Chickens have few defences against predators. Roosters can attack with their talons, but they’re no match for the hunters that come in the dark. A good chicken house is essential to keep out night raiders such as mink, otter, raccoons, even rats in search of the fresh-laid eggs. Fortunately, our chicken house was well designed, thanks to the farmer we had inherited it from. One end had a full-sized door with a latch that could be opened from either side; inside to the left, at shoulder height, were sleeping perches for the chickens; to the right, six nest boxes where the hens laid their eggs. Above the boxes there was a big screened window and the pigeon loft, no longer used following my failed pigeon experiment. At the far end of the house, at floor level, was a chicken-sized opening with a sliding trap door above it that we could drop down to close the chickens in. The chickens automatically went to roost at dusk, and we dropped the trap door once it was dark.
It was a foolproof system, except for the human factor. In other words, we had no problems until the night I forgot to close the trap door. A dreadful racket woke me up: the screaming of chickens. I jumped into my gumboots and grabbed a flashlight, both of them sitting near the back door as usual, and raced out to the hen house. Once through the entry door, I saw a raccoon on the floor of the hen house with a chicken in its mouth. In a fury, and without thinking, I dropped the flashlight and used both hands to grab the raccoon by the scruff of its neck, then shook it until it dropped the hen. Only then did I look down and realize that except for the gumboots, I was stark naked.
My predicament sank in. I was terribly vulnerable. I was standing in a small, enclosed space wearing no clothes, holding a terrified and vicious animal. The main chicken house door had swung closed behind me, and the free hand I needed to lift the latch to open it was busy hanging on to the raccoon. Bending down to shove the raccoon out the open trap door would mean it was dangerously close to parts of my anatomy that I particularly did not want attacked. I knew my flashlight was lying beside me on the floor and would make a good weapon for hitting the critter over the head, but picking it up, like lifting the door latch, required a free hand that I didn’t have. I had to get rid of this raccoon fast while I still had it gripped in both hands.
Because shaking seemed to have stunned it when I’d first grabbed it, I gathered my courage—fear, actually—and shook the raccoon as hard as I could, crouched down and stuffed it through the chicken door, shrieking “Get out!” as I half shoved, half threw it out into the night. It didn’t give me a backward glance. I shut the door securely, checked on the hen that had barely escaped becoming a midnight snack for the now vanished raccoon, and found her already settled back on her roost with the rest of the flock. I walked back across the field and home, adrenalin still pumping through my body. The raccoons gave our chicken house a wide berth for quite awhile after that.