Will Skunks Eat Chickens (And Do They Eat Chicken Eggs?)
For the average homeowner, skunks are smelly but otherwise harmless creatures that will occasionally make their dens a little too close for comfort. Usually, when we think of skunks, it is as a relatively harmless mammal. Sometimes they’re even kind of cute. But owners of backyard chicken coops may have heard rumors that your friendly neighborhood skunk could start eating the chickens in your coop. The question though, is if that’s true?
Will Skunks Eat Chickens?
It may come as a surprise that in addition to insects, grubs, and berries, skunks also eat meat. Since they grow to roughly the size of a house cat and have strong front paws for digging dens, they can also be predators. Usually though, they stick to smaller prey because combat can be dangerous. Some of your chickens might be almost the same weight as a skunk, depending on breed, and their beaks and talons make great defense weapons. If a skunk enters your coop, it probably isn’t to make a snack of one of the chickens but they will attack and kill if they need to. Once the meat is there for them, the skunks will eat.
Do Skunks Eat Eggs?
When skunks kill chickens, it is usually because they were caught in the act of stealing eggs. As we learned before, skunks tend to go for the easier targets. That makes the defenseless and protein rich eggs in your chicken coop the perfect midnight treat for a skunk. Unfortunately, it may also mean that chicks and hatchlings are at risk too.
How To Keep Skunks Away From Your Chickens
Since skunks are nocturnal, it can be tough to tell how they are getting to chickens, chicks, or eggs. Luckily for chicken owners, skunks don’t like to try very hard for their food. That means that with a watchful eye and some planning, you can stop end even prevent skunks from attacking your flock.
Start from the bottom up
If a skunk has decided it wants to break into your coop or run, it will look for an easy entry point. Holes or weak spots in fences and soft ground to dig through are the most likely place they’ll get in. The folks over at Backyard Chickens suggest shoring up fencelines and burying hardware cloth around the perimter to stop skunks from burrowing through. If you happen to have pavers or wide, flat stones hanging around those will also do the trick.
Don’t entice them
Skunks may not notice or care too much about your chickens until they notice an easy treat nearby. If large amounts of feed are spilling onto the ground, it might be enough to attract a skunk (not to mention other opportunists like mice, raccoons, etc.) According to Chicken Heaven on Earth keeping bedding clean also helps.
Do a headcount
When it’s time to send all the chickens back into the coop for the night, it’s good practice to always do a head count. According to the folks over at Total Wildlife Control, doing a headcount is the best way to ensure that no chicken gets left out. While this doesn’t stop skunks from getting into the coop or eating eggs, it does keep potential stragglers safe.
Hire a guard
This doesn’t mean you need to actually hire a person to watch over your flock at night. Tyler LeBlanc at Moder Farmer suggests a guard donkey. While you don’t necessarily need an animal as large as a donkey to defend your birds, another animal that skunks and other predators would be intimidated by does help. If you have chicken friendly outdoor pets like horses, or dogs they might make perfect “bouncers” to keep predators out.
Catch and release
If you already have a skunk attacking your chicken coop, you might need to start setting some live traps to relocate them. It can be an unpleasant and smelly job, but it is the best way to fix the problem once you have a skunk hanging around. Havahart has a handy guide on how to trap skunks alive and release them, with tips to reduce the risk of getting sprayed.
We may not like the skunks smell, but skunks don’t like the way cayenne pepper smells. This blog post from Predator Guard suggests applying cayenne near coops and runs to deter skunks. The pepper should be safe for your chickens too. According to this user on the Backyard Chickens forum, cayenne actually bumped up egg production and might help with chickens respiratory problems.
If you notice that some eggs have gone missing or get crushed and eaten, don’t panic. While you might find that the culprit is a skunk or other critter, it could just be that your chickens are stressed out. Make sure that you are keeping a close eye on your flock.
Take some extra time at the end of each day to make do a headcount, and do a walk along the perimeter of your run. If you do see a skunk around, you can always trap and release him somewhere far away from your coop. After all, the skunk are just after the same thing you probably are- some nice scrambled eggs.