Defend your chickens, food scraps against hungry bears and other wild animals

Many people are having problems with bears looking for food near their homes. With the food scrap ban in effect, Dept. of Fish & Wildlife is providing tips for people who are composting at home so they can avoid attracting hungry bears. 

“We have been receiving lots of reports of bears on decks, tearing down bird feeders, wrecking beehives, killing chickens, and getting into trash, compost and garbage containers,” said bear biologist Jaclyn Comeau.  “We are offering some guidance on how to compost at home without attracting bears.”

“First though, to deter bears, bird feeders need to be taken down until we have a foot or more of snow in December.  Then, make sure anything else that might smell like food is picked up.  And keep your trash container secured inside a sturdy building and don’t put it outside until the morning of pickup.  Beehives, chicken coops and compost bins can be protected with electric fencing.”

If you know bears are active in your neighborhood, the best way to avoid attracting them is to take food scraps to one of the drop-off stations.  You can locate them by contacting your local solid waste management district or town at www.802recycles.com, or ask your trash hauler if they pick up food scraps for composting. 

Composting at home while minimizing the chances of attracting bears can best be done with these tips:

  • Use three parts of brown material for one part of green material.  Browns can be dried leaf and yard debris, wood chips, which often can be delivered to your house free by a local tree service company, or shredded paper.  Greens include kitchen scraps, vegetables and small amounts of fruits.  Adding lots of brown material minimizes smells and speeds up composting.
  • No meat, bones or seafood leftovers.  They do not break down quickly and are strong wildlife attractants. 

The food scrap ban allows people who compost at home to dispose of meat, bones and seafood in the trash, so they can be kept in a freezer until trash day.  

  • Give your compost oxygen by frequently mixing it or turning it over if it is in a container.  This reduces odors and speeds up composting.
  • Does your compost smell?  If so, turning it, adding more brown material and adding a layer of wood shavings or sawdust to the top should solve the issue.
  • Enclose your composter with electric fencing or compost in a hard, durable container with a lid that will be challenging for a bear to open.  Some types of tumblers are bear-proof.
  • Electric fencing, with food scent added to the wires will discourage even persistent bears. 
  • If you are currently having a bear issue, delay starting your new compost pile until the bear issue resolves.  Until then, keep food scraps in the freezer or bring them to a collection site.

To learn more about properly composting food waste, go to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website at www.VTrecycles.com. You may also submit a black bear incident report.

Keeping a small flock of chickens at home to provide eggs and meat has become increasingly popular, but many first-time small-scale poultry farmers are discovering that several species of wildlife like the taste of chicken as much as we do.  The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department urges poultry owners to use electric fencing and follow other precautions to protect their birds from predation.

“We are receiving reports about bears, foxes, raccoons, fisher, coyotes, skunks, and bobcats preying on chickens,” said Jaclyn Comeau, Vermont’s bear biologist.  “Many of the calls will be coming from people who are new at keeping chickens and who do not provide sufficient protection for their birds.”

 “In 2021, we received 84 reports of bears getting after chickens.  This number has been increasing in recent years with an average of 31 reports per year from 2011 to 2017 and an average of 113 reports per year from 2018 to 2021.”

Comeau urges people to keep their chickens contained inside electric net fencing and to make sure any wire fencing is secure.  Use of one-quarter-inch hardware cloth, especially along the bottom of an enclosure will block most small predators.  Weasels can get through a one-inch opening.  The electric netting, however, is good extra protection even outside the wire netting – especially against black bears which are strong enough to break into most unprotected chicken coops.  Several types of electric net fencing are available.  The netting is portable and can easily be used with moveable chicken pens. 

Here are additional tips to help keep your chickens safe:

  • Baiting the fence is necessary to guarantee bears touch the fence with a sensitive part of their body.  Apply bacon grease or peanut butter to a spot on the electric fencing..
  • Cover the tops of pens with wire or plastic netting to guard against attacks from avian and climbing predators. 
  • Bury galvanized hardware cloth or netting 12 inches deep around the perimeter of the pen to prevent access by digging predators. 
  • A motion-activated light to illuminate the coop after dark will discourage some predators.  Motion-activated alarms also can help deter them. 
  • Store poultry feed in a secure indoor location in tight containers, and only feed poultry the amount that can be consumed in one feeding.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife has more helpful information about Living with Black Bears on their website www.vtfishandwildlife.com.  If you are having a problem with bears, please fill out the Bear Incident Report form on that page. 


Categories: Environment

4 replies »

  1. Good luck getting “free ranging” chicken farmers to contain their flocks in an electrically fenced off area. Most don’t even care if they peck out a living in the middle of a road, much less if they end up on a bear’s dinner plate. Wait until their chickens cause an automobile accident, and they get sued, then maybe they will “care” !

  2. NO meat, NO dairy………any fish stuff for me goes in water to make a tea for plants…….
    been composting f-o-r-e-v-e-r…(say it like on the “sandlot” movie..)
    never had an issue……

  3. State law prohibits putting food out if bears have been attracted to it, and the compost law PROHIBITS putting food into trash. Vermont has a law requiring that beer and liquor containers have a deposit and a law prohibiting the transport of open alcohol containers in the passenger area of a vehicle. If you bring your empties for redemption in a van or station wagon, or the back seat of a sedan, you are in violation. The author of the law, Thomas Little, former State Rep. and an attorney replied to me in a letter that “we can count on the police to use good discretion in applying the law” regarding empties in the car. I have composted FOREVER and attracted the attention of many skunks, raccoons and the occasional bear. On site composting for those who have the space is a GOOD THING that keeps food scraps from taking up precious landfill space and generating methane. I await the comedy show when the first property owner gets cited for attracting bears while attempting to comply with the “composting law”.

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