When Coons Attack

A nasty surprise greeted me this morning when I went out to the barn to do chores: we’d clearly had a raccoon attack overnight.

I noticed something amiss as soon as I let the sheep out into their paddock (and from there out to the pasture). There were white feathers all over the paddock, but especially strong concentrations of them in a direct line from the barn to a certain part of the fence. A moment later, my worst fears were confirmed: our flock of geese came honking out of the barn to be let out to pasture with the sheep, and a quick head count revealed only seven White Embdens — one short. They, and the two mature gray geese which have adopted them, all looked fine.

Once they were in the pasture with the sheep, I took a closer look at the carnage and tried to figure out what had happened overnight. There was a heavy concentration of white feathers in a small gap where one of the barn doors doesn’t fit tightly to the old stone wall. None of the birds have escaped through that gap, so I haven’t worried about plugging it. However, the geese often do sleep next to that door, on the inside of the barn of course, at night. One of them may very well have been sound asleep just inside that gap when the coon came prowling. He seemed to have reached in, grabbed hold of a leg or neck, and forced the struggling goose out through the gap.

The feathers led in a trail diagonally from that gap to a corner of the paddock fence. As Scooter and I followed that trail, we got confirmation of the culprit: we found a severed goose head (not pictured). Decapitation is a signature killing style for raccoons.

The coon then seems to have forced the dead goose through the fence — no small feat, as the fence has such small holes that live geese never have been able to push their way through.
I continued tracking the feathers through the hay field, and found the place where the goose had been disemboweled and consumed. (Again, not pictured.) Then the feather trail petered out.

Geese are usually pretty ferocious animals, and a flock of them can easily repel predators even as large as foxes. This is the first goose we’ve lost to a predator in many years; the only other victims have been broody geese who were sitting alone on nests outside of an enclosure.

It’s amazing how sneaky that coon was, pulling the goose right out of the barn the way he did. I had no idea that something could fit through that little gap…but I suppose that if you’re a coon, and you’re hungry enough, you’ll try anything.
Guess what The Yeoman Farmer’s first repair task will be this morning?

Dispactched

As I pulled up to the house at about 6:30 this evening, I spotted an animal running erratically along the shoulder of the road about 50 feet or so ahead. It was roughly the size of a large cat, but I’d never seen one of our barn cats that far off our property — and certainly not running along the side of the road in this manner. Not able to get a better look at the animal’s markings, I dismissed it and turned into the driveway.

As Mrs Yeoman Farmer used a hose to water newly-planted bushes in the front yard, I went inside and began cooking dinner. A moment later, she came running into the house with an urgent request: “Get your gun! There is a sick, rabid-looking raccoon wandering around in the street.”

So that was it. No wonder I hadn’t been able to recognize the animal at first — raccoons are never out in the daytime, and they certainly never run around like this one was. Unless, of course, they’re rapid.

I dashed upstairs, grabbed the 12-gauge pump shotgun we use for home defense, and then hurried out to the road. The raccoon had now crossed to our side of the street, and was looking as disoriented as ever. Two cars were coming, so I stood just off the road. Strange as I must have looked, standing there holding a large shotgun, neither car so much as slowed down to get a better look at me. Once both had passed, I raised the shotgun to my shoulder, lined the coon up, and blasted.

Because rabid animals are known to charge and attack, I hadn’t wanted to get too close to my target. As a result, I didn’t score a direct hit with enough of my nine pieces of 00 buckshot to kill the coon. He was definitely wounded, but still on his feet.

I racked another shell into the chamber, and took a couple of steps toward him before firing again. This blast took him off his feet. As he rolled around on the shoulder of the road, I knew he’d never survive these wounds — but I wanted him all the way dead. Now.

Except there was a small problem: another car was coming. I stepped back from the road, sheepishly holding the shotgun in my arms, wondering if the driver was at all curious as to what I was doing. If he was, he didn’t indicate it by slowing down. Once he was safely past, I racked a third shell and again approached the coon. As he was now unable to charge me, I got to within about ten feet before letting go with my final shot — and this one left no doubt.

MYF and I were both concerned about leaving a dead rabid coon on the side of the road, especially with the propensity our dogs and cats have for poking around and exploring. And what would happen if some scavenger cleaned up this carcass? Could the disease spread wider into the local wildlife population? Plus, we weren’t sure if the game department needed to be informed about the situation.

I made a quick call to the local Department of Natural Resources, and the woman I spoke with assured me that there was no need for them to catalog the kill. Coons are terrible spreaders of disease, she said, and I shouldn’t hesitate to dispatch them any time they come on our property. As for this one, she told me, I could either bury it or carefully dispose of it in the trash. I chose the latter. After donning latex gloves, I dropped the carcass into a large paper feed bag and then secured it in the trash can. And then washed my hands thoroughly.

What I still can’t get over is how totally nonplussed the drivers were as they went past me. As one who grew up in a quiet Seattle subdivision, and lived in fairly densely populated neighborhoods for most of my adult life, I can imagine the utter panic (and calls to the police) that would have ensued if I had walked any of those streets with a 12-gauge pump shotgun over my shoulder.

It really is different out here. And I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Don’t Mess with the Goose

We’re down to two geese, and both of them are a few years old. We got some eggs from them this spring, but they’ve stopped laying for the year. For various reasons (especially that we still have several geese in the freezer), we decided not to raise any this year. Older geese are tough as shoe leather, so I’ve been thinking about butchering them and boiling them for 24 hours to make soup.

One thing I love about geese: they can be tough as shoe leather even when they’re still alive. Last night, both of them remained outside the barn when I locked up and secured all the other animals. “Suit yourselves,” I muttered, looking at the two of them sitting stubbornly in the chicken/sheep enclosure behind the barn. I went in the house and went to bed.

Not three minutes after my head hit the pillow, I heard one of the geese making a terrific racket. It was definitely a fighting noise, and so loud it traveled all the way across our property. I thought for a moment, and then threw on some clothes, grabbed a high powered flashlight, and ran to the barn.

One goose was still in the enclosure, looking as indignant as a goose can look, and the other one had flown over the fence into the pasture. Whipping the light around a bit more, I found the perp: a fox was slipping through the fence and slinking out into the hay field. Kicking myself for not having taken the shotgun from our bedroom closet on my way down, I ran to my office for the backup 12-gauge I keep there.

By the time I loaded the shotgun and circled the barn, the fox was about halfway across the hay field. He turned and looked at me, his eyes lighting up in the night and making him an easy target — if only I had a way to keep the huge spotlight on him while handling a shotgun. [Note to self: Next shotgun must be one with a mount for a tactical light.] Necessity being the mother of invention, I wedged the spotlight between my legs and managed to get it trained on the fox — who was now beginning to trot across the hay field again.

I figured he was about out of range, especially in the questionable lighting conditions, but it was still worth teaching him a lesson. I drew the 12 gauge to my shoulder, pointed in his direction, and squeezed the trigger. The ROAR it made was very satisfying, and I loved the way the blast echoed off the stands of trees and bushes ringing our field. A moment later, I heard something (presumably the fox) crashing through that brush at high speed.

I made my way back to the barn, and discovered a trail of feathers where the goose had made her stand and fought off the attacker. I managed to get both geese in to the barn and the door re-secured, and put the shotgun away. At the very worst, I (and the goose) hopefully gave the fox a scare he won’t forget. At best, I hopefully managed to pepper his tail. Either way, I doubt he’ll be coming back again any time soon.