by a hawk.



Old timers may have had more of these predators from the sky to worry about but they also didn't hesitate to eliminate them. They would set a platform on top of a high pole and simply set a No. 1 or 1 1/2 long spring trap on the platform. No need to bait the trap: these predators loved a nice perch to view their quarry and would land on the platform and be caught quite easily. Unfortunately these methods were a bit too effective and birds of prey are now illegal to kill in the United States and many other countries. Now we need to be a bit more clever and learn methods to deter these predators. As usual, the best defense is a good fence with either wire or very strong netting on top. Guineas and even livestock guardian dogs can be excellent deterrents. Guineas will sound an alarm when any large bird flies overhead but if they are left loose at night, owls can easily pick them right out of the trees. We raise all our guineas either with chicks or usually under broody hens so that the chickens teach the guineas to come in at night. Birds of prey don't like to share their area with a large group of raucous crows so courting your local crow population may help you ward off some of the birds of prey. Crows love to eat eggs though so be prepared to lose some if your birds like to lay outdoors! Personally, I'd rather loose a few eggs than a bird any day. You can even throw some of those questionable eggs on your compost pile to encourage the crows to come visit :) Of course, that might also attract your local dogs, racoons, opossums, etc. If you're not sure what else you can do to attract crows, check out Crows.net - Feeding Crows. Some people have reported having good luck keeping owls away by using a strobe light at night but this might not work well if you have neighbors close by.

Domestic Dogs and Cats

Domestic dogs and cats are arguably the most troublesome of poultry predators. They are definitely one of the thorniest issues to try to tackle! We will try here to give you some ideas to think about but since each situation will be so different, there will rarely be one right answer. If you haven't already, read carefully through the top section about deterring predators. This will be your best chance of reducing losses to dogs or cats. Next you need to learn the local laws and get acquainted with the local game wardens, dog catchers and neighbors (2 footed and 4 footed!). Know your legal rights and obligations and tactfully let your neighbors know as well. This alone may be a good incentive for your neighbors to take a more active role in containing a roaming animal. We have been fortunate to have some very good neighbors who work very hard to keep their dogs penned. On the one occasion one did get out and kill one of our laying hens, they were quick to accept responsibility and offer to reimburse us for the loss. In our area we would be within our legal rights to kill a dog caught killing our livestock. With these particular dogs we would be unlikely to do so because the owners have shown every indication that they are willing to accept responsibility for their dogs. Unfortunately this is not true of many people! We also have neighbors who allow their dog to run loose all the time. While the dog routinely visits a house on the other side of ours, so far it seems to be intelligent enough to avoid our property. The unfortunate dog cannot help the fact that its owners will not take care of it but this does not mean that it will not find itself on the receiving end of a Pyrenees attack should it be foolish enough to venture onto our property. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you do have a loss to a dog or cat, your best bet is to document the situation as quickly as possible. If you are able, capture the animal and contain it. Take pictures of the scene if possible. Get and keep receipts of what you have paid for birds, be they feed store finds or prize show birds. Compensation for a bird will rarely be enough to cover the true loss emotionally, monetarily or from the loss of a particular bloodline but it may encourage the owner to keep the pet confined in the future. A site that may help you determine the monetary value of your loss is Estimating The Value Of Domestic Fowl.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Lest you think we are being a bit ridiculous with this section, a few years back we regularly saw a mountain lion close to our house. While we suspect that one years ago was a released pet, sightings in our area are on the rise. We are also aware of another individual who lost a number of show birds to an escaped lion! Not a mere mountain lion but a real, live, tooth and claw African lion. While these encounters may not be common here, there are areas of the country where bears and mountain lions are a real problem. We have bears in our area but they are fortunately so few in number that there is enough habitat for them and they have not become a problem. Sorry, but we really don't have much here to help you if these animals are a problem in your area! As they increase in number in our area we may get more experience with them but for now the only advice we can give you is to speak with your local Environmental Conservation Officer or Game Warden (whatever they call it where you live) and ask them for help with these types of critters. Your local Conservation Officer or Game Warden can be helpful in many ways. They can give you an idea of what animals are prevalent in your area, help you with any legal questions you may have and may also be able to help you find a reputable, knowledgeable trapper in your area. It may be advisable to check with them about local regulations before removing problem animals.

Rats

Rats can kill small ducklings and chicks and can harass larger birds as well. They eat eggs and spread diseases so even if you don't have small birds, it is wise to control these pests. Poison is the easiest solution though many people fear their birds getting into the poison. There are a few relatively safe ways to poison rats and mice while keeping your flock safe. The first way is to use a cage with wire big enough for the pests to get in that the birds cannot get into. Put the poison in the cage and pick up any feed at night. The second method is to use pieces of PVC pipe fitted together without glue to make a space to put the poison. Put the poison in the center section, put in an elbow on each end and preferably a small section on either end of this. Use large enough PVC pipe to ensure that a rat will go in. If you have access to 5 gallon buckets with lids you can drill 3 or 4 - 1" to 2" diameter holes around the bottom of the bucket about 3" from the bottom. The rats (or mice depending on the size of your hole) can get in and eat the poison, chickens can not get in, it won't get spilled, and it is easy to refill. If you have very small chicks or ducklings, it may be best to do the poisoning BEFORE the youngsters go into the coop. This will keep them from being attacked by the rats and also keep them from getting into the poison.

Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles will eat ducklings and small birds out of a pond or will do great damage to the feet of larger birds. Here are some links we've collected on snapping turtles. Some of the sites are informative, others are selling traps. One caution we'd make is that some of the articles tell you to put it "back where it came from." Snappers will travel a fairly long distance so if you insist on releasing a snapper, make sure it is a long way from home. Also be certain you aren't dumping your problem predator on someone else.

Trapping and Relocating Snapping Turtles While I disagree with relocating, the article contains plans for a simple trap.
Heinsohn's Country Store turtle traps You can purchase them here or if you are ambitious, you could probably figure out how to make one from the picture.
Tomahawk Live Traps Another variety of turtle trap you could purchase or try to make. I tried to link to the product but the page # changed so I just linked to the product page in case it changes again.
Pond Solutions Another site where you can purchase traps.


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