When we decided to get chickens, we knew that lots of wild critters would want to eat them. My feelings about that can be summed up by Boon in Animal House during a conversation with Otter when they see some of their fraternity pledges being hazed by another fraternity.
Otter: “He can’t do that to our pledges.”
Boon: “Only we can do that to our pledges.”
Yet I am still surprised by my own reaction last night when, at 11:30 pm, I heard the chickens squawking and banging around in the coop. I jumped out of bed, said “There’s something in the coop!” and ran downstairs. I grabbed a flashlight and my shoes, because I knew it was raining. Then I grabbed the only thing I could think of for a weapon: a broom. I ran outside and threw open the door to the coop. Two chickens stood on the floor of the coop, looking dazed. The other two were lying in corners, splayed awkwardly and not moving. I shined the flashlight around the interior of the coop until I saw the culprit. It was a medium sized opossum, an ugly sucker. He looked mad. He wasn’t the only one. The two living chickens jumped out of the coop, leaving the opossum and I staring at each other.
That’s when I realized I was wearing only underwear.
Our stare down lasted about a minute. It ended when my wife came out. She was wearing clothes, so we switched places, allowing me to go inside to change. I suited up in long sleeves and gloves just in case I needed to wrestle the opossum. The logic behind that escapes me right now, but at the time it made sense. When I went back out the two chickens that I thought were dead had also hopped out. They played possum on a possum, and it had worked. The tide had turned.
My wife got all the chickens onto our screened porch and closed the door. Then it was time to decide what to do with the opossum. I had a big buck knife in my pocket, but decided to let the opossum live. I used a stick to poke it until it jumped out and ran away. I let it live because it was just doing what God made it to do. It was partly our fault because we had failed to notice or repair the gaps in the fencing that let the opossum in. If it comes back, we will be having possum stew. For now, I bear it no ill will. The chickens spent the night in a dog crate in the garage. This morning I repaired the coop in the rain, and the chickens are now back where they belong.
This may seem like a lot of effort for some chickens, especially since we could replace them for less than $50 total. But these are my chickens. We’ll protect them because they’re ours. I didn’t think before I ran outside. If I had, I would have put some pants on. But I didn’t, because these were my chickens, and they were in danger. I am amazed at how instinctive that was, and how normal. But they’re our chickens, and nobody eats them but us.