Chickens are the favorite snack of many a wild predator. One of the most common questions I see is whether groundhogs are possibly eating your chickens or eggs. If you are raising chickens and have groundhogs in your area, this short article is for you.
Groundhogs are primarily plant eaters, and are not known to eat either chicken or chicken eggs. While they do eat insects, snails, and small bird’s eggs on occasion, they are most likely interested in getting at your chicken’s feed rather than the chickens themselves.
While groundhogs may not be the one getting your hens, you may have a bigger problem on you hands. Here is what you need to worry about with groundhogs near your chickens. And some tips on how to keep your chickens from getting snatched.
Are Groundhogs Dangerous to Your Flock?
Groundhogs primarily want one of two things when the approach your chickens —
- To dig and forage near the coop itself
- To eat the chicken feed and scraps you provide for the chickens
Groundhogs are not interested or probably capable of attacking your chickens directly, unless they are quite small. Chicks should be kept in a closed area until they are old enough to protect themselves, or until you have older chickens are present to scare off the invaders.
That being said, I’ve never seen or heard of a case where a chicken or chick was definitively killed by a groundhog.
Best practice is to keep chicken feed in closed containers, or otherwise out of the reach of opportunists like groundhogs and other predators who are attracted to it. Popular permaculture options for this include the “chicken tractor,” popularized by Joel Salatin in Pastured Poultry Profit$, and the “chicken moat”.
Read more about building a chicken moat in my article on deer prevention.
How to Prevent Groundhogs from Getting Near Your Chickens
If groundhogs are causing a ruckus, you can use one of the following methods to get them out of your chicken coop —
Sprinkle The Ground With Irritants
One option is to sprinkle the ground or nesting area of the birds with substances that groundhogs don’t like, including —
- Blood meal
- Ground black pepper
- Dried blood
- Talcum powder
These substance shouldn’t pose any threat to your chickens, but are likely to discourage groundhogs from hanging out. Generally, chickens will not eat these items either, so they will stay around longer.
Whether this method will work depends on how determined the groundhogs are, and how diligent you are about keeping up with it.
You can also try placing substances with strong smells —
- Human hair clippings
- Hot pepper and or garlic tea spray
- Used kitty litter
Ideally these scents would scare the groundhogs away, and you may have some of them already on hand.
Get Rid of Their Habitat
By making the area around the chicken coup less hospitable, you may can also drive groundhogs away.
One easy thing to do is keep any grass or ground cover cut as low as possible with a few feet of the fence line. Groundhogs are prey as well, so they don’t like spending time crossing open ground.
Aggressively eliminating brush or wood piles where they like to nest also gives them reason to move on and bother somebody else.
Finally, seeking out and blocking their tunnels with wire mesh makes living in the vicinity of your coup highly inconvenient and may just do the trick.
One very Permaculture way of dealing with annoying animals is to put in place other animals or systems that naturally take care of the problem.
Typical chicken guard animals such as dogs and geese will help deter groundhogs. A well trained dog in particular can do wonders scaring off tasty little groundhogs, while leaving your chickens unharmed.
Domestic cats will also have a good time stalking groundhogs, and may just scare them away without a fight. However, cats also are know for attaching chickens and chicks, so you may have solved one problem by introducing another if you go strait to bringing in a mouser to deal with your groundhog problem.
As a last resort, trapping the groundhogs is an option, although probably the most expensive and time consuming one.
If your area allows trapping groundhogs will kill traps, then that might be an option for you, depending on you skills.
Otherwise, you will need to buy or construct an no-kill groundhog trap. Place the trap in front of their borrow, well baited with broccoli, apples, lettuce, or carrots. Be sure to check the trap frequently so you can relocate the create many miles in to the wilderness soon after they are caught.
What Else Might Be Eating Your Birds
The most common chicken killers are the following:
If you have problems with chicken going missing, you should investigate which type of animal is most likely to be making meal out of your poultry.
In cases where adult birds are just gone completely, then you are likely dealing with a larger predator such as a dog, coyote, fox, bobcat, or birds of prey like hawks or owls. Missing chicks are likely due to snakes, raccoons, or house cats.
Frequently smaller predators leave feathers or wings as evidence. Weasels usually only eat part of the bird, and leave the rest. Raccoons sometimes only eat the head, if they are only able to reach through the fence.
How To Protect Your Flock From Predators
When you know that you have a predator feeding on you flock, it is essential that you take steps to prevent losses in the future. If your setup is letting in one predator — even if you only lose one to start — you are likely to have problems in the future. Potentially even loosing the entire flock.
Defending Chickens from Ground Predators
The best defense for you chickens is a good wire fence. Wire fencing should be no larger than 1 inch, otherwise you risk smaller predators being able to wiggle their way in. Fencing should be buried at least 1 foot under ground, to prevent tunneling under.
Additionally, clearing out and brush, grass, or shrubs near the net helps make it a much less attractive target for smaller predators that prefer to remain hidden.
Defending Chickens from Airborne Predators
In the case that you have airborne predators such as owls, eagles, or hawks to content with, you have two options. The first is to remove any trees or other perch locations from the vicinity of the coop. Birds of prey love perching to stalk their prey, and are less likely to attack in an open area.
If that isn’t an option, and birds of prey are becoming a serious problem, then you may need to install overhead netting to protect your birds.
Do Groundhogs eat chicken eggs?
Groundhogs are not known to eat chicken eggs, although they will eat small birds eggs, snails, and bugs on occasion. Primarily groundhogs are herbivores that eat plants like nuts, furs, grosses, flowers, fruits, and grains when available.
Are groundhogs dangerous to chickens?
No, groundhogs will not attack a chicken and pose no real danger to the flock. At most they may rile up the chickens, if digging in their coop or foraging area. Groundhogs are more a nuisance than a danger.