Possum in the Hen House

Possums are Predators

Every chicken enthusiast dreads the potential predator attack. Hawks and owls can pick off a chicken before you know it. Foxes, coyotes, neighborhood dogs, racoons, skunks, and even cats can be a threat to your poultry. I also knew that possums would steal eggs and eat young birds if given the chance, but last fall I found out how destructive a hungry possum can be. I lost 26 chickens to possums.

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The worst part about the predation was the fact that this possum didn’t stop with one chicken. It bit the neck of each victim, or beheaded it completely, then went back for another without eating the last bird. One of the hens was still alive, but mortally wounded. I had to put her down. We never did catch the critter, but we did see a possum waddling off in the beam of our flashlight.

I suspect that the culprit may have been a mother possum teaching her young to hunt. I have no proof or evidence to back that up…it’s just my gut instinct telling me this. Shortly after these attacks a large possum was found dead on the side of the road, just past our neighbors house. I did a little mental jig in celebration…hoping that the perpetrator was dead. I continued closing the chicken coop up before dusk to discourage further evening raids and we didn’t have any more problems with possums for the rest of the fall and winter…until just the other day.

I scared a possum that had been eating eggs and it ran under the back steps to the pasture. I considered using the pitchfork to do it in, but that seemed terribly inhumane. I realize that every predator is just trying to make a living in this world. Unfortunately the ones who find out that our livestock make good eating and easy prey will keep coming back unless we do something about it. But to be honest with you, I just didn’t feel right about stabbing it with a pitchfork. Pretty gruesome.

The next evening Tom put the chickens away for me, since Joe and  I were out visiting with our homeschooling friends. He took the pellet gun with him just in case the possum had come back for more fresh eggs from the nest boxes. Sure enough, our little egg thief was back at his business and this time it was his undoing. Tom shot it point blank in the head with the pellet gun and then unloaded another round just to be sure it wasn’t ‘playing possum.’

The unfortunate possum looks like it is fairly young, probably from last year’s litter. It could be one of the offspring that was learning the ropes on our unlucky hens last September, if my theory is correct. If so, it may have been orphaned and was just looking for a source of easy meals in our hen house. Whatever the situation, we don’t have to worry about that possum anymore. But there are plenty of other predators that would love a chicken dinner, so I’ll need to be more careful with my chickens.

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58 Comments on “Possum in the Hen House

  1. Recently we lost four of our seven layers over three incidents, most at night, but one during the noon lunch hour when my homeschooling wife and kids were in the house for lunch. Because we had lost two in the fenced chicken yard, we had moved the remaining hens to a dog kennel in the middle of the mowed lawn, where they would be in a more supervised area, instead of the chicken pen which is in a more grown up corner of the yard. Whatever it was, during middle of the day, killed two more! Just plain killed one with no real visible damage, and yet the other casualty ate ALL the meat off the ENTIRE neck, clean, left head attached, and ate down one side of the breast, cleaning the meat down to the rib bones. I cleaned the remains and put it in the freezer for us to salvage a meal later on. Later that next day, at night, I had live traps set with the head and boned out breast carcass, and caught a possum, which I killed. but now, people are saying it might better have been a weasel, which I have never seen around this area, according to the specific damage pattern, and putting a cover on the pen/run area will not correct that if a weasel, since we use 2×4 welded wire dog pen fencing, and chicken wire is too flimsy. Buying that much hardware fencing is going to be expensive, but I guess unavoidable? Any one care to challenge my conclusions based on this evidence? We are keeping them locked in the building 24/7 until we get this wire improved. Thanks.

    1. Hi Boot,
      I can’t say for sure what it was, but that is the kind of damage I have seen from a possum too. Sometimes weasels will just bite the neck and drink the blood, sometimes they will eat the head or breast too. I’ve also seen damage from a Great Horned Owl that ate the breast meat. Possum and weasels both will kill many more than they will eat at one time. I think that they both like meat that has been sitting around for a while and maybe they are trying to provide meals for many nights to come. I’ve seen possums out during the day when they were hungry in the fall and winter. Once they find an easy source of food they will keep coming back. I haven’t had a problem with weasels (yet)…so I can’t speak from experience about them. If you can keep the hens locked up for the fall and winter and give them some greens for the vitamins, they will be safer.

      If you have a weasel problem (and it could be, you may never actually see them), then you need fencing with smaller openings and it needs to be buried about a foot deep to keep them from burrowing under the fence. Then you need a secure top to the fence also.

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience with this predator and I’m sorry I can’t help you positively identify the culprit. Sometimes it is a guessing game. But this does sound just as much like a possum to me as a weasel. So hopefully you killed it, but you might want to keep setting the trap because a mother possum will bring her little ones to teach them how to kill…especially in the fall when they have a hard winter ahead.

      Best wishes.

  2. Thanks for the info, while away 2 very large possums got ahold of 36 4 month old chickens. I would have never believed it. We captured them with cages, but not untill after another 15 laying hens were killed. We have solar doors with light sensors into enclosed and covered runs and into hen houses. THey were catching late birds. I just could not believe it could have been the work of these 2. I thought it was racoons and set z-traps within the perimiter of our fencing and sure enough within a day caught a racoon one red handed. So it seems we have been offereing a all you could eat buffet. I am contunie to leave cages and z-traps set.

    1. Hi Amber,
      I’m so sorry to hear about your losses…it is so hard to recover from this kind of devestation. I’m glad that you found the culprit and I hope you don’t have any more dead birds. I was surprised at how much damage possums can do. I go out and manually close my coop every night before dusk to make sure that I don’t lose anymore, but there is always the possibiltiy that some will be taken before I get there.

      Good luck with your trapping efforts!

  3. Just heard a my chickens in distress tonight. Went down with the 410 and dispatched a possum. Had enough of these critters also raccoons, coyotes, foxes and such killing my birds. Too much time and effort put into these bird to deal with such things. Some say these critters are too cute. Well if you were surviving from these birds you would be thinking different. For those of you out there with a pellet gun I hope you could put the animal down humanely but I doubt it. For those using a 22 I hope your a good shot in the night and your pointing that thing in a safe direction. I would recommend small shotgun with lighter bird shot and full choke. Much safer and quicker dispatch for all involved.

    1. Good advice, Wheelturnin! In our situation, the possum was ‘playing dead’ in the nest box and hubby was able to get him point blank in the head. The first shot did the job, but a second shot was administered to make sure he was goo and dead. Eating the eggs out of our nest box is one thing, but that possum would have eventually started eating the chickens too.

      Anyone having problems with predators killing their chickens should do their research to see if they are allowed to use a firearm in their area. Are the animals protected? You may need to call in a licensed trapper to remove a nuisance animal to abide by the law. Anytime you are handling a firearm, put safety first and make sure you are not endangering yourself or a neighbor!

  4. We have them too. We have a chicken yard made of a dog pen and wire buried so nothing can dig under. The house is elevated, to about waist level, accessible only from the pen unless you hike yourself in by the door. We get home before dark and pen them up. It’s a lot of work and we can’t just let them wander because the hawks sit in our trees just waiting for them to come out.

  5. I haven’t had any problems with possums yet. My 2 dachshunds chase them off. It is the raccoons that I can’t stand anymore. I used to think they were so cute, until I came home from doing the night shift once and found that raccoons had gotten into the chicken pen and pulled my show Silkie juveniles through the chicken wire on their coop. I had poor chicks with broken legs, missing wings, heads missing… Those raccoons killed 10 of my 15 juveniles, and I had to put down 3 more with severe injuries. I started using a live trap to catch them, and then they got a .22 to the head.

    1. Oh no! How horrible πŸ™ I’m so sorry to hear that your little chicks suffered so much. What a terrible way to go. I know that wild critters are only looking for a meal, but it is hard to remain objective when they cause so much pain and suffering to our pets and livestock.

      I know that many people feel that we should never kill predators that are causing damage, but they have never seen how much suffering our animals go through after an attack. I hope you never have such a horrible experience again!

      Thanks for leaving a comment. I will be extra vigilant with my chicken coop now!

  6. I’m so glad you were able to catch the possum before any chickens were killed. Those possums can be pretty nasty predators. Thanks for hosting the Clever Chicks party! I have fun joining in every Monday πŸ™‚

  7. We had a run-in with an opossum underneath our coop this winter. It got trapped under there by 2 feet of snow and had nowhere to go. He couldn’t escape in any direction. I was just glad that I saw him before he got to my chickens. I spotted him scurrying back underneath the coop while doing my late afternoon rounds and we set the Havaheart trap that night. Much too close a call for my liking. My chickens are safe from night predators while they’re inside the coop, but this bugger didn’t have a wrist watch!

    Thanks for linking up with the Clever Chicks again this week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

    1. Hi Rita,
      You could set a live trap with some yummy carrots, beans or other veggies they like…then release them somewhere a long way away. But remember that trapping and releasing in a new environment may very well be a death sentence for an animal too. They may not be able to find their own territory and dig a home before they are eaten by a predator. And don’t release them near a farmer’s fields!!!!

      Sometimes I think it is just kinder to end their life quickly. Check into your local rules about killing nuisance animals.

      1. Most states will not let you legally relocated wild animals. Check your local laws first!

  8. I have seen the damage and carnage a possum can create. My brother in law and I were starting a flock at his house, and over the course of one night possums beheaded all of our hens. It was pretty gruesome. Like you said, the terrible thing was they didn’t eat the bodies, just tore off the heads. Unfortunately predators are just something to deal with when you have livestock I guess.

    1. Hi Homestead Dad!
      I’m sorry to hear about your hens. It is so heartbreaking to have all of your chickens killed, especially when the predator is so wasteful. I never knew a possum could be so destructive until last fall. I learned a very hard lesson.

      Thanks for your comment! I always enjoy hearing from you πŸ™‚

  9. I have not lost any chickens to predators yet. I live in Australia and our possums are different but a quick google search revealed that they do pretty much the same beheading of poultry. So thank you for this warning. We have foxes that were introduced by the British. So sorry for your huge loss but I couldn’t shoot a wild creature. (ps. sorry but I think racoons are so cute too).

    1. Hi Fiona,
      I’m glad you haven’t lost any chickens and let’s hope it stays that way! I know that racoons are cute…all wild animals are beautiful in their own way. But the first time you see all of your lovely hens scattered around bleeding to death, those wild animals don’t look so cute any more. I hope you don’t have to experience this. To be honest, I never thought we would shoot a predator, and there are some that are protected so we won’t kill them (like hawks and owls). I figured there would be another way to deal with the situation. But the only thing I can do to be certain the hens are safe is to keep them cooped up all the time. And that seems inhumane to them.

      I certainly hope we don’t have to deal with this again. But I’m pretty sure we will. Best wishes and thank you for your comment!

    1. Hi Frugal Foodie,
      I guess cute is in the eye of the beholder! They sure do cause a lot of problems. I have tried leaving cat food out for the cat when we are gone for a few days, but the possums clean out the whole container in one night. That may have been what attracted them in the first place.

      Thanks for commenting!

      1. I have seen opposums eating with the cats. Opposums are pretty calm animals unless they feel threatened. I came here after finding a opposum in my coop. Thank the Lord it only ate some eggs but I still had to humanely dispatch it bc it would just come back. I have found some broken eggs for the past few weeks so unsure whether it was the opposum or not because I was thinking this was the first offense.

      2. It sounds like the possum has been coming for a while. I hate to kill anything if I don’t need to, but I have had a possum kill chickens before. I think you did the right thing.

      3. When you mention putting them up are you referring to putting them back into their run if you are allowing your chickens to roam the yard? I have a large run that is fenced and covered with chicken wire over the top. I had a oppossum come in, i think thru an addition to the run that didnt have fencing over it yet. I just had a tarp running over it. I am not for sure though how it got in though. That is just a guess.

      4. Hi Domenique,
        When I mention putting up my chickens, I mean putting them back in their coop for the night. It is the only way to keep them safe with all of the night predators here. It sounds to me like the possum got in where you didn’t have fencing over the run. They can fit through pretty tight spaces. I hope you don’t have any more problems!

  10. How awful! I don’t have chickens but have been thinking of getting some of years. The thing that keeps me from actually doing so is that the hawks are now so bold that they sit on my privacy fence. One day one was walking around my backyard!

    Glad you got him! Hope that’s the end of it.

    1. Hi Manuela,
      That would be very worrisome indeed! We have a lot of hawks, but they haven’t been a big issue. I think if the had I would reconfigure my pasture to have fencing over the top. But it would really reduce the size of my pasture and I like giving the chickens a lot of room to roam.

      I hope you can have chickens someday! They are lots of fun, most of the time. πŸ™‚

  11. He picked on the wrong house! Good Job Tom!
    I’m really thankful we have never had our chickens attacked in the 13 years we have lived here, I’m not sure I could go through such a clean up – must be soo upsetting.

    Love Leanne

    1. Hi Leanne,
      I’m going to have to have Tom show me where the ammo is and how to use the pellet gun πŸ™‚ He’s at work a lot!

      It was really awful to find so many of our hens dead and scattered around the pasture and coop. I really was upset. I strive to give my chickens the best life I can until they are no longer productive. Then I make sure that their end is as quick and humane as possible. The possum was not so kind.

  12. We have the same problem here… but we lock our chickens up before dark to make sure the possums can’t get in. We hate to kill the wildings, they need to eat, too… but I have lost probably a dozen chickens to possums over the years. It would be one thing if they ATE them… but they behead them and leave the carcass. We have had to kill a couple this year, but are trying not to kill any more.

    1. Hi Mary Ann,
      I try to lock them up before dark too. I was late a couple of times and that was when they attacked. I hate to kill anything too, but once they find an easy meal you know they will be back. The latest problem was during daylight, so I think they were especially hungry.

      1. Blasphemy! Lol. Princess Bride is a must-watch. Even my hubby enjoys it. Just tell the guys that Andre the Giant is in it. Perhaps that will encourage them. πŸ™‚

      2. πŸ™‚ They’re pretty set in their ways! I think it’s one of those movies I’ll have to rent when they go to a concert or something and I have the tv all to myself πŸ˜‰ I’m not sure if they even know who Andre the Giant is! Think of all the culture we’re missing. πŸ™‚

  13. Hi Deb,
    Try to get rid of as many possums as you can before you bring home any chickens. They are omnivores and will be happy to eat your eggs and chickens. πŸ™ Racoons are also a real menace to chickens, try to get rid of them too. Ground hogs are vegetarians, but will do a lot of damage to foundations (as you found out!) and gardens.

    I don’t like the idea of killing wildlife, but these critters are not endangered and they have learned to live a little too well in close proximity to humans. They can be very destructive. Be sure to check into your wildlife nuisance laws before loading your 22!

    Hope you don’t have any more problems!

  14. We don’t have xhixkens yet but have had possums many times come to eat the cat food left out for outdoor cats. Had hubby shoot the last one I saw as it was a huge one, probably would’ve helped produce or would’ve born babies and then had more problems. Have coons around too. they hide in our barn I suppose. No livestock there but a shelter nevertheless. Had lots of ground hogs several years ago and we live trapped them and shot them. One time we caught 5 babies in one day. Got rid of 5 adults and 7 or 8 babies I think within a couple months. They raised the concrete under a car in the barn, so had to get rid of them to prevent then totally ruining the barn. Haven’t seen any for a few years. Don’t know if they’ll eat chicks or not but glad they’re gone, the garden is safer. He did the right thing getting rid of it by shooting. At least it was quick and I don’t think any choice in the matter.

    1. Hi Joan,
      I almost cried. Most of my favorites were wiped out in those 2 attacks, including Lily (I took a lot of pictures of her…so cute), and Buffy the Mouse Slayer. Sigh. Tough lessons learned.

      Dogs can be a real problem, because they think it is so much fun to ‘hunt’ your chickens. Too many people let their dogs run loose with no regard to what damage they can do.

      I hope you are done with predators at your place!

  15. We also recently had a possum in the chicken house and it was a couple of hours before dark. It was only after eggs but scared my 13 year old half out of her wits when she went to check that nest box! What a shriek! Our chickens have been loose except at night but something has been picking off the occasional bird…white ones which I guess are easier to spot. It’s fast. Coming in the middle of the day. gets them by the head. I saved the last one because my guineas gave the alarm. Her only injuries were to her head and the last one we found the head and a couple of piles of feathers where she was carried off. Now my birds are fenced as of this morning which makes for a much bigger feed bill. Glad this possum didn’t get any of your birds.

    1. Hi Missy,
      It could have been a weasel, or even a possum. I forgot to mention weasels. They seem to like drinking the blood more than eating the meat. My cousin Jace had a weasel getting into his chicken coop many years ago. It would kill the bird by biting the neck or beheading it, then it would drink the blood and leave the carcass. That is pretty much what the possum was doing to our birds too.

      I’m glad you saved the last hen to be attached. Those guineas are quite the guarrd birds from what I hear! Wish I could have some, but I have neighbors who would not appreciate the sounds they make. πŸ™‚

      I hope you don’t have any more problems with predators!

      1. My husband got guineas and he then got rid of them. It wasn’t neighbors – it drove HIM crazy! lol.

  16. We had a hawk mortally wounded a hen several weeks back. I had to shoot the hen. That put us down to 8 hens. We had 10, but one is a rooster. Go figure.

    I’ll have to remember to keep my eye out on those possums. I know we have them. We haven’t seen them on our property though. We try to get them in the coop with the small door shut by dark. They don’t always cooperate, though.

    1. Hi Rachel,
      Sorry to hear about your hen. Hope you don’t have any problems with possums. They tend to come around at dusk or a bit after nightfall. But the most recent problem happened while it was still light out, about an hour and a half or so before dusk. I know about chickens not cooperating πŸ™‚

  17. I too know just how possoms can be the undoing of a chicken house. After our attack we put up a solar electric fence. So far, so good. Glad your’s was dispatched quickly!

    1. Hi Karen,
      I’ve thought about a solar electric fence…but the cost was pretty high. But if we keep losing chickens it would be worth the cost of installing the fence to protect them. Thanks for the tip!

      1. We went for almost a year before we lost a chicken to a dog that we were fostering and two chickens to either a possum or a fox. I believe it was a possum because I caught a big possum. I will admit that I hate killing things (even though I am a hunter) and this wasn’t much different. I really hated loosing our chickens that my daughter named and played with more though.

      2. Completely understandable…our chickens are considered livestock, but I still feel terrible when something happens like this. Sorry for your loss. πŸ™

    2. Solar electric fence is good for some things – but black snakes are a big egg problem around my area. As far as taking a pitchfork to a possum? I’d have stabbed it a couple dozen times – I had 20 chickens beheaded by a band of possums over several weeks. Since they don’t mind doing that to my chickens – I don’t mind pitchforkin’ em. Or rocks or whatever, if I don’t have my .22 with me.

      1. Hi Rolliby…I don’t have any problems with snakes, so far (knock on wood!) but yes, I can imagine they would slither right under and electric fence!

        I don’t like killing anything, really. But I had to make up my mind that I was going to, if we were wanted to eat our chickens. πŸ™‚ And with the possums’ penchant for biting heads off poultry then leaving it, I won’t put up with that either. Ya’ gotta do what ya’ gotta do!

        Thanks for stopping by!

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