A Tough Old Bird In Training

by Stefani on 17-April-2008

Our dogs passed away a few months back. I didn’t talk much about it. I didn’t really know what to say.
We had them before we even had kids. Two black labs, Harley and Ellie. They were very old, and we knew their time was drawing near. First poor Harley, and then, without her mate, Ellie went steadily and quickly downhill too.

This is our first spring without them, and let me just tell you that it is clear to us all now that they were not just barking their fool heads off for no reason at all, they were fending off legions of critters!

First there was Matilda. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of her since that first day, but I see evidence of her all the time. Biggo snout shaped holes along our garden path let me know that she’s doing her part to help with the fire ant problem.

Then of course, there are the wretched squirrels that have become epidemic in the absence of dogs.

And now this. I give you Polly:


Oh yes, that’s a baby opossum. And it’s wee little brother was a few feet away.

It’s cute right?

We thought so too. In fact, we even cut up bananas for her. and watched her for a good long time, giggling and talking about just how fabulous it is that all these wild critters see fit to hang out in our yard.

We got SO excited that we got online to find out all we could about opossums. Nocturnal. Marsupial. Give birth to LARGE litters… and wait, what’s that say…. “a particular pest to poultry farmers!… has been known to continually raid nest boxes and even kill full grown chickens.”


Oh but wait, there’s more… This sweet little fella has been visiting our garden.


We think it was born under our deck and thereby knows no other way of life. It’s not one bit frightened of boys running around in the yard or even chunking unfinished pancakes at it.

Oh yes that’s correct, we’re feeding the garden devil too! It’s actually quite tame, and will come within a couple of feet of my fellas to chomp away on the spinach.

So, you know, whatever idealistic visions I had of gardening and chicken farming are quickly being colored by irrigation issues, increasingly complex coop plans (and the costs involved), stinky pen cleaning jobs, and now varmints.

But, as always, I have my Momo to look to for homespun wisdom. When I was a little girl, I once opened the cabinet under her sink and found a big old country rat, dead in a trap. I screamed my hair right out and brought my Momo running from the other side of the house. When she saw what I was screaming about she laughed, picked it up by it’s tail and said, “What? This old thing? It ain’t nuthin’ but a rat!”

Picked it up by it’s TAIL!!!


She was a tough old bird, and I’m hoping some of it rubbed off on me. I think I’m going to need more than visions of bucolic harmony to see this spring through. I’m going to need good old fashioned farm girl grit.

Lord love a duck! What have I gotten myself into?

jessica April 17, 2008 at 7:19 pm

our dog is named Ellie 🙂

We’ve got rabbits, a whole slew of ’em, even with a dog to patrol. She is forever trying to dig up their warren. It must be quite a network. I’ve got a pet fence (exactly the one that you keep the chickens in) around our raised bed strawberry patch and that keeps them out of it. The squirrels get a few tomatoes every year, but we can live with that. And the possums– we figure our compost pile offering will appease them, and the raccoons. But it sounds like you better get those chickies protected!! Even if he is super cute (now).

Sarah Jackson April 17, 2008 at 7:26 pm

I’m so sorry about your doggies, Stef. Our Jake died last month, so I know how it feels.

Have fun keeping your chickens and garden away from the critters. They’re cute when they’re young, but boy do they wreak havoc! When I was a kid, there was a family of possums living under our house. One night they even scratched at the back door to be let in and we almost opened it, thinking it was one of the cats. That was quite a shocker! They’re bold creatures.

Diane April 17, 2008 at 7:59 pm

Hee hee hee! Varmints!!! There you are saying you live too much in town etc. but lo and behold you have more varmints than a girl can shake a stick at!

At the yarn store a little while back I noticed that they sell some fancy and pricey yarn spun from possum… I’m just saying…

Casey April 17, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Your Momo sounds awesome. If you want a little extra grit practice, I can bring over some of the snakes my hens keep rousting out of our compost pile!

Possums. Brrr. Do not want.

Keri April 17, 2008 at 8:50 pm

I can’t believe you saw that possum! I lived in Texas for 18 years and the only one I saw that wasn’t dead on the side of the road had gotten himself stuck in an empty rabbit cage. Boy was he mad!!!!! I don’t normally think they’re that cute but that little guy kind of has a sweet face. And I bet your boys are LOVING all the animals!

Crystal April 18, 2008 at 6:44 am

Polly is adorable! I have never seen one alive before. I see them everyday on the side of the road…but they are sadly, quite dead.

I love your blog for many reasons, but latley I love it for the show of rare and cuddley animals.

Stephanie April 18, 2008 at 7:01 am

Maybe it’s time to get another dog.

We had a pet door from the house to the garage, and left the garage door open about a foot and a half for the dog to go out at any time.

One morning I heard a scrabbling noise and found a possum in my lidless garbage can in the garage. After I screamed, I peeked over the edge again and saw the mess he’d made of my garbage. But he was trapped. I rolled the can out of the garage and tumped it over so he’d leave, but was so mad about the mess I had to kick the (trash)can.

Varmint turned around and hissed at me. Talk about attitude! I bought a new garbage can with lid, and haven’t seen him since. Thank goodness!

Cheryl April 18, 2008 at 7:23 am

Leave it to blue yonder to make a opossum cute 😉 I am totally tickled at this entry – thanks!

molly April 18, 2008 at 7:27 am

So funny – just yesterday I was having a little chit chat with my retired neighbor about all the wild critters that we share our neighborhood with. She’d like to trap them all, while I get a kick out of our co-inhabitants. But if they go near my spinach they better watch out.

erin April 18, 2008 at 7:29 am

just remember: you are bigger than them!

Jess April 18, 2008 at 8:36 am

I’m so sorry about your dogs 🙁 losing a pet is tough. Looks like you’ve got some animals to join the family though! That opossum is very cute but they get ugly and vicious when they grow up!

OMSH April 18, 2008 at 1:13 pm

It’s a good time that opossums are cute at birth because my goodness do they become ugly as adults…hey, that reminds me of another species I know! Hmmmm…

At any rate, is now the time to tell you how Jeff killed an opossum in the garage with the kids’ bb gun?


Okay fine…

Maria April 18, 2008 at 9:16 pm

Haven’t gotten a chance to read for awhile so just read the last five posts! Your photos are a delight! It was nice to “catch up”…

Maureen April 19, 2008 at 5:56 am

Aw, so sorry about your dogs… and we too have rabbits. They have lived under our deck for years and successfully chased me from gardening. But this year I vow to put the garden back in! I love watching the cuties, so I’ll have to invest in some good ol’ chicken wire, I guess.

The little baby possum IS cute, though…

megan April 19, 2008 at 11:28 am

We are having a opossum problem right now. I knew it was a problem right when I saw our first cute little one because I had heard stories of one opossum killing 25 chickens in one night. I have lost enough chubby little hens to understand why farmers shoot and kill wolves on their property. My husband “did away with” the first two we found but they just keep showing up and he’s grown tired of killing the little guys. We’re just gonna see if our coop’s construction can keep them out. Though the other day we lost a little chick – it just disappeared. It was, of course, my favorite and right now I am imagining he just found himself a new place and he’s happily hopping around in the grass somewhere. Instead of being eaten by a cat/opossum/hawk/etc. Makes me wish we had a rooster or a dog to protect my little ladies…

megan April 19, 2008 at 11:30 am

p.s. I heard letting your sons/husband “mark” the territory around the yard will keep some predators away. My boys were ALL about that and have started on that exciting task…

kristin April 19, 2008 at 7:57 pm

i’m going to start saying

“lord love a duck”

Em April 20, 2008 at 5:59 pm

Awww – that baby possum is about the cutest little thing… but I guess you need to make sure your chickens will be OK… maybe burying an extra 6″ or so of hardware cloth under the edges of your coop area will keep them at bay… I wish you luck. We’ve seen one bunny so far this year, a mama sized one… our cat was hunkered down getting ready to pounce at the time (we scared him off)… we do see droppings from them all over the yard though, so some of them must make it past the cat! The armadillo is really cute too… we don’t have those around here…

Just Pure Lovely April 23, 2008 at 6:30 am

Just thinking, since you’re in Texas with pretty much the same mild weather we have over here in FloraBama, you can have an open-air chicken coop, too. In the occasional freezing night, the chickens do just fine and they get breezes all summer. No smell either. Ever. I guess it just airs out.

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