The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Opossum in the chicken coop

Opossum in the chicken coop

Anna: There's a opossum in the chicken coop! I need you to shoot it. Should I get the rifle?

Mark [perusing his half-clad wife]: First, you should put on some pants.

Opossum in the nest boxWhen we first moved to the farm, I wouldn't have dreamed of shooting a opossum (or asking Mark to shoot one). But our closest neighbors are all four-footed, and we soon realized that if we wanted to grow our own food, we had to protect that food from the wilds. To that end, we now hunt deer for our table and will occasionally kill varmints in the chicken coop. Not snakes or hawks --- I figure those guys have a bad reputation and need a bit of help. But a opossum or a raccoon who's stealing eggs and might make a stab at a living bird? Those guys see no mercy.

Farmer with gun

If it makes you feel any better, I'm pretty sure this wasn't Mr. Opossum's first offense. I'd seen signs of broken eggs in the nest box off and on over the last couple of weeks. But I'd just assumed someone was laying thin-shelled eggs. Wrong. Likely our egg predator had been snacking for quite a while.

Dog with opossumLucy used to be in charge of border patrol, and I remember seeing more than a few opossum carcasses over the years. But as our hardy farm dog has gotten older, Mark has taken over up-close-and-personal strikes like this one. So, Monday night, my steady husband took a deep breath, pulled the trigger, then we gave the carcass to Lucy to dispose of. With me to run out when the hens cackle after dark, Mark to kill the beast, and Lucy to eat what's left, we make a pretty good team.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Been there, done that!

Last summer, I too had been finding broken egg shells in the laying boxes. I use a deep straw bed in mine, so didn't think much about it. Thin shelled eggs??

One morning I found a dead hen in the nesting area. Bloody neck was a give away that somebody was enjoying chicken besides me. So I cleaned it all up and decided it was time to empty the old straw and put in new. When I started pulling the straw out, guess who I found living underneath the nest box - right underneath the laying hens!? Mr. 'Possum!!

End game story was the exact same as yours.

Comment by Tim Inman Tue Feb 16 10:25:41 2016
Like a story out of the "Beverly Hillbillies." :) I'm like you, got an ear fine tuned to any sounds out of the ordinary. Would have played the situation the same as you did, though I'm loath to kill anything. Glad nobody got hurt.
Comment by Karen Tue Feb 16 10:43:59 2016
We had the same problem, our dog was getting older and not getting all the predators. So we got a pup of the same breed, German Shepherd. It took a year of training on our part, but the older dog helped with this, too. Now we have 2 great farm dogs who work in shifts until one day our eldest dog can't. We will have a younger one to take her place full time. I only have dogs to protect the farm. Not a pet, but guardians who live outside full time.
Comment by Ruthlynn Tue Feb 16 11:59:56 2016

I appreciate you all sharing your experiences. Honestly, I expected to be flamed by now for shooting the critter. But Tim's experience suggests that we made the right move.

Ruthlynn --- At intervals, I ponder getting a younger dog to carry the torch as Lucy gets older. I know she'd definitely help train one. Unfortunately, I also remember how much work it was to train Lucy into the grade-A dog she is now, and I also feel like we got really lucky finding a dog who's so perfect for our farm. Surely any younger buck would try to eat chickens and cats and goats and stomp on my garden beds and.... So, we've put off the decision and will hope Lucy keeps guarding our farm to the best of her abilities for many years to come.

Comment by anna Tue Feb 16 12:49:38 2016
"First you should put on some pants". That is too funny, because anything that sounds like cackling hens will send me out to the coop in a flash, pants or no pants. But wearing pants probably makes one more effective at dealing with predators. I'll try to remember that.
Comment by Paula B. Tue Feb 16 17:25:52 2016

not saying i haven't come to the same conclusion as you in the past. just thought i'd pass on this interesting info about opossums i read recently. who knew? they are really important lyme disease control.

Comment by eric Tue Feb 16 23:18:48 2016
eric --- That's an excellent point! It's always intriguing seeing the way ecosystem changes affect changes of getting lyme disease. I suspect the opossums' job of eating mice does as much as grooming off the ticks that end up on their person. Good to know!
Comment by anna Wed Feb 17 09:14:48 2016

Unless you can train a possum to not kill chickens or eat eggs, I think you went the only route you could have.

Well, almost the only route. Here are some other options for next time. :-)

Comment by Jake Wed Feb 17 23:56:18 2016
I came home from church and went to turn the light off in the chicken coop. I opened the door and was startled to find a 'possum in the coop. I told my wife to get my 12 gauge shotgun while I staid to prevent any damage or from letting the 'possum get away. When my wife got out there with the shotgun I took the gun and put the barrel about 2 feet from it's head and pulled the trigger. I literally blew it's head off! It was fun but also scared the poor chickens to pieces! The 'possum had killed one of the chickens a few days before, and I was trying to figure out why the chicken died. Now I know it was the 'possum in the coop!
Comment by Max Tue Dec 12 11:18:26 2017

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