An important message from your chickens, bees and small livestock…

Please Electric Fence Us In

Your chickens, ducks, rabbits, pigs, goats, sheep and bees have asked BearWise to pass along a message: bears are always looking for food, and don’t know your chickens and bees and critters are off limits.

An unprotected apiary, coop or pen is like a fast-food restaurant for bears. So much easy-to-get-to, calorie-filled food all in one convenient place. People are always trying to get more exercise. Bears are always trying to get less; the less energy they expend looking for food, the easier it is for them to build up fat reserves.

Get Your Buzz On

Ordinary fences can’t keep out bears. It’s easy for them to climb up and over or just break through if there’s something interesting on the other side.

A properly constructed, installed and maintained electric fence is the most fool-proof, powerful and long-lasting bear-deterrent available. When a bear’s super-sensitive lips, nose or tongue come in contact with a properly charged fence, the bear has an experience it never want to repeat. Getting zapped does no permanent harm to bears (or people and pets) but it does teach the bear a life-saving lesson.

Electric fencing designs and materials are widely available online and at farm and ranch stores and home centers. The materials needed to protect the average chicken coop add up to far less than the cost of replacing your flock (and sometimes your coop). Investing somewhere between $200 and $500 will protect your flock and coop for many years to come.

Many states offer help with fence design and installation, and some have programs to help offset costs. Check with your state wildlife agency to find out more. Check with your HOA, community or county for any local regulations before installing an electric fence.

View video: Watch what happens when a black bear meets an electric fence (courtesy of New Hampshire Fish & Game)

Electric fence photo courtesy of New Hampshire Fish & Game Dept.

Something to Chew On:  Before you blame a bear, the most vicious and persistent killers of chickens, small livestock, wild birds and young wildlife are domestic and feral dogs and cats. Foxes, raccoons, bobcats and coyotes also prey on chickens. Your flock is counting on you to keep it safe.

Beehives and Apiaries

It would be tough to design a better bear food than a beehive full of honey and larval bees. Bees are muscle-building protein. Honey is a highly concentrated source of energy. Beehives are particularly attractive to bears in the spring before green-up and in late summer and fall when bears are eating around the clock trying to put on weight before hibernation. To add to a beekeeper’s problems, insects, including bees, are important natural foods for bears. An apiary with many hives is a bear bonanza.

Location, Location, Location

Grouping hives together and surrounding them with an electric fence is the most bear-resistant solution. A properly installed and maintained electric fence will prevent just about all bear damage. Today there are many effective, portable and solar-powered fences to choose from. Beekeepers like locations at the forest edge with dappled sunlight but keeping your hives at least 300 feet from the forest or other cover makes them much less attractive to bears.

Solar-powered electric fencing protects beehives. (Nevada Department of Wildlife)

Prevention helps critters, people and bears.

Don’t wait until you have a problem. If a bear breaks into your chicken coop or raids your apiary and gets a big reward you not only lost your chickens or bees; you taught the bear that chicken coops and bee yards mean easy meals. You can repair the damage and replace your stock, but that bear will go looking for more.  Eventually that can lead to the end of the road for the bear.

“Bears aren’t on a mission to make your life miserable. They don’t know about the time or money you invest in things. They only know there’s food and they’d like to have some. So if you live in bear country, you don’t have the luxury of waiting until your first bear visit. You have to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place.”
– Rich Beausoleil, Washington’s bear biologist and BearWise state representative


Fruit for Thought

electric-fence protect beehives

An electric net fence is set up to keep bears away from beehives and trees. (New Hampshire Fish & Game)

Have fruit trees? Portable electric fences that you can put up before fruit ripens and then take down and store until next season are a good solution for individual trees and small orchards.

If you can’t install an electric fence, the only practical way to keep bears out of your fruit trees is to pick your fruit before it ripens enough to smell; just don’t push your luck – bears can smell ripening fruit well before we can. Fruit continues to ripen after picking; just store your harvest in a cool, bear-resistant place. Besides picking all your produce, an industrious black bear climbing through a fruit tree can break branches and do a lot of permanent damage. Pick up and remove any fallen fruit every day.

Fruits are loaded with natural sugars that give bears a big energy boost in the late summer and fall when they’re foraging up to 20 hours a day. For people, a piece of fruit is a healthy treat. But a tree laden with ripe produce is an unbelievably dense source of calories. A dozen big ripe apples have more than 1,000 calories. A well-cared for backyard tree can yield between 80 and 160 fruits. That’s 6,400 to 12,800 calories. Probably more, because bears eat the whole apple, including the core and seeds.

Berries, Grapes, Corn, Pumpkins

They don’t ripen after you pick them, and they’re all on the bear menu. You can treat a small to medium-sized garden much as you would a chicken yard and surround it with an electric fence, or build a sturdy, chain link enclosure with a chain link “ceiling.”

Additional Resources:

Thanks for reading. Protecting your critters and crops will keep them safe and help keep bears wild.

Top photo provided by New Hampshire Fish & Game Department.
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