Midnight Marauders In Suburbia

I’ve had some people ask if maybe it wasn’t a wee bit overkill to enclose our chicken coop in 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth. That stuff is expensive, after all. 
Here’s my answer:
A few nights ago, as I was working on a blog post, Nick mindlessly said, “Hey, I’m going to go make sure the chickens are all locked up after the kids were playing out there.” 
Then he opened the back door and made the kind of “brrrawwa!” noise a grown man makes as he jumps up and back into the house because he is unexpectedly sharing his suburban patio with three raccoons.
Later investigation revealed that our daughter had made a “Kitty Shelter” on the patio out of old fruit boxes, the mesh lid of our portable firepit and – wait for it – a cutting board last used to chop up ahi tuna and last seen a day earlier near the sink, waiting to be scrubbed. Eau de Thon is irresistible to raccoons, apparently.
Even without the the ahi attractant, we might have seen this raccoon family. We knew their mother. The family resemblance is unmistakable: same dark band over the eyes, same banded tail, same adorable-yet-terrifying contenance. Their mom used to come up to our house in broad daylight. Consultation with animal control informed us that diurnal activity from a raccoon was probably a sign she was looking for food for pups. 
So now we have the second generation of raccoons that believes our cat’s food, served in the garage and accessible though the exterior cat door, is a fine nightly snack. Before you tell me that it is irresponsable to put cat food out where raccoons can get to it, you should know that these raccoons are entering through a high-tech, magnetically locked, outward-only swinging cat door. 
Basically, our cat door is Mission Impossible: Cat Food and the raccoons are nocturnal Tom Cruise’s, using their thumbs and possibly some grappling equipment to defeat the locking mechanism. So far the only thing that has stopped their entrance into the garage is a 50-pound bag of concrete mix wedged against the inside of the cat door. 
While these raccoons seem relatively benign, I would just as soon they not feel so welcome at my house. First, raccoons are notorious disease spreaders. We stay well clear of them but their feces can carry disease. 
Second, while so far they haven’t tussled with the cats, there’s no proof that detente will last. Any one of them could rip up our cats (or our kids) pretty bad. 
Third, cat food gets expensive when raccoons steal it by the bowlful. We’ve gone to feeding our cats only what they’ll eat in a day, and only during the day and the bulk of the cat food is stored inside the house, inaccessible to all but the humans. Still, raccoons were feasting from the trough of self-serve cat food for quite awhile before we realized they were breaking into our garage for their vittles, so that location is deep in their little furry heads as a good dining spot.
Luckily, since we invested in the total wire mesh lock-down of the coop, one concern – that everybody loves chicken, and that included raccoons – is minimized.
All in all we don’t have to contend with too much wildlife mayhem here. The squirrels and birds and rodentia haven’t caused much of a problem, and we don’t have deer or bear or larger game to worry about. Most of our encounters with nature are wonderful, actually – we live up the road from a bird sanctuary, so I’ve seen falcons and herons in the yard. The dragonflies that swarm the garden for a months or two in summer always make me do the happy dance, and even the wasps (they survived, by the way) have so far played nice.

What would you do about a raccoon family sharing your yard?

Comments

  1. Great photos! I too have had the raccoons eating cat food in the garage through the cat access. I found out when I heard the racket (in the middle of the night) and wondered what the cat was up to, only to see said cat curled up asleep on the couch. Had been seeing signs this summer…dirty water bowls, broken corn stalks, scat in the window wells (although that may be the fox), and finally, a few nights ago, saw the gang of five in our yard. I have hardware cloth on the chicken pen and wire buried around the perimeter and so can sleep soundly knowing the chickens are safe.

  2. Oh, I feel you.
    I live in Los Angeles and these guys are all over the city and my back yard! They like to climb up on my roof, mama plus 3 or 4 babies, and peel back the shingles trying to get into my attic.
    They also like to dig in and under my raised garden beds. They are the "little monsters" of my blog. This year I put chicken wire inside the bottom of the beds and on top to keep them out. It helped, a little.
    As for the chickens, we used the hardware cloth too. An absolute must here.

    • Kristina,
      I, too, live in Los Angeles (“KoreaTown-Adjacent” if you will) and I would love a chance to chat with you about this and many other things garden-related.
      For example, I’d really like to see how you keep a chicken coop in LA – my future plans (hopes) include poultry and perhaps a couple of goats (IDK!). I also hope to get started in beekeeping, at least enough to help support my garden efforts. Do you keepbees?
      If you’re interested, please feel free to contact me thru facebook. (https://www.facebook.com/ohpervyone – My full name is Matthew Kerschner.)

  3. "little monsters"???
    More like "complete a**holes" in my book. I have lost chickens, corn, catfood etc. and if you have low water containers they will on occasion poop in them. I use covered water barrels now. We have trapped and relocated them and there are always more. Smart and persistent a**holes ;-))

  4. Sharon Miro says:

    Erica, the raccoons ate so many of my brothers wine wines last year (climbing over an 8 ft fence!) that this year he electrified the fence to keep his bees and the wine grapes safe. They still managed to get in and decimate about 15lbs of grapes.
    I too used to have an acessible cat door until the 'coons (and skunks) realized that I sometimes ate cereal in my bedroom, and ended up in there one night!
    An electric cat door was bought the next day.

  5. I can't help it…I think raccoons are adorable. But yes, they can be a nuisance at best and a health/safety concern.

    We have indoor-only cats, but also feed one outdoor feral cat that we captured, had neutered, then released. We occasionally see another cat or two around, and once in a while, a raccoon. Our bigger concern is a 'possum that comes around sometimes. I think they are meaner and more disturbing than the raccoons.

    So far, none of the critters have been a big concern. We only feed the feral cat about 3/4 cup at a time, twice a day, and we only put our trash out once a week on the morning it will be picked up. They don't seem to dig in our raised beds or our compost pile.

    I think the wildlife has realized it's slim pickin's at our house and must be feasting elsewhere.

  6. The previous owners of our house used to feed the raccoons. They would put out bowls of cat food, water and set eggs on the deck for them. Took a while for them to figure out we were not going to feed them to. They still come around though. As I am writing this I look out in my back yard and there are deer. They come here daily to devour my garden, it's enough to make this deer loving mama to not love them so much anymore. Yesterday I looked out and there was one on my deck feasting on my tomatoes. We even have coyotes, although I've never seen them, just hear them at night. YEs, got to keep those chickens secure!

  7. I used to think raccoons were the coolest buggers in the world. Then I moved from suburbia to the country. I would take every single one of them by their feet and bash their heads agains a rock if I could manage to do that. Yes. I'm evil. Let roll with ripping on me, but it won't change the fact that we dispatch them and the opossums when we can catch them. They have killed dozens upon dozens of chickens, even inside a what-we-though-was-secure barn. We put out a live trap with cat food (their favorite, obviously!) and a .22 takes care of them (pretty humane like if you asked me).

    Invest in a large live trap. It will pay for itself the first time you have one of them destroy your chicken flock. Heak, it may even pay for itself by reducing your cat food bill!

    • Honestly, Carolyn, I’m not gonna be part of the crowd rippin on you. I’ll hold the flash light so you can aim straight.
      One of the problems with raccoons is that they are territorial.
      I have a problem with having any kind of wild animals demonstrating territorial behaviour, when it’s MY TERRITORY they’re hissin an growlin at me for. That’s a no-no.

      Had I functional firearms my part of Los Angeles would be free of its raccoon problem, for sure. (Except, of course, for the draconian laws in the city, which means I could be cited for “unlawful discharge within city limits” or WTF-ever they call it nowdays.)
      *Sigh*
      I guess I should go buy some humane traps and let animule control deal with em.
      Maybe when they gas them its more humane than shootin? I honestly don’t know.

      If anybody can think of a solution, I’d like to hear it.
      Soon.
      Planting is coming.

  8. Mostly the same plan as you have…
    Feed feral cats only in the morning.
    Keep any foodstuffs locked up safely out of reach.
    Borrow a live trap if needed and release in the woods – (we are very rural)
    Last resort, if too aggressive and in the daylight, double barrel shotgun by the door (have not had to resort to that yet)

  9. All summer I would see a reccoon leaving our back hedge and meandering aceoss the back and away. One night I was putting the trash out at the street. I had a funny feeling and looked around to see if someone was there. In my neighbors front yard was the raccoon. I kept on with the trash. Heading back to the house, I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. It was another raccoon. The two raccoons met on the side of the street. Put front under the nearby car came three little raccoons. It was like a little family gathering. I think they are too cute for words. I doubt I'll feel like that once they discover all the fruit I'm planting this year. My neighbor has his cherry trees barricaded like Fort Knox. Didn't make a bit of difference. They got all the cherries and tore the trees to shreds.

  10. We have one of those magnetic cat doors too, which keeps out the stray cats, but not, as you have also discovered, the racoons. We got a critter cam recently and saw the way they pry/pull it open from the outside. Our solution was to set it to the cats can come in, but not go out during the night which locks it from being pulled open as well. We are going to have to do something for when we go on vacation so that the cats can go in and out, though. My solution is to get a second door to mount next to it in the reverse direction, so one can be for going in with the magnet, and one for going out (also using the magnet even though it's not necessary) leaving them both set locked in the other direction. Expensive, but that way we can let them come and go as they please.

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