- Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
Media Contact for Read this if you keep backyard chickens
Media Contact, MassWildlife
Black bears killing chickens and damaging coops is becoming the number one source of human-bear conflict in Massachusetts. MassWildlife and the Environmental Police receive calls daily about bears breaking into chicken coops. Almost every bear in Massachusetts has learned this behavior. As backyard chicken farming has increased in popularity across the Bay State, conflict with black bears has also greatly increased.
The state’s bear population is estimated at over 4,500 animals. Common in central and western Massachusetts, black bears are expanding their range east to the Route 495 corridor. Bears will spend time in areas where human-associated foods like poultry feed, garbage, compost, livestock, and beehives are easy to find. Bears will revisit the same areas repeatedly if food is readily available. As the bear range expands eastward toward the most densely populated communities of Massachusetts, bear sightings are increasing in these areas and residents, especially those who keep backyard chickens, should take steps to prevent conflicts with bears.
Coops and chicken wire provide inadequate protection from black bears. Properly maintained electric fencing is the only way to protect chickens or other poultry from bears. Electric fencing is easy to set up and safe around kids and pets. Failure to use electric fencing will likely result in loss of birds and coop damage. Read on for more tips.
- Install electric fencing around coops to protect birds and coops regardless of flock numbers. (see electric fencing tips below).
- Keep open, mowed areas on all sides around chicken coops, beehives, and livestock pens. Do not set up chicken coop or hives in abandoned areas or close to overgrown vegetation. Bears will climb trees to get into adjacent coops and use the brush as cover when approaching.
- Do not place supplemental food nearby as a distraction. This can attract or habituate bears and is counterproductive.
- Contact local bear hunters to hunt your property. Contact a MassWildlife District Office or a local sportsmans’ club for help connecting with bear hunters.
- If you are (or anticipate) suffering property damage caused by a bear, please contact the nearest MassWildlife District Office right away. MassWildlife biologists will provide you with advice that can lessen the problem.
Electric fencing tips
- Keep the power on at all times (minimum of 6,000 volts).
- Check and maintain chargers and batteries on a regular basis.
- Teach bears to avoid electric fences. Place bacon strips, foil strips with peanut butters, or honey on the hot wires to deliver a shock to the bear's nose. A bear will remember the shock and associate the fence with pain.
- Remove vegetation on and near wires to prevent shorting out the fence.
- Review the Electric Fencing Guide to Prevent Bear Damage and contact your MassWildlife District Office for advice on electric fencing.
Black bear and chicken coop images (Kaitlin Blasko)