Are you worried about raccoons eating your chickens? If you’re not, you probably should be.
While it would be nice to say that raccoons are more afraid of you than you are of them, that’s only partially true.
Raccoons are easily deterred by the presence of a human, but it doesn’t matter how often you visit your chicken coop to check eggs. The minute you turn your back, there’s a good chance that a raccoon is going to sneak in behind you, ready to prey on your unsuspecting flock.
If you’re wondering, do raccoons eat chickens? The sad but short answer is yes.
That’s not the only threat that these omnivores pose to your backyard flock, but it’s one that you should work hard to prevent.
Do Raccoons Eat Chickens?
Raccoons are just one of the many species that are considered natural predators to chickens. Chickens are small enough birds that they can easily fall victim to a handful of predatory birds and hungry mammals.
In fact, depending on where you live, you may find that your chickens are frequently harassed by coyotes, foxes, weasels, skunks, dogs, cats, hawks, and other animals.
Raccoons, however, are found just about everywhere in the country. While some predatory threats, like foxes and coyotes, aren’t as common in urban areas, the raccoon is one of those opportunistic animals that will seize upon any opportunity it can find to have a nice chicken dinner. That’s true even if you live right in the middle of town.
Luckily, there are several ways you can prevent raccoons from decimating your backyard flock. These steps are easy to take, and as with all aspects of caring for chickens, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The Biology of a Raccoon
You are probably already familiar with what a raccoon looks and acts like, but here’s a refresher just to jog your memory.
Native to both South And North America, raccoons can be found as far north as Canada and as far south as Argentina. They are also found in Europe and Asia, where they were introduced. Raccoons tend to inhabit lower elevations, staying out of high mountains but frequently found in prairies and coastal marshes.
These mammals are usually about fifteen pounds, with males slightly larger than the females. They have long fur with distinct gray or brown-black coloration. Raccoons are most easily identified by the black coloration on the front of their face – which looks like the mask of a bandit – and their black-ringed tails.
Signs of Raccoon Problems
If you walked out to your chicken coop one morning to find a pile of dead chickens, you might be wondering whether it was a raccoon – or another type of predator – that caused the chaos.
Unlike some predators, like hawks and dogs, who will more or less grab their prey and run with it, leaving a nose sign of their arrival, raccoons like to loudly announce their presence. They want you to know they’ve been there!
As a result, a raccoon will often leave pieces of the birds lying around your coop, the run, or even outside of the pen – they’ll even leave scraps near your house. Raccoons are messy eaters and don’t care what kind of destruction they leave in their wake.
This can be unpleasant to behold, but the bright side is that then, at least, you will know what kind of predator you are dealing with. If you went to the coop one morning and just noticed that a chicken is missing, chances are, a raccoon was not to blame. There will usually be a path of destruction for you to follow directly to the culprit.
If you find a full body, or the body of a chicken with just a few pieces or parts removed, it is likely not a raccoon, either. Animals like skunks, opossums, and weasels usually eat the chickens right where they attack them.
They don’t usually move the body or eat the entire animal – although they sometimes will, too. If the body appears completely untouched or has bite marks in the neck (or a missing head), it’s likely that a weasel was to blame for the carnage.
Raccoons attack chickens by biting the head or upper neck area, usually tearing off the entire head and leaving it a distance away from the body. The breast and crop may also be eaten, chewed, or mutilated, and the organs are also normally eaten.
You may find that the raccoons shred the legs and heads of the chickens, too, scattering the pieces all over your lawn. It is not uncommon for a raccoon to raid an entire coop in one night, feeding upon dozens of carcasses in the process.
There are other signs of raccoons’ presence that can signal you to the nearby threat, too. The most obvious sign, of course, is seeing an actual raccoon. However, if you don’t see a raccoon, you may see some of their footprints. Raccoon tracks look somewhat like dog or cat tracks but will be distinguished by the spread of the toes.
Raccoons have five toes on both their front and back paws. The tracks are pretty distinctive, as are the animal’s droppings. It is dark brown and cylindrical and looks much like dog feces, though usually a bit darker.
Other Problems With Raccoons Near Chickens
It’s not only the potential for raccoons to eat your chickens that you need to worry about. raccoons will cause other problems for you, too.
Not only do raccoons love to eat chickens, but they also like to eat their eggs. If you have an unknown egg bandit, it could very well be a raccoon that’s giving you grief.
raccoons are also known to spread a handful of diseases, including rabies, infectious canine hepatitis, and canine distemper. While most of these only affect other mammals, raccoons are nevertheless creatures you don’t want hanging around your home.
Tips to Keep Raccoons Away From Your Chickens
Here are a few tips to help keep raccoons away from your chicken coop:
Watch the Clock
Although raccoons are mostly nocturnal, they are like other predators in that they like to hunt and eat at both dawn and dusk. Although this is not the only time that you have to worry about these predators, it is the time when an attack is most likely.
Attacks out of this window are usually conducted by sick, starving, or very young raccoons. You may notice exceptions to this in the fall and spring, too, when predators are hungrier and might not stick to their normal routines.
However, watching the clock and calendar and using normal predator behavior to influence your own routine can be an effective way to keep raccoons away from your chickens. Wait until late in the morning to let your chickens out, and make sure you get them back in long before dark.
Before winter arrives and as raccoons are ramping up their feeding patterns for the upcoming cold season, it would make sense for you to conduct a thorough examination of your coop, too. Look for any weaknesses, openings, and addresses as needed.
Secure Your Coop
Raccoons are incredibly smart and have dexterous fingers, which makes breaking and entering an easy task for these nimble creatures. They can climb over walls and fences, dig beneath barriers, and even open latches.
Once they figure out how something works, they will remember it, and will return to your coop repeatedly once they do so. They will also take note of any flaw in your coop and run design and use it to their advantage.
Even if you have a slide lock on your coop door, don’t be fooled into thinking your coop is safeguarded against these mammalian invaders. They can still get inside, as it’s not difficult for them to figure out how slide locks work.
You will want to install a lock that takes at least two steps to open. The more complicated the system is, the more effective it will be at keeping out raccoons. Some people use combination locks for padlocks, while others use a lock as well as a cinderblock to keep the door secure.
In addition, take the time to shore up your coop both permanently as well as at night. Make sure the coop door closes tightly and that there are no gaps. It’s easy for a raccoon to slip through cracks.
If you know that raccoons are a particular problem for you, you may want to seal up all of the potential entry points in your coop with hardware cloth. Use the smallest cloth you can find, ideally ¼ inch hardware cloth.
This is an especially important step to take around doors, vents, and windows. If you have chicken tractors surrounded with wire netting or poultry netting, the same rule applies.
Even if a raccoon cannot fit its large body inside a chicken house, it can still stick its fingers through larger holes. The raccoon will then pull the chicken through the hole, often shredding it to bits as it does so.
Trust us, that’s not a fate you want to subject your chickens to!
Don’t neglect the top and bottom of your coop, either. Make sure the entire roof is secure – including any shingles that might be loose – and enclose the bottom of the coop in wire to prevent predators from hiding underneath (this is piccadilly important if you rocop is raised up off the ground).
Lock Your Chickens In At Night
It can be tough to haul yourself up off the couch at night to go outdoors and lock your chickens into the coop – especially once winter sets in and nighttime means 5pm. However it’s important that you make your chicken coop a nighttime fortress to keep predators away.
If a manual chicken door just isn’t cutting it for you – or if you are frequently away from home in the evenings and early mornings – you may want to consider installing an automatic coop door opener.
These doors don’t come cheap – most are at least $100 – but they work on timers so that you don’t have to worry about shutting your chickens in at night. Your chickens will go into the coop on their own and the door will shut right behind them once it gets dark outside.
Keep an Eye on Young Birds
While raccoons will go after chickens of all ages, young cockerels and pullets are especially vulnerable to a raccoon attack. That’s because young birds are more likely to lie on the ground at night, where raccoons can readily reach them, and they haven’t developed all the instincts necessary to ward off an attack.
Store Feed Out of Reach
As with the first few tips, this is another method of preventing a raccoon attack that will help eliminate the likelihood of other creatures going after your chickens, too. It will also prevent other issues, like feed loss and the attraction of pests (like rats and mice).
Keep your feed supply out of the reach of all animals at all times. Don’t leave chicken food hanging out in the coop overnight. Make sure spills are cleaned up quickly, as the food can easily attract raccoons to the coop – and when they get there, they’ll realize they have an even tastier meal waiting inside.
Consider keeping your food inside a locked, enclosed barn in sealed drums. You should lso store water out of reach of raccoons, although this is admittedly less important than feed. If you leave pet food dishes outside at night (or bags of garbage), this is also something you need to stop doing.
No matter what, you don’t want to send the message to the raccoons that your home is the new smorgasboard on the block. They’ll show up for the free garbage and hang around for the free chicken.
Check Your Fences
Raccoons can easily climb up and over a fence. Make sure your fence is sturdy and keeps out low-to-the-ground predators, like dogs and foxes, and remember that the fence not only needs to keep predators out but also needs to keep your chicken sin.
Since raccoons are such good climbers, it may make sense for you to invest your time in building a covered run. That way, even if raccoons can scale to the top of the fence, they still won’t be able to get inside the pen.
Don’t forget that these pests like to dig! Consider burying hardware cloth about four feet deep around the coop and run. This can prevent them from digging and getting underneath the fence.
Be Noisy and Present
The easiest way to keep raccoons away from your flock is to simply be there. Raccoons are not fond of loud noises, strong odors, or flashing lights.
They will absolutely sense your presence on the property and will also be less likely to approach a coop if there is a dog nearby. If you keep a dog on the property and you have a known raccoon problem, just make sure you have your pet vaccinated against rabies, as raccoons are known carriers.
Even something as simple as installing a motion-activated light can deter raccoons. They will be less likely to enter a coop if a light turns on every time they approach, as they will be startled.
Enlist the Help of Ammonia
You’ll want to be careful where you do this, as ammonia can be dangerous for other animals and even people, too. However, placing a few rags soaked with ammonia around your property can help deter raccoons.
You will need to replace these regularly, though, especially after a heavy rainstorm, so just keep that in mind.
Use Cayenne Pepper
Most exterminators and pest control professionals don’t recommend using any kind of pellets or poison to prevent or kill raccoons because it is very common for chickens to get into them,too. This can just as easily kill your chickens.
However, a decent (and more natural) solution is to use cayenne pepper. Chickens are not sensitive to capsaicin (the ingredient in cayenne pepper that makes it so spicy).
The raccoons, however, won’t come anywhere near your chickens if you sprinkle cayenne pepper around the perimeter of the property, so it’s a great way to keep these predators at bay.
Trap a raccoon
If all else fails, you may want to give trapping a try. Just keep in mind that many areas prohibit the movement of raccoons from one area to another, so you’ll want to look into your local regulations if you plan to trap a raccoon and release it elsewhere.
When there is a known raccoon problem on your farm, the best way to trap one is with a have-a-heart (or Hav-a-Hart) style trap. This kind of trap will allow you to trap the animal without any risk of injuring it. This is different than the foot- and leg-hold traps you often see for sale.
You will need to bait the trap with some tasty food, like cat food or even sweet treats, and you may find that you need to be patient with this endeavor. Once Raccoons figure out what’s going on, they’ll learn how to strip the trap of its bait without getting caught.
However, with any luck, you’ll have your raccoon culprit in custody before long. You can then (as long as it is permitted by law) move it to another location or hand it over to the proper authorities.
Contact Animal Control
There are some people who prefer to…ahem… “take matters into their own hands” when it comes to mitigating a raccoon problem. This often entails setting traps or shooting raccoons when they see them on the property.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that in some areas and during certain times of the year, this isn’t always legal. You may need to get in touch with animal control or a wildlife rescue service to see if they can help you address the issue.
How A Raccoon Can Spell Disaster For Your Chickens
Sure, they may look cute and cuddly, but raccoons have the ability to wreak some serious havoc on your farm. Not only can they decimate an entire flock of chickens in a very short amount of time, but they can also eat eggs and spread disease.
Once a raccoon figures out that it can get to your chickens, it will keep coming back – time and time again – until all of your chickens have died.
Don’t wait until this point to take action. Instead, engage in a few simple preventative techniques to make sure raccoons never swing by your coop for a free chicken dinner – you’ll be thankful not to have to deal with these little masked bandits!