Monday, March 10, 2008
For the past 10 days or so, something has been getting into the grain storage shed up in my poultry yard. I knew it was a racoon--how I knew, I don't know; I've just developed a sense. The little beggar learned how to unlock the door and get in. This is the time of year for it. The "critters" are coming out of their wintertime doldrums and beginning to roam farther from their dens. 'Coons are smart, which is another reason I knew it had to be a raccoon that was getting into my storage shed and stealing the food.
Yesterday afternoon we were away from the house visiting with some friends, and we didn't get home until well after dark. These critters tend to start roaming about an hour after full dark, so I knew that they would be in my poultry yard before I got home to lock up my chickens; but I thought it (I thought there was only one critter coming in) would just go for the grain, since the door was wide open. Well, when we got home, and I went up there to lock up my chickens, two hens met me just inside the yard, so I knew something had gotten into their roosting house and upset matters quite a bit. I rushed up to the house to see how many were left. I have only 7 chickens at this time, and there were only three in the house--two hens and one of the roosters. Well, I was convinced that I'd lost at least one hen and the dominant rooster. My husband came up to help, and with the aid of lights, we got the first two hens back into the chicken house. My husband then went back into the house. We were both convinced that the remaining two chickens were dead, and my husband is a sensitive type, and didn't want to find any dead chickens. I stayed up there, though, and searched around through the brush until I found the remaining hen crouched in one of the farthest corners of the poultry yard. I yelled for my husband, and he came back up. With me herding the chicken slowly in his direction, he kept his light off and when she got close enough to him, he grabbed her. In she went to the chicken house, and I stood there with the light until she could see her way up to the roosts, which are about 6' high. Meanwhile, my husband went back to the house. I was determined to find my dominant rooster, or what remained of him. So I stayed up there and crawled around through the brush some more until I found him on the opposite side of the yard hiding behind a tree and up against the fence. Now my birds are Marans chickens, and they are big. I mean this rooster's head comes up to my mid-thigh just standing there, and this breed grows very long spurs on their feet. This particular rooster's spurs are easily 4" long at least. The minute I got close to him, he took a defensive stance, and I knew this bird was not going to be picked up and carried to the chicken house like the hens. I yelled for my husband again, and told him I found the rooster and he was alive and apparently not hurt. Well, my husband was not too keen on the idea of grabbing this rooster, either. I told him to just open the chicken house door, and shine his light on it while I slowly herded the rooster in that direction. When he saw his house, that old rooster perked up and walked right in there. Of course, all the other chickens started squawking at this, but the second his feet hit the roost, they all got quiet. I shut them up and came back in the house. We were quite surprised that I didn't lose a single bird, but I don't expect these traumatized hens to lay any eggs for quite a while, if they ever lay again. Sometimes a hen that has been traumatized will just quit laying altogether, and these hens are old, so they might just stop laying. I hope not. I have an "order" (gentleman's agreement) with another Marans breeder/lover to sell me another half dozen pullets later this Spring when he hatches some out and when they get old enough to tell the pullets from the cockerels, but this might fall through, since Marans chickens are notorious for "throwing" more males than females, and sometimes you won't get a single pullet out of a clutch of eggs. Time will tell.
Before we went to bed, we set a trap by the roosting house and another inside the storge shed and left the shed door open. (The critter could get in there anyway.) I expected to catch at least one 'coon in the shed, and maybe another 'coon up by the roosting house. I was rather surprised to find a young o'possum in the trap up by the chickens' roosting house. I'm pretty sure that the varmint responsible for chasing my chickens around the yard after dark last night was the o'possum. He was caught nearest their house, and that raccoon was too big for the rooster to chase off and not get killed or hurt. All in all, I consider myself very lucky. Now, if the hens can get over their fright and lay a few more eggs, I'd be even happier--and luckier.
Here's a picture of this dominant rooster. This is not his best pose. He has his head pulled in and his tail down a bit, and he's giving me a mean look. I just wish you could see how big he really is.