Joyce Bupp, farm wife

What a mess.

Buckets lay tumbled upside down. A small, rubber feed bowl, used for years for calves, lay on its side, the ground corn which I had filled it with just the evening before totally scattered about. And most of the contents of a heavy plastic bag of chicken feed —its opened top kept rolled up and weighted down with a feed scoop — had been strewn over half of the floor of the concrete feed trough.

Our nighttime visitor had struck again.

A dustpan kept handy in the calf barn over the years, for dealing with feed spills, was put to use to clean up the scattered ground corn and dump it back into the small rubber bowl. The chicken feed, likewise, was scooped together and poured back into its original storage bag.

Then I carried all the cleaned-up feedstuffs over to the calf barn, a couple of yards away across the driveway between the two buildings, and set it inside a calf pen. Perhaps our nocturnal visitor would be less likely to come stealing feed in that more enclosed, secure setting.

Feed thievery had been occurring for a couple of weeks, the worst mess having been when the obviously four-legged grain burglar discovered it could root around the bottom of the feed-bin chute that drops to the pen under the old barn and small bits of feed would tumble down. A few mornings before, I’d found a significant pile of ground corn scattered around the trough under the chute. In an effort to halt the vandalism, I’d blocked off the chute with a couple of good-sized pieces of wood and a feed scoop.

That temporary fix had halted the critter’s (or critters’) grain chute raiding. But, foiled by that fix, the cheeky invader had turned to my chicken feed storage area, just inside the barn entrance. Having snagged a pudgy skunk there in a trap during late winter (which you can still faintly smell on damp days), I thought we might have more white-striped visitors. That was not a happy thought. Another good possibility was that we have at least one very well-fed raccoon sponging off our hospitality.

So, the next morning, I went for some chicken feed to scatter for the Feathered Girls after leaving them out for the day. So much for what I’d thought might be a safer storage spot. Not only had the four-footed feed thief brazenly come into the calf barn, it had climbed into the pen where the chicken feed was stored, ripped open the top and spilled a good portion on the floor. How much it had eaten was pure speculation.

Whodunit?

Evidence was piling up. The critter had left significant tracks. They were all over the calf barn sink, where the thief had apparently climbed up on in search of more groceries. A couple of plastic containers and a bucket were upset, but nothing edible was handy. The little, dark-colored hand-print-like tracks all over the sink and drainage area screamed “raccoon!”

“That’s it,” I said to The Farmer when I got back to the house. “Tonight, we set a trap.”

He offered to help, knowing he would have to be the executioner of any thieving predator trapped in the act of invading our property and our feed supplies. With cattle, chickens and cats all sharing adjoining areas, the diseases that these invading wild critters can bring are not only unwelcome, but potentially dangerous to our domesticated ones. And the feed messes are not appreciated.

Whatever was stealing into the barns at night was also catching the blame for breaking into the fish and fowl food kept on the basement porch. Having raised another half-dozen guineas this spring, a supply of feedstuffs was also conveniently stored in a large, fitted-lid garbage can kept on the porch. Several recent mornings, I’d found the lid knocked off and the bag of fish pellets ripped open. The cats love those, but I highly doubted any cat could remove that lid and rip open the heavy plastic.

But when I heard The Farmer talking outside one recent evening and stepped out on the upper porch to investigate, I looked right down onto the backs of two broad, beige-coated bovines standing on the porch below, their heads right at the fish-feed storage container. Maybe this feed raiding involved a different set of culprits.

A few mornings later, my heart sank as I approached the chicken coop. White feathers lay scattered all over, but the door was still locked shut. A dead, bloodied chicken carcass greeted me as the rest hopped out of the pen.

After taking a close look, The Farmer confirmed our suspicions that the thief, now turned murderer, was a raccoon. The invader had managed to push the door back just far enough to crawl in through a very small space — and back out — but was unable to haul away the intended chicken dinner.

Our trap was promptly relocated to the coop and baited with the chicken carcass. Additions to the door made it, hopefully, critter-proof.

No one likes going to war. But sometimes we are left with no alternative.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.

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