Well here we are just waiting for night to fall, lying on a mattress we hastily tossed into the truck used for deliveries about half an hour ago.
The chickens are just starting their nightly chirping routine. That is good. It means they are calm. There are indicators that they have been harassed by predators again within the last couple of hours. We came prepared with traps, water, an orange, my new iPad, a shot gun, cat food, and sleeping bags. As soon as we arrived we hurriedly looked for signs of trails the raccoons have been taking on their nightly (and sometimes daily) journeys to the chicken tractors. There were none that were obvious, but we guessed where they might be. The pasture grass is so tall and lush that any trails may be hidden from our untrained eyes. We set out four traps and smothered the spring bar with cat food. You know the kind you find at every grocery store. It comes in a can and smells bad, and just about every sitcom has at least one episode where somebody doesn’t know what it is, eats it and likes it. We hope the raccoons really like it.
After the traps were set, we prepared our beds. Now we are just sitting quietly waiting for the nightly routines to begin. Even though we know the raccoons have been coming during the day, we suspect they have also been coming during the night. Most predators come at night. Since they come during the day, that means they have less fear and potentially cause more damage.
The last time Jerry tried to stay out at night waiting for raccoons, he was pretty much frozen by three in the morning and had to give it up. He came home and went to bed without ever seeing a raccoon. When he told me he was going tonight, I suggested that we both go (to keep each other company) and take the delivery truck for protection from the weather. We aren’t sure this will work, but suspect it will be better than Jerry perching atop a barn waiting to get a good shot at the critters killing our chickens.
You know, I love to see nature in action. In fact, one middle-of-the-night episode made me quite sad that I interrupted it. I was woken by an awful screaming sound. I jumped out of bed and not thinking before acting clapped my hands by the wide-open bedroom window making sure they were cupped to create as loud a noise as possible. It wasn’t until I heard the whooshing of large wings just after hearing something falling through bushes that I realized I had scared off an owl that probably had a rabbit in its talons. I immediately had a sense of remorse.
We love to work with nature, not prevent it from happening. However, sometimes we need to interrupt nature. I certainly don’t mind sharing our bounty with raccoons, but 20 chickens a night is too much. Last night they did not even eat them, they just killed them. That is why we are here tonight. When we arrived, we found about five different places where they had already tried to dig under the pens to grab a chicken. Since this afternoon when Jon and Moe had been here last, they had already killed four birds. Our goal tonight is to prevent more loss and hopefully discourage them from returning other nights.
Right now it’s 9:18 pm. The birds are chirping ever so gently, and we are getting sleepy. It’s that magical time when all shadows are gone and everything starts to blend together. It’s hard to distinguish trees from bushes, and bushes from grass. A few things continue to stand out, like the white buckets that hold the water for each chicken tractor, and the grey roof of the building that serves as hay storage and junk collector. Jerry is at the back of the truck standing ever so still, waiting, watching, listening. It’s starting to get cooler, and I wonder if I will be able to stay warm enough all night. I brought lots of layers, but…. we’ll see.
We are heading home from a restless night with no sound or sight of any raccoons. Jerry was up about six times to silently overlook the pasture from the back of the delivery truck to ensure all the animals were sleeping peacefully. There were no unexpected noises. Just the gentle night sounds of very small animals such as frogs and birds, and the hum of vehicles from the busy road close by. The traps were empty and no feathers or dirt indicated a predator had attempted to attack any birds.
Our backs ache a little more than usual, the bags under our eyes are a little saggier and of course we are disappointed, but at least the chickens had one calm night, and there is always tonight.
Stokesberry Sustainable Farm
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