Creatures of Habit, Beauty and Stench

Last week I posted about tearing down the mesh covering my chicken coop. Now comes breaking that “creature of habit” who automatically hunches over to avoid hitting her head and, potentially, getting her hair caught in that mesh–the mesh that no longer exists. I have spent the better part of the week reminding myself to simply walk into the coop upright; it certainly makes things easier. However, tearing down the mesh didn’t necessarily stop Ms. Kiel, the Polish hen, from roosting atop the chain-link fence. She’s still there, huddled under the over-hang of Japanese Knotweed. The only difference is I can easily pick her up and carry her into the hen house when I get home from work; before, I spent several minutes tickling her feet through the mesh until she got irritated enough to cackle and squawk, and slowly walk, stiff-legged, to the edge of the mesh, where she would finally flutter down and run into the hen house. Though you’d sometimes swear I was torturing her when I pick her up, this way is infinitely preferable. The “creature of habit” will adapt.

But not necessarily to the other creatures who have visited this week.

I thought we had another Mousecapade, volume 9…or 10…whatever sequel we are on now. However, it was an adorable flying squirrel that found its way into the house. Adorable to look at with his/her silky tan fur and the soft, stretchy webbing between his front and back paws, making “flight” possible. How he got into the house had me stymied a bit as I’m fairly certain I would’ve seen him following me indoors on one of my trips to the barn or elsewhere. Emmylou found him in the rabbit room; and I found her, batting at him with her paws, as he scaled down the back of Alys’ cage and then leaped to the back of Rhys’ cage, scaring the poor buns, and then scampering behind the feed bin. Not wanting to be bitten, I grabbed a plastic pail I have, that also has a flat lid, and then pulled out Rhys’ cage, intent on over-turning the pail on him so I could put him back outside but he was too quick. Mr/Ms. Flying Squirrel crawled under the clothes dryer instead. And there he stayed…smarter than the mice who sometimes come to visit and don’t have the sense to stay in a place where slap-happy felines are waiting without.

Was the hole under the dryer? Did he come in through the exhaust somehow? I finally gave up the “hunt” and went about my business for the day. That evening Whitney didn’t come into the kitchen for dinner. I found her sitting on the shelf behind the dryer, staring intently at the ceiling. I walked over to the dryer and followed her gaze to a small hole that now existed in my ceiling. I didn’t see our friend, the flying squirrel, but I can only assume this to be his entrance/escape route as this hole was not there the day before. A cleaned lid from a cat food can has been tacked over the hole until I can get to the store to buy some patching plaster. Let’s hope our friend found his way outside again…without eating anymore plaster, insulation, or, heaven forbid, wiring. Oi vey!

And then another creature of beauty came to visit…

Mom and I were sitting in the parlor enjoying a cup of tea together on Saturday afternoon when suddenly Mom looks up and asks, “What’s going on out there?” A cacophony of squawks, quacks and the clattering of newly-trimmed hooves over the rough boards of the back deck interrupted our afternoon tea. I looked out the picture window that overlooks the barnyard and saw all of my beloved animals huddling as close to the backdoor as they could get. All eyes were fixed towards the left of my view towards the chicken coop and back gate. Throwing on a quick pair of slip-on shoes, I ran outside to find yet another unwanted guest: a skunk.

For a brief moment, I watched in wonder. They really are beautiful animals, striking, with that stripe of white over a rich, black background, but that’s where the admiration ended as his or her musky scent filtered across the barnyard–even without any spraying! Then a little bit of fear-factor kicked in. A.) Though it was late-afternoon, the sun was only just beginning to set; I wouldn’t even consider it twilight. What was he doing out so early? Was he rabid? Or just hungry and drawn to the scent of healthy laying hens and their cache of eggs, one of his delicacies? And B.) how was I going to get him out of the yard without getting sprayed or bitten? He seemed to wonder that, too. He scooted under the hen house and then moments later, started running the back fence line, looking for a hole to crawl out. While he was still running the back fence, I ran to the barn and chicken coop and closed both doors; the last thing we needed was that lovely perfume in the barn. Then, as it was getting on to twilight, I decided to shut the animals into the barn early. Keeping an eye on our visitor, who seemed to be keeping his distance focusing solely on a way to leave, I ran inside to fill the feeders then raced back out with them. By now, our little “guest” had decided to turn up the western side of the fence, sending chickens and ducks scurrying in my wake towards the barn, only too happy to escape. Getting a headcount, I closed them safely in for the evening then turned my attention to the goats.

Felicity is a bit of my problem child. Instead of following me to the goat barn where I could shut she, Domino and Chester safely in, she had a bead on that skunk that I know well–it’s the same one she has on Mom’s dog, Max, whenever she sees Mom walking him on the other side of the western fence. She was getting ready to charge him. Thank heavens I have few, if any, neighbors–and those I do have, aren’t right on top of me. My shout of “Felicity!” did get her attention, if only briefly, but it was enough for me to reach her side and start turning her towards the barn. She’s stubborn though. It took everything I had, plus a handful of carrots, to coax the three goats into the barn where I could close them in; by the time I got them in, our visitor had found his way up onto the back deck. I watched as Mom made to open the back door to see if she could help and gave another shout, “Don’t open the door! He’s right there!” Needless to say, I spent a few moments in the barn with the goats, hoping our visitor would find his way off the back deck before I had to brave the yard again.

Dusk had officially fallen by the time I crept outside, watched him running the back fence again. I opened the back gate wide, hoping he would find his way out the way he’d come in, and then I went inside. Mom took Max out front on his leash rather than risk any chance encounters out back.

Yesterday morning I crept outside in the pre-dawn darkness to see if our visitor had left yet. The gate was open wide as I had left it the evening before and no black and white presence could be seen. I went back in, got dressed, made breakfast and then started filling the morning feeders. I took another trip outside. Still no skunks in evidence, I filled waterers, scattered grain, seeds, and the contents of the “chicken bucket” (leftovers, vegetable peelings, etc.) outside then opened up the hen house. Without a trace of fear, the ducks and chickens left the coop, the ducks plunging into the kiddie pool while the chickens scavenged my leavings for them. I let the goats out, fed them, watered them, re-filled their minerals and the little cup of baking soda I leave out free-choice (baking soda reduces gas in their rumens…i.e. bloat, which we strive not to create conditions that might lead to it but it’s good to have the baking soda on hand, just in case). Anyway, everything looked good. And all seemed back to normal.

Until around 1 p.m.

Mom and I were, again, enjoying a cup of tea together. I had just come home from a run to Agway to purchase more hay and the supermarket where I picked up fresh greens for the rabbits. Suddenly, the chickens, ducks and goats were all flocking to the deck again.

I ran outside.

This time, I didn’t see any black and white bodies running the fence line. Instead, the three goats were standing shoulder to shoulder along the edge of the deck, looking at their barn. Grabbing a shovel, I tiptoed to the barn door, peeked inside, and it appeared empty. I walked in, looked around. Nothing. I tapped the shovel on the floor, thinking maybe the skunk had crawled under the barn again and I could scare him out–if I didn’t cause him to spray underneath, which would be almost as bad as having him spray inside the barn. That’s when I heard a little high-pitched chattering behind me. I turned around and Mr. Skunk (or Ms, begging your pardon, if…) was scavenging a clutch of eggs in the corner by the barn door (I have 3-4 hens that prefer to roost overnight with the goats and use the fallen hay under their platform and in the corners for nests). I think I could’ve beaten our Olympic champions in a marathon in the time it took me to vacate that barn. I joined the goats, chickens and ducks up on the deck and waited for our visitor to have his fill of eggs and then leave.

He started running the back fence yet again as I ran to the barn and closed the door in his wake; I didn’t want him going back in and staying.

Of course, it was broad daylight. My doubts about him and why he was out so early in the day magnified. And, as it was day, the animals were not likely to want to go back in–even with two handfuls of carrots. I couldn’t leave the gate open with them free-ranging, especially the goats, so how was I going to get him to leave? To make matters worse, Felicity had that bead on him again as he angled up the western fence and crossed to the deck again. While the chickens, ducks, Domino and Chester all took their leave, Felicity didn’t just stand her ground, she put her head down then raised up on her hind legs and slammed down on the deck just behind him. No amount of shouting, calling or coaxing even phased her. And, of course, Skunky did the expected. He sprayed. Fortunately, not a full blast; he saved that until he was off the deck again and under the bathroom window as he raced back for the fence line in vain hope of a opening from which to escape (my bathroom has a very interesting aroma right now that no amount of candles or lighted matches can relieve…eew!).

By then, I had managed to get my arm around Felicity’s chest to hold her back from another attack but, it seemed, she’d gotten a whiff of what he could do and decided maybe she didn’t want to tangle with him after all. That didn’t keep her from keeping a watchful eye on him as he continued his quest to escape. And that’s when inspiration struck as a flock of chickens, ducks, and goats crowded around my ankles to stay out of his way. Running into the house, I grabbed an X-pen and then raced back outside. Skunky had just waddled under the barn again. I opened the X-pen and stretched it from the back gate to the barn. Hopefully, he would not waddle out from the other side; I’d have to form a Plan B if he did. But, thankfully, serendipity played a hand. Skunky waddled out from under the barn, to the gate, and scooted back under, revealing his hole in in the process. I filled the hole with rocks and then stretched the X-pen across the gate, hooking it on either side for added protection. So far, so good…

As for Felicity, while Skunky sprayed, only a single droplet managed to hit her on the back of the head. A washcloth dipped in vinegar and cool water quickly cleaned it up and there is little to no scent lingering on her fur. I can’t say the same about my bathroom.

May God bless you & keep you!

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