So I have something to tell you all. With much hesitation and trepidation, but with encouragement from my wife and my good buddy Bill, I bring you the story of why I have blood on my hands. Two nights ago I had to kill a possum. I did not do it because I wanted to, or because I thought it would be fun, but because I was defending my chickens.
Earlier in the day we had noticed that one of our Buff Orpingtons was dead. This has happened one other time when I had an accident putting them away at night. The ramp that leads up to the coop is a drawbridge type of door, and evidently one of the other Buff Orpingtons had stuck her head out as it was being closed and received a broken neck from my carelessness. Needless to say, I received the name “Chicken Killer” from my wife and kids. Since then, I always double check to make sure everybody is out of the way before I close them up for the night.
When we came upon this recently deceased chicken, it was a bit strange as to where she was located. She was not near the door like the previous chicken had been, but was underneath the drawbridge. I felt this was evidence enough (of what do you suppose!!), to clear my name of the “Chicken Killer” label, but I was still blamed. I got her cleaned up and disposed of, but because the ground is still frozen here, I was not able to bury her which I would have preferred to do (dead chickens are great fertilizer!).
Once that was done I really did not think about it anymore. I collected an egg from the nesting box, checked on the bees because it was a nice sunny day (they are still alive!!), and headed inside to make dinner. I ended up falling asleep early that night and was happily dreaming about spring rains and dandelions, when I was awoken by the sound of my wife running into the house, holding a chicken, yelling for me!
I had no idea what was going on, but I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed and went to see what the problem was. This is when I found out that we have had a possum visiting our chickens. When Karyn went outside to put away the birds, it was dark and they should have been inside the coop on their roosts. Instead they were all outside squawkin’ away, terrified of something. One was stuck in some orange, plastic fencing that had fallen down from snow, trying to fly away. Another chicken somehow got out of the pen. She picked it up and opened the nesting boxes to put it back in the coop when she found the possum, nestled comfortably in bedding straw, eating a raw egg.
It was almost 11:00 PM when I was called into action. I was tired, and not at all pleased with the situation I found in front of me. I got my jacket on, and went outside to figure something out. I realized almost immediately that I would have to kill this ugly thing! If all I did was chase it out of the coop and scare it off, it would come back and cause more damage than it already had.
I am not a hunter, and the extent of my killing experience (except for the chicken whose neck I broke) has been limited to a rabbit or two that my cat has made a horrible mess of! Now I realize that my diet (which consists of meat) is only possible by killing, and therefore I play a direct role in the slaughter of animals for food. That is why we try to support local, ethical suppliers of meat when we can afford to. But having this situation, or should I say creature, look me in the eyes, and knowing that I am going to have to kill it myself was a feeling I was not entirely comfortable with. I fought through the emotions quickly, and realized that if I was willing to keep chickens as part of our homesteading project, than I had to be willing to protect them from predation by possums, raccoon, and other varmints that call the cities and suburbs home.
Without going into the exact details of how I took this creatures life, I will say this. Possums are incredibly tough and have a will to live that is impressive. I did my best to give this animal a quick and painless death, but it was a challenge. Both myself and my wife are now in agreement that if we are going to keep chickens as a part of our homestead, then we need to take proper steps to insure their safety – we will be buying a small .22 caliber pistol for the next time this situation presents itself.
Which leads to the true moral of the story. We failed as responsible homesteaders. We failed at responsible animal husbandry. When you decide to include animals into your homestead, you take on a moral obligation to provide them with a safe and healthy environment in which to live, and this is where we failed. This should never have happened, and the fact that a possum was able to get into the coop shows a design flaw in the system. While we have since taken steps to correct the problem, it makes me sad that we lost one of our chickens to a mistake that could have been prevented.
My chickens are not pets to me. I try to avoid naming them, except for Teeny Houdini (formerly Cluck D), and realize that someday they are going to die and end up in the stock pot. And there lies the difference – I want their death to be at my hands, done humanely and quickly and with purpose. So while it is sad that we are now going to have one less egg every few days, and that we lost a nice gentle bird, we have learned some very good lessons, and have seen a side to homesteading that is not pretty or sexy or hip.
Moving forward, the chicken coop and run are being completely redesigned and relocated this spring. We had already started planning this before the possum had shown up, so I suppose this is good timing to reevaluate designs and plan accordingly. While I hope this never happens again, I do realize that some of this is just the way the world works. There are prey and predators in nature and they do what they are evolved to do. Our role then is to moderate that interaction and keep our animals safe to the best of our abilities. To all those with a flock of backyard chickens – keep ‘em safe! Make sure their coop and run is secure, and if you have to deal with a similar situation as I just described, be prepared to take the appropriate actions! Peace & Cheers