Saturday, November 22, 2008

A hungry visitor

The dark comes early these days. At around 5:30 pm I went outside into the near blackness to do my daily goat and chicken chores. Just checking food and water, and saying a quick hello. First Eve, in her nearly finished barn, and then to the coop. The big door on the coop was open, which was unusual. I remembered that Owen had let the hens out this morning, and must have left the door open by mistake.

The hens have nearly finished their moult and their feathers have come in beautifully. I know that they are almost finished, because for the last three days I've been getting six eggs a day from them. Hurray! The boys will whoop with glee when I tell them we can make deviled eggs tomorrow.

This evening I almost whooped my own self when I went inside the coop and saw something-not-a-chicken sniffing around the hanging feeder bucket. I've never actually seen a living opossom up close. Usually I see them along the sides of the road, living and dead. This one was very much alive, and didn't really seem all that bothered when I appeared in the doorway.

We keep a lamp on in the chicken coop in the winter, for extra warmth and extra light. Contrary to popular opinion, chickens are stimulated to lay more eggs according to light, not according to temperature. That means they start laying like mad as the days get longer after the new year, and slack off a bit in the late summer as days shorten. So, to prod them into laying a few more eggs in the darkness of late fall, I leave a lamp on. Thank goodness that lamp was on, or I could easily have trod upon that opossom and not known it until too late.

I stood in the doorway collecting my thoughts, trying to remember all that I know about opossoms (which isn't that much, despite my career choice). I remembered that they are docile creatures unless cornered, when they will attack viciously. I remembered that they have very poor eyesight. I remembered that they've been around the planet for a long time, and haven't really evolved a whole lot. I remembered that they can carry sickness, like distemper and rabies.

I grabbed a big stick and went inside the coop. I circled around behind the opossom, trying to herd it back through the door. He didn't seem all that interested in leaving. Then one of our outside cats came inside the coop, saw the opossom and hissed. The opossom wasn't phased. I briefly wondered how close I would need to get, how close before the opossom thought it best to leave. I also wondered how close I would need to get before I breached the "cornered" threshhold.

Eventually, after a bit of stick beating on the walls and floor, and after the cat had hissed a few more times and ran outside, the opossom decided to leave. Not very quickly, and with no aggressive moves toward me. I looked outside and saw it walk slowly into the woods.

And all through this, the hens had been roosting quietly, watching the pantomime. "Well, that was interesting," I said to them as I filled their feeder. No more leaving the big door open during the day, unless I want more hungry visitors. I wished afterward that I had had my camera. Alas, no; no 'possom pics for the blogo, just 'possom prose.

1 comment:

Harold Phillips said...

Wow! Having experienced some of my own possum "close encounters" here in Oregon, I can relate. They can be mean and nasty critters - I'm glad that you and the kitty didn't have to tangle with it!