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Raccoons may look cute, but don’t be fooled; they’re tenacious and destructive pests that will readily eat your crops, make a mess of your gardens, and kill your chickens. Raccoons can grow up to 30 pounds, overpowering many medium-sized guard dogs. Their sharp teeth and propensity for carrying disease can make them a direct threat to your family, since raccoons will viciously protect nests and feeding sites.
Raccoons build nests in the spring, and love to find ways into your house and outbuildings, near abundant sources of food like your garbage cans. Before spring hits, consider raccoon-proofing your property to dissuade these invaders from moving in.
In the wild, raccoons build their dens in crevices like hollowed trees or brush areas. Although nocturnal, they adapt very well to suburban environments, where they can make a den under a deck, or in chimneys, crawlspaces or outbuildings. Raccoons can tear holes in buildings, too, removing shingles or duct openings to get indoors. Once inside, the raccoons and their young will create a lot of damage, tearing up insulation, damaging floors and staining areas with urine. In the yard, raccoons will tear plants up to look for food. They like to eat corn and fruit near harvest, as well. Most disastrously, they will steal eggs from poultry, killing the birds if necessary; in a single night, a raccoon can decimate a small flock of chickens or ducks.
Most raccoons have their young in the spring, with up to six kits born at a time. Young raccoons live with their mother until they are about a year old, when a new litter is born. Raccoon populations can grow very quickly where there are food sources and places for dens.
How to Keep Raccoons out of Your Yard
There’s no surefire way to keep raccoons off your property, but there are a few measures you can take to prevent a large population of raccoons from taking up residence in your yard — and to prevent raccoons from constructing dens in your home or outbuildings. Here are a few:
1. Seal up possible den sites. Thoroughly inspect your property for gaps and holes that can allow raccoons access to your attic, crawlspace or outbuildings. Most raccoons can gain entry through any opening three inches in diameter. Secure the entry points by installing chicken wire or metal sheeting covering the openings. Seal pet doors at night.
2. Eliminate outdoor food sources. Birdseed, pet food, animal feed and stored food can all attract raccoons to your property and help them make a home. Lock up or eliminate all outdoor food.
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3. Cover your garbage and compost pile. Use a garbage can with a heavy, tight-fitting lid, or strap the lids down with bungee cords. You also can keep garbage in a garage or outbuilding until it is time to take it out. Compost can be contained in a box with a lid that locks, to keep raccoons from making a mess of it.
4. Build a strong fence. Especially one around garden areas. If you have a bad infestation, you may want to consider an electric fence: high voltage, low amperage is the safest option.
5. Use repellents. While there is no fail-safe raccoon repellent, you can keep raccoons from a small area using motion-activated water sprayers. Don’t use ultrasonic devices; these typically do nothing except annoy your neighbors. There is a fluid commercially available, made from secretions from the glands of male raccoons, which will drive females with litters out of an area in some cases. Raccoons also dislike the smell of ammonia; this can be used to drive raccoons from an interior space or keep them from garbage areas.
6. Trap and relocate. This method is particularly effective for relocating litters of raccoons, as trapping the young is easier than trapping adult raccoons. If you locate and trap the young, you can use them to trap the mother before relocating the entire family. It is also possible to trap adults on their own and relocate them to a forested area far from urban property.
7. Get a guard dog or scare them off. Some people have success with scare tactics, such as chasing raccoons with brooms, or yelling, or leaving the radio on in outbuildings, or even keeping guard dogs. Be aware that a cornered raccoon will attack, so use these methods with extreme caution. However, being a nuisance around a raccoon’s litter will likely cause the mother to relocate her babies to another area, so it may be worth a try in those cases where a den is already set up.
When dealing with a pest as intelligent and adaptable as raccoons, vigilance is necessary. The best prevention is maintenance around your property. Monitor your property for signs of raccoons and act immediately to discover nesting sites and food sources and cut them off. Raccoon-proofing is well worth your while; keep these destructive and potentially dangerous animals from wreaking havoc on your home and yard.
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