I could title this story “the unwelcome intruder” but i decided instead to call it what it is; a failure on my part. Being that i am not a full-time homesteader; i do leave the property to go to my day job in order to pay the bills, the homestead is not always my primary focus. This was the case when i was standing stark naked in the bathroom, about to step in the shower at 1 am and the chickens kicked off about something outside. The homesteader in me should have thrown clothes on and grabbed a weapon right then…gone to investigate, but i hesitated. I had already taken everything off. I was sooooo tired. I thought, “why couldn’t anything just go according to plan?” I threw on a bath towel and stepped outside into the darkness. All 6 chickens were standing in the pen, really upset about something. I walked over to the pen, peeked about, and saw nothing. The chickens were all huddled together, wide eyed and disturbed. I assumed one of them had knocked the roosting bar down again and they all thought it was after them. That happened often enough. The dogs were quiet so they didnt seem to think anything was wrong. I went inside and took my shower. All throughout the shower i had this nagging feeling something was wrong. I knew i had done the wrong thing. I should have done a thorough check, but i didnt fancy being out there butt naked with all the ticks and chiggers and ants and so i hadn’t. I asked God to watch over the chickens and finished my shower quickly. When i turned off the water i could still hear the chickens squawking loudly and i knew i had messed up. A fallen roosting bar wouldn’t have held their attention for this long. There was a predator in the chicken pen and i had missed it. I knew now it was an animal and i threw on a t shirt and grabbed my belt with the sharper machete attached to it. Outside in the dark i went straight to the chicken pen with my lantern and there against the side of the hen house was a possum, inside the pen. Luckily for me it was a bit on the smaller side and i had large breed chickens who had bullied the possum into a tight spot and were kicking at it with their talons. I later learned, had the possum been bigger or my chickens smaller, i wouldn’t have had any more chickens to speak of. This was a massive fail on my part. The chickens had spent an additional 30 minutes with the possum since first sounding the alarm. I should have handled that straight off the bat and the fact that i didn’t should have been rewarded with a major loss, but God had been merciful and i counted 6 live chickens. They were mighty pissed chickens; pissed at the possum and pissed at me for sure. They wanted nothing to do with me when i entered the pen. Daisy looked at me as if to say, “Oh now you want to help?!” I wanted to let the possum out. I saw where it had dug under but the buried fencing it had bent was jagged and razor sharp on the edges so it wouldn’t be as good an exit as an entrance. I needed to put the chickens inside the hen house so i could open the door and let the possum out. This was easier said than done. The chickens would not leave the cornered possum. They meant business and they wanted it to know it. Then when i tried to pick them up and relocate them into the coop they each thought the possum had them and went absolutely ballistic. There was flapping and squawking and screaming; feathers flying everywhere and beaks pecking frantically at my hands…this commotion further terrified the possum who made itself flat against the ground and looked like it might begin shaking at any moment. It tried to move further away from the chickens. Ellis and Rosie pursued it while i struggled to get the smaller chickens in the coop. Every time i put one in two came out until i had no chickens in the hen house once again. Eventually i was sick of this game. I grabbed chickens and hurled them through the hen house door while they spread their legs and wings out and protested, trying their hardest not to go. I used my knee to block their exit and then slid the metal door on just in time to thwart Daisy’s 6th escape attempt. With all the chickens inside i could now focus on getting the possum out. I opened the door and waited. The possum moved further away from the door, to the back of the pen. I called and coaxed the possum but it didn’t come. It crawled further in the opposite direction of the door. So i got a stick and threaded it through the bars of the chicken pen. I poked the possum on its behind. It turned around. Before i could think anything about how the direction change was progress the possum did what possums do and died. It full on hollywood movie splayed out on its back died. I scooted him an inch with the stick. Then i pulled the stick out and threaded it through the bars a couple inches to the left, shifting him an inch again. I did this until the possum was lying on the ground near the door of the pen. Then i entered the pen and pushed him all the way out and closed the door. I had him by the tail. He was still playing dead. I knew, as a homesteader with chickens i had two choices, take the machete from my hip and cut his head off or put him in the carrying case in the shed, load him in the car, drive him deep into the woods, and release him away from here. As a city employee i needed to leave for work 5 minutes ago and i was standing in the darkness in a t-shirt and flip flops, hair undone, makeup not yet applied, lunch not made…i pictured myself calling in to tell a mic that i’d be a tad late for my shift because i was driving a possum to the middle of nowhere. We had just had a meeting about how we now got less call-in or tardy days before we were fired and the days supervisors asked us not to come because we were having a slow day at the store would count as no call no shows because everything was done by computer now and the computer couldnt tell the difference like a human. We were told to keep track of our days so if we were terminated because of this glitch we could mount a valid argument. I didnt feel like now was the time to call in because i was rehoming a possum. So it was settled then. I was beheading it. I unholstered my machete and laid the possum on the ground. I waited for it to hiss at me or bear its teeth or something. It just laid there. It looked dead. When it did lift its head it just laid there and stared at me with round black eyes. It knew i had its tail and yet it did nothing to fight me off. The animal in me was not activated. I couldn’t hunt and kill this thing that wasn’t putting up a fight. It was looking at me completely unphased, as if it wasnt scared of or bothered by me at all. It didn’t view me as a rival any more than i could it without a display of teeth and hissing and such. I let go of its tail. It waddled away into the darkness. I knew the choice would come back to haunt me as it knew where the chickens were now, but i couldn’t fight something that didn’t view me as a threat. It wouldn’t have been fair.
I told the dogs they were grounded, for missing a whole cat-sized varmint that the chickens were sounding the alarm about for half an hour. I shook my head, “What are you two doing out here, sleeping on the job? You’re supposed to tell me about these things!” But regardless of whether the dogs were sleeping or awake, the chickens had told me. I just hadn’t listened. I checked all the chickens. Nobody was injured. I was surprised to see Ellis working with Rosie to kick the possum. Ellis, the neurotic brain damaged outcast missing half the feathers on her head hadn’t really been seen cooperating with anybody in the flock for any reason. It was heart warming to know they’d pull together during an emergency. I saw no evidence of possum babies. I checked to make sure it hadn’t stashed some in the hen house somewhere because then it would be back in a few minutes to get them. I was late. I had no choice. I had to kick dirt in the hole and put boxes over it and then just go to work. All the while i was at the store before the sun rose i worried whether the possum had returned and once the sun was up all i could think about was going to home depot and purchasing rocks to put on top of the buried fencing around the pen. I told my friend Cindy what had happened and how i would have to go to home depot after work to get rocks. She told me i could just come over to her homestead and i could fill my car with the rocks she had on her land. I didn’t realize she had loose rocks over on her property. I told her i’d trade her 3 dozen eggs and some snacks for the grandkids. Cindy was a life saver. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars at home depot i could now fill the car with rocks and all it cost me was eggs. I think i got the better end of the deal, especially since she helped me gather and load the rocks.
The possum dug up the buried fencing and contorted it in the back of the pen, pulling it up just enough that it could slide under. I had to rebend the fencing back into place everywhere it was warped and bury it again but i knew the possum could just dig it up again in two seconds. I felt this nagging pull to hurry up and finish work and get over to my friend Cindy’s homestead so i could hurry up and build a rock wall. She offered to make dinner if i wanted to stay but i knew i had to get started on that rock wall so i told her i’d take a rain check and she told me i could have a cup of tea instead.
Cindy and i loaded the trunk with rocks at her property and i trekked them all home shortly before sundown. I finished putting most of the rocks in place shortly after sundown assisted by the car headlights and decided to save the larger rocks for the following afternoon, when i could see by daylight where to put them as a finishing touch to hold everything down.
While collecting the rocks we had unearthed a wolf spider and her egg sac and several little baby snakes, just plain brown or plain green. They weren’t poisonous. I knew i took some of them with me in the trunk. I was pleasantly surprised to see the spider with the egg sac came with me and two of the baby snakes. I thought they might grow up and eat some of the mice that liked to chew everything in my tool shed. I released them all in amongst the cedars and brush.
I didn’t rest until i got those heavier rocks onto the barrier because i knew the little ones by themselves werent a deterrent. Only once the trunk was empty could i breathe. I was supposed to be doing school work this whole time, by the way, and i wasn’t. I was doing this.
While constructing the rock wall i noted that the chain clipped around the cedar that held one side of the laundry line looked stretched awfully tight around the trunk. I had clipped it there when Cashew was a puppy three years ago. We had used it before she became big enough and strong enough to snap a chain or uproot a tree if she saw a deer. I used to hook her up on that chain so she could be with us while i worked on chores or hung laundry and Sili was free range. We didn’t need it anymore as we didnt have a puppy and the tree appeared to have grown enough that i wasn’t going to be able to unhook the chain. I knew what i had to do. I went to the shed, fetched the bolt cutters, returned, and; SNAP. The tree was free. I noticed the indentation of the chain in the tree’s trunk. I pruned the tree a bit and pulled off some of the scraggly hanging wispy bark. I gave it a little attention. I touched the indentation of the chain with my fingers. It was scarred but not broken. It would heal and the indentation would become part of its story. I put the severed chain in the tool shed. You don’t throw stuff away out here. You never know what might be useful later. I could use it for other puppies in the future with a simple attachment or i could cut it further and use it to hang plants on the porch.
Of course the chickens immediately set about re-digging the possum’s tunnel. Every time i filled it in they dug it up. I did not find it extremely helpful but then no one ever said chickens were helpful when it came to fence maintenance. I eventually tried to dill it with rocks more than dirt in an effort to deter them.
So, that’s how the chicken pen got a rock wall around it. The dogs got ungrounded pretty quick. They weren’t gonna be sleeping on the job twice. The next 6 times that possum appeared the dogs were on it like lint on corduroy. The combination of the dogs and the rock wall seem to have deterred the possum from trying again for a couple weeks now. It occurs to me that this may not be over. I may have to rehome or behead him/her yet. I’ll cross that bridge when i come to it. Hopefully, next time we meet won’t be a work day, or at least i’ll be dressed.
There’s no good answer for what i should have done. I either neglected work or the homestead…something was going to get neglected that morning. It’s just what happens when you decide to do three things at once. School was getting neglected either way. I only had one day to study for the exam and i turned in my project mere hours before the deadline of the last day. However, for some reason, God saw fit to make a way for all to continue forward. I got an A on my exam despite the fact that the possum decided to make an appearance in the middle of it and i had to rely on the dogs to handle the situation as my exam was being proctored. Never a dull moment. Also, never a moment im completely quipped to address, as i always have one foot in one world and the other in another. I look at it like a pie chart with three sections and im just doing a dance on top of the pie chart until the kid playing duck duck goose says goose and i look at what section of the pie chart my foot is in when it’s time for me to run.
I read possums eat ticks. So, if it leaves the chickens alone…..
Yes, possums eat tons of insects that i don’t want. They can be very beneficial to have around. They also eat eggs and if big enough, chickens. So, it is a risk to leave it alive if im not going to relocate it, but the way im wired, i just cant combat something that hasnt done anything yet. With the rock wall, the reinstatement of the chicken coop door (i had to leave it off when the juvenile chickens werent accepted by the flock because they frequently ran out and slept outside when the others beat on them in the coop) and the porch light on all night now, the possum has been back around but it has not tried to dig into the chicken pen yet.
Yet another example of the double edged sword metaphor. 🙂
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