Raccoons Cause Trouble, For a While

If you’ve had chickens for a while, you loathe raccoons. If not, you will. Here’s why:

A while ago we started losing 1-3 chickens a night. Some were completely eaten, others barely touched. This is one of the more infuriating aspects of predators: they don’t have an “off” switch. Instead, they keep killing until they run out of targets.

In the wild, their prey scatters and the predators only get one or two victims. But a fox or a raccoon that squeezes into a closed henhouse will kill your entire flock.

That’s one reason I use open housing — no doors, and one side open — so the chickens can scatter. (Open-front housing has other advantages, which you’ll see when you read Fresh-Air Poultry Houses.)

How did the raccoon get in, in spite of my electric fence? Different ways, it appears. There was only one well-defined game trail, but when I adjusted the electric fence so that anything using it would surely get zapped, the losses continued. Raccoons have no fear. A dog or coyote that gets zapped by an electric fence will never come near it again, but raccoons will prowl it endlessly, looking for spots where it can squeeze under. They can squeeze pretty flat, and if you put the fence wire too low, it shorts out. Farming sounds so easy! But I’m sure  you agree that farming is no panacea.

When adjusting the fence didn’t work, I set snares. Snares are pretty easy to use, and by placing them only on game trails heading towards your all-night chicken buffet,  you can see how they can be very selective,  nabbing only the miscreants. After a few nights of nothing, we caught a single raccoon. And the losses stopped.

All that carnage from one smallish animal? Don’t tell me Nature is kind!

In the bad old days, there was a Federal bounty on just about anything that moved, including raccoons. And old-timer told me that the bounty and the price of pelts paid for his pack of coon hounds. One result was that chicken and sheep farmers had little to fear from predators.

When the bounty dried up in the Seventies, so did the hunting and trapping, and the raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes became an ever-increasing threat. Even since I started raising chickens in 1996, things have gotten much worse. Benton County keeps cutting the amount they’re willing to chip in as matching funds for the Federal predator control program — which only targets animals that are actively killing livestock — with predictable results: If you don’t learn all about electric fences and snares,  your chickens are goners. It’s almost as bad in town as it is in the country!

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Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

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Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, is an expert on free-range chickens, and is a semi-struggling novelist. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years. In addition, he holds down a day job doing technical writing at Workspot.

3 thoughts on “Raccoons Cause Trouble, For a While”

  1. My local raccoons are very wary of live traps, so I’ve stopped using them. Raccoons seem unable to notice snares, though, and walk right into them even they they are totally unconcealed.

    It would not surprise me if different populations of raccoons have different skills, passed down from mother to offspring and by raccoons observing each other.

  2. We have pasture-raised chickens too. We also have experience with those nasty racoons. For a while they were eating a chicken a night. Luckily we built our portable coops with doors that can close. Now since we go out each evening and shut the doors we haven’t lost a single one. I was amazed that thy got through the electric fence but your story highlights the braveness of racoons. Thanks.

  3. I hate those bastards. I killed 4 of them last year. I just catch them in live traps. If that stops working I’m not sure what I’d do – I don’t want to set anything that’ll hurt my cats. This spring it seems possums are around, I got one already. Raccoons will also reach and grab through the smallest of spaces and take a leg or whatever they want (I’m talking about with closed chicken tractors & meat birds here)

    Thankfully I haven’t had fox or coyote trouble in about 3 years, which probably means I’m due. Stray dogs are a problem though.

    Robert, I saw your comments on the Yahoo pastured poultry group about Cornish Crosses and black-and-white thinking & as a guy who made chickens a part time then full time and now part time job again (I got wise after a couple years), I appreciate them. Being in businesses and having a backyard flock are two different ballgames.

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