Brilliant use of an off-season chicken tractor: thwarting the black opossum

Brilliant. . . if I do say so myself . . . (cough) . . . I’ll own up to it. Occasionally I come up with a good idea or two. 🙂

Here's one thing that is keeping us busy: in one week, I had treetrimmers, friends of mine, dump 3 loads of chips and a load of (uncut) firewood at our place. Such bounty! My thought: "I must have prayed for woodchips and firewood!"

Here’s one thing that is keeping us busy: in one week, I had tree trimmer friends dump 3 loads of chips and a load of (uncut) firewood at our place. Such bounty! My thought: “I must have prayed for woodchips and firewood!” And indeed, I had.

Gentle readers. We have an opossum problem. I just realized it earlier this week. It only took me a couple of months. I know. How brilliant am I, really? You know how necessity is the mother of invention? Well . . . in the same way, desperation is the mother of . . . of . . . new creative solutions.

I guess I’m a little dimwitted distracted these days, as I have a crazyhundredmillion few things going on in my life, all at once, but a few weeks ago when I found in our garage a little sample-sized bag of dog food that we had picked up (5 lbs, for those of you with really specific imaginations) that was torn open, completely emptied, and licked clean, AND the next morning when I found the cat food bin turned over on its side and half the cat food missing, AND still later when I found the 50-lb bag of wild bird seed that we bought to feed the (yes) wild birds torn open and scattered around . . . AND EVEN LATER when I discovered one of the heavy-plastic-paper bags of chicken feed out by the coop torn into and partially emptied . . . well, you get it already, I’m sure.

I stopped for just a moment to ponder it all.

And when these events all happened in turn, your astute and gentle blogger’s reaction was . . .

“Gosh, this place is a mess. Somebody should really come in here and clean it up. I wonder if I could pay Reubsy to clean my garage. Naw. Maybe I’ll just shut all the doors and not look at it for a few more months. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.”

When possibly my reaction should have been . . .

“Hmmmm, what on earth is emptying the dog food bags, and turning over the cat food bin, and eating half our winter’s supply of wild bird seed?! Maybe I’d better figure this out, before whatever it is moves into the house and starts eating my canned tomatoes and snerly sweet potato harvest, too!” But no. And alas. Your gentle blogger didn’t think any harder about the matter than to feel just a teensy bit irked at the mess in the garage. (cue Maxwell Smart voice) Wouldja believe it??! I know. *siiiigh*

I, too, find that very hard to believe.

I had to be pretty distracted not to think a little harder on this at the time. IN MY DEFENSE . . . the garage is an absolute wreck. (Reubsy would concur.) You might say “It wants cleaning, Amy,” and you might be spot-on.

But. To continue. I missed all the very obvious clues that some wild critter was slipping into our horrid mess of a garage (I know! I could blame it on the earthquake that we actually felt here in Nebraska earlier this summer!) and feasting on all our pet/wild bird/chicken foods, but one evening when I stepped into the garage and came face-to-butt (my face, his butt) with the HUGE OPOSSUM, himself, who was doing all this cheeky pilfering, I didn’t miss a beat. I am, after all, nothing if not a Woman of Action.

I stood absolutely stock-still for at least three minutes, staring at this opossum’s butt and long, thick, naked tail, wishing mightily that I had the courage of my Facebook-friend Jessica, who—when her friend asked for help in ousting an opportunistic opossum that was eating her chicken eggs, pulled on her gloves, marched right into the chicken coop, grabbed the offending creature by its scruff, and tossed it out on its butt—but no. I formulated my cunning plan.

And instead . . . when I started breathing again . . . I stepped quietly over to where the critter was perched and studied his backside. I (bravely) gulped. He was the biggest opossum I’d ever seen; he had his greedy face deep into a big bag of wild bird seed (which I had lifted onto a firewood box, and secured the top so nothing would get into it, ironically); and he was (I am not making this up) glossy and utterly and completely black. 

Have you ever seen a huge glossy black opossum before? I certainly haven’t. In fact, it wasn’t until the critter turned to look at me, placidly crunching down that seed, that I was sure it wasn’t some sort of grossly obese rat. *shuddering*

For a point of reference, here’s a picture of the opossum that we caught in a live trap a couple years ago, during the disastrous and vile dreaded varmint siege. You can see that he has a rather handsome coat, but it certainly is not black.

He looks like he is grinning here, but he was actually hissing aggressively at me.

He looks like he is grinning here, but he was actually hissing aggressively at me.

Now I consider myself a fairly brave person. Keeping critters and living in the country, tracking mountain lion tracks across your property and seeing coyotes often in your windbreak; setting live traps for foxes and raccoons, all this makes you laugh merrily at once-scary things like spiders and mice, but that huge black glossy opossum, just crunching away and staring at me calmly over his shoulder, really freaked me out.

It was the devil in marsupial form, I was sure of it. Worse, it was in my garage.

I picked up the only thing close enough to toss at him–a little clay pot–since my feet were rooted to the garage floor and I couldn’t move at all–and, like the wuss that I was, tossed it gently at that huge black shiny butt. The opossum didn’t move. It just grinned its evil devilish grin at me, formed the words with its creepy pointy-teethed maw “That the best you can do?” and kept munching!

Wouldja believe it?

Scout someday will be an expert opossum-intimidator, but now they just scare her silly.

Scout someday will be an expert opossum-intimidator, but now they just scare her silly.

Just then, Scout pushed herself into the garage behind me, and the critter hissed and ambled off the woodbox and through some junk (*wincing*) and underneath some more junk (*bla, whatev*), as fast as an overfed and obese marsupial can move through a junky garage.

I do believe I heard it burp on its way past. Nasty.

Scout went scrabbling after him, but she is not the speedster that Bea was, neither is she as potentially-vicious as Ollie was. She seemed to be more curious and frightened of the furry critter than anything. Later, when I regained my power of speech, and could move again, I did what every prairie woman would do in the circumstances, two things, actually: I sent my son to set up a couple of live traps, and I called my mom.

Mom’s advice was what propelled me to real action “You absolutely have to close up your garage,” she said, “or put your pet food where nothing can get to it.” Of course, Mom was right. As is so often the case. 🙂

Closing up the garage wasn’t hard to do, and that kept the cat food, the dog food, and the wild bird seed safe, but I buy a very large quantity of grain and chicken feed from the local elevator every few months. I store it in large bins and plastic trash bins. In fact, I was due to go the next weekend. What to do, what to do? I didn’t have room in the garage for all the bins of wheat that I was planning to buy. Furthermore, the shed behind the house had to be devil-opossum heaven. There was no way to close it all up so it was opossum-proof. And that horrid critter would surely tear into bags of chicken food, they could no longer be out in the open, either.

Then—it came to me, one morning on my way out to feed my chooks. There sat my chicken tractor, which I keep in use all spring and summer, raising chickens, separating roos, whatever I need (it is very handy), but which sits empty the rest of the year. It would be my winter-feed storage unit! Of course! It sits out close to the chicken coop, so would be extremely handy for storage. I could put a new tarp on it to keep the weather out, and it had a nice latch on the door.

I was supremely happy with myself for thinking of this. In my o’erbusy addled state, no less! You really can get water from a rock, if you squeeze it hard enough!

The only tricky thing would be scheduling with my o’er-busy hubby to help me load the trash bins of grain into it. A huge trash bin full of grain weighs (literally) as much as I do, if not more, and is not something I can move myself. Obviously.

opossumtractor

So the rest, gentle reader, as they say, is devil-opossum and chicken-tractor history. I bribed my good hubby to help me (with a fancy coffee from our coffee shop in town and a blueberry muffin) and within an hour or two, we had a winter’s worth of feed for my chooks and piggies hauled from the elevator and installed into my new winter feed storage unit a.k.a my old summer chicken tractor, and a new tarp stretched over the whole shebang. Boom, baby.

opossumfeed

Now I have room in my tractor for bags of feed (loaded onto a pallet, to keep them from getting wet) and several trash bins of grain, some equipment that I don’t have room for in the coop, and several 5-gallon buckets with sprouting and fermenting wheatberries, which make up the bulk of what I toss to my chickens. I feel so smart. 🙂 <—–me, feeling whip-smart

A humongous tarp fastened to the tractor with zip-ties completes the unit and should keep it all dry and snug.

C'est finis!!

C’est finis!!

P.S. We haven’t caught that doggone black opossum yet, in our live traps. If we do catch it, Mack promises me that he’ll tan the hide and make me a hat out of it (*shuddering*).

If you want to check out how to make one of these handy-dandy multi-use structures, check out this post.

And. Can I ask a favor? I do spend lots of time writing and putting together these posts. I’d love it if you’d take a few seconds and comment below, even just a few words, to let me know if I’m on the right track here or not. I love having you chime in on our adventures, and whether the information I share is helpful to you or not. Or. Maybe this very thing has happened to you, too! I’d love to hear about it. And if you have friends who might enjoy or benefit from this post, please do me an added favor and share it on your social stuff. And thank you. I do appreciate you!

*hugs*

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30 thoughts on “Brilliant use of an off-season chicken tractor: thwarting the black opossum

  1. Kathryn

    I’m glad someone has a similar garage… makes me feel so much better. 🙂

    Also, what is your system for sprouting the wheat? I know how to do it, but rarely do bc it is so much effort. Do you have an easy, quick way? Or maybe you just love your chickens more. 🙂

  2. Angie Richardson

    Amy, I am a mostly silent admirer, but I have never read anything you wrote that didn’t help, inspire, amuse, amaze or awe me. Thank you so much for all the time and honesty you spend on us gentle readers. We are not worthy!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh, Angie. You are so sweet. Thank you. Humble, humble thanks. I rather think I’m not worthy of you all generous gentle readers.

  3. Jill

    I loathe opossums! We had a young one on our back deck last winter and I chased it off with my pellet gun. It didn’t come back.

    I like your feed storage idea! It wouldn’t work for me though, too much moisture and slugs the size of your sweet potatoes! They get into everything! I’ve even seen their trails on our siding, like they are trying to get in here. They are so big I think the chickens are scared of them. Ha ha

    Let us know of big fatties hopeful demise.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Whoa, Jill, those are big slugs! Although my sweet potatoes were not THAT big . . . 😉 Maybe set up a slug run around your chicken coop to keep smaller critters, like coyotes and coons away?

  4. Heather D.

    We don’t have opossums up here (I don’t think . . . ?). I shudder at the thought. Large rat presents left at my door are enough to make me queasy. Someday I hope to have chickens and love the chicken tractor idea.

    I love reading your blog! I’ve learned a lot from you and especially enjoy the voice you bring to your writing. Sorry, I’m not on social stuff or I would send your messages partout.

    I read the brassicas post too . . . reminds me that I still haven’t brought in those brussels sprouts and cabbages!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Thank you, Heather. Our weather has turned quite cold, so I’m not sure how much longer my brassicas will last! Time will tell!

  5. Diane Decker

    I came face to face with an opossum on the SECOND-FLOOR deck of a house we lived in about ten years ago. That hissing is really intimidating, isn’t it! And the grimace of a smile that is a hissing possum. Holy heck! Sometimes things like this happen to remind us to slow down just enough to take in what is actually happening around us. Famous words from someone who could not have taken that advice for any reason even ten years ago. Then, Mother Nature intervened and decided to INSIST that I slow down and pay attention to what my own body was trying to tell me.

    I love your writing so much. Wish you had time to write more. One reason to look forward to winter.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      What, Diane, second floor deck opossum? Now that would be scary!! We’ve had opossums in our trash bins, our burn pile, our shed; I’ve almost stepped on one in our chicken coop, with a chicken in its mouth! (Literally!) So my dislike of opossums has multifaceted and numerous reasons to explain it. Thanks for your kind words, Diane. I do appreciate that winter forces me to slow down a little, too.

  6. Julia

    Love your blog Amy! I read it all the time but don’t often comment. I think it’s s brilliant idea to store your feed in your chicken tractor. One word of caution though. Be sure there is wire under it or a foot or so around the outside. Otherwise a possum or a raccoon could dig under it and get in. We have had possums dig under our chicken tractor but we have wire underneath so they didn’t get to the chickens just some food they spilled. They are some nasty rascals!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Thank you, Julia, for your comment, and for that bit of advice. I’ll be watching to see if anything tries to dig in. Since we move the tractor around during the spring and summer season, we’ve never done that, but it would be an excellent upgrade. 🙂 And not too tricky to do, either.

  7. Sharon H

    For the past 10+ years now, we have lived “in town”, but will hopefully be moving back out to “the farm”……I use that word euphemistically for our 10 acres….this coming year. Strangely enough, we have had more trouble with opossums here than we ever did at the farm. Under the house…a sort of opossum hostel and maternity ward…ugghhhh. Then they were gone for a while but they’re back again. About a month ago we found a a fairly young one trying to get under the house but turned the dogs lose on him…he tried to escape into a thorny bush, but the Boyz got him and turned him every which way but loose. These two guys are such gentle and loving critters, would never bite you no matter what you did to them, yet they become ferociously aggressive protectors with any sort of critter like the opossum.

    They weigh about 10 pounds each, soaking wet….you won’t believe this Amy….they are Miniature Daschunds! I kid you NOT. Bred for Badger hunting, they literally have no fear. Not even of huge dogs, as evidenced when they were attacked by one once, and they fought him, willing to die in their own defense! I sometimes wonder what they’d do if I were under attack….by a critter? They’d go for the jugular. By a person? They’d try to lick them to death! And by the way, that is the biggest chicken tractor I have ever seen!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Sharon . . . whoa! I had no idea that little mini weinerdogs could be so threatening! Thanks for sharing, Sharon. Bred for badger hunting!!!? Who knew??

  8. Chef William Chaney

    Well I do like the idea of the chicken tractor and I think we can use one on the farm once we finish the casa and actually live on the farm….However, The advice given to you by your mother is, I’m sure, something that she already taught you when you where growing up and you filed it away so far back in the memory bank that in your state of utter terror could not recall. I am looking forward to reading your recipe for “Backwoods opossum stew”. Perhaps a cookbook “Cooking Country Critters” is in the works somewhere huh maybe?

  9. Lisa Reyes

    Gentle Writer, thank you for sharing your life & experiences with us. I laugh, I learn, I literally can’t get through my week without your blog! I have a request. If you ever find a way to keep murdering racoons from breaking in and killing our ducks & chickens (& eggs) could you please put it on your blog? We have a few acres (100) where my family runs an equine therapy business. The kids we serve are all special needs l, either mentally, developmentally or physically. As a result, they don’t get outside a lot or have pets because their parents are usually overwhelmed with the demands of daily life so there is no time (or $) for a pet. As our business has grown, we have acquired lots of typical farm animals for the kids to enjoy interacting with. But sadly a thief has moved into the neighborhood! We’ve tried many ideas but can up short. Any ideas to reppel these murdering bandits would be greatly appreciated! Take care and enjoy the weekend! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Lisa, I SO appreciate your kind words. 🙂 In regards to your murdering ‘coon: grrrrr! We’ve tangled with most every varmint you can imagine on our place. In fact, I don’t know if you’ve read my “Dreaded Varmint” saga, but it starts here:
      http://vomitingchicken.com/the-dreaded-varmint-day-one/
      COONS are the WORST because they are so smart, and they have those nimble little hands. You have to keep one step ahead of them: fortify your coop, for one thing, to make sure they can’t tear in or sneak in, and make sure to be very careful about shutting your chooks in at night. Then my advice is to set up live traps until you catch the rascals. You’re going to have to be smarter than the coons, though, which for me is a stretch but for you won’t be so hard. 😉 Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! <3 hugs

  10. Jan Kyle

    Sorry for your opossum problems. We’ve them around here, too! Hubby’s infrared scope is very helpful for locating predators at night on our farm. This fall, I had an armadillo destroying my very large pumpkin patch. Long story short, we would dispose of one and it would be replaced quickly with another until we had removed FIVE and my pumpkins patch was almost destroyed. Last night, we had our 1st freeze. I harvested a bushel basket of green tomatoes and peppers yesterday. Any recipes? Thank you for sharing. I look forward to your wise, practical advise (and that of your parents) and how you do “life” on your little farm. Wishing you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Thank you, Jan, for your kind words! I like fried green tomatoes, and I’ve also pickled green tomatoes. Just use your favorite pickle recipe. I usually wrap up the ones in perfect shape in newspaper and put them in a cool corner of the basement, so I can boast that I put fresh tomato slices on the Christmas salads! Here’s the recipe I usually use for fried green tomatoes: It’s a little healthier than most. 🙂
      http://vomitingchicken.com/fried-green-tomatoes-a-healthy-cleaned-up-recipe/

  11. Connie Stahl

    I love your enthusiasm for whatever is going on. You always make me smile. We had a BEAR!!!!!! We saw him, he was HUGE!! He filled up the sky!! He exploded one of our beehives and must have eaten 20 pounds of honey and broodcomb (they love helpless baby bees). We did a similar thing with a 10×10 chain link dog run to keep him out of the apiary. It is also easy to run electric fence through the chain link, with the little plastic insulators, of course. I’ve also thought of borrowing a baby monitor from my son so we could hear Mr Bruno snuffling around up there. But then what? I’m afraid my husband and I would just burrow deeper in covers and pray.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Now Connie, I need to know where you live to fully appreciate your bears that are so big they FILL UP THE SKY! Do they also BLOCK THE SUN?? 😉 This I need to see, my friend. Please send me a picture. Oh, and your poor baby bees! One year–a terrible drought year we had a few years back–our bee hives kept getting pilfered and knocked off their bases. We figured it was ‘coons that were robbing them of their honey. I’ve got to say, a bear robbing you of your honey is certainly more picturesque.

  12. Cindi Summerlin

    One summer in Florida I kept finding halves of baby possums. Five halves to be exact. One of my 3 cats was bringing them in to play with and munch on. It was quite unpleasant to clean up. After a few weeks of no more body parts I thought they were all done.
    However comma almost a month later a dog I was babysitting alerted me to something among my shoes. Upstairs. In. My. Bedroom. Closet. There had apparently been a 6th baby possum who outsmarted my 3 cats and 2 dogs and survived.
    I. Was. Not. Amused.
    However, Ripken, the visiting BFF dog, was amused. Especially to see me in my nightshirt corralling the baby possum into a cat carrier. I released it in the woods across the street after a long lecture about the dangers of crossing the street.
    Possums are nasty and mean little creatures. The reason you see so many dead on the roads in Florida is because they have to fear. Rather than taking the wiser option of running off the road, they will stand their ground and even charge the oncoming car.
    In Wausau Florida they have a possum fest where they fry up the little beasts because everything is good when you fry it in the South. They even fry them up right in front of the next-on-the-menu ones.
    Suffice to say, I was not heartbroken when there was a half of a possum found in my house a few weeks later.
    It had been warned.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh my goodness, Cindi. I can’t think that there’s much worse sight than half a possom found in your house! Ugh! That trumps my black demon-possom story, by far!! And a possum fest in Florida? That’s amazing! I can’t think that much of anything would induce me to eat possum, though. That sounds way too much like eating a rat, which I could never never never (never never) do. *gagging* I really have never heard of possums charging cars, either! I rather think the Florida possums are much more aggressive than ours here in Nebraska! THanks for sharing!

  13. M.

    Got any ideas on how to rid one’s yards of moles? I’m not talking a “trail” or “hill” or two–the ENTIRE yards. When I go out to hang laundry or visit the gardens, i almost SINK into the ground if it’s been raining. So far, nothing has worked. We’ve tried ridding the grass of beetle grubs, but as we are at the epicenter of japanese beetle-dom, it’s a bit of a losing battle. I’m hoping to find an easy to grow, inexpensive, creeping plant that will take over the yards (not really “lawns”; too scruffy for that!) and move the moles elsewhere. We don’t want to use chemicals/poisons because of wee ones and pets.

    I think I’d prefer moles to possums, though. Possums are ug-a-lee! At least I don’t usually SEE the moles. Your set up SHOULD keep you food from the possums. Thanks for the post, Amy. Have a blessed day.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Gosh, I wish I could offer some words of wisdom on the Mole Issue! As it goes, though–*knock on wood*–that is one critter that we don’t have troubles with. Maybe it’s too cold here for them? Wow, I’ve never met anybody who lives at the epicenter of Japanese beetle-dom!! I’m honored and a bit . . . impressed by the phrase, honestly. I’d type “how to rid yard of moles” into your Google search bar and see what you find! Somebody else has had the same problem and has figured out how to deal with it, surely! Good luck!!

  14. Lucy

    Hello Amy dear. Your story remined me of my own OH-possum tale.

    Hubby and I awoke to our chickens screaming bloody murder, litterally one night. “GET THE GUN” hubby ordered from the coop. “A POSSUM KILLED YOUR DUCK!”

    WHAT? Ducky Doo my cute Peking duck who loved to be with the chickens and swim in his very own kiddy pool gone?

    I was so upset I just grabbed the first thing I saw, a croquet mallet.

    Well as they say…the rest is history. Yep I hammered that sucka, took 5 whacks cos their heads are hard as rocks.

    And ya know what? They kill just for the fun of it! Grrrrrrr!

    Anyway I believe you out smarted em, good girl!

    Do have a Happy Thanksgiving you & yours…and as I break our turkeys wishbone, (not with a mallet : ) my wish will be, no more possums but plenty more goings on from your corner of the world to ours…love love love your writing and you!

    Lucy

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Happiest of Thanksgivings to you, too, dearest Lucy, and thank you for making me laugh. I’ve not been o’erfriendly with opossums every since I discovered one, years ago, amidst a bunch of dead chickens in my chicken coop, with one poor unfortunate hen in his mouth. You’re right, they do just kill for fun, darned buggers. I’m not surprised that those heads are hard as rocks, either!! Thank you for your sweet comment and love you right back!!

  15. Rosemarie Adams

    We’re entertained … and … further entertained by your posts. Thank you for all the energy and love you pour into them. It’s nice to know there are others “out there” with messy garages, inhabited by grinning possums. Love your alternative use for your chicken tractor! You Go Girl!!!

  16. Taia

    Love this blog! I’m from Florida and opossums pretty much run the place, so we can’t leave food for animals out at all unless we want a possum jamboree going on. One thing I noticed was your open fermenting of food for your chooks. Leaving a food bucket open like that is like ringing a dinner bell. I’m a home brewer, and I use fermented pickles. You can pick up a cheap cork and airlock from any homebrew store (Northern Brewer is great) and help keep the scent under wraps. Sprouting grains for a chicken treat is such a great idea, how does it work out in the buckets?

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Taia,
      I’ll try to answer your questions. Keep in mind that our opossums and other wild critters are likely different from yours. I sprout grains in 5-gallon buckets as described in this post:
      http://vomitingchicken.com/easiest-sprouts-for-chickens-ever/
      I leave them outside (in the chicken tractor, or just near the chicken fence where they are handy) during all but the very coldest weeks of the year, at which time I trundle them inside. As for the wild critters: I know that ‘coons and opossums could make short work of my sprouting grains, overnight if those chose to. That’s why I tuck most of them into that chicken tractor. We do have a dog that runs around quite a bit, and that, I think, discourages the wildies from too much time spent here. Also, I cover each sprouting bucket with another bucket–I have lots of buckets, and will just slip one inside the other—so the sprouting grains aren’t just open to the weather and/or any wild animals that happen by. That’s it. Good luck and please let me know how things go! My sprouting grains make up the bulk of my chicken and pig food these days, and they really do thrive on them!

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