Posts Tagged ‘skunk’

An unexpected visitor

After the snow melted, but before it soaked into the ground (which is still frozen!), we had small ponds of water sitting around the farm, and an unexpected visitor, likely flooded out of its burrow, showed up in the hoophouse where our seven laying hens spent the winter.

Chickens free-ranging along the driveway — so happy!

I always move the chickens out of the hoophouse into pasture around this time of year, but the ground has been too frozen to set up the electric netting I use to contain the hens. To get them acclimated to the wind and weather again, I had been opening the door of the hoophouse during the day and letting the hens out. They almost always stick to the grassy areas and the woods in the spring (and spend plenty of time scratching through my compost pile), so I don’t worry about them wandering into our vegetable fields. I’ve only lost one free-ranging chicken to a predator over the years, and these hens are getting old. I’m willing to risk it for a few weeks in the spring – they clearly enjoy their freedom, and I figure they deserve it after a long, boring winter. The hens always find their way back to the hoophouse come evening, and all I have to do is close the door.

One day, I didn’t get around to closing the door until about 8 pm – later than usual. As I entered the hoophouse, I noticed the hens were roosting on the outside of their coop, instead of inside like usual, and one of them was way up on a hoophouse truss. I thought that was odd, so, very cautiously, from as far away as possible, I raised the hinged lid on the coop that allows access to the nesting boxes. It was fairly dark at this point, but although I couldn’t smell anything, I was pretty sure what I saw inside was the white stripe of a fluffy skunk. I very carefully closed the lid again, and left.

The nesting boxes, after the skunk vacated.

I left the door of the hoophouse open that night, hoping the skunk would leave come morning, but it was still curled up in the nesting box when I went out to feed the chickens the next day. I knew that it probably didn’t have room to spray in the chicken coop, but I really did NOT want it to spray inside the hoophouse, for obvious reasons. I didn’t really want to kill it, because skunks aren’t bad to have around, unless your dog, like mine, doesn’t have the sense to leave them alone. But, that’s another story.

On this particular day, I propped open the lid of the nesting boxes, hoping the skunk would feel too exposed with the lid up. Elden said he had heard skunks don’t like noise, so I found an old radio and set it up near the coop, letting it play all day. Oddly enough, one time when I went out to check, I saw a hen in the nesting box right next to the skunk’s nesting box, readying to lay an egg, no doubt. Apparently, the chickens no longer felt threatened by their furry visitor. That evening, Elden found a partial box of mothballs in the garage and set the open box near the nesting boxes. Again, I left the door of the hoophouse open.

Shelly checking out the skunk’s and my tracks later that morning.

The next morning, I headed out to the hoophouse. We had received some fresh snow overnight, and my spirits lifted as I crossed the driveway and saw what I was pretty sure were skunk tracks in the snow. At the hoophouse, I peeked inside the coop, and breathed a sigh of relief. The skunk had vacated. I then followed the tracks past the other hoophouses – which the skunk had clearly knocked on the doors of – over to the compost pile, across the driveway, past the greenhouse/potting shed (again, the skunk had checked out the possibility of staying there), and under the deer fence, into the fields.

Needless to say, I set up our electric netting inside the hoophouse that morning, encircling the hens in their winter quarters, despite my plan to move them outside just as soon as possible. I continued letting them out during the day, but became quite vigilant about shutting them in early in the evening! Luckily, even if they’re not yet ready to roost, our hens will follow me if I shake a can of sunflower seeds or other treats as I walk toward the hoophouse. So, folks, always keep some mothballs on hand, don’t wait too long to tuck your chickens in at night, and always be alert while you’re gathering eggs.

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