A couple of days ago, our son noticed that the birds were making a racket in the henhouse. It was about an hour after dark and we had locked up the henhouse at dusk.
I went out with the big handheld searchlight and saw two coons in the henhouse. It looked like they were eating the eggs and hadn't gone after the chickens yet. There isn't a whole lot of light around the henhouse so I went and got the tractor to shine it's lights on the house. While we were watching, it sounded like the coons escaped through the back of the building. (It's an old building that has seen better days).
Two of the birds came out of the house so we locked them in the other outside enclosure. I decided to go in to check on the remaining two birds, a leghorn and a rhodie. Both were sitting on their usual perch which was a metal stock tub on top of the nesting boxes at about waist height. They looked OK. I just didn't consider that they would sit there calmly if the raccoons were still in there.
Chris and I went around the back of the house to try to see how the coons got out. For the life of me I couldn't figure it out. There is a gap under the house where critters have dug access holes but the floor had seemed to be intact. I got some expanding caulk and cayanne pepper. I filled the holes with layers of cayanne and caulk. (that should keep the critters from nibbling through..)
OK, now I was getting confused, I saw no way that the little Houdinis had gotten out. I went back in again and didn't see any critters or escape routes. Now, we know that they can't teleport so there had to be another answer. Had I thought to apply Occam's Razor, the simplest solution would be that the critters were still in the shed.
Chris wanted to go in an pet the leghorn that we call 'whitey' . Against my better judgement I said Ok. As I went in, I took one last look... There was a gap of about 6" between the wall and the tub. Whitey was perched right over a clump of grey fur. I warned Chris and we immediately got out of the henhouse. Being in close quarters with two raccoons could turn deadly even without rabies.
So now, we had a dilemma, how do you get the birds out safely?? I could have shot through the wall with a .22 and hit the coons except that (1) the town is a no discharge zone (2) there are too many houses nearby anyway and (3) If the raccoons were rabid, that would put rabies tainted blood all over the place.. So, on to a plan B.
Plan B was to punch through the plastic window and use a long pvc pipe to dislodge the birds.. After about 10 minutes it was mission accomplished. We got them into the outside enclosure and pulled the henhouse door closed. Now I had two irritated raccoons trapped inside the henhouse. I wasn't sure what to do so in the words of that famous senator I figured "I'll drive off that bridge when I get to it" and turned in for the night.
I heard some commotion at about 5 am and went out to look. I saw a larger coon right outside the henhouse and it waddled off. The birds looked ok.
When it was daylight I let the birds loose and looked in the windows. There was no sign of the critters. Eventually I carefully opened the door and sure enough, they were gone. They had chewed through the bottom of the henhouse door. I found where they got in which was where the top chicken wire meets the side wire. There was just one weak spot. I took about 25 of those plastic electrical ties and closed up any and all gaps.
It occurred to me that the two coons must have gone right by the chickens when they escaped but didn't appear to go after them.
Anyway, here are some lessons learned.
- Be extremely careful if you think there are raccoons in the henhouse. I was in there three times at least and did not see them. The houses is only about 4'x8'. There isn't any clutter other than the tub. We were very lucky not to have gotten bitten or worse. Had we reached over to handle the chickens that might have been enough to cause all heck to break loose.
- Raccoons will find any and all weak spots in your henhouse. You really need to go over it periodically to make sure that there are no spots where they get in. This means going over just about every square inch looking for gaps and rusted chicken wire.
- Raccoons carry rabies and a really nasty parasite in their feces. The eggs can live for something like 10 years. If you ingest the eggs of the parasite, the worm will work it's way to your brain and eat your brain (that might explain some of the behavior in congress lately). The next day, I wet down the straw to keep the dust down, used a good mask, rubber gloves etc and cleaned the shed out. Even with the precautions, there is some risk to doing that.
- I could use a better lighting system in the shed. Harbor Freight had reasonably priced lights that were solar charged. I'm going to pick one of those up and set it up for lighting the inside of the house if I go in there at night.
- I'm not sure if a motion detecting light would help. Again, Harbor Freight has solar powered motion detecting lights. I'm not sure if that would scare the little buggers off or not. Maybe one of those halloween gadgets that screetches and cackles when you walk by would work.
- I had seen our trashcans overturned a couple of times prior. I should have been more proactive and made sure that the raccoon trap was baited and set.
Raccoons: 3 eggs