We have a neighbor who’s just started to keep chickens. Given how excitable our little cat is at the sight of the wild birds in our garden, we were a little worried that feather and fur would fly the next time she wandered over the fence. Fortunately, our neighbor has kept chickens before. He’s used to ensuring his girls are safe from predators and assured us that he hadn’t found cats were a particular problem.
But will cats attack chickens? And is there anything that can help keep them safe?
Will Cats Attack Chickens?
Cats are unlikely to attack if a chicken is fully grown.
Our neighbor said the same thing. If a feral cat was hungry enough, it’s possible they’d have a go. Some cats have more of a predatory nature (or an inflated ego), and may pounce even on adult chickens but this seems pretty rare.
Chicks are another matter, however. Cats will see babies as an easy target. Smaller chicken breeds are at risk, too, for the same reason. Cats use size to determine whether or not something is prey. Often, they’ll choose rodents or garden birds instead.
Think about a fully-grown chicken, too. It has a beak, claws and spurs and can use them for maximum effect. You may find that it’s the cat who comes off worse in a tussle.
You can never rule out that a cat won’t try to kill an adult – some have, but the vast majority won’t. Smaller breeds and chicks should be considered vulnerable and accommodated appropriately and supervised where necessary.
Bottom line is that you can never rule out that a cat won’t try to kill an adult chicken – some have, but the vast majority won’t. Smaller breeds and chicks should be considered vulnerable and secured appropriately when not being supervised. Of course, it’s not only cats that owners should be worried about. Smaller breeds and chicks are also at risk from hawks, rodents, dogs, and snakes.
Would a feral cat kill a chicken?
Yes, if it was desperate enough.
Feral cats don’t have the luxury of an owner spooning food into their bowl at regular times and the sight of a plump bird may be too tempting to miss out on. Having said that, feral cats aren’t stupid. The size of an adult chicken will probably put most of them off.
At what age are chickens safe from cats?
When they’re fully grown is the easiest and best answer.
It will depend on the breed but somewhere between 16 and 24-weeks and when they’re ready to start laying. Some owners will wait until their chickens are of equal size to a domestic cat to ensure their birds don’t look like easy targets.
Most cats will certainly know not to engage with an adult chicken.
Are cats afraid of chickens?
That reluctance suggests the cat understands the potential risks of engaging with one.
Some cats will be afraid of chickens. Some have anxious, skittish personalities and may be nervous around the birds. Others may be indifferent, curious or delighted by the sight of a chicken. You’ll find plenty of pictures on the internet of chickens and cats living side-by-side quiet peaceably. Cats who have had bad experiences with birds may have a more pronounced fear of them.
Can chickens defend themselves against cats?
Adult chickens can. They have claws, spurs and beaks. Whether this will always be enough to see off an attack by a persistent predator is another matter. It also depends whether the cat is dealing with a lone chicken or an entire flock. Roosters can also be worthy adversaries and are known to make a fiery defence of their coop.
How to protect chickens from cats
Keep baby chickens in a secure and safe place where a cat can’t get into. This may mean adding mesh to openings in brooders etc as a cat can stretch a claw or push its head into such areas relatively easy. You may also need to keep chicks inside until they’re able to safely be outdoors.
Cats like climbing, but having a coop that’s off the ground will make it harder for the cat to get in or to exploit gaps. Anything that frustrates them into giving up is worth trying.
Your chickens may not be 100% safe until they’re fully grown. If you’re especially worried about local cats coming and taking them, it’s worth keeping the chickens supervised when they’re free-ranging or letting them stay inside protected areas.
Adding a rooster to the flock can help. He’ll alert the hens to danger and may even defend them from approaching predators. This won’t be an option for those living in residential areas but could be a good solution for anyone living rurally.
Ensuring that the chicken’s housing is secured will frustrate a cat and mean your chickens are safe during the night. This may mean it’s time for an upgrade of their current accommodation or adapting elements of an existing structure to ensure nothing gets in. Check regularly for any gaps or holes that have appeared or any weaknesses in the wood or wire. Remember that your coop should be protected against all sorts of predators including hawks, foxes, coons, etc.
Cats do most of their hunting at dawn and dusk so secure your chickens safely inside a coop before the sun goes down. This will also keep the chickens safe from other nocturnal predators.
Sometimes having cats can help protect your chickens! Cats are territorial animals and will help run-off other predators as well as other cats. This will depend on how adjusted the cats are to being around the chickens but many chicken owners still have cats (and dogs!).
Cats will use trees and bushes to cover their approach to chickens. Hens may not notice they approach of a predator until it’s too late, so cut down any foliage that obscures their line of sight. The same goes for long grass.
Ensuring that the chicken’s housing is secured will frustrate a cat and mean your chickens are safe during the night. This may mean it’s time for an upgrade of their current accommodation or adapting elements of an existing structure to ensure nothing gets in. Check regularly for any gaps or holes that have appeared or any weaknesses in the wood or wire.
Cats are sensitive to certain smells. You may find that adding cinnamon to your garden can help.
Remember that your coop should be protected against all sorts of predators including hawks, foxes, coons, etc.