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Bears and chickens don’t mix — electric fencing is the best bet for keeping it that way

  • Timothy Boyle spotted a pair of black bears off of Morris Street in Peterborough last week. 

  • Timothy Boyle spotted a pair of black bears off of Morris Street in Peterborough last week. 

Concord Monitor
Published: 7/9/2022 9:53:01 PM
Modified: 7/9/2022 9:52:45 PM

With the backyard chicken boom showing no sign of abating, Andrew Timmins would like to give newcomers a bit of constructive advice:

“Rather than buying a bunch of pressure-treated lumber and building a great coop — build an adequate coop and then put your effort into electric fencing.”

Why does he value better wiring above better walls? Bears.

“A lot of people put time and resources into building a sturdy coop. That can keep out bobcat, fox, fisher — but when it comes to bears, you can’t beat their strength,” said Timmins, a wildlife biologist for New Hampshire Fish and Game who is the state’s go-to expert on the black bear population.

“For the typical backyard chicken coop, I would estimate you could electrify that for around $300. ... I’d rather see people invest their money and time into electric fencing.”

Many are, it seems.

“There’s been quite an uptick in it. I notice quite a few new people looking (at electric fencing). ... It seems it’s mostly for backyard chickens,” said Andy Lowe, warehouse manager for the Osborne’s Agway in Belmont, N.H.

That’s good but not good enough, judging from statistics.

“Back in 2005, we dealt with about 20 complaints a year involving bears and chickens. Today we’re dealing with 150 to 175 (a year), of bears getting into chicken coops,” Timmins said. Only bears getting into outdoor trash draws more complaints than bears getting into outdoor coops.

Dealing with bear complaints often means killing the bear, because once they get used to raiding a particular location, they can become dangerous.

Fish and Game pointed to a recent case in which a sow accompanied by three cubs was shot by a homeowner at a backyard chicken coop. Biologists caught two of the cubs and sent them to a rehabilitation center but couldn’t catch the third, which isn’t old enough to survive in the wild on its own.

“We value bears. We don’t want them being shot at in chicken coops. It’s wasteful and doesn’t really solve the issue,” said Timmins.

Bears have a tremendous sense of smell and can be attracted to chicken feed inside coops or to the chickens themselves as a tasty meal.

New Hampshire has about 6,800 bears, biologists estimate, and many have become more comfortable with being around homes. Sightings in yards and driveways throughout southern New Hampshire are common, even in downtown areas.

“We don’t see the most complaints in areas with the most bears; we see most complaints in areas where we have the most people,” Timmins said.

Installing and operating electric fences can be intimidating to those without experience, but it’s relatively straightforward, using either household current or solar chargers.

“I think the idea of working with electricity is frightening to most people. There’s definitely a little bit of hesitancy for people trying to set it up on their own, but they’re willing to try out anything just to make sure their chickens are going to be safe,” said Lowe.

New Hampshire Fish and Game lends out electric fences to people with bear problems.

“Some of the equipment that we loan out is over 10 years old. It gets used year after year, day after day over summer months. It lasts a long time,” Timmins said. It does so well, he said, that a few people just borrow it every year instead of buying their own.

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