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!