Garden of Eatin' / Pests & Diseases

O-No! Opossum

Baby opossum hiding in our chicken coop

I had a visitor in the garden yesterday. Or rather, my chickens had a visitor… in their coop, nestled deep in a corner with just a small tuft of fur sticking out.

At first, I didn’t even see this little critter. I was making my way down to the chicken coop to rake out the sand and tuck the girls in for the night. When I bent down, I saw a ball of black fur that barely moved. I couldn’t really tell if it was breathing, and I couldn’t even tell what it was. It was too small to be anything but a mouse or a rat, but the fur was unusually long and spiky for the rodents I’ve seen scurrying in the yard.

I yelled for Will — “Honey, there’s something weird in the coop!” — and he came with the end of a small leaf rake, prodding the critter to see if it was still alive. Roused from its slumber, it squirmed and scampered away… It was a baby opossum! So tiny, it could fit in the palm of my hands (though that probably wouldn’t have been a very good idea!).

Baby opossum

Will nudged his furry butt with the rake, and the opossum fled again — down into the corner of the coop behind a rock. He was a quick and curious little dude with a docile demeanor despite our intrusion.

Opossum

Trying to prod the opossum out

Trying to prod the opossum out

It took several more minutes of poking and prodding before the opossum crawled out of his hole, darting across the coop behind the feeder. The two faced off with each other, debating which move to make next.

Baby opossum in the chicken coop

Baby opossum in the chicken coop

Our opossum was sooo close to freedom, but rather than hopping over the lip of the coop, he ran back inside and onto the roof, upside down, his claws firmly grasping the hardware cloth. Every time we tried to bump him off with the rake, he’d bare his teeth and make a noise that sounded like a cross between a purr and a growl.

Opossum in the coop

Opossum in the coop

Poor thing. We were definitely ruining his mojo.

We finally managed to free the little guy… There he was, perched up on the tines and desperate to get away from these two crazy people who kept sticking a rake in his face.

Freeing a baby opossum from the coop

Baby opossum

Baby opossum

As soon as we set him down, he ran for the nearest shadowy void in the yard. And this whole time? … The chickens weren’t even interested.

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

59 Comments

  • Viki
    April 18, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    They are so ugly they are cute! Two things about opposums, they only live about two years and can’t get rabies. But they can be very distructive.

    Reply
  • susan marks
    April 18, 2013 at 10:30 am

    As cute as they are, please let me warn you that now that the little fellow knows where he can get eggs, he WILL be back and it seems the larger possums seem to follow their paths. 2 weeks ago a huge possum killed 3 of my hens and cracked the eggs. Trap ’em and take them to a place far away! Additionally, if you have small dogs and they just happen to get near one, the possums are so vicious when cornered they can truly hurt a dog or cat. Lisa Steele is right…the feces is deadly to a chicken.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      April 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      That’s terrible! I question whether he actually knew he was in a chicken coop. We collect eggs twice a day and I didn’t see him either time inside the coop… only before sunset, when I found him in the run. It was the first time I’d even seen an opossum during daylight. I see the bigger ones roaming at night once in a while, but we do lock up the coop as soon as the girls roost.

      Reply
  • Xochi Navarro
    April 18, 2013 at 10:28 am

    That little guy is so cute! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Reply
  • Cyndi
    April 18, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Wow- great pictures!

    Reply
  • Kimberly Blaylock
    April 18, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I love a good farm story and the pictures were great.

    Reply
  • Betsy Alexander Waggoner
    April 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Where there is one there are many. Better be careful for they will kill hens and eat eggs. We had one that wiped our our flock before we could catch him and close up the hold where he got in. They are cute, but not good for chickens.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      April 18, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      How awful. 🙁 Our coop is built like Fort Knox, so we’re knocking on wood. We’ve even managed to keep the mice out after reinforcing it a few months ago.

      Reply
  • Holly
    April 18, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Opossums usually don’t kill to eat. They are mostly scavengers that eat carrion or fallen or even rotting fruit. They are great for the garden because they love snails. I used to gather up all the snails in a milk carton and leave them in the middle of the yard for the opossums and watch them come out at night and eat out of the carton. It looks like that baby probably has a mama somewhere nearby so I would put out one of those wire cage traps with a can of cat food and try to trap the family and move it elsewhere if you’re concerned about your chickens. You can also make a simple trap with a trash can. Ask me how if you’re interested. I’ve moved a number of opossums just to make sure that our dogs didn’t have a confrontation even though I enjoy having them in our yard.

    Reply
    • Betsy Alexander Waggoner
      April 18, 2013 at 8:54 am

      The opossums in our neck of the woods kill and eat hens.

      Reply
      • Kimberly Blaylock
        April 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

        They are killers in our neck of the woods, too!

        Reply
    • Linda Ly
      April 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      We have a few humane traps here… it’s just always a mystery as to what we’ll actually trap though, LOL. One time we were trying to lure a squirrel, and we ended up catching an opossum. (We did end up relocating that one.) He was not happy!

      Reply
  • Valerie Hunsinger
    April 18, 2013 at 8:24 am

    You can just put a glove on and grab them by their tails. I do it all the time. Have done it all of my life. Pick them up and put them into a box and relocate them. Wash hands thoroughly after. No need to kill them, and I am glad you didn’t. 🙂

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      April 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      Do you grab the adult opossums by the tail too?? (Maybe ours just appear bigger than they really are!)

      Reply
  • S Summersell
    April 18, 2013 at 8:11 am

    My best tool is a long handled ‘grabber’. The kind used to pick trash up without stooping down. It lengthens your arm by three feet and can grab a critter without hurting them. It also keeps them far enough from me. Most of the home improvement stores have them in the cleaning or paint department.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      April 18, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Great idea… That’s something we should have just for beach clean-up in our neighborhood too.

      Reply
  • karin
    April 18, 2013 at 8:11 am

    great story and pix!! who’s your mama and where’s your baby daddy!!

    Reply
  • Kerrye Rogers Dawson
    April 18, 2013 at 8:06 am

    Awesome photos! (I would have called my man with a rake too…)

    Reply
  • Lisa Steele
    April 18, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Great photos! You were lucky you saw him. He probably wouldn’t hurt grown hens, but he will eat eggs and can transfer disease if his feces end up in the chickens’ water or run and they eat it. Best to let him know he needs to go elsewhere.

    Reply
    • Patti Barnett
      April 18, 2013 at 7:58 am

      I caught one eating a bantam hen. They will kill and eat small chickens. How it got in the pen I still haven’t found out.

      Reply
    • Linda Ly
      April 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm

      Thankfully, he was only in the run for a couple hours at most before I found him, and he had his head in the sand as if he hoped no one would see him. I think he just got a little lost. Hopefully he’s in someone else’s yard by now!

      Reply
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