Getting started. Why raise chickens? 0/3
Requirements (parts list) for raising chickens 0/4
Basic breed types and their characteristics 0/2
Purebred flock vs. assortment 0/1
Incubators and hatching chicks 0/3
When things go wrong and predators too! 0/5
Processing birds 0/4
The Crafty Coon (Raccoon)
As I contemplate the various predators which can plague the world of poultry, “raccoon” is one of the first to come to my mind. I don’t know if I could call the raccoon “the worst” predator. I would definitely call it one of the worst. Raccoon are found throughout most of North and South America. I believe I’ve seen sign of “coon” everywhere I’ve ever lived, even in Chicago. Like the opossum, raccoon have adapted to urban and suburban environments just as well as rural.
Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there! I grew up in a part of NJ, where I would venture to say 90 % of the population had never seen a raccoon, unless it was dead and laying on the side of the road. Yet, as an adolescent, I ran a ¼ mile trapline, along a little stream, narrow enough to jump over and only about 4” deep. On average I trapped about 15 raccoon from that stretch every year! I heard of an Oklahoma rancher who commented to a friend of his, that he’d pay $15 each, if his friend would bring his dogs and get rid of the “coon” on his property. He was thinking there might be five or ten. His friend went in with coon hounds and, in two or three nights, he caught over 100 coon! I never heard if the rancher paid up!
One of the most common (and sad) errors that I see with chicken owners, is that they greatly underestimate this animal. Sometimes they think that raccoon don’t pass through their yard and won’t notice that the chickens (or other poultry) are there. Sometimes they put up a fence, thinking that the raccoon won’t climb over, or dig under it. Sometimes they fail to understand just how small of an opening a coon can squeeze through. One of the most common tragedies is when a person has a nice secure chicken coop, but they fail to close it up at night. Maybe they have closed it up every single night for months. Then, one evening, they’re tired and out of their routine. It might be extra cold or rainy, and they fail to make the trip out, to lock up the birds. Bam! The next morning they go out to discover than their chickens are dead!
The opossum generally hunts alone and kills but one bird at a time. Coon sometimes hunt in family units. They’re faster than opossum. They will kill as many birds as they can, before settling down to eat. Coon are really smart, finding innovative ways to get to your chickens.
I’ve heard of raccoon killing all the chickens in one of those little commercial chicken coops without actually getting inside with the birds. One will make a commotion on one side of the coop, causing the birds to panic and to throw themselves against the opposite side of the coop or pen. Meanwhile another raccoon waits quietly, by the side where the birds will hit when they panic. When they do, that coon deftly reaches in, grabbing chickens by their extremities and tearing them to pieces through the wire. In the morning, the owner only finds a few scraps in the coop, and feathers scattered all over the yard!
It is extremely important that anyone getting chickens simply assume that they will be visited by raccoon! Just prepare for it!
Steps to Avoiding Raccoon Predation
- Have a secure coop which can be completely secured at night. One inch mesh chicken wire generally works, as long as one understands that a coon can reach through it, and therefore arranges the perches and shelter far enough away from the mesh, that the birds cannot be panicked into the side of the pen. Coon can’t reach through 1/2’ mesh.
Have a framed, wire mesh (1/2” mesh) bottom or solid floor for whatever area the birds are closed in at night. Simply having a wire fence which meets the ground will not stop a predator from digging under it (sometimes within minutes).
Consider having an outdoor dog on hand, at night, to run off predators. Just keep in mind that not all dogs work for this purpose. The best are livestock guardian breeds. However, livestock guardian dogs are not suitable for all home environments.
Close the birds up at dusk, every night! They need to be secured with something like a dead bolt or a latch, which won’t be easily knocked open.
Own and learn how to operate a large live trap. Feed stores often carry them. Don’t settle for “big enough.” Get a trap with LOTS of ROOM for a raccoon to fit in it. I’ve seen coon go into a “big enough” trap, grab the bait, trigger the door mechanism, and STOP the door from closing behind them WITH THEIR BUTT! Just remember that a live trap can also trap poultry and desirable animals such as cats and dogs. So be responsible and check the trap every 8 hours, preferably leaving it unset during day light hours.
A portable baby monitor might be useful, if you set up the transmitter in your coop and keep the receiver in your bedroom. When you hear a “ruckus,” get out there FAST! (This is only for the most hardcore poultry lovers.)
Raccoon often follow waterways. So, if possibly, don’t put your chicken coop along a creek.
If You Catch a Raccoon, Don’t Let it Go!
If you catch a raccoon, DO NOT simply drive it somewhere to drop it off. For one thing, these animals can travel a lot further than one generally thinks, so it’s likely to come back. Secondly, you don’t want to make your problem, someone else’. Finally, raccoon have few to no natural predators, once they are grown. They carry sarcoptic mange and rabies, just two of a good many of dangerous diseases. I cannot remember, now, the name of it, but there’s a disease they carry, which if transmitted to a human is certainly fatal. The best thing one can do for the raccoon species is keep it thinned out.
So, if you catch one, see about putting it down. Back in the early 90s we lived for a year in the Columbus, Ohio area. I remember speaking with someone connected with an animal shelter there. They admitted, that whenever a wild raccoon was dropped at shelter, it was euthanized almost immediately. They considered them too risky to keep around.
How to Dispatch a Raccoon
Raccoon are powerfully built. Some Native American languages called them “little bears.” Be very careful, especially with the adult sows (females), which can be extremely aggressive. Once you catch a raccoon, it is often an option to call Animal Control. I’d recommend that you communicate with them before you set about catching a raccoon. You need to know what kind of reception you will receive, ahead of time. In many locales, Animal Control will pick them up for you.
If you catch one in a live trap, you don’t want to let it out of the trap, risking its escape. If you have a body of water deep enough, drowning is a good option. If you use a 22 rifle to kill it, keep in mind that the bullet can damage your trap and, under certain circumstances, might ricochet. ALWAYS be aware of where a bullet may go AFTER passing its intended target. And NEVER assume that the target (in this case a raccoon’s head) will stop the bullet from going further. If you have dogs, be aware that they may try to get to the raccoon, getting themselves, possibly infected with rabies or some other disease, or getting between the coon and bullet.
Another way to kill a coon in a live trap, is to construct a wooden box, which fits around the trap and has a hole on either end. Connect a hose to a car exhaust pipe and run it into one of those holes. The carbon monoxide will euthanize the raccoon within minutes. Just don’t do this in an enclosed area. You don’t want to “euthanize” yourself!
There are a number of other kinds of traps, which are not called live traps. Steel traps (commonly called “leg hold traps” and Conibear traps, which are like large scissor like contraptions, which snap shut and prevent the animal from breathing, effectively killing it. Be extremely cautious in using such traps! It’s all too easy to harm a pet with them. The learning curve with these traps is steep. Having trapped for years, I know how to use them, and I DON’T use them except in very special circumstances, in which I’m certain I will only get the desired varmint.
On Encountering A Raccoon, Not in a Trap
Occasionally one will encounter coon in the act of going after birds or prowling nearby. Occasionally, they are naive and don’t run like crazy when a human approaches. Normally, in this situation, you either have a gun on hand, or else you simply watch them, as they decide to leave. There will be no time to go get a gun. But once in a blue moon, when we had coon getting into our coop, I managed to get out there with a shotgun while the ruckus was still going on. I think, maybe once, I managed to shoot the raccoon. One time, upon entering the coop (while standing in the doorway) I had a coon practically climb me like a tree, on its way out! I don’t know who was more frightened!
Don’t Even Think About…
- Trying to Shoot an Unrestrained Raccoon with a Handgun! (Odds are 100 to 1 against getting it, and much higher for hitting something you don’t want to hit!)
Trying to Shoot an Unrestrained Raccoon with a Pellet Gun! (You might “make’m angry!) Pellet guns are not nearly powerful enough for this purpose.
Again, if you try to shoot a raccoon, ALWAYS make safety your highest priority, even over getting the coon. Better to let it go than hurt someone or something unintended.
Idea for a Handyman Type: Set up the door to Your Chicken Coop With a Timer and Garage Door Opener.
I have a friend who did this, arranging for the door to automatically close at dusk. This worked like a charm!