Life in the country isn’t all always peaceful and pretty, as it turns out. A couple of weeks before we left for the low-carb cruise, Chareva found one of our egg-laying chickens dead in the chicken-yard, headless and torn up around the breast area.
Two days later, she found another chicken in the same condition. Then another three days after that. Some kind of predator had discovered our flock and was climbing over the fence to help itself to chicken dinners. Our original flock of 10 was down to seven.
Our nearest neighbor, who knows a lot more about the local critters than I do, told me when you find a headless chicken, the most likely culprit is a raccoon or a possum. A fox was also a possibility, but foxes tend to kill every chicken in the barn, even if they only eat one. Ours were getting mauled one at a time.
I must confess, I didn’t know raccoons attacked other animals. The girls have a story book with a raccoon on the cover, and darned if it doesn’t look cute and harmless.
I put a light out by the chicken barn so I could see, then spent three nights sitting in my car nearby with a .22 in my lap, listening to audiobooks (very quietly, with earbuds) until 1:00 a.m. I don’t know if the predator was scared off by my presence or just wasn’t hungry, but nothing approached the chicken yard during my vigils. I saw what looked like a possum slinking through the grass one night, but it was too far away to be sure, and since it didn’t come anywhere near the barn, I didn’t want to take a shot.
I was worried that the predator would finish off the flock while we were gone for the cruise, so I bought a spring-door trap and set it by the chicken-yard on the day Chareva’s parents were due to arrive. (They stayed at the house while we were on the cruise to look after the girls, the chickens and the dogs, bless them.) I didn’t keep watch that night, figuring abandoning my in-laws to sit outside with a rifle might give them the impression I’m rude and ungrateful, if not borderline psychotic.
Sure enough, the next morning I looked out my bedroom window and could tell the door on the trap had sprung shut, although I couldn’t see what I’d captured. By the time I showered and dressed, Chareva’s father had already taken a walk outside and informed me there was a raccoon in the trap.
Chareva’s mother is an animal-lover – she feeds a raccoon that hangs around their property in Chicago. She asked if I could possibly drive the raccoon somewhere and let it go. I told her what our neighbor told me: those things will find their way back and go after your chickens again. At the very least, it’ll find someone else’s chickens and kill them instead, which isn’t exactly a neighborly way of ridding yourself of a predator. She understood. Since they were all planning on going shopping, I said I’d take care of business while they were out.
When I first approached the raccoon in the cage, it was docile and kind of cute. Gulp. Then as I got closer, it began hissing and raging and baring its teeth and banging around inside the cage. Thanks, Rocky Raccoon. Now I’m seeing the predator that ripped the heads off my chickens. That made it easier to pull the trigger. I dumped the carcass in an overgrown area near our property, figuring the local coyotes or carrion birds will take care of it from there.
Our neighbor had warned me that there could be a family of raccoons nearby, so I re-set the trap before we left for the cruise. Knowing her parents wouldn’t want to shoot the next predator, Chareva gave them our neighbor’s phone number. (He had kindly volunteered his services if need be.)
When we returned from the cruise, we learned that the trap had captured a large possum the night before. I don’t know for sure that the possum was after our chickens, but at this point I pretty much have to assume that any chicken-killing species that gets caught in a trap near the barn was looking for a chicken dinner. Chareva’s parents called our neighbor, who came over and did the deed.
On a more positive note, we have a rooster now. He’s not one we’d want to mix with our hens, so his job is to walk around the land and eat bugs, which he seems happy doing. He’s especially fond of patrolling the area near the creek.
We got him from yet another neighbor who knocked on our door and asked if we wanted a rooster.
“Is there a reason you don’t want him?”
“Yup. He’s mean. He attacks my other chickens. If you want him, you can have him.”
“Our hens are inside a fence, but if he gets in there and attacks them, he’ll probably end up in a soup pot. Are you okay with that?”
“I’m fine with that. We just need to get rid of him.”
The rooster has his own food and water inside the fence where we raised guinea fowl in our failed free-range guinea experiment. He has no interest in staying inside the fence during the day (he climbed out immediately), but if he’s smart, he may spend his nights in there to avoid the coyotes that killed our guinea fowl.
If not … well, like I said, life in the country isn’t always pretty.
UPDATE: Nope, the rooster wasn’t so smart. While writing this post on Saturday morning, it occurred to me that I wasn’t hearing the rooster announcing his presence outside. “Hmm, it’s quiet out there …. too quiet.” So the girls, my visiting nephew and I took a walk around the pastures. We found a pile of feathers, then found some bones nearby. The local coyotes can thank us for yet another tasty meal.
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