Let’s Talk About Raccoons

Every now and then, photos of videos of raccoons will appear on my Facebook Newsfeed, talking about how cute or impressive the little buggers are. I have to admit, I used to agree. Raccoons can be little chubby balls of fur with masks and human-like grabby paws.

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Do you also like to rip feathers out of panicking chickens?

But ever since I got my first pair of chickens back in 2013? Ugh. Rarely have I felt such malevolence toward another living thing.

Recently, Toronto spent millions of dollars on “raccoon-resistant” trash bins, only to have some “uber-smart” raccoons still break into the garbage like it ain’t no thang. I wasn’t surprised. While memes might paint raccoons as chubby, lazy little critters, anyone who’s experienced them as a pest will tell you the opposite is true (okay, they’re probably still chubby, but they sure as heck aren’t lazy).

And they’re everywhere.

I live in the middle of a residential area, where lots are about 60 feet wide. Although houses are raised (thanks, sea-level elevation and flood potential!), the openings are fenced or bricked up. And yet, there are hoards of raccoons that are able to find someplace to sleep during the day so they can wreak havoc at night.

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Sneaky, sneaky.

Some of those masked grabby-bears are ballsy!

One night, my chickens started making concerned coos. I went outside with my hefty Maglite to scare off what I assumed was a single raccoon, or maybe a pair. When I round the corner, four pairs of eyes gleamed back at me from on and around the coop. There was a rustle overhead, and I shined the flashlight into the branches of the oak tree to find several more raccoons staring down at me. In total, there were more than half a dozen.

I inched closer to the raccoon gang, made noise, and threw sticks. None of them moved. Whenever animals don’t behave as expected, rabies is a concern. However, I’m more of the opinion that this particular gang was used to people and empowered by their numbers. Whatever the reason, I decided to put faith in the strength of my coop and go back inside. Fortunately, they eventually left without breaking in.

Other memorable raccoon run-ins include:

  • A raccoon chasing one of my hens and pinning her down. I caught them in time and she was able to get free, minus a few feathers.
  • A raccoon sneaking into my coop every afternoon for weeks to steal eggs and feed. It was pretty skinny and probably only out during the day due to desperation for food. I borrowed a trap and relocated the bugger.
  • A raccoon breaking the door of my nest box to try and grab my hen, who spent all night and day in the box due to a strong broody spell. She got away, and on the positive side, the attack broke her broody spell. Even though it was after midnight, I immediately repaired the nest box because…

Raccoons will always return.

Unless you physically relocate the animal beyond its reasonable travel distance, or you make whatever “treat” completely inaccessible, raccoons will keep coming back. They are persistent, surprisingly clever, and occasionally malicious.

A friend recommended I get an airsoft gun and pop the critters. I’m preeeetty sure that’s not legal within city limits, but even if it is, I have terrible aim and would probably hit a hen…or a neighbor!

Therefore, for current and would-be chicken owners, I have one major piece of advice:

Build a fortress.

When installing your coop and run:

  1. Cover all “open” sides and the roof and any windows in galvanized hardware cloth. Secure the hardware cloth onto your frame with exterior screws and washers (the hardware cloth holes are too big for the screw heads, so the washers hold everything in place).
  2. Bury hardware cloth or heavy pavers all around the perimeter of your coop and run, extending out at least a foot. This will prevent digging (and raccoons will dig).
  3. Invest in a treadle feeder that “hides” the food in a closed container when the birds aren’t actively eating.
  4. Place your nest boxes inside the coop and off the ground. If you include an “easy access” door that let’s you collect eggs from the outside, make sure it’s secure enough that raccoons won’t treat it as an easy-access door too.
  5. Secure doors with screw links/carabiners or actual locks. Raccoons can squeeze and work out rods, so simple carabiners or slides won’t keep things secure.
  6. If you feed your birds table scraps, don’t leave them out overnight.
  7. If your birds free-range during the day, put them up half an hour before the sun fully sets. I’ve caught raccoons prowling around my yard well before twilight.
  8. Realize that despite your best efforts, you might still lose a bird. Following all of the steps above should minimize your risk, but anything that lives outside may become a predator’s meal. Losing a bird sucks, but it’s not the end of the world.

Remember that you can always rebuild. I learned about 40% of what I know about coops and predators from research and 60% from failures and near-misses. The important thing is that you pay attention, learn from what went wrong, and immediately take action to remedy the misstep.

Although I prefer prevention as a way to eliminate painful situations before they arise, it’s not like I can eliminate raccoons from my neighborhood. Sometimes, all you can do is make yourself a more troublesome than everyone around you.

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Solace, Serenity, and Sweat: An Action Plan for Trauma

Losing yourself in work is supposed to be bad. Letting your identity slip away, perhaps never to be reclaimed again, can mean surrendering control, will, and conscientiousness. The internet has assembled a list of 5 ways not to do it.  But what if being with yourself for a period of time isn’t a survivable option? What if you need the kind of solace that is only gained away from your thoughts?

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The latter half of last year was brutal. I had to take a lower-paying, more time-intensive job than I had planned. A four-year relationship ended. My house flooded. Relations with a coworker deteriorated to the point where I feared for my safety.

In every quiet moment, I dissolved into a shaking mess of angry tears and stiletto thoughts, slashing my inner self to ribbons and salting the wounds. In public, I was mostly fine, but my mask had cracks. My new boss pulled me aside more than once to ask if I was okay.

“I am,” I said, pen and notepad always in-hand.

“I just need to stay busy.”

When I bought my house and started to collect power tools, I discovered the solace and serenity of carpentry. On the weekends, I’d rise soon after the sun and build a chicken coop or a storage bench. I’d only stop hours later because the waning light from the setting sun made seeing nail heads nearly impossible. The only sounds – other than the thwack of my hammer or the shrill grind of the saw – were the shouts of kids on the street and the cheap battery-powered radio I had tuned to the classics.

The work required just enough brain power to anchor my thoughts, but it wasn’t intense enough to strain my mind.

the solace of work

I’m a day dreamer, a constant thinker, and a problem-solver. I’ve had to develop a mental routine to shut my brain off at night so I can get some sleep. When break-ups or floods happen, I obsess over them. I jab my fingers in the cracks to find the clues and puzzle pieces I missed to try to prevent bad things from happening in the future.

When my rough patch became well and thoroughly rooted last year, I threw myself into work to save my mind from the black emotional typhoon that only seemed to get worse. The work – this time it was making bath bombs for Etsy – kept me from popping like a cherry tomato. And little by little, I eased away from my distractions. As I did so, I was able to face the trauma one piece at a time.

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Work

  • is productive,
  • builds homes and societies,
  • and acts a survival tool.

 

“Avoidance” is another naughty term, synonymous with cowardice. Was I cowardly for avoiding facing emotional trauma fully and openly and, therefore, losing myself? Sure. But there are those who believe that it’s fine not to be somebody. And how can you lose yourself if you aren’t anyone? Perhaps I wasn’t losing myself in work because “I” am not a cohesive, tangible item like a tennis ball or a sofa.

Work was an island on which on my consciousness sought solace. Outside the island, the external chaos raged until it blew itself out. By the time I poked my head above the work, the unimportant needling problems had fallen away. Only the heart of the trauma – those elements which were most important to me, such as honesty – remained.

The Not-So-Simplicity of Solace

Of course, that all makes the healing process sound simple and straightforward. It’s not. Healing is more like a constant game of popping your head out of the foxhole only to get nicked by a bullet. As the days pass, there are fewer bullets flying. Then one day, you decide the risk is worth coming out of hiding. Bullets may still find you, but solace protects your vital organs.

In order to heal, perhaps we have to spend a little time apart from ourselves. Perhaps we don’t even need to come back. Some people hit a point where they literally pack up and drive away from our lives. The night my relationship ended, I fantasized about leaving everything behind and immediately moving back to North Carolina, where I was raised. But I couldn’t – too many furred and feathered mouths to feed. So I worked.

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