Living on this little farm is an ongoing exercise in Things I Am Not Prepared For. Or, in this case, Things I Thought I Was Prepared For But, Actually, No.
Which is weird because pretty much any time I’m away from the farm there’s a part of my brain that is just dedicated to stressing out about all the things that could be going wrong while I’m not there: What if the donkeys have escaped? What if there’s a hawk around? What if the eggs hatch and my broody hen kills the chicks? What if the bees swarm? WHAT IF A RACCOON GETS IN THE CHICKEN COOP?
I play those scenarios out so often that you would think I’d be able to handle them almost without a second thought, or at least that they wouldn’t be a surprise. But,early last week, when I got back home after dark and the donkeys immediately ran out the street to follow my car in the driveway (which they typically don’t do in summer) I thought “that’s weird” but didn’t I didn’t find it at all alarming… crazy donkeys.
And then they didn’t come in the barn when I was checking the water bucket. Also a little strange.
Then I walked into the coop and noticed a couple of eggs sitting on top of the brood box that’s still in there and thought, “Huh, I can’t believe I left those eggs just sitting out there last night… how odd.”
Still, no warning bells have gone off.
Even with the light on in the barn the coop is very dark at night, and all the Nugs have dark feathers, so I squint to do the nightly headcount: 1,2,3,4,5,6…wait… is that a tail?!
I wish I had a picture of that exact moment. Me, body half inside the coop, hanging on to the door frame, my finger frozen in front of me in the act of counting chickens, the 8 Nugs sitting on their roost completely nonplussed, and a raccoon also sitting on the roost, pretending to be a chicken.
The raccoon and I blinked at each other and, at exactly the same time, started backing away from our respective spots– me to get a shovel, and the raccoon to hide his head in the corner and pretend that if he couldn’t see me I couldn’t see him…
The chickens remain nonplussed. The donkeys are peering in from outside the barn door like, “don’t look at us!” Literally no one is making a sound.
This is the part where a good farmer takes a shovel and deals with the problem, because a raccoon will kill chickens. And a raccoon who knows where your coop is will keep coming back…
I post a pic to Instagram, and almost immediately all the men in my life are telling me to go get my gun and shoot it. Meanwhile, the raccoon has wedged itself into a space 1/4 the size of its body and is peering at me through a tiny little hole between the roof rafters…
I did a lot of soul searching in the minutes (and hours) that followed. Because I want to be a good steward of the land, and a good caretaker of my flock… but I’m just not sure I have it in me to kill a clearly terrified animal (who hasn’t actually hurt me or mine) for just doing what animals do.
So, I put down the shovel, and started picking up the chickens– one by one– and moving them out of the coop. You might think the chickens would be grateful for this… that they’d be relieved not to be stuck in a coop with a little masked intruder who might happily tear them wing from wing.
You would be wrong.
Chickens like routine, and when you mess with that routine– like taking them all out of the coop at 10 PM, even if there is a raccoon currently residing in said coop– they handle it the most chicken way possible: by all trying to roost in the same square foot of space on the shelf as close to the coop as they could get.
Then I set and baited my live trap and locked it in the coop with the raccoon, hoping I’d have him trapped by morning. (People say if you trap and release a raccoon they’ll just keep coming back, but I did this with the last raccoon that was in my barn and that was 2 plus years ago… that one was much larger and never came back.)
It also occurred to me that locking a raccoon inside a coop is a sure way to test the durability of your construction. So of course I woke up every two hours in the middle of the night to go out and make sure the chickens were okay in the barn and the raccoon was still locked up.
Yeah. Just chillin on a pile of chicken poop.
So, come noon the next day it was clear that there was good news and bad news: The good news is that the coop is raccoon-proof, as long as I’m home in the early evening to shut the door when the chickens go in the roost. The bad news is that there was still a raccoon in the chicken coop. And he showed no sign of interest in going in to the live trap I’d set out for him, because he was too busy napping.
If the raccoon was in any other place on the property, or even in any other place in the barn, I would have waited another night to see if I could catch him in the trap. So I went through a whole series of things like “poke at him with a stick to see if he’ll move” and “try to lure him out with peanut butter” before it occurred to me that I could call for help. You know, like city folk do.
So I did. I called a critter control place that relocates, ah, critters, and they sent a fresh-faced young man out wrestle with the raccoon.
This is what it looks like when you’re standing outside a chicken coop, losing your farm-cred, while someone else deals with your raccoon problem. (He didn’t wrestle it, by the way, he used a control stick like the professionals do.)
Also, this is what chickens look like when they want desperately to get back in their coop even when there is a guy in there not-wrestling with a raccoon.
Also, this Raccoon was clearly a juvenile, and while I know they will attach the shit out of chickens, I’m pretty sure he was just stealing eggs.
Let’s be honest, a legit farmer wouldn’t have handled it this way, and certainly wouldn’t have called in help, but I’m willing to lose a little farm cred not to be an indiscriminate killer-of-things. I’ll stop in the middle of a shower to take a spider outside instead of let him drown for shit’s sake, it’s going to take a lot more than a few stolen eggs for me shoot a raccoon.
Also, speaking of eggs, this is what the chickens were doing literally 30 seconds after we got the raccoon out of the coop…
Pretty sure they were holding their eggs in all day.
Post script to this story: I kept referring to the raccoon as “he” but, 3 days after we caught and released it, this little guy basically came right up to my mom in my front yard…
I am really hoping we didn’t catch and release its mom somewhere far, far away from the farm.
(Also, no, I might be a softy about killing things but I’m not going to adopt an orphaned raccoon… wildlife belongs in the wild. I would have called the DNR or an animal sanctuary if it hung around, but (luckily?) I haven’t seen the little one since Friday night.)
Every day is an adventure.