Opossum Trapping at Midnight

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The mystery of the missing chickens has been solved…at least partially. Brianne and I woke a little after midnight to the sounds of a chicken being attached in the barn. We both raced to the patio door, grabbed the flashlights that sit on the counter, just in time to see a large furry creature dragging a dead meat bird across the yard. We opened the door and shined our lights on him, which made him stop and try to hide. It took me a while to figure out what it was, but eventually realized it was a opossum rather than a raccoon. I was relieved, a little. He began to move faster, dead chicken in tow, to the north side of the house. As I opened the door a little farther to get a better look the cat shimmied through my legs and darted out into the yard. OH SHIT! All I needed was a cat vs. wild animal fight to round out an already distasteful night.  Not really knowing a lot about opossums I told Brianne the cat was on her own. I was NOT going to get in the middle of a fight. I have already seen a dog vs. raccoon brawl and it still makes me shiver when I think about it.

With nothing more we could do we tried to go back to bed, which meant Brianne went back to Skyping and texting her friends about what had just happened. I laid in bed for a while and then realized sleep was out of the question so I got up and began surfing the net for information about opossums, chickens, predator control and so forth. After about a half an hour of reading I felt comfortable enough that our little guy posed no great danger to us or the cat, the chickens however were a different matter, so I headed back to bed. I had no more put my head to pillow when we again heard the tell tale sounds of chickens fighting for their lives. I immediately launched myself out of bed, four letter words flying, pulled on my jeans and a t-shirt, ran to the back door slipped into my muck boots and headed to the barn, grabbing a pitchfork along the way for protection. As I slowly crept up to the barn, trying not to spook the opossum and provoke an attack (in case the information I read was wrong), I scanned the outside of the barn for movement then moved very slowly toward the barn door. I could hear movement from the chickens, but nothing from the opossum. Confident he had either slipped out of the barn or was hiding I made my way through the barn door only to find our furry murderer cowered in the corner of the meat chicken pen with another dead bird laying at his side.

Brianne was still on the patio with her flashlight. I called to her to get out here and bring more light. With enough light to assess the situation I gingerly caught each of the remaining meat birds and stashed them in an empty rabbit hutch for protection. Then I just stood there staring at the opossum. Leave it to a teenage to cut to the chase though. With two flashlights beaming on the little guy who was now trying to figure an escape Brianne blurted out, “now what, mom”. I hadn’t a clue—yet. But, it came to me rather quickly. I had two choices…kill him right there inside the barn or capture him and release him. Killing him seemed unappealing, but not for the reasons one might think. If I stabbed him with the pitchfork and he fought I would have to stab him again, making a mess I would have to clean up later. If I had a rifle, which I don’t, I could shoot him, but in my semi-city area that would sound like a cannon going off bringing the Sheriff that lives across the street running. I would have taken care of the opossum, but potentially land in jail all in the process. Not appealing! No…capture, albeit a scary proposition, was a better option. So there it was…how to catch a opossum.

I looked around for anything I could use; cardboard box, no, he could chew through it; empty feed can, no, he could escape trying to put the lid on. Then, staring at the rabbit carrying cages hanging from the rafters it came to me…the dog crate. I turned to Brainne and told her to get the large crate out of the garage, quickly. She looked at me almost horrified that I was sending her across the yard away from her pitchfork welding mom, protector. But, like a brave farm girl she handed over the flashlights and headed to the garage. All I could do was stand there blinding the poor guy with light to keep him from moving. When Brianne returned dragging the largest crate behind, I moved the fence panels out of our way and set the crate down just inside the chicken pen. This immediately scared the opossum who then started hissing and bearing teeth. This of course made Brianne turn in retreat. So— as she headed for cover, leaving me in the dark with an angry wild animal hissing and snarling I’m yelling at her to keep the light on him so he wouldn’t move.

At this point I had had enough of this marauding murderer and with that stoved up anger and fear, I shoved the crate towards him, used the pitchfork to scoop him into the crate, all the while Brianne is screaming, “don’t stab him!!!”, flipped the crate up on end and shut the gate. Brianne and I both let out a huge sigh and stood there staring at each other in amazement. This is not the first time I’ve experienced an attack by wild animals, but it is the first time I have not used a wildlife trapper for the capture. We were impressed with ourselves.

With the little vermin caged, Brianne and I carried him out of the barn. As we were walking Brianne asked an obvious, but not yet answered question, “What do we do with him now, mom?” My response…”not a damn thing”, and with that I let go of the cage and it fell to the ground with a loud thump. “Nice, mom,” Brianne exclaimed as we both headed back into the house.

Our nighttime episode ended about 2am and we were more than ready for a soft bed and some sleep. Sleep would not come easy though, as we soon found out. With bodies nestled in bed we heard scratching and clambering from the side of the house where the opossum had taken his kill. Brianne called from her room, “Mom, do you hear that?” To which I responded, “Unfortunately, yes”.

Our story would continue tomorrow.

When I woke this morning a gently fog lay over our farm. It was a surreal picture compared to what had happened over night. I really didn’t want to get up and assess the carnage in the harsh light of day. But, with the little shit (Brianne’s name for him) still caged and sitting in the middle of the barnyard, and the source of the post caging scratching noises still uncertain I reluctantly got up and got dressed. All seemed pleasantly quite outside, the hens were happily searching for morsels or fluffing around in the dirt taking dust baths seemingly unaware of the tragedy that befell us just a few hours earlier.

The biggest mystery, however, came to the forefront when I entered the barn. There in the midst of the quickly dismantled meat bird pen and the litter of chicken carcasses was a lone unharmed meat bird. Brianne and I were shocked! Where did her come from? Why didn’t we see him last night? And, where was he hiding to miss the attack? We may never know, but were glad to have one more survivor. Not wanting to spend a lot of time dwelling on the situation Brianne and I carried the dog crate and set it in the back of the truck, then headed out for breakfast. No sense in ruining our morning plans.

After a quick bite we drove five miles out of town, past where the county maintained road turns into dirt; past small farms and horse stables to where the rock quarry entrance begins; there we found a widening in the road and pulled off. We slid the dog crate to the edge of the tailgate, opened the gate and tried to dump the opossum out into a faraway locale, but we never saw him hit the ground. On closer inspection we realized he was grasping onto the metal vents of the crate, clinging for dear life. We shook, bounced and rattled the crate trying to dislodge, but nothing worked. Finally Brianne suggested we flip the crate over hoping he would release his hold in the process. So, with one quick motion we turned the crate over, the opossum let go and fell to the ground below. I proudly announced, “he’s out!” and at which point Brianne screamed, “oh shit”, let go of the crate and clambered to the top of the cab, the crate slipping out of my hands and landing smack on top of the opossum. Dazed and confused he managed to wiggle out from underneath and stagger off, tiptoeing through the dried underbrush, a far cry from the lush farm he had annilihated the night before.

Howling with laughter over the comedy unfolding and the trapping that led up to it Brianne and I got back in the truck and headed home, not lost on the tragedy that brought us to this point.

Some may find it odd or even distasteful regaling these events with such comedy and laughter, but I guess you had to be there. Now all that’s left to do is find out if the remaining chickens are safe to eat. If not, they will be disposed of and our batch of meat birds will be a complete and total loss. Such is the life of a farmer, no matter what the farm size. In true farmer fashion though we will pick up and carry on at a later date.

By the time pumpkins don the front walk there will be homegrown chickens in our freezer, you can count on that.

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