Night 9. Twelve chickens have lost heads to the nocturnal predator. On Night 8, I just went to bed… didn’t have the oomph to stay up.
I have discovered that the weasel I was battling turned out to be a skunk. The skunk is, in fact, a member of the weasel family, Mustelidae. Last night he (she?) took one chicken. This despite my continuing efforts at fortifying the coops with all manner of wood, fiber, spent grain bags, recycling materials, duct tape, cayenne pepper, coyote urine and posters of Justin Bieber. The skunk continues getting in. I have baited a live-trap with chicken, but he ignores it — preferring fresh chicken over processed. I can’t really blame him.
On Night 6, my daughter heard a commotion in the coop around 10:30 PM. She didn’t mention it until the next morning. On Night 7, he came at 11:30. So when said daughter yelled at 10:30 on Night 9 to say that the chickens were making a lot of noise again, I had a pretty good idea it was him.
I climbed out of bed, whistled for my work-shorts (their multiple-wearings-without-a-wash having given them a life of their own) and fumbled for an ancient pair of large metal-rimmed 70’s-vintage aviator-style glasses buried under a pile of papers. My stylish 90’s vintage glasses have been broken for a while. I recently sprang for some contact lenses, so I haven’t had to break out the JB Weld to sculpt the required post-modern repairs on my “good” glasses. So on go the aviators, scratched and nosepadless. These were my actual glasses from high school days and have somehow traveled with me through college, grad school, various jobs, a failed marriage and onto the farm. Looking at myself in them now, the reason for my lack of dates back then is wondrously revealed.
I bumped stiffly down the stairs, pulling a headlamp over my head and boots onto my sockless feet.
It’s worth getting this picture:
Farmer Dave is 51, male-pattern bald, bearded, shirtless and sagging in the middle, aviator-glassed, headlamp-adorned, manky-shorted, muck-booted and armed. I suspect it equally possible that the skunk will drop dead from the shock of my appearance as it will perish from my proficiency with the gun.
Apparently skunks bring out this sort of behavior in (late)middle-aged men. A friend, Farmer W, hearing that I was having weasel problems, volunteered his story: He, upon hearing his chickens raising a ruckus, pulled on boots, grabbed his cell phone and dashed out the door…totally naked. Being the consummate modern-day farmer, he held up his phone for illumination and, with birthday suit bathed in the blue glow, followed the crunching sounds. The skunk shambled away from W’s clothing-optional display, but not before W’s dog had been sprayed and a chicken lost. I should say that my friend is wiry-ropy fit, and his house neatly-tucked-deeply into the woods, and that he could get away with the nudity… maybe. But the same canNOT be said of me. Therefore, the manky shorts.
I went to the cupboard where I had stashed the bullets and clip. Collecting the rifle from its location in a closet, I locked, loaded and strode into the night.
Switching on the headlamp (not wanting to stumble over the skunk on its way to or from dinner) I approached the coop. Sure enough, inside the coop (How the *&%$ did he get in there?) was the skunk chewing the head off a dead chicken. He continued chewing, intent and oblivious to my presence. He was relishing his dinner…his last meal before shuffling off his mortal skunky coil. I wished that there was some other way to handle this. But trapping had failed, and at $ 15 per chicken (the market price for whole, organic, field-reared birds) he was costing me more to feed than any other animal on the farm. And there is about the same market for chicken-fed skunk as there is for a zucchini in August. I took unenthusiastic aim and dispatched the skunk in mid-chew.
The skunk had the last word. He emitted a sound like the letter “F,” three little “F”s, in fact.
F… F… F.
A tiny westerly breeze swirling the humid night air lifted the smell to my nose before carrying it directly to the open windows of the house.
When I got back into the house, the skunk-stench was overpowering. My son and daughter, being supportive farm kids, were handling it well — rolling around on the floor, convulsing and retching.
This war isn’t over. A battle has been won, and one of the enemy combatants eliminated. But ecological theory holds that “if a niche is empty, something will fill it.”
P.S. A group of skunks is a surfeit. Ain’t that the truth!