I am in mourning and shock. For twenty days, the hen house in my backyard lay under siege in what became known as The Battle of Linton Hollow. Night after night, the chickens cowered in fear as hungry predators circled their coop searching for ways to get at them. By day, my wife and I mended holes in the fencing and set traps, but in the end, there was nothing we could do to save them. It’s hard to admit, but we were simply outwitted by a craftier, more relentless, superior intelligence. The varmints that struck down our chickens one by one could have taught Colonel Sanders a thing or two about “finger licking good.” Once they honed in on the hen house location, and tasted the first chicken, there was no keeping them out of the buffet line. The final casualty count read seven chicken lunches, seven raccoons, and three opossums. Although I would have liked to publicly hang each and every critter we trapped, not one of the varmints was harmed; all trapped animals were given a meal and relocated to the river. The chickens were not so lucky.
The final casualty of the battle was Devil Chicken, so named by my wife because she was mean as hell (the chicken, not my wife). In some recent Facebook posts, I have referred to this gritty old girl (again the chicken, not my wife) as The Half Chicken. During the siege of Linton Hollow, she lost an eye, all her tail feathers, and half a leg, but she was nevertheless a gallant bird to the very end. Although the raiding critters treated her or at least parts of her as a “take out” meal throughout the siege, her spirit never wavered. Unfortunately, the final assault, a beautifully orchestrated attack by a raccoon and opossum, was too much for her to handle. The Half Chicken fell in battle sometime during the early morning hours of June 30. The unexpected alliance of the raccoon and opossum was brilliant, and as of sunset July 3, the pair continued to elude capture with the same brilliance. However, efforts to trap them and bring them to justice will continue for several more days.
The critters may have won the battle, but the war is not over! In the spring of 2017, my wife and I will train a passel of new recruits. These recruits will be hand selected, and put through regimented training that would make a Spartan warrior proud. Our next brood of hens will kick raccoon and opossum butt. Well . . . . not really. Chickens are called chickens for a reason. They have four functions in life, and fighting heroically is not one of them. Chickens eat, drink, poop, and lay eggs; that’s it! When it comes to defending themselves, other than a peck and limited flight, they are quite helpless. Their major line of defense against predators is a well-designed and well-built chicken coop.
The siege of Linton Hollow taught my wife and me our chickens did not have a well-built and well-designed chicken coop. We did not skimp or plan it that way. In fact, we were excited when we first built the coop; we were proud of our handiwork and thought any chicken would be honored to have such a great place to live. Little did we know varmints were lurking in the shadows licking their lips and laughing at us. However, the twenty day siege taught us a few things about design, and as a result, come spring, our backyard chicken coop will undergo major renovations. Galvanized hardware cloth will replace the old 19 gauge chicken wire top to bottom. Rolls of 18 inch galvanized razor wire will cover the top of the coop, and overlapping electric fencing will wrap around the perimeter of the coop and repel onslaughts from the sides. The new design also calls for a four foot wide moat surrounding the enclosure. Of course, both raccoon and opossums are excellent swimmers, but a wet varmint climbing over electrified fencing is about as good as it gets when it comes to turning a hungry determined varmint away.
Now, the wife and I are not sadistic meanies! We have no desire to hurt any animal, but we do intend to do a better job of protecting our chickens in the future. However, to be fair, we are erecting warning signs around the chicken coop. If the diabolical four legged critters can read, they can save themselves some pain. If they can’t, I can only hope they are fast learners. Either way, I plan once again to have fresh eggs for breakfast by late fall 2017. By the way, did I mention the 140 decibel alarm horn attached to the chicken coop as a part of the new defense system?
©Jack Linton, July 3, 2016