Security Review: Urban Chicken Coops

By eyezac at 10:07 pm on March 13, 2009Comments Off on Security Review: Urban Chicken Coops

Chicken coops form the heart of many urban farmers’ livelihoods. Providing sustenance directly through eggs, indirectly through fertilization of soil, and supplementing any waste management system through the digestion of otherwise unusable organic matter, the occupants of these structures play a vital role in small-scale subsistence living. Yet with such a range of assets come an array of risks  and vulnerabilities. Especially as the technology underlying these systems becomes more advanced, it is essential to evaluate the implications for the their security–and the security of the urban farmer’s way of life.

Assets/Security Goals

1. The most obvious potential target of an attack is that of the eggs. They should be secured from procurement or damage by any cause.

2. The physical integrity of the chickens is perhaps the most important element of the system, and hence deserves the greatest share of security resources.

3. The condition of the coop itself is also very important, and should be protected from damage and undue wear.

Potential Adversaries/Threats

1. Hungry people are one clear threat to the safety of both the eggs and the chickens. In an urban setting, however, stolen chickens may be considered too much of a liability to be of interest to the common thief or burglar. Yet provided adequate incentive (such as hunger), it is conceivable that someone could abscond with the chickens and dispose of them very quickly. The eggs are more obvious targets.

2. Hungry non-human animals form another category of adversary. These include large birds, mammals, and in some cases reptiles.

3. Finally, the most subtle and devious adversary is–perhaps ironically–Mother Nature herself. Her spite may take the form of dire weather and/or natural disasters, erosion, disease, and famine.

Potential Weaknesses

1. The primary weakness of the chicken coop system is hard to pin down, because it typically sports almost no security measures. Probably the most important flaw is that it is possible for an adversary to simply walk (or dive, glide, slither, or crawl) in and compromise the system. The only kind of authentication in place is usually based on the urban farmer him/herself, and this feature is often disabled. For instance, an adversary could carry out an attack while the farmer is asleep. These attacks include stealing of eggs, stealing of chickens, and damaging of coop.

2. Even when under the watchful eye of the farmer, it is possible for the system to be compromised. For example, an attack could occur so quickly that the farmer has insufficient time to react, as when a large bird of prey swoops down and flies away with one of the chickens.

Potential Defenses

1. A lock on the egg compartment of the coop would deter potential human adversaries from stealing the eggs.

2. A fence with a ceiling could prevent large birds of prey from swooping down and grabbing a chicken with their talons.

3. A watchdog (or other animal), if properly trained, could prevent potential animal adversaries from executing a physical attack on the chickens.

4. Finally, a system of water ducts, extra supplies of food, a bio-shelter, and a good veterinarian would all contribute to the security of the system against the attacks of Mother Nature.


The chicken coop is a very intricate system, comprising many key elements, any one of which is necessary for the functioning of the system, making the risk associated with any vulnerability or attack especially high. In this way, chicken coops are not unlike many computer systems, where one point of compromise can bring down the entire system. The risks inherent in the weaknesses described above are very difficult to completely rectify, because each one depends on a multitude of factors and conditions, and the fix for one may be incompatible with another. For example, the chickens can be protected from predators by keeping them “cooped up,” but this would also prevent them from obtaining adequate nourishment through foraging, and would also demoralize them.


Any project or asset in a system that resides out in the open such as this is going to be vulnerable to attacks. It is important that one  takes this into account when deciding how much time, effort, and money to invest in such a system. Above all, one must keep foremost in one’s mind the goals of the system, and allocate resources accordingly. Adequate food and shelter are clearly critical, but a nice paint job is not. Further, such ornaments as paint might unintentionally attract adversaries by drawing their attention. Furthermore, chickens are not extremely difficult to replace, and a damaged coop is only as expensive to repair as its parts. Given the daunting challenges associated with securing a chicken coop, “perfect” security–in addition to being impossible–is probably not a realistic goal. It is ultimately up to the urban farmer to weigh the costs and benefits of any security feature, and act accordingly.

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