My son, J. Brim, and his family moved to the Providence Community in Trousdale County a couple of years back. Their little piece of heaven includes a brick house, two out buildings and a hen house. The hen house features an enclosed area and a fenced-in “run.”
After making a few improvements and a close inspection he concluded his hen facility to be “varmint proof.” All he needed was a few hens. So, he purchased 6 Black Sex Link hens and went into the egg-laying business. Shortly thereafter, he had eggs “coming out of his ears.”
All went well the first winter and the following spring and summer. I was surprised to find he was letting his hens run free on his seven acres during daylight hours. They did so without incident the first year. Things went so well he purchased seven more chicks and grew them into young hens. He had the makings of a nice flock.
But in the varmint world word gets around. Last fall, one hen fell victim to a feral cat. Back in my day we referred to those kind of cats as “stray” cats. But the word “feral” has become popularized today; I think, in part, because of the proliferation in numbers of “feral” or wild hogs, especially in Texas. At any rate, one of his hens bit the dust.
Then, a few weeks back, J. Brim casually mentioned to me that he had spotted “a couple of ‘possums” eating berries in a tree in his front yard in the late afternoon. Seems they started showing up every day. I smelled trouble.
One night last week one of the ‘possums (J. Brim described him as an adolescent.) got tired of eating berries. He was found inside the henhouse feasting on a dead hen. That ‘possum’s life was cut short by 2 blasts from a “410.”
Two mornings later, he asked me to stop by his house and “turn the hens out” when I was in his neck of the woods. When I stepped inside the henhouse that morning what I found was not a pretty sight. Feathers were everywhere! One young hen was missing all her tail feathers, and she had suffered two, deep scars on each side of her back. Then I spotted a dead hen, half- eaten, in the corner of the building. All the other hens remained on the roosting poles afraid to come down.
I called J. Brim with the news. I could tell by the tone of his voice that the situation called for nothing short of a declaration of war.
Late that afternoon we set two varmint traps baited with peanut butter. (I’ve been told ‘possums love peanut butter sandwiches.) I didn’t have any loaf bread handy so I used a tortilla. I figured any ‘possum would like a peanut butter taco! The traps were set and J. Brim McCall was on a mission.
Just after dark he checked the hen house, and to his surprise, he found a mature skunk chasing his hens inside the henhouse! Fortunately, the skunk was downwind when he fired his
410. J. Brim later explained to me that the skunk’s last act was to render the hen house unapproachable. It seemed the varmint problem had been solved.
But somehow, something didn’t smell right to me (no pun intended.) The day I found the dead hen, I didn’t catch a whiff of skunk odor. And skunks usually leave their calling card.
However, a few hours after the skunk met his maker, J. Brim checked the hen house again and found “the biggest ‘possum I have ever seen” climbing the hen house fence. The first shot brought him to the ground, and he tore out into the darkness. (You know, a ‘possum waddles when he runs.) I could not help but chuckle as I pictured my eldest son with headlamp on and shotgun in hand chasing a big, wounded ‘possum into the night. He felled the varmint with the second shot. For now, the chickens are safe.
My brother, John, keeps a few hens. His son-in-law, Joe Allen Kemp, built him a state-of-the-art hen house as a Christmas present a few years back. I call it the hen “Taj Mahal.” If ever there was a facility considered “varmint proof” it is such. But a while back, John lost one of his hens. Just disappeared without a trace. Didn’t leave a feather!
Last week, he caught the culprit. You have heard of “a fox in the hen house?” He caught a hawk in the hen house. (I say he “caught” him. Actually, he didn’t catch him. He flew away.) That dude had swooped down into the pen, marched into the hen house and got himself a hen. At the very least the mystery has been solved. I guess he will be putting a lid on the Taj Mahal!
Copyright 2017 by Jack McCall