Raccoons are one of those things I thought I knew about, even though I grew up in the far-flung suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. I always thought of them as cute and fluffy creatures, just a bit bigger than cats, that raided trash cans at night. The fact that they are nocturnal and their raiding ensemble comes complete with a dark mask played right into my early image. Yet now, living on a farm, I’ve come to realize that what I learned about raccoons in my youth is much different from what farm kids learn about them. I’ve learned a lot in the past years — and I’m much less of a fan now than I was. I’ve come to really dislike raccoons.
You see, raccoons really do bring nothing but trouble. They can be quite big (we caught one that weighed well over 30 pounds!) and surprisingly intelligent, getting into all kinds of mischief as they scout for food. Not only do they often carry diseases onto the farm and threaten the other small creatures that belong here, but they also love to play with water, making pretty much any water tank filthy night after night. The fact that the water is so dirty every morning is usually my first hint that another raccoon has found our farm. I can’t leave the water that way — who knows what germs lurk there! When I find the first murky, smelly water tank, I usually say a quick prayer in hopes that the raccoon was just passing through. Otherwise it will mean not only lots of work cleaning the tanks each day, but also extra work trying to trap and relocate the critter. (We use a live trap so they won’t be injured.) I usually let it go a day or two to see whether they come back — trapping raccoons is a hassle I don’t want to get into, unless I have to.
My next indicator that the raccoon is settling in is that our self-feeders of dry cat food are being emptied night after night in each barn. Not only can the raccoons empty ten to fifteen pounds of cat food in one night, but they also tend to have a fit if there isn’t enough cat food there to satisfy them. They pull apart all of the plastic pieces (three to six pieces per feeder) and scatter them all over the barn. When I arrived in the Sheep Barn this morning after three days of dirty water tanks, I found the cat feeder not only empty, but also pulled apart with its six pieces thrown into different corners of the barn. I got out the live trap and set the first trap there on the floor of the Sheep Barn and moved on to feed the rest of my sheep.
The second cat feeder in the Storage Barn was still intact, but almost empty. I had just filled it with about eight pounds of dry cat food earlier this week, so this must have been the second stop for the raccoon on its tour of cat feeders. I figured it probably got mad at the Sheep Barn when there wasn’t enough there, but then came up to the Storage Barn and finished its meal. I set another trap there just in case I get lucky and catch it in one of the two barns this first night — or maybe two of them in one night. But it isn’t likely.
As I left the Storage Barn, I was still thinking that maybe the raccoon had just stopped over for a wash and a meal and had then gone on its way. Maybe I wouldn’t have to spend all that time setting and resetting traps over the coming week. Maybe it was a vagrant raccoon simply passing through. Yet as I walked across the yard playing Frisbee with my dogs, I suddenly spotted evidence that this raccoon — or maybe the entire raccoon family — had been here for longer than I had thought. Unfortunately, I think the raccoon(s) that have moved in have decided they like it here at Peeper Hollow Farm. They have plenty of food, several pristine water tanks for drinking and bathing, and the perfect view of the grounds from the top of the wood shed — as you can see in the attached picture. With a heavy sigh, it looks like I’m back to trapping raccoons.