Owning chickens is one of life’s simple pleasures. You get to enjoy a flock of personalities that also gift you with farm-fresh eggs and, sometimes, meat. However, there is also one issue that comes with raising chickens: predators. Many chicken owners find that creatures like skunks are attracted to the coop, but do skunks eat chickens? Should you be concerned? The answer is yes.
Skunks can be a dangerous visitor to your yard, so here is everything you need to know, including how to keep your flock safe from them.
What are Skunks?
A skunk is a mammal from the weasel family that is about the size of a house cat when full grown. Skunks, depending on where they are from, may have fuzzy black coats with white stripes, white swirls, or spotting. Yet, no matter what the skunk looks like, it will have a defensive mechanism involving spraying a liquid within a range of about 10 feet from their scent glands located under their tails.
If you live somewhere near a grassland or forest, you are more likely to come across a skunk than in more urbanized areas. Skunks like to live in forested areas (and sometimes deserts) in burrows or under logs or patios. They are nocturnal that love to forage for a wide range of foods, including insects, berries, fruits, vegetables, and occasionally, meat from reptiles, fish, and other small mammals.
Skunks have well-developed claws on their paws for digging which can be used for attacking their prey.
Do Skunks Eat Chickens?
Skunks are omnivorous creatures who love to eat whatever they can find. In many ways, their diet is very simple to a chicken’s diet. Unfortunately, skunks will also kill and eat newly hatched chicks and younger chickens if given the chance. The good news is that skunks do not seek out chicken — it’s often too much trouble.
In order for a skunk to attack and kill a chicken, it would have to be smaller than them and defenseless. Easy targets such as chicks are often protected by their mothers, however. That is why skunks would much rather infiltrate the coop in the middle of the night and snatch up eggs or chicks when the others are none the wiser.
Older chickens, particularly roosters, are too much of a challenge to risk. Skunks may have their noxious scents, but roosters are equipped for dueling with snakes. Their talons and beaks can easily defeat a hungry skunk.
Do Skunks Eat Eggs?
As mentioned earlier, skunks like foraging for food that is not going to give it a challenge. Thus, they are often caught weaseling into coops to steal unprotected eggs right out from under the chickens’ beaks. Skunks and many other weasels find fresh eggs to be incredibly delicious.
You will know that there is a skunk or other predator lurking around if there are less eggs than usual and your chickens are sporting injuries. Often, the chickens wake to find their eggs being ransacked and rush to defend their babies.
As such, you do not want your chickens laying eggs out in the yard. Make sure you have provided your hens with a safe coop and nesting boxes for their eggs.
Signs You Have Skunk Problem
Skunks may be mild-mannered creatures that do not prefer to work too hard for their next meal, but that doesn’t mean they are not a nuisance. For farmers, skunks can be a boon, because they like to eat harmful insects. Unfortunately, they can overstay their welcome and will start to dig up plants in search of grubs and earthworms. They may even try to get their mitts on the eggs your chickens have laid.
If you suspect that you have a skunk problem or that your chickens are being terrorized by one of these stinkers, there will be signs. Here are some things to keep an eye (and nose) out for:
- The smell. Skunks have a signature unmistakable odor that you will smell for days once its been sprayed. Since skunks will spray their defensive mist whenever they are startled, there is a high chance they will leave a trace of their scent whenever the chickens try to defend themselves.
- Skunk footprints. These mammals have five toes and long claws for digging. They may look like a cross between a cat and a raccoon. The main difference is that their claws are a little longer.
- Ransacked garbage bins. Do you leave your trash out in the open or without a lid? If you find garbage in your yard from a ripped open bag, it could be skunks or raccoons or another predator.
- Holes in the yard. Have you found holes in the garden or vegetable patch? There is a chance that you have skunks digging up the roots in search of grubs.
- Missing eggs or baby chicks. Again, skunks like easy prey — and these little ones are the easiest to snatch.
How to Protect Your Flock From Skunks
Now that you know that, yes, skunks do eat chickens, you may be wondering how to protect your chickens from these predators. Luckily, skunks are not too hard to deter. Unlike some other predators, skunks want an easy time. They are not too determined, and so if they meet a deterrent, they will most likely stay away — unless they are starving.
Here are some ways to keep your chickens safe from skunks:
Remove Their Food Sources
Skunks will be attracted to your farm or backyard for more reasons than the eggs in the coop. In fact, they will probably find the chickens and the eggs long after they have been sniffing around your yard. Plentiful food tends to be the main motivator for skunks. If you have exposed garbage, leftover chicken feed on the ground, a garden, and insects, then skunks are going to think your yard a paradise.
As such, the best way to keep skunks and other predators from entering the premises is to remove that which attracts them. Tidy up the yard. Make sure any leftover food and treats have been swept up and tossed into the garbage. Put a lid on the trash. Collect eggs each night before you close up the coop. Lastly, keep the coop and chicken run as clean as possible. The smell of chickens will surely attract predators.
If you have found holes in the garden, there is a high chance that the skunks originally came from the grubs in the soil. Use some beneficial nematodes to the soil. These insects are only harmful to grubs, as they will dissolve them down into nutrients. Nematodes will not affect anything else.
Deter Skunks With Scents
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence on the internet for keeping skunks and other pests away from the yard. One of the best bit of advice is to use ammonia to scare off skunks. Ammonia smells a lot like the urine of larger predators, and so any skunks that catch a whiff will think they are in danger.
You can soak some rags in ammonia then place those rags in an old coffee tin or baking tray. You want something metal separating the ammonia from the ground so that it doesn’t soak into the earth.
Don’t like ammonia? Who does? Mothballs, citrus, coffee grounds, rotten egg solids, vinegar, lavender, peppermint and peppermint oil, cloves, and garlic oil are other smells that skunks hate. Skunks have a strong sense of smell, so anything that is pungent will scare them off.
Fortify the Chicken Coop
You might think that simply shutting the coop door and locking it up is enough. However, the coop is not inherently secure. Skunks may have poor eyesight, but they have strong noses and a rumbling belly. They will find the weak sections of the coop and work their way in, even if it means clawing at the walls, especially if the coop is flush to the ground. In this case, the best deterrent is hardware cloth around the base of the coop to discourage digging.
Skunks are not the best climbers, but you should still shut any windows overnight to keep other dangers out.
Final Thoughts on Skunks
Keeping chickens comes with risks, including skunks stealing eggs and killing the younger birds. If you find that predators are making their way into the yard, you will need to find ways to deter them. Strong scents, including ammonia, are one of the best ways to keep skunks from killing and eating your chickens. Now that you recognize the signs of a skunk in your yard, you can start building up a defense against them (and other dangers to your chickens).
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.