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.
Oh my goodness! We live on two acres is a heavily wooded area, so while I should expect sightings like this, they still make me anxious! That picture of his tail…haha!
I must admit we use the live trap when we can. I have personally helped to repopulate a couple areas with fresh wildlife haha. However, I found it hilarious that you reached for the shovel. I had a possum that had become way too interested in my chickens and had a chicken dinner or two. I walked out one evening to see what the commotion outside was all about and found a possum staring at me. Let’s just say the possum, my shovel and I went for a few rounds. My husband laughed at me the whole time from the sidelines, some help he was! But my shovel and I were victorious. Would have been much easier to grab the shotgun, but I guess I had some pent up anger left from my deceased flock. They say one of the stages of grief is anger, so maybe they are right lol!
I think you handled this in a very professional way. Maybe not inline with old school farming, but respectful of everyone involved.
Our area has had a huge outbreak of rabies in the racoon population, and we’ve had a few racoons end up in the barn behaving in a very un-racoon-like manner. We have not chanced the shovel or the trap and instead have gone for the shotgun.
In most situations I’m a live and let live farmer, but if you’re in my barn with my animals, they come first. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable stance.
Have you considered installing some internet cameras so you can look in on stuff while away?
I don’t have high-speed internet, so it wouldn’t work. The best I could get is a trail cam, but it would snap pics of everything not just a predator.
You don’t have high speed internet? How do you live!?!?
Such a great story! Thank you for the entertainment. I laughed out loud at the pile of chickens trying to roost in the same spot.
Farm cred or no I’m really glad that you didn’t kill the raccoon. (Says the girl who probably still has an opossum living under her shed and knows this because said opossum stole her dog’s squeaky toy and took it under the shed to continue squeaking it.)
I LOVE that story!
Bwahahahaha! Love that one!
My mom had a family of raccoons move into her barn last year. Up in the hayloft where she could not set a live trap and hope to get the babies too. She soaked tennis balls in ammonia and chucked them up into the loft. The “visitors” moved out immediately swearing in raccoon the whole way. Another tried it this year and lasted an hour before moving along.
I’m going to try it with the squirrels and woodchucks in my shed.
I tried the ammonia thing with squirrels. Here was a recap of my own experience: http://www.uglyducklinghouse.com/how-to-get-rid-of-attic-squirrels/
For what it’s worth, the ammonia wears off pretty quickly in open air, so you have to act fast! Good luck!
Good for you doing things your way! Just because it’s “the way it’s always been done” doesn’t mean it works for you. Compassion and kindness are never wrong.
I know the opinions of random internet strangers have a lot of influence in how you do things, but this random internet stranger thinks it’s really great that you didn’t kill the raccoon. It’s your farm, you do it your way.
Good on you girl! Problem solved without having to kill anything. We are having a pretty bad year with foxes around here, and our chooks have been locked up for 3 weeks now. Being a girl who releases huntsmans outside, in a spot safe enough so that the chooks can’t get them (lesson learned), I am very grateful my husband is the one going spotlighting every few nights, meaning I don’t have to pull the trigger. On a side note, he also keeps offering to make me a neck warmer with the skins, tail and all. If anyone knows how to politely decline without hurting his feelings, please feel free to share!!
For what it’s worth:
We live in San Diego, and if I walked from here to the outskirts of the city, I would surely walk 20 miles or more. We had a raccoon here! I never would have believed it, had I not seen it with my own eyes. We’d heard a thumping on the roof from time to time at night over a period of several years. It happened once when we were both awake, so I ran outside with a flashlight and saw him on the roof. The next day we called one of those who will trap and release. He said it was no longer here. And from that day to this he has never returned, and by now it’s a good five years.
I think it’s an awesome call on the relocate. Of course it’s your view/beliefs which matter most…no farm cred was lost. Racoons eat anything and everything resulting in many having rabies and other diseases and best removed the sooner the better. either by relocating if possible or by S/W
My grandfather was a dairy farmer his entire life. His respect for animals and the land in his care is something that has stuck with me my entire life. Animals serve a purpose cows for milk, dogs for protection, cats for mice; however if there is a viable alternative he would always choose the one that prevented loss of life. So I’d like to think he would be proud of you and your way of doing things.
Good for you! Great pictures. Glad no nugs or raccoons were harmed, and seems all ended well. The nugs are hilarious!
I let spiders out too. And flies. And ants. I could never kill a racoon or a possum or a rabbit. I agree that critters all have a niche in nature and believe we’re not the boss of all life. When deer eat the buds off my flowers, they are being deer. I’m the one that put out the buffet and good odds I’m the one encroaching on the deer’s home. Just feel it’s not up to me to decide what should die. Why should I wield that kind of power over a creature that is just living and not trying to kill ME? I know, of course, there are always exceptions that make sense. I do draw the line at mosquitos, so perhaps that makes me a hypocrite. Anyway, I’m really glad you didn’t kill or hurt the little guy/girl and that you have compassion.
Do you want Boyce to come up and help????
By “help” I assume you mean “target practice”…
Well, if the trap doesn’t work again in the future, maybe nabbing your own control stick would make the next guy easier to snag next time? Since you prefer to find solutions at 10pm and such, the nugs might prefer their removal asap (provided the thing doesn’t seem rabid or something).
(And you bet your ass, this is an affiliate link: http://amzn.to/29rT0IC)
Ha. If I buy one I’ll make sure you get the credit!
Glad to hear the chickens made it out okay, once a raccoon finds a food source it is likely to return and their friends as well. My kids raise meat birds for 4H, 2 days ago a few raccoons took out 12 birds, needless to say their trip back the next night was their last. You only lose farm cred if they destroy property and animals and do nothing to prevent it…or put a stop to it.
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