It was several weeks back that Kevin and I noticed that one of the battens on the outside of the chicken coop had gotten a pretty thorough gnawing. A good swath of wood was missing, up to almost three feet off the ground, and there were unmistakable teeth marks.
Until now, we’ve had a pretty good record protecting chickens from predators. This year, we lost our runt chick, Rocky, to a hawk, but that’s our only casualty. It’s possible that Baldie, a full-grown buff Orpington, died of post-traumatic stress disorder about six weeks after she had the feathers off her back ripped off by what might have been the same hawk, but we don’t count that as a predator death.
We’d like to keep our streak alive, so we kept an eye on the gnawed spot. It didn’t seem to be getting any bigger, so we didn’t worry much.
Then, last week, we walked around to the backside of the coop. There, one of the battens had been almost eaten through. A two-foot section had been scratched and bit to splinters, and the nails were sticking out.
This couldn’t be allowed to continue. I decided that whatever was trying to get at my chickens was going to be in for a rude shock. I took one of the super-duper fiery habaneros from our hydroponic system, and put it in the Vita-Mix with some water and cornstarch to make a slurry. Birds don’t taste capsaicin, so the peppers wouldn’t bother the chickens, but most mammals (I think) are pepper-sensitive, so I figured I’d be able to deter whatever it was that trying to get in.
I painted the exposed wood with my slurry, set up the VarmintCam, and waited.
The first couple of nights, I got nothing. And then, when I checked it this morning, the drama unfolded:
At 9:12 PM, a rat comes and cases the joint. He walks around, and maybe takes a tentative gnaw at the wood.
At 9:51, he gets a real taste of the habanero. Or at least that’s what I picture. Doesn’t that look like a rat trying to get the taste of pepper out of his mouth?
At 6:26 AM, he’s back. Or maybe it’s his friend. Either way, he’s not what I’m looking for. A reatively small rodent couldn’t eat away a 1×2 piece of wood three feet off the ground unless he invited seven of his friends and they stood on each other’s shoulders. While I wouldn’t put this past a rat (I don’t put anything past rats), I didn’t see any evidence of it.
The next morning, at 3:36 AM, I got a more probable culprit.
Two minutes later, he’s back with his friend. These could be the same two who were robbing our turkey feeder a few weeks back.
But then, two minutes after that! Could this be a picture of a raccoon in pain?
The only other raccoon appearance that night came at 4:51 AM, and if ever I’ve seen trepidation written across a a furry face, this is it. He never came any closer.
I think maybe, just maybe, he’s reconsidering. Or maybe not. In any case, it’s reassuring that they seem to be after the chicken feed, which is directly inside the gnawed batten, and not the chickens themselves.
I know better than to chalk up a victory in the raccoon wars; the best I can say is that I didn’t suffer a shattering defeat. But they’ll be back. Raccoons always come back.