Whether you view the opossum as a friend or a fiend, finding one in your chicken coop is never a pleasant experience. Although the opossum is a passive animal, it’s also opportunistic and may be a danger to your smaller hens, and their eggs.
First things first…
What Is a Possum?
Standing about the height of a domestic cat, possums have been described as having a “head like a swine … tail like a rat … of the bigness of a cat.”
These marsupials originated in South America but their flexible diet and ability to give birth to up to 20 young at a time have made them adaptable to a wide range of habitats.
With long, pointed faces and round, hairless ears, possums are sometimes mistaken for rats. Not only is the possum no rodent, it’s also not averse to the occasional rat snack, should such an opportunity present itself.
In addition to the occasional rodent, possums will happily devour grain, fruits, and a variety of plants. Possums are also partial to frogs and roadkill – both of which supply them with much-needed calcium.
Keep an eye on your pet food as well – possums will tuck into anything from chicken mash to dog food if it’s easy enough to access.
One final thing – the American opossum is not the same as the Australian possum. They’re not even related!
Do Opossums Eat Chickens?
With their strong, sharp teeth, possums are certainly capable of attacking and eating chickens.
Simple answer? Yes, they do.
They enjoy a varied diet and will happily prey on young chicks and steal eggs. While unusual, it has been known for possums to take on mature hens, which are generally too big and intimidating for the average possum.
Are Possums Responsible for My Disappearing Chicken Eggs?
It is commonly believed that, given access and opportunity, a possum will help himself to as many chicken eggs as he can stomach in a single sitting.
Scientific studies and field experiments say otherwise.
Andi Cockcroft performed a series of field experiments earlier this year, leaving out morsels of bread and chicken eggs slathered with syrup. While the possums chomped enthusiastically on the bread and licked off the syrup, they didn’t attempt to break or eat any of the eggs.
Research is all well and good, but there are plenty of people out there who will testify to catching possums in the act of eating chicken eggs. Either way, the best approach is to be cautious and protect your eggs as fervently as you do your chickens.
The Homestead Benefits of the Possum Diet
Possums might be a bit of a pest in some circumstances, but they also bring benefits to the backyard farm or homestead. Not only do these potential pests partake in pest control themselves, hunting down and killing cockroaches, rats, and mice, they also help to keep tick populations under control.
A single possum can kill around 5,000 ticks in a season, destroying 95% of those that attempt to feed on them, and over 90% of those it finds on the ground.
Although some fear for their feline friends, believing they could become possum prey, instances of a possum killing a cat are very few and far between. It’s far more likely your cat will terrify the possum into playing dead than your possum having the final say.
Possums Are the Spidermen of the Animal Kingdom
Generally too passive to be social climbers, when it comes to scaling physical structures, the possum is in a league of its own. Capable of climbing concrete walls as well as fences, possums are some of the animal kingdom’s most tenacious climbers.
Possums have strong hind feet and are blessed with an opposable digit that makes climbing a breeze. A prehensile tail makes them as adept in a tree as monkeys are, possums are more accomplished than almost any other small animal when it comes to climbing smooth surfaces.
Possums can climb tall trees with considerable skill and are equally proficient at getting into attics and roofs.
Possums Live in Burrows – Can You Dig It?
Possums are big fans of dark, ground-level dens but rarely dig their own, relying instead on the disused burrows of other animals, like skunks and raccoons.
Possums prefer to burrow on open fields and close to water. Their thin fur offers little insulation, so they line their dens with dry grass and other soft materials to keep out the cold.
Possums will utilize the crawl space under a house, or even an attic or chimney, to make their homes, which is far from ideal given their capacity to carry disease.
How To Protect Your Chickens From Possums
In many places, it’s illegal to harm or kill a possum so finding non-lethal forms of protection is the only way to go. Proper coop security is essential, especially as possums can squeeze through some surprisingly small gaps to gain access.
How to Identify a Possum Attack
Possums won’t come into your chicken coop with blazing guns or samurai swords – they’ll probably be pretty stealthy about their nocturnal invasion, leaving little evidence behind. You can, however, identify a possum attack by looking out for these telltale signs:
- Easily identifiable footprints – with their clawless opposable thumbs on the hind feet, there’s no mistaking the possum’s footprint;
- Possum droppings are fairly large and similar to dog feces. More rounded than rat droppings, possum feces tend to be around two inches long and around 3/4 of an inch wide;
- Discernible bite marks on the bird’s neck, thigh, or breast;
- Partial remains of their kill;
- Baby chicks missing;
- Eggs missing or broken shells visible.
How to Possum-Proof Your Chicken Coop
As possums are excellent climbers, wire mesh fences do little to deter them. Here are some ways you can protect your chickens from opossums!
1. Electric Fence
An electric fence wire around the top of the fence, approximately three inches from the fence itself will do the trick. Most predators are deterred by an electric shock – as we are when we touch an electric fence!
2. Motion Activated Lights
Motion-activated lights in your yard or around your coop are excellent deterrents against nocturnal predators but, if that sounds like too hefty an investment, you could festoon your chicken coop with cheap Christmas lights instead.
3. Special Predator Lights
You can get night lights that are specifically made to deter predators at night. Basically, it imitates a bigger predator’s eyes (or fire, as the description states) which scares smaller predators like opossums away.
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4. Get Your Pets To Protect Your Poultry
Not all dogs see chickens as a free meal so, if you have dogs who live happily in the yard, put their kennels or beds close to the chicken coop. They’ll soon raise the alarm if a possum comes too close!
Guinea fowl are surprisingly effective at protecting chickens, as are donkeys and alpacas.
Perhaps the easiest solution, however, is to get a medium-sized rooster to protect your flock. Displays of aggression from a Rhode Island Red or Barred Rock will be more than enough to frighten off the boldest possum.
5. Ultrasonic Possum Repellent
This solution is a trial and error type of possum repellent. Some people have reported great success with ultrasonic repellent, while others aren’t convinced at all.
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6. Get Your Possum Professionally Removed
If you’re really at the end of your tether and have tried everything in your arsenal to dissuade your local band of possums from targeting your flock, it’s time to call in the experts.
Wildlife services use humane traps to catch the possum before relocating it. This isn’t always the best solution, however, the relocation is stressful for the possum and can be fatal, so protection is better than cure.
7. Cans With Ammonia-Soaked Rags
Many people advocate the use of ammonia to keep possums at bay. Hanging empty cans stuffed with ammonia-soaked rags around your coop is sure to work, but it could also cause you respiratory problems so is far from ideal.
Garlic is a more natural alternative and has the added benefit of keeping parasites and rodents away at the same time.
9. Leave the Radio On
You could try leaving a radio playing in your chicken coop overnight – the noise should be enough to deter the possum without keeping your chickens awake all night.
Just make sure it’s a weatherproof radio, suitable for outdoor use!
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Coop Security and a Little Ingenuity
Getting rid of a possum who’s found your stash of chicken eggs is never going to be straightforward and preventing them from accessing your chicken coop in the first place is much more effective.
Coop security and a little ingenuity can go along to making sure you have a harmonious relationship with your local possums, rather than one fraught with chicken attacks and egg thefts.
Don’t play possum with your predation problem – protect your poultry and let those fuzzy marsupials enjoy life the natural way – away from your chickens!