First the lambs and then the adult ewes recently made the rotation through the Pond Pasture, so we opened up the Sheep Barn for them to use as shade. Since our weather has been hot and humid, we ran a fan in the barn to help the sheep cool off a bit. This also makes it easier for me to check on whichever group has barn access, since they are usually resting and cudding in the coolest spot when I am making my midmorning rounds. I simply stop off at the barn and see how they are all doing.
Last week I began to notice that things in the barn were not as they should be. I would straighten things up, only to return to find something in disarray. One day, all of the carefully folded towels had been thrown onto the floor. Another day, I found the bin of cat food opened up and the bags dragged out onto the concrete floor. A third day, my entire workbench had been “cleaned off” and all its usual contents were on the floor. Although we have barn cats, I suspected that this was not their handiwork. It seemed more like the work of a raccoon — and I’ve come to really dislike raccoons!
Three years ago, Rick and I went on vacation, leaving a farm sitter to stay at the house and keep the animals healthy and safe. She did her best, but we returned to find our entire flock of sixteen chickens obviously eaten, with bones and other parts scattered across our lawn. The sheep were fine, but our barn cats had become a meal for some creature. Of the dozens of cats who once inhabited our barns, none remained when we returned home — they had either been eaten or had moved to a safer environment. Eventually we trapped a whole family of raccoons who had made their home among the hay bales in the loft of the Storage Barn. Although we relocated them far from here, it wasn’t until this year that I was brave enough to replace our chickens. And we still have only two or three barn cats!
Besides the many chickens and cats who lost their lives, the raccoons really did some damage while living in our Storage Barn! They chewed through the closet door in the chicken coop so that they could access the feed we kept there. They chewed holes in doors into the barn and into the coop. They ate all of the cat food in our self-feeders and then pulled the feeders apart, scattering the pieces throughout the barn. They emptied Rick’s workbench and pulled things off of hooks on the walls. The bottom line was that although I always thought raccoons were cute, these were quite destructive. By the time we trapped the last one, I no longer saw a sweet, furry bandit who needed a home. I saw a miniature tornado, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake.
So when I began to see evidence of an unwanted resident in our Sheep Barn, I suspected that it might be a raccoon. The cat feeder had been pulled apart, all of the cat food eaten, and the parts scattered through the barn — reminiscent of that raccoon family three years ago. Every day there has been more and more amiss as this nocturnal terror made itself at home. Finally, last Saturday, we set a trap. Nothing with jaws or sharp points. No, we set a live trap, hoping to catch whatever was making trouble and then move it far away. We put a can of cat food into the trap and went about our weekend chores.
As I finished outside a few hours later, I checked the trap in the Sheep Barn. As I opened the door, I already knew we had caught something; I could hear it spitting and hissing within! When the trap came into view, I saw a ball of gray and white. It was swirling, spitting, and generally making its displeasure known! Our most feral resident cat, Socks, had fallen for the canned food. If I translated her cat language correctly, I’m sure she was screeching something like, “How dare you use my own cat food against me! You feed me that delicious canned food all winter, and I come to love it. Then you take MY canned food and set a trap with it?! OF COURSE you caught a cat, you nitwit!” I emptied her out of the trap and off she ran. Then we reset the trap, hoping to snag the masked marauder overnight.
The next morning Rick went to check the trap and, once again, he heard hissing and scrambling as he opened the barn door. This time, however, it was not a cat. It was a raccoon! The little guy is obviously way too small to have eaten our sixteen chicks a few weeks ago, but it’s possible that there is more than one. Rick relocated this little one near the Cedar River, where there should be plenty to eat and lots of raccoon friends — and then he reset the trap. It is our hope that we can catch and relocate all of our masked visitors before our newly arrived baby chicks will be old enough to venture outside. In case we miss some, though, we have put an electrified wire around the top of the chicken yard to keep out any climbing four-legged neighbors.