Q: What do I need to know about human nature if I keep chickens?
A: Unfortunately, scoundrels are found everywhere. Most humans are not predators of chickens, of course, but the fact is that some people are dishonest slimeballs--so if your flock suddenly disappears or is destroyed, don't rule out people as the culprit.
We hear from people with neighbors who are so against the whole idea of chickens in a suburban area that the neighbors feel theft or violence is justified. They may do so because they feel it's inhumane, or they may just have a grudge against you. Another motivation is different: some people love chickens so much, that they will steal yours, especially if you have rare, valuable breeds or show birds. Finally, people may just want to steal your eggs. Sounds too weird to be true, but we have heard about cases like this.
Signs that your predator problem *may* be due to humans include the following:
Protecting Your Flock
- You have a neighbor who unreasonably hates your chickens, or has threatened them. Not all people who don't want chickens in their neighborhood would do something like this, of course, but you will usually be able to sense if a chicken-disliking neighbor is off balance or inclined to violence from past confrontations or threats.
- You or your neighbors have had problems previously with thefts of food from your garden or trees. Where this is the case, there are people in your area who may simply feel entitled to your eggs. Make sure that it's not your chickens eating their own eggs--or hiding them. See the related questions below for information about this.
- There is an issue with vandalism in your neighborhood. The vandalism may be new or the problems may instead be long-standing. In either case, vandals won't be above causing the same mischief in your coop that they cause elsewhere in your neighborhood.
- Your show breeds are missing from a secure coop with no signs of struggle or entry by animal predators. Theft of this sort often occurs when someone knows you are away, or after you have had a stranger by to purchase chicks or extra juveniles. Be sure it's not just an issue with a hen who has gone off to be broody in a hidden spot!
- Eggs are missing and latches to your coop or run are opened and then re-latched. While a raccoon can also open latches, they will not properly close them again. Before you conclude that it is a person problem rather than an animal problem, be sure animal predators can't get in another way. Animals like weasels or snakes can squeeze through very small openings, so inspect your coop carefully. Remember to make sure that it's not your chickens eating their own eggs--or hiding them. See the related questions below for information about this.
If you are dealing with an off-balance neighbor, be sure to report any threats to the police *before* your birds or stolen or hurt. Ask that the officer make an incident report. An incident report is normally just kept on file for future follow up if there is a related crime that needs investigation. Be aware that the police will normally speak to your neighbor as well, so reporting the threats to the police is something that can exacerbate any enmity that's already there, because your neighbor will know you reported his or her threats. This can be good or bad, depending on your situation, but by and large it's good. After all, by the time you have concluded it's necessary to report your neighbor's threats to the police, there probably won't be much of a neighborly relationship left to preserve, and it may simply be more important to protect yourself and your birds. Plus, most people will be less inclined to hurt your birds if they know the police will suspect them right away.
If you have show birds to protect from thieves, don't advertise when you'll be gone--not on forums, not on Facebook, not anywhere if you can help it! Don't bring strangers into your yard to view your expensive or rare show birds, and don't advertise your specific location.
If you need to protect your birds or eggs from casual thieves, a padlock will usually suffice. It's doubtful most people would go to the trouble of breaking into a coop for eggs if the coop is padlocked! That said, determined thieves may still break in, even if your chickens' area is securely locked. There is probably no way to keep your flock absolutely safe from thieves, but if you have continuing problems, consider installing a security camera.