(For those of you who get this post heading, you’re welcome. For those of you who don’t, go rent The Princess Bride, immediately.)
I have a pretty fixed routine with the girls. Pop door goes up automatically at 7:30am (times are changed as the seasons pass and sunrise/sunset times change), lockdown at 3pm (2pm since we heard the fox), give Tallulah a boost at sundown (although now Pip and Alexia wait for me to boost them too, even though they are perfectly capable of getting up on their own…lazy Brahmas), pop door comes down automatically at 5:30pm, start all over again the next day.
But, every now and then, the peaceful routine of the coop is interrupted by silly human stuff. You know, like, Christmas.
The Man and I, plus the two bairns, went to The Man’s mom’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. It was one of those American middle-of-the-day, Thanksgiving-type dinners, but, still. We didn’t get home until 6:30, two hours after chicken bedtime.
I have just enough OCD issues that I felt a twinge of concern, but the rational voice in my head told me the hens would be just fine. Pip and Alexia, seeing the light fade with no boost in sight, would get their lazy butts up onto the roosts themselves, and Tallulah would sleep on the edge of the poop pit, as she did for months before I discovered what was going on, until I got home.
Yes, it would be pitch dark, but I have my trusty iPhone to light the way. Is there nothing this phone can’t do??!!
So, I opened up the coop door, much to the hens’ surprise, and was met with much astonished “what the bawwwwkk?!”. I balanced my phone on an upturned log, picked up Tallulah from the exact spot I had expected her to be, and placed her on an open spot on the roosts. (AWAY from Maisie, thank you very much. Maisie, roosted next to Tallulah, will peck her rhythmically and without ceasing, on the head. When I caught Maisie at this, a few days ago, I tossed her off the roost. I shouldn’t have, I know; the pecking order is the pecking order. But I couldn’t stand it. Don’t worry, there was still enough light for her to find a new spot, and no, she wouldn’t let me help her up again.)
That’s when it happened.
I know what I saw. It was dark and shadowy in there, but I know what I saw. I have excellent peripheral vision, and, although my near vision is tragically diminished, my far vision remains 20/20. It was an ROUS.
Okay, not as big as the ones in the movie, obviously, but WAY bigger than a mouse. Bigger than a mouse on steroids, even. Bigger than a Gilligan’s Island radioactive vegetable seeds mouse.
“They” say that the one good thing about having mice (and, MAN, do we have mice!) is that it means you don’t have rats. Rats and mice are both very territorial and don’t coexist well. I have consoled myself with this many times. So, let me tell you this…it was a mouse the size of a rat.
I saw it scurry out from behind the poop pit, along the floor in front of me, behind the bales of alfalfa, and down the track for the big interior coop door. Now, I have worked very hard to make the coop hole-free. Mice eat your feed and spread disease. I wish I had the kind of chickens that eat mice, but I don’t.
The fact that this all happened in near-darkness made it all the creepier, of course. I mean, the girls were safe, up on their roosts, and the rodent in question was clearly more afraid of me than I was of him. But…EWWWWWWW.
Once my heebie-jeebies had subsided (gimme a break, I’m really a big city girl), it all began to make sense. My girls are very good foragers and really don’t eat that much feed. Each morning, I look into our “automatic” feeder, and find it nearly empty, just crumbs, really. I push some down from the vertical tube so it’s full again. With the exception of a few hens that load up after laying, the girls leave the feed alone until lockdown, when they load up their crops for the long night ahead. Here’s what the feeder tube looks like inside the coop:
And the vertical feed storage tube, outside the cop:
(It takes 2.5 hours for food to be “processed” by a chicken, which is why most of their poops are at night. I really need to show you how big their crops get before bedtime, it’s quite astonishing. Unfortunately, I can’t share the feel of the feed inside the crop, which is just exactly like that of a bean bag.)
So, that’s where the tube of feed went, right? Bedtime loadup. Except…no. When I look over at the horizontal tube at boost time, it’s still half full. Hmmm. Maybe they eat the rest before I let them out in the morning? Yes, that must be it.
Except…NO. It’s the fooking ROUSes! Oh, it burns, it burrrrnnnns. I’ve been feeding them! Expensive ORGANIC feed!!!
Okay, I can fix this. I’m bigger, I’m smarter, and I’m pissed off. How can I make the food inaccessible to the rodentia, and yet have it still be accessible to the girls? Some kind of a removable cover is called for. One that could be put in place when the girls are on the roost, and removed when the coop is cleaned in the morning. The girls won’t be able to access the food first thing in the morning, but they won’t starve, and their food supply will be protected.
A trip to Home Depot, methinks, to find a four-inch tube of another substance, much thinner and more flexible, ten inches in length. Split down the length, it could be easily snapped on to the PVC tube, protecting the feed for the night. In the short term, I took an empty paper towel roll, cut it down the length, and fastened it over the open holes with…two stretched out hair elastics. Yes, I am the Chicken McGuyver, thank you very much.
That was last night. I wasn’t sure what I would find this morning. Would the ROUS have chewed through the cardboard to get to the feed?
I found the setup in pristine condition this morning, no evidence of tampering, and the girls feeding behaviour when I let them out of the run was exactly the same as every other morning. And the feed tube?
Was half full.
Oh, they exist, Wesley. They exist.