Keeping Bears at Bay


Raccoons live almost everywhere and love dining on chickens, eggs, and feed.  Wise owners of backyard flocks keep their hens in a sturdy coop with doors tightly closed when nighttime raccoons are on the prowl.


Imagine the damage a 20-pound raccoon could do to a coop if it weighed 500 pounds!

That would be an American Black Bear.


In many ways bears behave like giant raccoons. They have an amazingly keen sense of smell, love eating chickens, feed, and eggs and have nimble paws able to open gates and unscrew jar lids. And, they are strong. Take a look at tis photo of how a bear tore its way into the Popsie Fish Camp in Alaska.  Granted, this was a grizzly but black bears can also do this kind of damage.


About Black Bears


An adult male black bear weighs between 126 and 550 pounds, but some tip the scales over 800 pounds!  Females are slightly smaller but are still huge animals. They’re smart, nimble, and strong.  Grizzlies are even bigger and stronger.


Before the United States and Canada were settled, black bears lived across most of the continent except for the driest deserts. Within a half century of settlement, they were extirpated from huge areas, but they’re now making a major comeback. Consider New Jersey.  Just fifty years ago only a few bears roamed the wildest part of this small state with America’s highest human density. Today bears thrive amid suburbia and live within sight of New York City’s skyscrapers.

Here are a few bear facts:


  • They are strong. A small 120-pound bear was seen flipping over a 325 pound rock with one paw.
  • They have eyesight and hearing about on par with humans but their sense of smell is much keener than that of dogs.
  • They can run at 25 to 35 miles an hour and younger ones are adept tee climbers.
  • They can hide in small woodlands close to dense human populations.
  • They eat an amazing variety of food. Plants make up about 85% of their diet and much of their animal food is insects. Their keen sense of smell is their primary way to find food.
  • They generally prefer living in forested areas.
  • North America has three bear species: Polar, Grizzly, and Black.  By far the most contact is between people and Black Bears. Grizzlies are only found in the northern Rocky Mountain States and north through Canada and into Alaska.

Keeping Chickens Safe from Bears


Experts who help people prevent bear conflicts all advise homeowners to keep anything that might attract bears out of their yards. This includes garbage, bird feeders, and dog and cat food.  With their amazing sense of smell, potential food left outside is a magnet that lures bears in.

Minnesota DNR Bear Biologist Andi Tri agrees and encourages anyone living in bear country to learn how to prevent problems. “A great source of information is the website. It includes information on how to discourage the huge animals from visiting yards and damaging chicken coops. It also tells what to do if a bear is encountered,” he said.


Here are some steps to reduce the odds of bears breaking into a chicken coop:

  1.  Keep anything bears might like to eat out of sight and in a secure building. This includes chicken feed, grain, dog and cat food, garbage, barbeque grills, and wild bird seed and feeders. Store feed in metal containers with tight lids.
  2. Install an electric fence around the coop.



According to electric fence expert Joe Putnam at Premier 1 Supplies, bears are big, heavy and make excellent contact with the ground. This makes them surprisingly easy to keep out with an electric fence that will also exclude raccoons, foxes, dogs, and other predators.  The Premier1 site shows how to properly set up an electric fence.


Anyone with a small chicken coop in bear country has two lines of possible defense to keep their flock safe.  First, is keeping anything that might attract the huge animals to the yard securely enclosed in a tight building.  Second, is an electric fence circling the coop.