Expert foragers

Game wardens have been fielding reports of wildlife such as bears, foxes, raccoons and other predators raiding backyard chicken coops.

People new to raising chickens in their backyards need to be careful, say state game wardens who monitor a rise in complaints from people about raids at their coops.

Game Warden Col. Jason Batchelder said Monday that wardens in various parts of the state are getting complaints from chicken owners about bears, foxes, raccoons, fisher cats, skunks and bobcats eating their birds and chicken feed.

He said there have been numerous reports of bears around the Londonderry and Landgrove area, Bellows Falls and Underhill.

“There were some isolated incidents around the state this weekend where some bears had to be euthanized, unfortunately,” said Batchelder. “Generally, it’s bears right now. The smaller critters we handle over the phone if we get calls on them, but from my chair, it’s been bears.”

Vermont’s bear population has been doing well in the past few years, he said. The state regularly reminds people to take in their bird feeders come spring when bears that have been hibernating all winter come out of their dens in search of food anywhere they can get it. Bird seed is high in calories and nutrients, making feeders attractive to bears. The state also recommends keeping trash and pet food secured.

When it comes to keeping chickens, the state has some advice to chicken owners. First, invest in electrified wire or netting. Placing peanut butter or bacon grease on one spot of the fence can improve it as a deterrent. Quarter-inch hardware cloth is also useful. The state recommends burying galvanized hardware cloth or netting at least a foot underground around the fence perimeter to deter burrowing animals. Wire or plastic netting over the top of a pen can also keep off flying or climbing predators. Motion activated lights or alarms will scare off some animals. The state also recommends keeping feed in a secure area and container and not feeding your animals more than they can eat at one time.

Batchelder said there are many reasons complaints like these are on the rise.

“I think the interest in chicken coops has certainly contributed to it,” he said.

Game wardens will take complaints about smaller animals, but they usually just give advice to people over the phone.

Batchelder said he’s had his own troubles with bears after his chickens.

“I had my wall torn off my shed,” he said. “The bear tore the wall off and ate all the grain and half my chickens. I said I’m done. I was within my rights to take the bear, but I felt like it wasn’t going to be the solution I was looking for.”

He said this happened to him last year. After the bear, he got some electric fencing and took other precautions.

“Then foxes started jumping the fence and got the rest of my chickens, so I was done. Not to discourage anybody, a lot of people are much more successful than I am,” he said.

Educating the owner of the coop is the department’s ideal solution, he said.

In a statement, Game Warden Jeremy Schmid said he’d received several calls about a bear raiding chicken coops in Underhill, killing dozens of chickens, ducks, guinea fowl and peacocks.

“Once I received these calls and responded to several complaints, I provided advice about several deterrent options that would be effective for this bear,” stated Schmid. “Our goal is to get homeowners educated on nonlethal options and deterrents. When these options are implemented, we tend to see a significant decrease in bear incidents. These homeowners took a strong initiative for nonlethal measures, and it has now been a week with no complaints on this bear damaging coops and killing poultry.”


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