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Dead Animals and Birds (Carrion)

Also known as 'carrion', dead animals and birds can be very important in winter, when other food is hard to find.

Carrion can be eaten by badgers living in upland areas, but genuine, proven predation of farm livestock is exceptionally rare.

Anecdotal Reports

There are many anecdotal reports of badgers having been seen eating animals such as lambs, calves, Cats, Dogs, rabbits, Hares, and so on.

People often jump to the largely incorrect conclusion that because a badger is seen eating an animal, it actually killed that animal. The badger has a very wide-ranging diet and is a very opportunistic feeder. It will eat almost anything which it thinks might be edible, and it will even eat some things which clearly are not. One badger was even seen eating large pieces of the metal tray from a Marks and Spencer's ready-made meal!

In short, if a badger comes across any dead animal carcass, it will usually eat it.

As a pet owner, for example, you would find it terribly distressing to see your cat run over by a speeding car. To the badger, a dead (or dying) cat at the side of the road provides a free meal. Of course, animals with four-legs can suffer with the most horrendous injuries to their spinal cord, legs and internal organs, and still manage to drag themselves a considerable distance away from the road accident before they finally die. This is why the vast majority of the reports along the lines of "a badger killed my cat in the woods" are false. The majority of cases are explained by the fact that the cat died in the woods (for example, after a road accident, or due to a fox or a dog; or even due to old age or other illness); and the badger has been seen eating the carcass.

It may also be that a dead animal was carried away from the roadside by a fox, which has then been "mugged" for the meal by a larger or hungrier badger.

There are also other reports of badgers having been seen eating truly enormous carcasses (like dead sheep, Deer, cows and horses). We have even heard reports that a badger was wrongly accused of killing an ostrich. Despite the bizarre reporting from the 19th Century Newspapers, a badger can not kill a sheep, a deer, a cow or or a horse (or an ostrich).

The smaller animals, normally have good senses or eyesight, hearing or smell, and will do all they can to avoid badgers. A hedgehog, for example, will avoid any area in which it can smell "fresh" badger urine or musk. Rabbits and hares will generally outrun a badger with ease.

The only wild animals which are at "risk" tend to be young immobile "vermin" species like baby rabbits, rats and mice; and a few slow moving ones like hedgehogs and frogs.

In short, badgers only very rarely kill any healthy animal larger than a baby rabbit. For many people, badgers provide a very useful overall benefit in the countryside. The little damage they actually do, is balanced out very well by the good they do in eating vermin species (like rabbits, mice, rats and insect pests) and in tidying up the countryside by eating carrion.

Old Wives Tails

"Badgers kill baby lambs" - Not usually Correct.
Badgers are opportunistic feeders, and will eat a wide variety of foods they come across. Like we have said before, lambs that have already died may be eaten by badgers, but badgers do not kill lambs as a rule. The lambs may well have died from natural causes, exposure (being too cold or wet), infection or by dogs or foxes. It may also be that the lamb was born in such poor health, that it could not survive beyond a few hours out in the open anyway. Foxes and loose dogs will kill lambs, but badgers do  not. It may be distressing to think of, but a badger (fox or dog) killing a tiny sickly lamb that has only hours or less to live; is only doing what the farmer or the vet would see happen in a natural way.
In cases of exceptional rarity an isolated rogue badger may be believed to be killing lambs. Normally in such circumstances, the badger will be killed under licence from DEFRA (although Badgerland suspect that quite a few innocent badgers may be killed under this heading too).

"Badgers kill cats and dogs" - Not usually Correct.
Same reason as before, people very occasionally see badgers eating dead cats or dogs, but these are generally carcasses the badger has come across, and not killed itself. That said, if a cat or dog is inexperienced enough to pick a fight with a badger, then this might result in a fight, and this might result in a poor cat or dog being killed. In our experience, very few pets are suicidal enough to fight a badger, and most very quickly decide to return to the safety of the family home as soon as the badger shows it's teeth and claws. The riskiest situation for a pet cat or dog, is that injury, old age or illness means it can't outrun a badger; or you are feeding it in a location where it can be cornered. Accordingly, we would say to feed your cat inside the house, and not in an enclosed alleyway or outhouse.
Another "high-risk" situation is if your pet has moved into a new area; and it has yet to learn how to "fit in" to the local wildlife society. Cats and dogs can sometimes be too territorial for their own good; and a very few may be injured by a badger if they don't use their feline or canine intuition properly and back down. The best course of action is to keep your pets indoors during the hours from dusk to dawn; unless you are with them.

"Badgers kill loads of chickens" - Not usually Correct.
It is very rare for a badger to kill a chicken. If chickens are locked in a secure coop at night, they will be safe from foxes, dogs, badgers and poachers. Sometimes, a badger will kill a slow-footed chicken - especially if the badger can gain access to the coop (for example by you leaving a door open or ajar, or by having too flimsy a stockade). On other occasions, badgers will "mug" other animals for carcasses. For example, stealing a chicken from a fox or a dog would be seen as fair game to a badger. Otherwise, chicken are normally safe in their coop at night. You do need to be 100% sure that all the chickens are safe in the coop - as some free-range birds tend to find their own roosts and nests outside a stockade and these individuals will be at prime risk of predation by many species.
However, you need to safeguard your own poultry, by keeping sheds very secure. This means checking that floors, walls and doors are made from substantial thicknesses of wood; and that the wood remains in good condition (and not rotted away from the effects of dung and urine).
As an adult badger can move a 25kg stone to get at food underneath it, you need to make sure that doors are strong and rigid; and inspected regularly to check for rot and weakness.

"Badgers kill valuable game birds" - Not usually Correct.
They may eat dead birds, but a well-known national gamekeepers association gave advice that badgers are not a threat to most ground-nesting birds. Unlike foxes, badgers do not seem to eat the eggs or chicks of ground nesting birds in significant numbers. In all probability, their eyesight it not good enough to see the camouflaged nests or chicks. In any event, the major cause of death of many ground-nesting species (such as lapwing, curlew, etc) is from farm animals (such as cattle and sheep) who trample or lay down over over the nests.