Predators and pests go hand-in-hand with living a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Even if you live in an urban setting, there are still critters around that will be happy to help themselves to your garden and chicken coop. This article will outline different types of the most common predators and pests you may find in both urban and rural areas as well as how to properly (and safely) deal with them.
1. Coyotes and Foxes
Coyotes and foxes often make meals out of small livestock and other pets like cats or small dogs. They may also get into trash if it’s easy to enter. Coyotes may hunt in packs or by themselves, whereas foxes tend to hunt as individuals most of the time. Coyotes can be found in quiet urban areas at night and also thrive in most any rural areas throughout the US. Foxes are often seen less, as they tend to be very quiet and fast.
Once a coyote or fox knows it can eat your chickens or snag a small lamb, you will have one heck of a time trying to stop it. Coyotes are next to impossible to live trap, so going this route to relocate it likely won’t work. Sadly, most coyotes who make it a habit to frequent a rural homestead will be shot.
While some people view coyotes as a major pest, they do serve a purpose in the ecosystem. Therefore, in order to save your own stock and prevent unnecessary deaths of coyotes or foxes, it is paramount to keep your stock properly penned or caged. If you have free-ranging livestock, only allow them out while you are there to supervise, and ideally only in an area with a perimeter fence. Fencing should be very sturdy, with strands that reach close to the bottom to prevent any animal from crawling under on its belly. A strand of electric works very well.
Dogs, especially livestock guard dogs, are an excellent way of convincing coyotes and foxes that your livestock won’t be such an easy meal. If you have coyotes in your area, it would be a good idea to at least get a medium- to large-sized dog as a way of alerting you to the coyotes. The average coyote will think twice before approaching property with a patrolling dog.
Bears may be intimidating, but most of the time they come around because trash and orchards make an easy meal. Those in suburban to rural areas may experience problem with bears, depending on their location. Black bears are the most common and tend to avoid any confrontation with people. Still, however, it is important to keep your safety in mind, especially if it is a sow with cubs.
Always keep your trash in bear-safe trash cans or at least very sturdy trash cans if you happen to be in a place where bears don’t come around often. Grain and feed bags should also be kept in a secure area that a hungry bear can’t access. Bears may go after small confined livestock, so you will need secure fences. One of the best alert systems is a good dog. If you have livestock and plenty of land, consider getting a livestock guardian dog as mentioned in the section about coyotes. Any good dog should alert you quite loudly and quickly to a bear in the area.
Most bears will take off as soon as they sense a person around. Making a lot of loud noise can also be enough to scare off a bear. Similarly, a gunshot (aimed safely away from the bear and any people/homes) also works well. If you find a bear on your property and it doesn’t run from any noise or a gunshot, please do not move closer to the bear in an effort to scare it. A hungry bear that isn’t afraid of people will defend itself if it feels threatened.
Bears that become a nuisance or any bear that shows aggression needs to be dealt with safely. Call your local F&W office to report this, and they will send out someone to trap the problem bear.
3. Raccoons, Skunks and Opossums
Raccoons, skunks and opossums are all opportunistic animals that are omnivores by nature. All three also can be found in the city or way out in the country. Raccoons are notorious for getting into trash and feed bags so, just like preventing bears from coming around, keep trash secure. These three will also eat pet food left outside; opossums particularly love cat food, so keep this in mind if you have outdoor cats or dogs.
These three are also guilty of going after small livestock if they are hungry enough. This includes stock like fowl and rabbits. It is extremely important to ensure any caged small livestock have very secure pens, especially wire on the bottom to prevent a raccoon from reaching up into it. If you have free-ranging hens, do whatever you can to prevent them from laying anywhere but in the coop, as eggs are quite the delicacy for these animals.
Prevention is the best way of keeping these critters away, but if you have repeat visits it would be a good idea to set up a live trap and relocate it. Depending on your area’s laws and your own preference, you also may put the nuisance animal down — especially if it has made it a habit of getting into trash. It is important that if you have a problem, you should contact a wildlife rehabber or a local F&W office to see what your options are for dealing with it.
Deer are beautiful, graceful creatures that will gladly help themselves to your garden. Deer are very agile and don’t have a problem hopping over a typical garden fence. Noise as a deterrent, whether it’s you or a dog, works well at convincing deer to stay away, but they can be persistent.
The only real way to keep deer out is to install a tall deer-proof fence or netting around your garden. Netting is inexpensive but won’t stand up to other pests like rabbits, so keep that in mind. You can find 100-foot rolls of deer netting online and in farm supply stores.
Rabbits might be cute, but they can decimate a garden once they discover an easy meal. They are also quite intelligent creatures and are capable of squeezing into quite small spaces. Common wild rabbits are more apt to getting into garden beds than hares. When dealing with rabbits it’s best to first prevent them from getting in.
If you already have a fence up around your garden, add three-foot welded wire with squares of two inches by one inch to create an additional barrier. This wire can extend a foot or so underground, or you could bend the wire at a 90-degree angle. This will deter rabbits from digging underneath.
6. Rodents and Rodent-Like Small Pests
Rodents are one of the most common and difficult pests with which to deal. Common rodents include mice, rats, pack rats, gophers, squirrels, voles, woodchucks, marmots and porcupines. Moles aren’t rodents, although they are often thought to be.
Depending on the rodent you’re dealing with, there are some different techniques you can use. For rodent problems in the home or in outbuildings, you’re likely dealing with mice and/or rats. Traps are the typical way these pests are dealt with, as well as poison. These aren’t ideal ways to deal with pests and extreme care must be taken if children and pets could access a trap or bait. A good barn cat or two is an excellent way of dealing with rodents, as well.
Getting rodents like gophers and woodchucks out of the garden is a bit more difficult. If you are just starting your garden and using raised beds, add a thick gauge hardware cloth to the bottom to prevent gophers from digging up from the bottom. There are also gopher and mole deterrents  and repellents  available, although their success seems to be hit or miss. Again, cats work very well as a means of getting rid of gophers, as well as deterring them with their presence.
Keep brush in and around the garden to a minimum to discourage rodents from hanging out. Put unused pots and bags in a closed shed and out of the way. Also, if you have very small livestock outdoors, like chicks or quail, be sure that they are in strong hardware cloth cages as rats may kill them.
Birds can be very frustrating pests, since they will just fly into your garden to get what they want. Birds such as starlings, pigeons, blue jays, gray jays, magpies, crows and ravens are just some examples of birds that can become an annoyance. In warmer states in the US, you may even have to deal with feral groups of parrots.
Keeping birds out of your garden and orchards might take some experimenting. First off, use aviary netting or other lightweight netting draped over beds or across the garden fence. Be sure to set up a barrier under this net so the birds won’t just land on it and eat through the net. Secondly, visual barriers work very well. But birds, especially smart species like crows, will learn pretty quickly that a scarecrow or other stationary deterrent isn’t going to hurt them. Instead, use balloons or string up lightweight balls that will move in the wind. You can also use cans or similar material that will clank to scare birds off.
There are also bird-repelling devices like the Bird Busters.
There is a common saying that “the only good snake is a dead snake.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Snakes can and do occasionally help themselves to eggs, chicks or even very small rabbit kits but more often than not, if you see a snake on your property it has been busy keeping rodents under control. Rodents do far more destruction and can cause disease compared to snakes.
If you encounter a snake, it is best to not touch it and to leave it alone. You may use a branch to move it out of the way, or if you are experienced with snakes, move it into a box and relocate to a safe location. It can’t be stressed enough that if you are unsure of the species of snake, do not pick it up. Non-venomous snakes are often mistaken as similar looking venomous species, but occasionally the opposite occurs. Keep a reptile ID guidebook for your area on your bookshelf for this reason. Those who are afraid of snakes, uncomfortable relocating a non-venomous snake or come across a venomous snake, can contact a wildlife rehab center for information. More often than not, someone will come out and remove it for you.
When dealing with wildlife it is all about prevention. Sometimes all you need is good fencing, strong coops/cages and garbage kept locked up to prevent most problems with predators and larger pests. Invest in some wildlife ID guides and get to know what species live in your area. Google is a good place to start. If you ever have trouble with any wildlife and don’t know what to do, please contact your local F&W office.
How do you control pests in the garden and on the homestead? Do you have any specific tips for animals? Share them in the section below: