Friday, November 30, 2007

Rac Attack

My first impulse was to blame my neighbor. My second was to blame the freakish weather of the past two years. But, finally, I had to blame myself.

Last week’s Thursday was USA-ian Thanksgiving day. We had friends here at Ft. Harrington to help us celebrate the day and help us eat the traditional poultry. During the evening’s joviality, I forgot to close the chickens’ run door, leaving them vulnerable to predators.

For the past several years, there has been no reason to worry about that. Any encroaching varmint was welcomed by alarm barks, loud and furious, from Kelsey. This year, probably because of a two-year major drought here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, even our usual raccoons vanished, leaving our plums to drop uneaten from their trees. (And on to our deck, making a mess.)

One of our neighbors, though, leaves food for his cats outside his front door, because his cats can’t come inside, because they can’t get along with his dogs. A couple of weeks ago, a juvenile raccoon discovered this free food, and started stopping by on a regular nocturnal basis. Since no other raccoons were around, because – I guess – of the drought, which has dessicated the hollow’s creek to a trickle and wiped out the crawdad population, this youngster became bold.

He found our chicken run and, I’m guessing, waited until a gate was left open. That happened on Thanksgiving night.

We heard nothing that night, nor (evidently) did the dogs. But the next morning, we found pieces of Pepper scattered around the garden and the rest of the flock cowering in various places.

That night, we made sure to secure the chicken run as usual… but the ‘coon now knew that chicken dinner was to be had here. The young ‘coon ripped a large wooden piece from the run’s door and ripped into the run at about 3:30 in the morning. It made the mistake, though, of going after Xena, who resides in the uppermost portion of the run at night. She screamed loud enough to wake me, Mrs. Fort, and all the dogs. In various states of undress (which, for the dogs, was total, of course) we raced out to the chicken run and chased the little ‘coon away.

We also scattered the chickens away, since all the doors to the run were opened in the fray.

For the next hour, she in her nightgown and me in my robe, we scoured the compound for frightened, hidden chickens, finally locating and gathering them all at about 4:30am. We carried them into the potting shed for safekeeping, and did our best to finish our night’s sleep.

The following day, I prepared the potting shed as best as I could to be a temporary home for the 10-chicken flock.

Potting shed as refuge. The chickens at bottom are the two inquisitive ones: Specks and Lacey.

The plan now is to keep the chickens in the potting shed at night for another week, hoping to convince the young ‘coon that the chicken buffet is closed. Meanwhile, I’m “hardening” the chicken run doubly: by installing hutches within the run in which we can enclose the chickens at night and by reinforcing various vulnerable places on the run’s exterior fencing.

Morning after a busy night of pooping on black plastic. (Xena is at bottom-center, the little warrior princess!)

Meanwhile, I can’t walk by the chicken section of our grocery store’s meat section without feeling a little queasy .


Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

The state park across the marsh provides a steady stream of raccoons that invade our neighborhood over here. We all keep trapping them - 8 released at the church so far - and more come, for the blasted pet food.

Gathering in all 10 chickens every night must be a job!

Mike said...

Bad scene -- once an animal identifies a food source, it's hard to discourage him from returning. I think trap-and-transport might be a solution here, since it's only one raccoon and not a family of them. Of course, there's the solution a for-real farmer would take, but I suspect it's not one you'd favor, even if the good folks in your neighborhood didn't mind gunplay at 2 a.m.

Good luck.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Yeah, Mike, you're right. He came back again last night, so he's not going to forget about the place.

I'm going to try Ruth's Have-a-Heart live trap technique first, but less friendly things later if that doesn't help. Meanwhile, hardening the chicken run and introducing secure overnight boxes within the run continues, but I'm not optimistic that I can permanently outsmart the critter. Outliving him is something I can do, if necessary, though.

And, Ruth, getting the chickens in at night is no problem -- they do it all by themselves once dusk starts to gather, and they're pretty easy to re-program. After just one night of relocation to the garden house (and closing-off of their roosting locations in the run), most of them went back there by themselves and after two nights they all did. Chickens coming home to roost, you know.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

They are VERY good at outsmarting the trap, but outsmarting the varmint can be done. If you want any of our pointers, let me know, but you can probably anticipate their tricks pretty well on your own!

Sherwood Harrington said...

Oh, I want any pointers I can get, Ruth! Post 'em here, or, better, post them as an entry on your blog, and you bet I'll read them!

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Good idea - i've got a blog entry up on it now - very 101, but i thought i'd write to any general readership that might happen by as well.

Hope you get the little...

ronnie said...


I'm confident that's what Ruth was going to say - "dickens".

I think it's really cool how the discussion in this comments thread resulted in her really interesting post on her blog about how to set a trap. Theres a really neat ... dynamic to how a small group of bloggers ricochet off each other's blogs and ideas, no? Not manageable with hugely popular blogs with hundreds of commenters, but a very nice dynamic for a half-dozen or so reading and reacting to each other.

Theriomorph said...

Poor Pepper. And I hope the Have a Heart trap works for the raccoon, who is, of course, also just being itself.

Never kept animals considered food to the wild ones - except cats, one of which I did lose to a coyote pack in one place I lived. My current cat never had a problem with the resident coyotes or great horned owl, because there was a huge rabbit warren keeping everyone fat and happy.

Trash cans, on the other hand, were a battle I never figured out how to win.

I think the raccoons had bolt cutters.

bunny-hugger said...

I'm sorry about your chicken. One time leaves blocked the waterfall in my garden pond, and about half the pond water drained off before we found it. In the night, a raccoon took advantage of the low water level to eat more than half the goldfish (we had nearly 100 at the time), including a big old fish I'd had for almost ten years, all the way back to when he lived in a three-gallon plastic aquarium on my desk in college. His name was Kant. It took me a long time to get over that.

The population never recovered. They quit breeding after that, and for some reason, never resumed. I'm down to about twenty.