Summertime on the Homestead is a time of activity, especially in June. The sun rises early and all the birds start shouting with glee.
“Let us out!”, shout the chickens, pecking at the coop door outside.
“Hey! This is my food!”, shout the doves at each other, in the room next door.
“Get up!”, calls old Glory the Cat, “It’s time to feed me!”
The younger cats snooze until I pull myself out of bed. We were up late and we are tired.
I start the coffee, feed Glory and stumble outside to let the chickens out. I count them while they scatter. Eight, the same number I counted at Chicken Bedtime the night before. I sigh with relief.
Patience the Cat and I look around. The garden fence is disturbed, the catch bucket at the faucet is overturned and we find a dropping.
We know who is responsible.
The night before, we had heard rattling and scratching noises. I had gotten out of bed and opened a window to find a mama raccoon and five kits, still about a third her size. She led them around the yard, digging and thrusting her nose into the straw to find food while the kits tried to figure out how to get over the garden fence. One by one, they learned to climb the fencing and joined her.
Like anybody who keeps chickens, I get nervous when raccoons hang out in my yard. A raccoon will kill the whole flock and only eat one. Coops have to be reinforced against them and I have a strong bias against their presence. In fact, Georgia Chicken got stolen by a raccoon last year. It’s a “natural death for a chicken”, as one friend consoled, but I’m still angry and don’t like to see them in the yard. I keep a saucepan full of rocks near the window and shake it to scare them away whenever I see one.
I didn’t shake the saucepan this time, though. Since they showed no interest in the chicken coop, I shut the window and went back to bed.
We were awakened later by squealing, squeaking and security lights. The young cats and I all looked at the window and then at each other. I opened the window again.
The raccoons must have found enough to eat because they were playing! The mama raccoon was tussling with the babies. She would chase them and nuzzle them with her nose while they wriggled and squealed. She jumped up on a tree and jumped down again and ran around while they chased her. Sometimes she would play with one kit while the others gamboled around together, like kittens.
I was stunned.
When I think of raccoons, I think of hardware cloth, cement blocks and double-locked coop doors. I didn’t know they could play. I didn’t know their mothers took pleasure in raising them.
In a few weeks, those kits will be grown up. They’ll be a danger to my chickens and I’ll do my best to lock up the food, empty the water bucket and scare them away.
But just for right now, I’ll watch this little miracle in disbelief and smile when I am woken up by joyful squealing.
©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2016