Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Opossums in the Hen House!

When you have livestock, predators will show up. This is true for backyard poultry.  Just because you might live in a nice little subdivision or within the city limits, trust me, predators are lurking. Some you may see, like the neighbor’s cat, but many will go undetected. Once darkness falls, your corner of the world changes from flowers and butterflies to things that go bump in the night.

How do I know? We have had things go bump in the night around here before. Once a weasel got into our shed through the tiniest hole in a wall and killed half our flock! I knew there were predators around, but weasels weren’t even on my radar. We had lived her over a decade and I had never seen one! This is why I always tell folks to make sure their coop isn’t opened till the sun is up and is closed tight before dusk.

Recently, I admit, I got a little lax. I wasn’t practicing what I preached. Thankfully it didn’t end in carnage. And it reminded me, that things go bump (and sometimes give you a hard time about leaving) in the night.

Our critter shed has a small gap in the doors about halfway up that you can peek an eyeball through. I love to peek in on the flock at lock up time, just to see what those crazy birds are up to. As I said, I had been being lax, dusk had fallen, and when I peeked through the crack I saw this…..



Dude, you are so NOT a chicken! And you most certainly do NOT belong in my critter shed, eating chicken feed, drinking their water and hanging out under my heat lamp. We have had issues with opossums from time to time wandering in, but they have never harmed a bird. Since they eat ticks, we do not dispatch them, rather we work with them, to relocate them back outside of the shed where they can resume being wildlife.



Will opossums hurt my chickens?

Opossums are omnivorous, eating carrion, insects, snails, rodents, berries, fruit, grass, snakes, frogs, birds, small mammals, cat and dog food, eggs, and yup, chickens. Opossums can and will kill chickens. They are not as ravenous in their search for food as say a raccoon. They will first eat any poultry food left out, followed by your eggs, and then if they are still hungry or the others aren't available, they will move on to your flock.

Opossums will target younger chicks and Bantams first, but a full grown adult can kill a full sized adult chicken. Roosting hens are easy target for opossums who climb well. Like a raccoon, opossums bite the necks of their victims. They do not drag off their kill, rather consuming what they want and leaving the body where it dispatched the bird.

So what can you do to protect your flock?

Since opossums are nocturnal, open your coop AFTER dawn and BEFORE dusk.

Don't attract opossums or other predators to your yard by leaving out food sources such as dog and cat food, wild bird seed, and chicken food. During drought, opossums can even be attracted by a water source such as a pond or water feature in your yard.

Don't use chicken wire. While chicken wire is awesome at keeping chickens in your run, it is not so great at keeping predators out, including opossums. Instead, use hardware cloth with a fine mesh. It is sturdier and the smaller sized mesh help prevent opossums and raccoons from reaching in and grabbing a bird.

Not all opossums are bad!

Did you know opossums are NOT related to rats? I know, Mother Nature didn't do them any favors in the looks department, but despite looking scary, they are really pretty neat once you learn about them. Opossums are marsupials, like kangaroos. And socially they are loners. So don't worry about a pack of wild opossums lerking in the dark. The only time you will see more then one opossum together is during mating and a mother with her young.

Opossums have very strong immune systems so are not likely to carry rabbies. While it is still possible, it is not likely. Opossums love to eat insects including ticks which can carry Lyme disease. If you live in area with Lyme, opossums are out there trying to help, do don't hurt them.

Opossums enjoy eating snakes, including poisonous ones! They are immune to the snake venom sand love to eat copperheads, water moccasins, and rattlesnakes.

Opossums are often transient. They have a very loose territory and don't stay in one place for more then a couple nights. The exception to that rule is if it is a female with young or if you are providing steady food sources.

What to do if you come across a opossum.

While opossums may sound big and bad with all their hissing and growling, they are very timid. If they feel threatened, they will bare their teeth, and they have some nasty ones. Their bite is nasty, so give them their space. I have never had one "play dead" with me, but always poke them with a long stick before assuming they are really dead.

If you see a opossum outside, leave it alone. If it is in your coop however, it really needs to be shown the door. Do not grab a opossum. Remember their nasty teeth? I find the best way to get a opossum out of a coop is with a long stick. If they are scared they will freeze, so you might have to do some pushing to get them to cooperate. If you do decide to grab a opossum, may I suggest a pair of welding gloves.

If you just can't look at their rat like faces, or want to confront them face to face, you can always use a live trap. Please do not kill the opossum, but remove it from your coop and release it away from your run. Remember, they are just doing what nature designed them to do and that they really are beneficial little guys when it comes to pest control!




I apologize for the quality of the photos in this post, but I had a boat oar in one hand trying to push the opossum towards the door! Real life happens when the good camera is in the house, so my phone had to suffice. LOL

15 comments:

  1. We often end up with them going into out garbage if the lid is not on tight. They make my dogs go insane. Thanks for all the valuable information. Nice to know they are not that likely to be rabid.

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    1. Growing up, I actually raised an orphaned litter of opossums. They can be cute and cuddle when not cornered, but they still need to stay out of my hen house!

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  2. That is a scary situation for your birds! Thankfully we have yet to encounter any other critters in our chicken coop, and we follow your advice of bringing the hens in before dusk and after dawn.

    Christina
    www.ourwoodhome.com
    (visiting from the Strangers and Pilgrims link up)

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    1. They weren't so much as scared as interested from afar. LOL They kept trying to peek down and figure out why mom was trying to get the fluffy thing out. Silly girls.

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  3. Years ago, we had 2 baby chicks that my daughter brought home from school in 3rd grade. My husband made a pen for them, and my daughter raised those chicks, fed them every day, danced and sang to them for over a year. She loved those chickens. One night a critter got to them. My husband thinks it was probably a fox, but we weren't sure. Wish we had secured them better. I don't know if I could be as calm as you if I saw an opossum in the chicken pen! Although it's been many years (my daughter is now married), we still talk about those chickens. I'm trilled that you share your posts with us at Brag About It. I really enjoy reading about your farm adventures!

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    1. My doctor doesn't allow me to freak out any more LOL I must be calm. My anxiety pills help a lot. They were prescribed because of the country kids but they work on opossums too!

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  4. Oh hell no! I would have freaked out! lol We had one inside the chicken fence one time a few months ago. Luckily, it didn't go in the coop.

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    1. LOL Not much freaks me out anymore.

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    2. That's good! I'm usually the same way, but there is just something about possums. Blegh! Why can't we have the cute ones like Australia has? lol

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  5. We love our opossums that come through the yard. We have a trap and we relocate them to another area where they'll be safe. They have played dead on us plenty. It's quite bizarre. And the babies...they really are cute.

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    1. I am all for letting wildlife do there thing. He didn't hurt anyone, so why would I hurt him. He just needed to walk away LOL

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  6. Our neighbors found one in our yard and thought it was dead, but turns out it was just playing dead because when we got home we couldn't find it. Thankfully it wasn't in the coop! Thanks for sharing on the Waste Less Wednesday blog hop!

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  7. Well I can safely say I have never had an opossum in my chicken shed ... but rats, weasels and red mite etc have all been unexpected guests at some point or other. And all unwelcome! #WasteLessWednesday

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