Possums live in North America, from parts of Canada down to Mexico. Although they inhabit American forests, they have adapted well to living with humans.
Possums are generally very peaceful non-aggressive creatures and are very useful animals for they are great for pest control.
Still, they can cause a headache for farmers and livestock owners. But are possums a danger to one’s chickens? Read this article to find out and see what you can do about it!
What Is a Possum?
The American opossum, also called the possum is one of the 66 marsupials from the Didelphidae family. It is a small omnivorous animal known for its scavenger way of life. The name “opossum” comes from the Indian name meaning “white face.”
Possum is up to 40 inches long, has a long naked scaly tail, and weighs 2 to 5.5 kg. Its fur is gray, brown, reddish, and rarely white. It reproduces two to three times a year. Less than three weeks after mating, possums give birth to 12 to 18 young, but less than half survive.
They develop in their mother’s pouch for another 50 days. When the young get out of the pouch, the mother carries them on her back, even while hunting. They are grown after 3 months when they separate from their mother and go their way.
Possums are solitary ground-dwelling creatures that climb treetops at night. They are also nocturnal animals that search for food at night rather than during the day. They easily see in the dark because their eyes are much bigger than their heads, and their eyesight is twice as sharp as humans.
Possums not only eat plants and meat but also like to feed on whatever fruits they can get their little paws on.
This makes you wonder: do possums hunt chickens at all?
In this article, we will explore this question in a lot more detail.
We will also discuss ways to protect your chickens from possums on your farm or ranch.
Will Possums Kill Chickens?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Check this video:
Possums feed on small animals, birds, amphibians, insects, fruit, and eggs. They also get a good source of their protein from large insects like grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and cockroaches.
Sometimes they eat domestic poultry and cultivated grain if the opportunity presents itself.
However, they do not usually hunt chickens since they are a bit too big for them. Their small teeth, relatively short fangs, and weak bite and jaw make it hard for them to try to kill anything much larger than a lizard or a sparrow.
But possums are opportunistic animals or little predators, we should say. They may attack chickens if they are starving or need to protect themselves and their young.
As nocturnal animals, they may see chickens as an easy meal, especially if they are sleeping in their coop at night. They might prey upon young hens or chicks if they see an opportunity for it since they are smaller and much easier prey than most animals they would find in the wild.
Like many animals, possums are very protective of their young and will defend them if a chicken gets too close to the possum’s comfort.
Do Possums Eat Chickens?
Possums are, as we said, scavengers. Although they usually eat, animal remains, they do have the habit of sometimes hunting and eating other live animals. This means that if they come across a chicken carcass, they will most likely feed on it.
As fierce as they may look, they are not very good hunters and do not usually go out of their way to hunt their food. This is because possums have a relatively weak bite.
They don’t have either the size or the teeth and fangs needed to hunt and kill animals larger than themselves, like chickens. They usually eat only certain parts of a chicken, like a crop, breast, and abdomen.
What Does it Look Like When a Possum Attacks a Chicken?
If a possum attacks a chicken, there will be obvious signs of struggle all over the chicken’s body.
The chicken will have relatively shallow bite marks on its neck, breast, and head, blood stains on its feathers, and chicken feathers may be strewn around the area where the attack happened.
The chicken’s legs or wings may have injuries since they use both of those not only to run away but also to fight back if they need to.
In more serious cases, the chicken may be missing entirely, and there may be no visible signs of what happened.
How Do I Know if a Possum Killed My Chickens?
A few key signs give away if a possum was responsible for killing your chickens.
First, look for bite and scratch marks on the chicken’s body, specifically the neck, head, breast, or head. These should be small, shallow wounds because possums have small teeth and mouths.
There should also only be two pairs of these to match an opossum’s upper and lower fangs. The rear teeth of an opossum are much less like those of predators and more like that of wild pigs or some herbivores. The rear teeth are meant to act as molars.
You can also take a walk around your land and see if the possum leaves any tracks. They should be very small but almost human-like.
The front paws look very similar to our human hands, and the rear look almost like our feet. The rear paws should also have a thumb-like protrusion from the middle of the feet inwards.
Remember that these are small animals, so you are less likely to notice any tracks in the drier months of the year because they are not heavy enough to leave any prints on hard ground.
Empty egg shells indicate that a possum visited your coop because they love to eat eggs but will leave shells behind. This happens during the winter when they can’t find any food elsewhere.
If you come across dog-like poop, it is an obvious sign that a possum has been a late-night guest in your garden.
Like raccoons and bears, possums will get into your trash and see if they can find anything to eat there. If you find your trash bin overturned and trash scattered all around, this might be an opossum’s doing.
If there are no feathers or tracks around, it might be a sign that a predatory bird like an eagle or a hawk carried a chicken away, not a possum.
There is one more thing you can do to find out who the culprit behind your missing chickens is. Set up motion-detecting cameras.
Make sure to get some that can take a good-quality picture at night. Give them time to work their magic, around a day or two, and then check them again. See if the possum has been lurking around your homestead.
How Do I Keep Possums Away from My Chickens?
There are many ways to keep any wild predators and varmints away from your livestock. Remember that every animal that might cause you trouble is different in its own way.
What works for something like foxes or coyotes might not work or even be an option for dealing with something like possums.
Here are some great methods for keeping possums away:
1. Make a New Chicken Coop
You can always make a new chicken coop that sits somewhat higher off the ground around your waistline or chest height.
This is so that any animal looking to get to your chickens will have a harder time climbing in and looking at what food it might find inside.
2. Secure Your Chicken Coop
Take a look at your chicken coop. Check and see if it has started to deteriorate. Often times you can’t tell if the wood has started to rot unless you know exactly what you are looking for.
Do you see any spaces or openings where a small animal could crawl into the coop from?
If so, it’s a good idea to cover those areas with thick wooden planks nailed to the coop or whatever other strong and sturdy material you have lying around.
3. Use Chicken Wire
Cover your coop with chicken wire all around to look almost like a small cage protecting the chickens.
You have to take into consideration a few things, though.
First of all, use a good quality chicken wire mesh that nothing can easily bite through, and second of all, it won’t simply rust away in a few months.
Another key trick is to embed the frame for the chicken wire 5 to 6 inches deep into the ground so nothing can dig under it without considerable effort.
4. Use Motion-Activated Lights and Sound
Possums are nocturnal animals, so using motion-activated lights and some sort of sound alarm can help deter them from approaching your coop.
When a possum approaches, the lights and sounds will scare them, and it will likely run away.
5. Use Repellents
Several chemical possum repellents are available on the market, such as predator urine or essential oils like peppermint or eucalyptus.
Spray these around your land to create a sort of displeasure to the opossum and cause it to move somewhere else.
6. Remove Food Sources
Food attracts possums, like all other scavengers. Remove any food sources from your yard.
It may reduce the likelihood of possums coming to your yard. You also need to avoid feeding other animals, such as cats or dogs, outside of your home. This can attract possums to your yard since they find pet food of the wet variety very appealing because of its smell.
If the possum sees that it has no available food sources in the area, it will move on to a place more suitable for it to live.
7. Get a Guard Dog
Guard dogs have been around almost as long as human civilization, and they keep us and our livestock safe.
You need to make sure to get a proper breed of dog for this type of role. Getting something small like a type of terrier is not going to work as well as a German shepherd, for instance.
You have to train the dog and socialize it from an early age so it does not try to eat your chickens. This is also important so that the dog does not show any aggression toward humans.
8. Trap the Possum
We are not talking about snares or other dangerous traps that can harm or kill the possum. We are specifically talking about more humane methods intended to capture, not maim.
Even if you intend to kill the possum, in many cases, you simply can’t because it is very much illegal. Possums are very important for the ecosystems they call home.
There are many of these traps on the market, including cage traps, pitfall traps, and other humane devices that will help you with your possum problem.
After you’ve caught a possum, you can put it in some sort of box or cage. Put it in your car and then drive off to some location away from your land where it won’t bother you so you can set it free.
9. Call Animal Control
If you do not have the time or the patience to deal with the possum problem, you can always call in the professionals to solve the problem.
Animal control is very familiar with these cases and will know what to do safely and effectively.
Most likely, they are going to solve the issue within a couple of hours, so you can sit back and relax.
10. Catch the Possum
If you are desperate or brave enough, you can always try catching the possum.
When chasing them, don’t let them get to a tree, they’re great climbers, and they’ll go beyond reach.
Make sure you are wearing gloves for your own safety. All you have to do when you spot a possum is to run up to it. What will happen is that the possum will freeze up or “play dead.” When the possum plays dead, grab it by the tail or by the scruff. Put it in a sturdy and sealable box with breathing holes.
After you’ve put it in the box, it’s time to release it again.
In conclusion, possums are not natural predators of chickens or any farm animal.
They may attack and eat a chicken if the opportunity or need presents itself.
Keep your coop well secured, and possums will not bother your chickens, for they prefer an easy meal!
Remember, possums kill cockroaches, rats, and mice and help control the tick population!