“Did you hear the raccoons last night?” one of the neighbor kids inquired breathlessly as we headed off for school. “Did you hear that awful screaming?” asked a parent. “Someone called the cops. It was just awful.” I will spare you the details of what exactly they think the raccoon was doing except to say that it was…awful. I shuddered. Raccoons do what raccoons do but will they have to do it to my ducks? Returning home, I considered a possibility that I had firmly put aside before: Electrification.
Electric fencing is the ne plus ultra of poultry protection. Old hands, often speaking from painful experience, recommend this method as the very best way to keep out predators of various ilk.* To fill this need, farm supply companies offer fencing in many configurations, often displayed in ads featuring blue-jeaned women of gentle mien and slight figure. In other words, you don’t have to be a big burly flannel-clad guy in order to protect your flock/herd/lettuces. (If you have a blue ox, however, please come by and help out anytime.) Fences that are super-easy to put up are all well and good but it’s not the fence part of electric fence that worries me. My mother reminded me the other day that on one of my early visits to her place in farm country PA, I accidentally touched an electric fence while trying to get close to some really cute horses. My bad. I didn’t even remember the incident but apparently, the deterrent effect worked. On me.
I guess it comes down to this, despite the fact that it’s not high-voltage enough to do a critter serious harm, I dislike the idea of zapping any animal, which includes, unfortunately, raccoons. My plan (and please don’t laugh) (yet) is that I wanted to see if it was possible to out-think the varmint with a variety of physical barriers instead. Fully aware that I had just cast myself in the Wile E. Coyote role in this saga (I didn’t buy one Acme-labeled product, I swear!), I nonetheless began to install some duck-protective homespun upgrades to my chicken coop/pen. (Ok, you can start laughing now.)
With some input from the engineers at the Egg Yolk , I eventually decided that a hardware cloth overlay that extended up 24” with a 12” apron along the perimeter of the pen would close the gaps in the welded wire fence to a very small size. Small enough to block crafty raccoon fingers? I very much hoped so. It took me many hours on my hands and knees to attach the darn thing with military-grade UV-resistant cable ties (that’s what it says on the package, who knows?!) In the middle of the night on the eve of my planned First Outside Sleepover for the ducks, however, I began to worry that the raccoons might still be able to get their claws through even this tiny opening. Not to do real harm but even poking might disturb my babies. Can you look up “length of a raccoon claw” on the Internet?** I wasn’t sure but at 3 AM seriously considered trying! Instead, I told myself I would use heavy-duty clear plastic (the kind used for industrial shelving) to the inside bottom edges of the pen. I could hole-punch and attach it with yet more cable ties. (I think we’ve used over 300 on this project so far. Should have bought a case and saved some bucks!)
The reason for the triple redundancy barrier are these two things: 1) ducks like to lay up against stuff when they sleep, typically, the wall of the enclosure and/or each other and 2) they would not be sleeping in the predator-proof coop but in the outside pen. Okay, three things. (Yes, this is beginning to sound like a Monty Python skit.) The third reason is that I needed them to be able to sleep safely outside of the coop because when I went out of town, which I most definitely would have to do, they needed much more space than the coop alone would offer. They would have pet sitters but it wasn’t workable to set up a system that required someone to be there at first light and absolutely before dark. And, in the summer, that little coop would be too warm for sleeping unless the overnight temps were very very mild. Summer in suburban NY? Mild is not happening.
Hey, I know. We still have that partially dismantled electric dog fence from the previous owners. I never heard of this sort of thing before I moved to Westchester but apparently, this is an invention whereby your dog wears a device on a collar that delivers a “sensation” each time s/he crosses a border. This “fence” is created by underground wires hooked to an electrical outlet. It’s supposed to deter them from leaving your property while still allowing the free passage of humans. We don’t have a dog and I doubt I would use it even if I did but I wonder if it would work with raccoons?
The only thing I can’t figure out is how to get them to wear the little collars.
*Ilk here meaning “claw” or “fang”.
** Yes, you can but you won’t get back to sleep if you do.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes