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Clippings: What passes for an exciting evening at John McCright's home

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Posted on July 19, 2018 |
By John S. McCright



McCright, John 8902.jpg

I was getting ready to settle down to sleep with a mug of ice cream when our Carpathian shepherd dog Molly started barking at the window. I heard the chickens squawking and one word jumped into my mind:

Predator.

“Molly, let’s go check on the chickens!”

The 135-pound sort of wimp (the dog, I’m much heavier) was resisting going outside, but once out the door she bolted around the garage and to the chicken coop. While Molly barked and ran around the chicken yard to secure the perimeter, I shined the light of my phone in through the window on the coop door and saw two of the five hens resting on the floor and the other three perched together on the highest roost. Then, right behind them on the windowsill I saw the unmistakable black mask of a raccoon.

Damn.

I banged on the door, and then looked around the outside of the coop to figure out how it got in (and where I would chase it out). I ran back into the house to get a better flashlight and informed Sophie (15-year-old warrior daughter and the only other human at home this weekend). She rushed out with her own flashlight and we peered in through the window of the door. The nimble coon had climbed up into the far corner of the coop — just above the top roost still occupied by the three hens. I couldn’t find an exit for the coon other than the door we were at (no way was I letting that wild animal get near me or Sophie and I didn’t want to see Molly get hurt — she broke her leg when she killed a bobcat). There was the hatch into the chicken yard, but I didn’t want to go into the coop to open it.

Sophie and I brainstormed. For the first time I was almost sorry that I didn’t have a gun. I considered impaling the coon on a pointy stick, but that would be foolhardy. We seriously considered just leaving the coon in there for the night with a light on (the animal did seem worried by our flashlights); but we knew that probably all of the chickens would be slaughtered.

Once we could tell that there was only one coon in the coop, I opened the door a little and looked around. Molly was going nuts trying to push through my legs to get inside. She wouldn’t hurt the chickens, but I was worried that the raccoon might attack her.

Sophie and I came up with a plan. We would rescue the chickens and relocate them for the night.

I ran to the garage for tools, and brought back a long bamboo pole, a leaf rake with a broad, fan-like end, and a garden pitchfork. Here’s what we did: Sophie shined her light in through the window while she slowly opened the door. I reached one arm in with the rake and tried to coax the chickens to come to the door, where we would liberate them. Molly whimpered and barked and pushed passed my knees twice to get all the way into the coop, where she was frustrated by the raccoon perched 7 feet up on the wall.

I managed to get one of the chickens close to the door, and pushed it down, then dropped the rake and put my hands around her whole body so I could pick her up and whisk her outside. Sophie slammed the door hard!

I put the chicken in the workroom (I had just swept the floor, but I figured it was a better option than the laundry room). I came back, Sophie waited until I was ready, then she cracked the door. At this point the remaining four chickens were all on roosts, so I had to knock them off — not easy to do with a long stick from across the room while being menaced by a raccoon (honestly, the chickens seemed a lot more worried by me — their savior — than by the raccoon; stupid birds). I got a hen down and literally raked it toward the door. It was scared of me and stuck its head between the waterer and the wall. This gave me the opportunity to lean my torso inside the door and grab the hen by the leg. Upsy Daisy! I lifted it out and away from the curious nose of the dog while Sophie slammed the door and beat on it to scare the raccoon, which was watching his meal being taken away piece by piece. I put hen 2 in the workroom with hen 1.

Hen 3 came out in a similar fashion. The big difference is I had to knock her off the top roost, which, at arm’s length with a raccoon inches from the hen, along with the bird’s natural inclination to stay put, made it a little more challenging (they are like feathered Weebles). But we got it out — again by grabbing a leg. While trying to knock the fourth bird off her roost I made what was likely going to be a fatal error. Instead of knocking her onto the ground, I knocked her back and she fell into a position that pinned her between the wall and the glass window, which was on a hinge and swung up toward the ceiling where it was held open with a hook and eye. She was closer to the coon, farther from me, and stuck. Sophie and I conferred, and I moved on to the other hen still on the roost. After another Molly foray into the coop, I managed to get this bird onto the ground, raked to the feeder, and hoisted out of the coop by both legs. Into the workroom she went.

That left one frustrated but scared raccoon literally shoving its head into the corner of the ceiling (“I’m not here,” it seemed to be saying to the dog), and one chicken trapped behind an upturned window. I told Sophie to keep an eye on the raccoon and I got out the long bamboo pole. I reached in and worked at the hook and eye holding the window up. It gave and the window came crashing down on the top roost, spilling the bird (and the roost, and a couple shards of newly broken glass) onto the floor of the coop. I ducked outside to change tools, pushed the rake out to pull in the chicken and snagged number 5 by a leg. As I got outside, Sophie slammed the door and jammed the lock home triumphantly. I took the final hen to the workroom, gave them some water and food and closed the door.

There was still the issue of what to do with the raccoon. I didn’t know how it got into the coop in the first place; I poked around the outside and couldn’t find an entrance. I fear that it got into the coop while the hatch was still open and was actually in there when I went in and closed the hatch but a half hour before the incident. I didn’t want to have to release a crazy mad thirsty starving raccoon in the morning, so I had Sophie shine the light through the window again and keep an eye on the animal, while I went into the chicken yard and pried open the hatch from the outside; then I put a 2 x 4 in the opening to keep the hatch open and went to bed.

My guess is that within an hour the lil’ fella was back with his coonish cousins in the woods — hopefully telling them a story that will keep them away from my chickens for a while.

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