PLAYING ‘POSSUM

I think we have solved the mystery of the murdered chicken in the loft of the big barn. Boo found a possum in there yesterday evening. And grabbed it!

Fast as a flying whip he was. I told him to drop it straight away as I was not sure what he had – he was very fast – overturning the bucket it was behind with a clatter and grabbing it and shaking it. Bam Bam. I thought he might have a peahen. He dropped it immediately and came straight to my side to watch.  I thought it might be dead, it lay so still but it was playing possum of course and when I was distracted by Poppy then looked back it had disappeared.

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Later Boo brought it out to the drive and left it there for me to admire. I was sure it was dead this time.  It was all splayed out – eyes open. I took the dog and went inside to get a bag to dispose of the body and when I went out it had disappeared again.

The dogs were out most of the night. It is their job to protect the farm from predators and I have seen what this animal can do but I hope it got away – far away preferably.

If you are from New Zealand or Australia, and I know and am delighted that many of you are, have a look at this.  American possums are small and silver and mean looking with long sharp noses and naked rat like tails. American ‘possums are nothing like the New Zealand ones.  New Zealand opossums are bigger and browner and have long bushy tails and when I lived in New Zealand I never heard of them killing chickens.  I even had a pet opossum once who used to love to ride on top of my bushy head and caused a scene once by running up my mother’s pale stockinged legs to get to the top of her bushy head. Though, as they are introduced to New Zealand,  they are considered pests, terrible pests – destroying the bush (forest) and eating native bird eggs. Mixed with sheeps wool their fur make lovely warm hats and mittens.   But I never heard of them killing chooks – chicks probably and maybe eggs but they are not known as a threat to big chooks. American possums, which are natives seem much more dangerous and nasty looking too.

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The calves have quietened down.

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That sequence above was of Inky coming in slowly to lick my hands as I held the camera to my eye. She is still the sweetest of the little cows.

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When the chickens are let out in the evening for a supervised run in the late afternoon sun they dive for that tiny bit of emerging leafy greenery in the field.  Once they have had their time outdoors they are locked securely back into their big chook house.

Boo and I are still bothering the mink holes down by the creek a couple of times a day.

I was having a talk with my hay man  last evening (as he delivered another six bales ) and with this long spring, and after a dry summer for much of the midwest, hay is getting much more expensive this month. In fact, his supplier has sold out at those higher prices to the feed lots so there may be no more hay to be had.

I need my fields to start growing.

Now I am seriously contemplating fencing in the hay fields and strip grazing the cows over them.  So they get a mix of hay in the morning and green field in the afternoon. There is a bit of alfalfa out there but it is half grass so with care, and daily moving the electric fence across the field so they eat both, and giving them hay in the morning (if I still have any),  we should be fine.  They ust need to be trained to alfalfa. I have done it before.  Bloat is always a consideration but I am going to run out of feed and the other fields must be allowed to grow. I have to hold firm and maintain the herd I have gathered and grown. And my animals never eat grain so their bellies work naturally.

I don’t want to sell too many of the beasties if I can avoid it, they are too small for the chefs yet. I need them to grow so I can get 1000 pounds hanging weight.  Which means I need to get them to about 1500 pounds (about 700kg) at least. If we can get through to the end of the summer I can sell two of the cattle to the chefs and make enough to buy hay for the winter for the whole farm.  No need to make any hay then. Which I can’t if I have grazed the hay fields. Do you see my dilemma?

My other plan is to bring in two more acres from the corn and beans and get John to sow it in oats for fast fodder  – it makes good hay and works in a pinch.  Then we will sow it in pasture.  (We were going to do this next year but maybe I can convince the family to bring it up a year).

We just have to last until Monday.  Monday is going to begin the warm-up.  Monday the fields will start to grow.  Though there is the small problem of the nasty winter storm coming in tomorrow night! With 5-8 inches of snow. But I don’t believe it.

OK. All good stuff to work out!

WEATHER:  Cool and clear for the most part.

Thursday 03/22 0% / 0 inPlenty of sunshine. High 48F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph.

Thursday Night 03/22 0% / 0 inClear skies. Low 27F. Winds light and variable.

Sun
6:52 am 7:07 pm
 Moon
Waxing Crescent, 26% visible10:12 am

76 Comments on “PLAYING ‘POSSUM

  1. Possum or Opossum? To-mato or to-matto? Po-tato or Pa-tato? Oh the English language! I have never known possum to kill larger birds either. They do eat grubs, mosquitoes and other bugs, but grow chickens? Very interesting. Possum has always been a part of our lives in North Texas…. Dad would catch them and then take the north to the grasslands. My uncle would actually cook them! I never got a taste for possum or raccoon…. too gamy. Now his squirrel stew I loved, but it was more vegetable than meat…

    I saw a truck with those huge 1000 lb bales on it yesterday. Semi with 12 bales on it. They were HUGE! and the load was shifting crazily when the truck took a turn. I stayed WAY back from it as one of those bales would swallow my little car.

  2. Those possums are scary, nasty little critters. You tell Boo to be careful hunting them!

    And some very sweet and soft pictures of that Inky’s nose!

  3. i’ve encountered a few possums in my time back East. The dogs were always confused that they “died”so suddenly. but that’s better than skunks. Hope the hay situation gets better as April comes…

    • OH YES!! Better than skunks for sure – and THEY will be out wandering about soon – you know, I would love one of those wildlife cameras that take pictures at night – there must be all kinds of things going on at night out there. c

  4. A possum waddles through our backyard every few days as it makes the rounds under bird feeders. I am surprised how they have survived over the eons. They don’t appear smart, agile, or cunning. I suppose pretending to be dead must have an evolutionary advantage.

    • they are nocturnal too so I am always wary when I see one in the daytime – dad would always mutter about ‘rabies’ when we saw one in the sunshine. They are marsupials too which is kind of cool. c

  5. I suspect that Boo will get the possum sooner rather than later, although you might need to break its bugged-eyed neck to be sure it’s dead. I have a dread of possums. When I was a kid, one launched itself off the rafters in the garage at my head, and since I have a tendency to freeze when I’m frightened, the possum found its target. I hate the suckers….

  6. When I taught science, my fellow science teacher and I had a possum that was brought in by another teacher. It must have fallen off its mother as it was tiny. The babies cling to the mother as she moves about. We named it Worf, a Star Trek reference, because it would cling to the top of our heads and Klingon. Worf went to live along a creek when he got too big. Very cool that you had a Klingon too!

  7. We have a pet possum. An American possum. She’s really not nasty at all, very sweet actually. We’ve never had one kill a chicken, only take the eggs, though I suppose if one was really desperate it might, but in our experience, they are usually harmless. Raccoons, now they are killers.

      • She actually does live inside. We can’t really turn her loose because she was so little when we found her, she wouldn’t be able to survive on her own, after so long in captivity. Actually our dog found her, and was about to eat her, before I rescued her. At first the only thing she would eat was apple butter. Fortunately she has branched out a bit in her tastes. She mostly just sleeps all day, inside of her wicker cabinet, and comes out to eat and snuffle around the laundry room and be cute in general. Oh, and she is litter box trained. 😊

        • That is quite the sweetest thing I have read in ages – and yes – to release her now would be cruel- especially as she sleeps inside a wicker cabinet. Just wonderful .

  8. I wonder if the possum will survive two bites from Boo. They will surely become infected and he shouldn’t be a problem in the future.
    I hope the mink moved on.

  9. Ha! Possums! Whenever I think of possums it reminds me of The Beverley Hillbillies and Grannie who was known for her possum stew. In Toronto here, I had never seen one and thought they were strictly to be found in the U.S. south but about ten years ago a neighbour had one in her backyard. They are cute but too rat-like for my liking. Toronto is known as the raccoon capital of the world, apparently more raccoons per square kilometer here than anywhere else in the whole world! Could be they keep the possum population down. I was surprised to read in your article that they are marsupials — very interesting. Hope you have a great day and scare off the snow storm. ~ Mame 🙂

    • Yes. The only native marsupial they have here in the States I think. And I am hoping the snow storm will be scared off – i will instruct John to put the snow plough on the big truck – that usually does it!

  10. People rather like them around these parts. They eat a lot of stink bugs & ticks. I have been feeding a little one on the back wall all winter, putting out apple cores & peelings, old bananas, leftover dry cat food scattered around their bowls by the cats, & other bits & pieces such as baked potatoes skins after we are finished eating. All gone every morning. Sometimes perhaps a raccoon dines out there but I have seen the little possum often waiting half way up the tree trunk beside the wall. I don’t have any chickens here in town of course. But maybe if I fill Li’l Poss up he won’t steal birds’ eggs coming soon. Here’s a page on making peace with possums. http://www.dfwwildlife.org/opossum.html

    • I think that is lovely. I trained a squirrel like that when I lived in London – my boss was horrified when he saw it up and begging at the glass kitchen doors.

  11. A possum? I hope that settles it for you. You certainly don’t need night raiders, no matter the kind. I once saw plenty of possum & raccoon in my yard but their numbers seem to have dropped considerably. I’ll know in the weeks ahead whether momma skunk had a litter. That’s always such an unpleasant surprise. They don’t know about that snow hitting here . Anywhere from a trace to 4 inches has been predicted. No matter. It will all melt within a day or two.

    • ah – so it must be coming in south – we have 5-8 forecast here 100%. – you are right about the melt though it will be back in the 40’s on Sunday – and going up from there!! YAY

  12. American possums are an interesting conundrum for farmers. They are actually quite affable, eating mostly bugs, especially ticks, and are good for the environment. They’re known to take down a chook or some eggs every once in a while but not very often. They also spread a deadly disease to horses. So they can be both quite good for the environment, not a nuisance at all, or a very big one. We had a similar experience with a possum last year. No chooks were injured but I was locking up the coop one night and my husky (The Killer) was staring intently into the chicken pen under their playhouse so I sent her in. She came back dragging a possum and hitting it on the ground just like Boo did. Whack whack! Then she just kinda got bored because it wasn’t moving or making sounds so I called her off of it and it looked dead but it was still very much alive. When I went for something to finish the job it got up and waddled off and The Killer just didn’t care anymore; she was too busy sniffing about the garage for rats to notice. I haven’t seen the possum since.

      • Her real name is Nukka, meaning little sister, but The Killer is a nickname she’s earned! She has killed our own rabbits and chickens, groundhogs, stray cats, robins, squirrels and she’s quite the ratter… She even attacked a hawk once. She’s learning at long last that the chooks are not food, but she’ll go after anything that moves if she can. She’s a menace, that one! But a possum can even fool her!

    • Yes, they are an intermediate host for a spirochete like Lyme disease, that gets into the cerebrospinal fluid, and can be irreversible. I had to put a horse down in 2001 because there was no treatment at that time, but there is now if it’s diagnosed early.
      The Aussie possums are so much more attractive.

  13. Virginia Opossums are not actually related to the ones in Australia and New Zealand. They are only called that because they are marsupials. They are one of my favorite mammals, and we have them aplenty in my neighborhood. BUT they are one of the reasons that I do NOT have a flock of chickens. I don’t know how we could possibly keep chickens safe.

    Opossums are so tough that we have a difficult time getting them as program animals at the zoo (this is Becoming Cliche, BTW). It takes less paperwork to get a serval than to get an opossum. The criteria is that they can’t be releasable, and they are so adaptable that 3-legged animals are deemed releasable. We got a blind, albino one once, but she was terrified because she couldn’t see, and they have more teeth than any other extant mammal, so she was also TERRIFYING.

    We had one named Ernest T, and I loved using him for programs. But they have such a fast metabolism that they don’t live past about 3 years, even with the best medical care.

    • 1. You have TWO blogs? I had no idea.
      2. Thank you for giving us the piece of the puzzle we were looking for. I have always though the American ‘ possum was so different from ours and it confused me. To find they are different animals is a relief. WHY would they name them with the same name.
      3. I need to thank you again for bringing your incredible knowledge to my blog with you. I really do appreciate you sharing your training and research with us. I love learning and you are a great teacher.
      4. Still want a turtle! c

  14. So glad you found the opossum! But too bad it got away. Somehow it feels more benign than the mink. To hay or not to hay – that is a complex decision. I always appreciate when you share your thinking process. Hope the snow is in and out, or blows elsewhere.

  15. We have the Australian variety living in our garage/under our floorboards (strange house layout…). It’s not terribly bright, it’s very clumsy, rather noisy (a little Night Music, anyone?) and I put up with these attributes because it helps to keep our giant monster grasshoppers under control. I just wish it would stop knocking things over in the middle of the night so we think we have burglars… cute and fluffy, but a serious pain in the behind.

    • Thank you for a very good description, Kate! I am glad for the ‘teachings’ here and sorry so many problems are caused by the North American variety . . . . I am rather fond of the cuddly, silly, almost blind ‘beasties’ we meet here . . . try to drive on a few country roads late at night (especially near Thredbo) and unless you want to commit multiple murder you drive at about 10 km until past maybe hundreds clumsily wandering about . . .

      • The garage has one wall which is all those decorative pierced concrete blocks, and the gaps are definitely ‘access all areas’ for a possum… He’s a bit of a pain from the noise point of view, but not otherwise.

  16. No possums this side of the world, or equivalent. I love to read your musings on expansion of the farmy. Laura

  17. Your NZ possums are so cute and cuddly looking! Had no idea they were such destructive pests! A bit reminiscent of Star Trek’s :”The Trouble With Tribbles” episode! Mom used to come into our bedroom and say sternly, ” Quit playing possum and get out of that bed!” Ahhh – memories!

  18. Happy Spring, Miss C! If you can wheedle the new acres to use for hay, that plus buying big round bales seems best in terms of cost and work involved in haying in addition to your always increasing daily chores. Grazing is definitely best for the herd- i envision your moving the hot fence wire as similar to those huge moving irrigation/sprinkler systems? To the possums: ugly cute, soft fur, bare pink feet, good parents, more opportunist eater than active killer. I tend to think the mink killed the chook & possum found a free meal — but Boo found possum. Their open mouths showing off those sharp teeth, along with menacing hisses, warn off many who would attack. They do more good for the environment in the wild than harm. Naturally resistant to rabies. They compete with guineas as voracious tick eaters. BUT– ask your vet the next time about possum urine in cattle hay or pig bedding.– as that is bad to fatal ingested by horses. Also, raccoons, though so smart and cute, carry and spread parasites and rabies. Fighters and killers. Fingers crossed for a miss on the s- word!

    • Yes, I would much rather have the cows on pasture – good pasture – pity we need to feed hay for 6 months of the year. reading through the comments today I am less and less likely ever to have a horse. They are allergic to so much. How people keep the wildlife out of their hay sheds I do not know – especially in the cold months. It must be terrifying.

  19. Haha I’ve only seen the American possum as I’m from new york. Thanks for the link, I learned the difference today 🙂

  20. Oh Inky is adorable! Hopefully the possum has moved on. I thought they just went after ticks and insects but I guess they have a bigger appetite.

  21. In love with the photos of the calves. Glad they quieted for you. Must have known you were talking about them!

  22. We have possums here. When I had the house, I had a part of the back yard fenced for the dogs. There was the daily “pooh patrol” picking up the pooh with a scooper, but there was always less than there should have been. I was watching out the kitchen window one night because the moonlight was so pretty and saw something moving. I got my binoculars and watched a possum eating the dog pooh. YUCK! I wouldn’t be surprised to find the possum was up in the barn eating the bird pooh. My dog, Sunny, got a possum once and he did kill it, he wasn’t interested in the playing dead, he knew it wasn’t. The possums here are into garbage cans, people feed them and they clean up dog pooh. The raccoons are more dangerous. There is a really huge one that parades up and down the hill and gets into the dumpsters, it’s very bold and annoying.

  23. I was looking at Wagu in the market today in comparison to Galician “beef” and the Old cow Galician looked more attractive with beautiful marbling and soft yellow fat.

    • Interesting – I am tempted to invest in a few old milking cows and let them roam the fields for a few years. I wonder if it works the same for old beef cows who have calved a number of times, reared all their babies but are too old to breed again – what do you think? c

      • I would imagine so. I was in a beautiful old market yesterday admiring the Galician beef. It was sitting next to some Wagu and the marbling was identical.

  24. I just lost a horse a week and a half ago to EPM which is a disease they get from opossums in America. He was my daughters horse and was her world. His death has crushed my whole family. Needles to say, I’m not too fond of opossums right now. I’m not sure if NZ opossums carry the disease or if cows can get it, but it might be something to look into if you have one in your barn near any hay you feed the cows.

  25. I did not know that opossums killed chickens until about ten years ago. It took us several days to figure out what was going on – my mother-in-law came to us saying she was missing about ten hens and had no idea what was going on! Finally I discovered a opossum eating a hen in the chicken pen early in the morning (just at daylight). By the time I went after Forrest (the ranch gun man), it had vanished. The next day I was ready. Sure enough, she was just going IN the barn through a broken window, so I went inside and she backed out, running off as I exited the barn. I boarded up the window and as I turned to head back out, I caught a whiff of something dead. There in another corner were the carcasses of I don’t know how many hens. The opossum been feasting for weeks probably! The next morning I was up early, and in the dim morning light, there she was again headed from the woods to the chicken barn. She looked odd I thought… striped almost. Forrest and I do not like to kill anything, but most any animal, once it knows it can get a free kill on the farm, it will return again and again. Well, Forrest did the deed and went off to work while I offered to dispose of the body. I was horrified to discover the “stripes” were six babies hanging on mama. The little ones scrammed as soon as I approached so maybe they were old enough to be on their own. I hope so. I can tell you that has bothered me all of these years.

  26. Gosh is that really a possum 😉 I’m thankful that our possums aren’t remotely interested in the chickens .. be a real problem if they were!

  27. We used to have possums sit on our porch and eat slugs like they were candy bars. They aren’t so scary. Their only real defense is hissing and playing dead. Plus they eat loads of ticks. Of course, they will kill chickens if they can. And ducks, too.

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