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Q: What do I need to know about bears if I keep chickens?

A:

Name:
Bear
Ursidae

Description:
*Large mammals, most species are omnivorous. (Polar bears are mostly carnivorous, while pandas are mostly herbivores.)

What do I need to know about bears if I keep chickens?

*Up to 12 feet from head to tail, and some weighing more than 2000 pounds

Distribution/Habitat:
Found widely throughout the world. They tend to frequent more secluded places. While you may see occasional reports of bear incursions into towns, these are usually short term visits where the bears are getting into garbage cans for scraps, for instance. Make sure to keep any food waste or garbage as secure as possible to avoid attracting any wild animals--not just bears.

Hunting Behavior:
If bears want to get into your chicken coop, there is probably not that much you can do. They are huge and immensely strong, and if they want in, they'll get in. Luckily, they are mostly active during the day, so they're unlikely to trouble your flock while you're asleep and unable to respond. They are typically solitary. They are normally shy, so unless they're starving, they normally won't venture to a place where they're likely to encounter humans. Additionally, if one is in town, it will usually find much more convenient food sources than breaking into your coop. Chances are that a bear is going to find it easier to infiltrate your garbage can, vegetable garden, bird feeder, or compost pile than your chicken coop.

That said, if you do spot a bear trying to get into your coop, don't intervene. Bears don't normally attack people unless they're threatened, but they are incredibly dangerous, and if they're in town, they're probably hungry. Just respond by calling 911 or animal control--and then stay out of the way while authorities relocate the animal.

Protecting Your Flock
In most areas, of course, you're not going to need any special precautions against bears, because you're simply not going to encounter them. But if you are in an area where it's possible to encounter bears, there are a few things you can do. First, don't provide anything to attract bears to your yard. For instance, don't leave out cat food, and make sure they aren't attracted to wild bird feeders. If you feed wild birds, you'll want to use a no-waste feeder, and place it out of reach. You may also want to separately compost food scraps indoors before adding them to your compost pile of chicken litter and other yard waste outside.

We talk about using hardware cloth rather than chicken wire to make your flock safe from other predators... but when it comes to bears, hardware cloth and welded wire just won't stop them. They're too strong. There really isn't much you can do to make a regular coop secure from bears, unless you build it of stone and bar the windows with something like wrought iron. The one thing you CAN do is use electric fencing to erect a perimeter; however bears are so large and their fur so thick that sometimes even this won't help much. If you live in bear country, though, electric fencing is your best bet.