Varmints, continued

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.

15 people are having a conversation about “Varmints, continued

  1. haha…I love critter cams…my 2 have been outside for a month without being checked..and usually I have 1000 pics of chickens on it…and the occasionally an unwanted guest/critter. Heaven forbid if we ever get predators..we keep both the coop door and coop gate open all night long and have never had an issue in 2 years..something tells me one of these weeks I am going to wake up in the morning to an empty coop. I NEVER learn until something bad happens even when I discuss the merits of doing what I should beforehand…I really should close the coop ever night though but hoppy ( our peafowl ) has been acting odd as of late..and I am not sure how I would take his late night meandering into consideration for closing up the coop…also, I heard a good way to keep raccoons from making repeat visits is to shoot them the first time they show up… I am not really advocating killing them.

  2. I lost 40 chickens to a little fluffy dog named Fluffy. My husband shot the dog, only winging him. He had to finish killing the maimed chickens and he buried them so I wouldn’t see them when I got home. Then we called the vets and found little Fluffy’s owner. Where I live, dogs attacking livestock warrants a hefty fine. Our local police chief was completely on our side. But it was a miserable experience all around. Your biggest problem on the Cape is probably going to be coyotes. I recommend shutting that coop up every night and keeping it well maintained.

  3. Wish we had a critter cam. For the longest time nothing bothered the chickens, then lost a few to ????? Then a rash of “something” maybe skunk? began biting heads off and consuming the blood. As we go to bed at 8:30 PM its a real problem to shut them up at night. Finally started closing the doors when we go to work at around 2 AM. So far that is working….. Our son did some tracking one morning on somewhat muddy ground and found tracks of fox, raccoon, coyote, skunk and deer left overnight. Whoda thought our little fenced in orchard gets that much nocturnal traffic!!!!

  4. Myrna, you undoubtedly had a raccoon. They are notorious for decapitating chickens for sport. We lost 2 of our 3 last spring to a gruesome raccoon attack & it was heartbreaking. No more. We lock ’em up tight at night. No sense in taking chances or tempting fate or coyotes. Tamar, glad you caught some good images on your critter cam to help solve the mystery. Good luck!

    • Mary Ann — Sorry for the delay posting your comment. For some reason, it went to my spam folder. I’m certainly aware that raccoons will always go after chickens, but I do think it was the feed that drew them to that particular spot. They were trying to get in closest to the feeder, not closest to the chickens. Still, it may have been a ruse — I wouldn’t put it past them.

  5. martha in mobile (no longer) says:

    You’re wise to be wary of those raccoons — in my chicken-tending days, it was a constant struggle, especially with the family of raccoons that lived in a cavity in the live oak right above the chicken coop. But I may have a solution for you: when I first moved to Mobile, I saw signs for a “Coon Hunt for Christ” which I think was a church fundraiser (truly, one cannot make up this type of thing). Perhaps y’all could have an organized hunt.

  6. Tamar, I write for a Cape Cod magazine and would like to do a story about you and your efforts to live off the land. Please email me a phone number so we can discuss this. Besides making an interesting column, I think there is a lesson for people in what you are doing. Hope to hear from you soon.

  7. Raccoons are the bane of chicken-owners everywhere, it seems. EGB, lock up your chickens! I can’t even imagine not closing them in at night. (And I have been looking into legal ways to shoot them, which I would have no problem doing, particularly since I’ve read that raccoon can be quite tasty.)

    Sharyn, that’s a terrible story. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. And you’re right about the coyotes — we’ve caught them on the VarmintCam on several occasions, and we hear them at night regularly (although not lately)

    Myrna, Lucy, and Martha — Thanks for more raccoon stories. I’m thinking we could all use a nice raccoon coat, now, couldn’t we?

    Alice — Thanks! I’m always glad to spread the word. I’ll contact you separately.

  8. What a great idea to utilise a chili pepper’s natural defence system against a chicken predator, especially as you rightly say that the capsaisin doesn’t seem to affect birds, only mammals. I will certainly be adding this to our arsenal of traps and electric fencing. Genius! Thanks for the idea.

    I’m also going to ask Santa for a vamint cam for Christmas – so envious!

  9. What fat raccoon butts they have! Why do raccoons have to be so cute? I like predators to be ugly so I don’t have to feel bad about dispatching them. We haven’t had any problems with raccoons yet and I hope it stays that way.

Converstion is closed.