Playing Opossum

Playing Opossum

The Strands were getting ready to snuggle down for the night when out of the crisp winter air came a startling, ferocious, warning bark from our Moose. She was out on her final homestead patrol before bedtime. If you're a dog owner, you can tell when your pooch is giving that special kind of warning notice. Springing into action, Ashley made her way outside to see what was going on. A few moments later, she ran back in.

"Get out here! There's a possum at the chicken coop!" Mrs. Strand exclaimed. In my mind, Pharrell's "Time for some Action" started playing so I threw on my coat, laced my boots, and strolled out to our Zone 1 (learn about zones) where the commotion was thick! Moose, outside the electric poultry netting, was barking up a storm. Ashley was positioned by the front side of the coop with the flashlight. I peered under our coop and there the opossum was, not playing possum in the slightest. It's razor teeth were reflecting back at me as bright as its black nocturnal eyes. I thought these critters were supposed to play dead, but this one was ready for a stand-off. We have gone 6 months without seeing an opossum on our homestead so why was it here now?!

The Contemplation

Last night was my first up-close encounter with an opossum. Prior to this, my experience was limited to seeing them on the side of the highway in the form of roadkill. Personally, I don't care to see the dead version of opossums and for the time being, this one looked particularly neat. It's nose was very pink. It had this thick, medium-length black fur tipped with white. Its size was a smidge larger than our cats with a tail as thick but bare and rope-like. It seemed very comfortable underneath our chicken-tractor. So I had a moment to figure out removal.

I had just a small familiarization with the species. I knew they were opportunistic omnivorous scavengers, they possibly harbored some diseases and parasites, and they like to eat ticks. Since no homestead animals were in immediate danger, we decided we would try to encourage the opossum to leave on it's own as opposed to dispatching it. You know, "You don't have to go home, but you can't - stay - here."

I had brought a firearm, an axe, and a pitchfork with me to the show in the very beginning of the encounter since I did not know what type of threat I was getting into. Setting them aside, we opted to use a 6-foot tree stick. Ashley brought Moose inside before positioning herself for Operation Opossum Go Home.

Ready?! Kickoff

Ashley aimed the flashlight while I lodged the stick behind the opossum and guided it out from under our chicken tractor. Now exposed, the opossum sprinted (12 year old child pace) past the compost pile, and scooted under the predator netting. As Ashley and I got outside of our chicken area, the opossum stopped in its tracks and sat on it's haunches just outside the fence looking back in.

"Chase 'em away!" screamed Mrs. Strand as she conjured up this extreme hissing sound louder than any cat or opossum could ever create.

Like a bat out of hell, the opossum continued it's escape... straight towards the underside of our camper.

A Map of How It Went Down

This was not acceptable. Zone Zero is a not a refuge for wildlife at Strand Farm. I, in hot pursuit and slightly trailer side of the Night Banshee, had to turn on my acceleration and emergency thinking. I could not let the opossum get under our Airstream near our secret cat door. I had left all of my dispatching tools back at the coop.

Next thing I knew, I had delivered a wallop of a soccer-goalie-style sprinting kick to the upper chest of the opossum, sending it in a perfect spiral through the air, up and away from the Airstream. It happened so fast but felt like slow motion. The opossum, having landed nearly 6 feet away from departure, quickly caught it's breath (the one my foot had clearly removed from it) and continued to bolt down the mountain toward our creek.

Not even thirty minutes later, thanks to our guardian Moose, the opossum was found wandering well into Zone 4 of our homestead. It appeared to be extra cautious but not injured. We activated the electric fence and returned inside for the night.

Post-Encounter Analysis

Looking back on the events of last night, clearly the opossum was not attempting to be a pest. We pretty much invited it to dinner. You see, earlier that day, Ashley and I flipped our compost pile that had been frozen from the weeks before. Newly resurfaced from the pile was akin to a 5 star feast for an opportunistic omnivore. We had grubs, sprouts, chicken-scratch grains, and even a mostly-decayed deer carcass in that pile. Furthermore, due to the recent snow and clouds, our solar-powered electric poultry netting was disabled. We do not believe the opossum was there specifically for the chickens, and in fact, likely escaped under the chicken coop for shelter from our alerted homestead dog.

I have scoured the internet for advice on opossums and homesteads and found the same polarized garbage that you find on just about every searchable topic online these days. From "opossums make the best pets" to "destroy every opossum in sight," I decided to use common sense. Opossums are known to be excellent tick killers and do a great job assisting in the decomposition of organic matter. But due to parasite threat (lice, mites, etc.), opossums will not be allowed near our chickens, their compost pile, our buildings, nor our pets. They must stay away from zones 1 and 2 and if they try to take up residence within, they will be dispatched (not with a boot next time). We have reactivated the electric poultry netting and are thankful for the design of our chicken tractor.

We are very grateful to the opossum for giving us an opportunity to learn how vulnerable our chicken area was to predation. An opossum is a much lesser threat to our chickens than some of the other predators out there roaming. If we are not better prepared in the future, we may lose some valuable egg producing assets.

Happy Trails, Opossum, please do not come back around. I'm sorry I had to give you the boot. To you, my readers, have a wonderful week and be sure to email me your bizarre wildlife stories or any comments, suggestions, and questions.