I read once that having livestock was publicly announcing your willingness to run outside, at any hour of the day or night, in any state of dress or undress, to deal with whatever emergency happened. I scoffed at that. Certainly there is time to put on pants or a jacket, right?
Hubby and I were getting ready for bed tonight when he heard an animal scream. “Something’s wrong with the animals – they’re screaming” he shouted from the other room. And the adrenaline kicked in.
I dropped whatever it was I was doing, and headed for the back door. Thankfully my shoes were right there and I could step into them without slowing down. But no jacket. No time! The flashlight is *always* by the back door. I couldn’t get the back light on, it gets finicky in the cold weather, so I kept on going without it. Halfway through the yard the flashlight picked up the chicken coop – with the chickens outside in the run.
What? “It’s rabbits that scream, not chickens”, I thought. I had been headed for the rabbits and just happened to see the chickens on the way. But a quick flashlight beam across the hutches showed all rabbits in their cages and quiet. Whatever was going on, it was about the chickens. And with them outside their coop in the middle of the night, whatever was going on was INSIDE the chicken coop.
I opened the run and stood in the doorway. Without realizing how useful it was, we had built the chicken coop so one could see inside the pop door from the entrance to the run. I bent over and shone the flashlight beam inside.
Two small red eyes. My heart took an extra-hard thump before I saw the rest of the animal hiding behind part of the perch. An opossum!
I was simultaneously relieved and concerned. Possums aren’t known for attacking people, unless they’re truly cornered and terrified. At least it wasn’t a fox or similar quick-moving and more aggressive animal. But at the same time, I didn’t have room to swing a shovel in the close confines of the coop. I was going to have to persuade slow-moving, comfort-loving, not-afraid-of-humans opossum to leave the coop of his own free will.
Hubby had joined me only half a second behind, coming from a different room. Wearing his boxers. Because, being a good livestock owner, he hadn’t stopped to put on pants! So I had him grab the pitchfork for me, and then hold the flashlight while I opened the chicken coop. (In addition to the small pop door the chickens use, the entire front of the coop opens up like barn doors. I wanted it that way for ease of cleaning, never thinking how wonderful it would be in persuading a reluctant predator to depart!)
First I showed the turning fork to the possum, which hissed at it. Then I poked the possum with it, and it squealed in anger. Ah, finally the source of the “scream” hubby had heard! Maybe one of the chickens pecked it? Maybe it bumped an exposed nail? I poked it again, and the possum bit at the tines of the fork, realizing they weren’t going to move. It ran to the other side of the coop, where I followed it. It ran back to the original side, and into the nestbox. I threw forkfuls of bedding at it, which really annoyed it. Finally it went out the front of the coop and down to the ground, immediately darting behind the door support. I prodded it again and it went up the run fence, pausing at the top where I unceremoniously pushed it over into the brush on the other side. It walked away unharmed.
I want to say I saw the chickens applaud, but it must have been completely in my head because of course chicken wings don’t bend that way. But I closed up the coop, put the ramp back where it belonged, and watched the girls one by one return to the coop to roost for the night.
All but one. Not sure what’s going on with her. I picked her up and saw no blood, no injuries. But she acted a little shellshocked. I gently put her in the coop with her flock, figuring the normalcy of the surroundings might be best for her. Then we closed and locked the door.
We’ll be better now at locking the coop door when it gets dark, rather than when we go to bed. Lesson learned.
Second lesson learned – if you are short on eggs, look for an egg-eating predator. I probably could have caught that opossum several days ago if I had listened to my gut about all the eggs that I thought were being laid but that weren’t in the nestbox when I went to collect them.
Hopefully the short chicken memory will serve my flock well and they’ll be back to normal as soon as they got inside. On the other hand, you can see that I’m still awake typing this out, because the adrenaline needs a bit of time to leave my system.
But hubby did look cute outside in his boxer shorts!