Thursday, August 25, 2011

Raccoons, Cougars, & Cousins - Oh My!

What an absolutely ridiculous week! I am going to blame "Mercury in Retrograde," if for no other reason than I would prefer it to rest on something else other than my wild (and not always in a good way) luck.

For starters, I had two unfortunate brush-ins with the local raccoon population recently...

Now, anyone who thinks that raccoons are sweet and cuddly has clearly never lived in the country. They (at least the ones in our area) are vicious, aggressive, and one of the common carriers of rabies (besides bats and skunks). Not to mention that raccoons will decimate a poultry population if given the chance.

The other morning, I went to let the chickens out of the coop ~6 am (before the sun was shining, but definitely a well-lit predawn light!). After letting them out, I glanced up at the oak tree in their pasture and saw THREE raccoons staring down at me! So, I had to race around and chase 25 very uncooperative chickens back into the coop (which they did not appreciate, clearly not comprehending the threat to their feathered selves). After several hours, the raccoons left, and I was finally able to let the chickens out of the coop again. Oh, did I mention this was during a B&B booking? So, not only was I supposed to be cooking guest breakfasts, but was running late that morning before the raccoon incident! Thankfully, I managed to rush through my tasks and get breakfast ready on time (ironically, the guests ended up being 20 minutes late to breakfast...some days you just can't win! - What a MONDAY!!).

Then, three nights later at about 4 am, there was a terrible racket coming from the poultry pasture. It woke my grandfather up, who went outside to investigate (armed with a club). Punkin, the guard llama, was pressed as close to the gate by the barn as she could get (i.e. farthest away from the ruckus) and was clearly very upset. Gramps said he saw about 5 raccoons fighting amongst themselves in the chicken pasture, and the chickens were going NUTS in the coop. He chased the raccoons off (though it took some convincing, as they are aggressive and unafraid of people here), and the chickens quieted down, so he thought all was well. I went out two hours later to feed/let the chickens out of the coop. I noticed spotted feathers and a trail of blood leading from the poultry coop to the oak tree at our property line where I know that the raccoons love to roost (FYI - that tree is coming down this fall - for many reasons, but that is one of them!). When I let the chickens out, I saw that my beloved hen (a Mottled Houdan named "Jimmy Hendrix") was missing. I was SO upset! Apparently, the raccoons must have figured out how to lift up the little chicken door on the coop and go in. That evening, Ryan installed a sliding latch on the door to keep it bolted shut at night. I have been raising chickens for four years here and have NEVER had that happen! I didn't know raccoons were that wily!!?! I only hope they don't figure out this new latch...*fingers crossed*

And now, for the icing on the predatory cake:

Just yesterday (around noon), I was cleaning the Apothecary Suite after another guest check-out. Because it was a nice day, I had the window open. I can see the female llama pasture from said window, and about this time I noticed that my girl llamas were avidly watching something going on in back of our property (specifically the field behind my property line). It was then that I heard my neighbor say "I have to call Ryan and Jillian!" Of course, I was already heading downstairs to the phone at that point. Our neighbor told me that he had just seen a juvenile COUGAR loping along from our creek bed in the male llama pasture (located in the large wooded lot to the north of our house), along our back property line, and towards the back of vineyard next door!! Since the last time a cougar was spotted in our area was looooong before we ever even moved here, I was understandably shaken! As the livestock was my first priority, I grabbed a shovel (for lack of better weapon), and raced outside to do a head count. Everyone but my one white male llama, Judge, was accounted for. I started hiking into their pasture, and was talking to my husband on my cell phone about the cougar at the same time. Ryan, suddenly comprehending exactly where I was and what I was foolhardily doing, said, "Um, hun, PLEASE STOP and take a 360 degree turn around, checking the trees AND the ground level!!!" Oh yes, oblivious dolt that I am forgot that gee, cougars can climb trees AND stalk people on occasion! Thankfully, I was in the clear, and finally found Judge (who was perfectly all right, and - unlike George - does not know enough to come when called!). About 2 hours after this sighting, we received a notification that there had been a deer killed by a cougar the previous night just a mile away, and I would bet money it was the same cougar. I have to say that a cougar sighting right on/next to my property is very concerning - the donkeys are never locked inside at night, and though I don't worry about the llamas as much (weighing 500 lbs and all), they are also vulnerable to attack (the goats are at least locked in at night, and located in the middle of the property under the constant watch of humans and Punkin). Not to mention my small self, who goes out in the predawn dark to feed/let animals out every morning! I don't pay attention to if there is a cougar around! Are you kidding me?! It's before COFFEE! So I told Ryan I wanted to get some pepper spray to take with me from now on, as that would be easier to remember to carry around. I know that the folks living along the Highway 238 a few miles from us get cougars, but that is an area with lots of fields and forest and a low human population. Our property is in a heavily populated area that the cougars always seemed to stay away from (or so I thought!). I don't know if this was a freak occurrence or what, but I have to say that I am quite a bit unnerved. I have been stalked twice by a cougar, and am not game to try my luck with a third round!

So beyond that insanity, we have also been getting quite a few last minute bookings. I am very thankful for the cash flow, though I'm very much looking forward to the quiet at the end of tourist season! I have family visiting for the next three weeks or so, so we've been in an uproar of cleaning and cooking too. The weather here has been a bit wild: lots of thunderstorms, some rain, and a great deal of very muggy heat!

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