Sandy Holsonback: Catching the varmit | Free Share

This is an opinion column.

Growing up, all three of my kids liked eggs any way I cooked them, and they loved all kinds of animals. So having a chicken coop in the backyard was a must for us.

Our flock of hens varied from year to year, but our favorite breeds were the Rhode Island Reds and Dominiques. We liked their beautiful colored feathers as well as their gentle misdemeanor. Whenever we needed to add to our brood, we made a trip to my Uncle Raymond’s house in Hulaco, out past Arab. He had a large assortment of birds and sold the baby chicks to friends and family.

We took good care of our hens… they had a comfortable coop on the cool side of our barn and had plenty of laying mash and foliage to eat as well as a pone of cornbread I cooked them every night. I usually handled the task of feeding them daily, but the kids had the chore each morning of gathering the assortment of brown eggs.

One morning just a few seconds after Jake and Katie went out to the barn, they came barreling across the yard, screaming at the top of their lungs. My first thought was that they had discovered a snake in the hen house…we had recently killed two slivery thieves who were stealing our eggs.

I walked out on the back porch, picking up a hoe, when the kids cried, “They’re dead, Momma! Come look.”

I was in shock and thought surely they were wrong as I followed them back to the barn. I stood in disbelief in the door of our coop and shook my head. Just the night before, we had 12 beautiful, healthy birds and now 10 of them lay in the dirt, flat as pancakes. The two still alive were huddled together on the roost, squawking and clucking loudly as if trying to tell me what had happened to the rest of their brood.

Whatever varmint that had invaded our barn hadn’t stolen the hens or ate them…it had just done something to them that made them look as if an 18-wheeler had run across and flattened them.

We buried them in the back pasture and then went to visit Uncle Raymond. I told him what had happened and asked his opinion. “A weasel,” he said. “They will sneak in there in the dark of the night and suck the blood right out of a hen but usually won’t eat it.”

All the way home, the kids agreed it was more than likely a blood-sucking vampire because they had never seen a weasel on our property. I had faith in my uncle’s wisdom and trusted his theory.

Later that evening, we put the two remaining hens in a small cage and placed them safely up on the roost. They were going to be our bait. I found a partial hole dug out on the far side of the barn and figured that’s where the critter came in the night before. I set a steel trap in that shallow spot and went to bed confident I’d catch the varmint.

Early the next morning, even before the sun broke the horizon, we all raced to the barn. The clucking of our two surviving flock was a welcoming sound when we opened the door… at least we still had them. My flashlight was dim as I knelt down to check the trap but I could see a small, furry leg caught in the steel jaws. It was still alive…trying its best to dig out the way it had come in.

The kids surrounded me to get a better look and suddenly we got an early morning shower from Pepe Le Pew himself! The varmint in our hen house wasn’t a weasel or a vampire… it was skunk!!

We buried that rascal in a deep grave in the back of the pasture along with those last two hens who mysteriously died that morning as well…I’m assuming from the lethal fumes. We also tossed in our clothes and shoes because there was no tide in the world that could have removed that smell.

I called Uncle Raymond to tell him he was wrong about the weasel. He just laughed and laughed. “Is that what I said it was? I meant to say it was probably a skunk.” Apparently, I had encountered two varmints that morning!

Still wearing my loud perfume, I went to the local co-cop and bought our next batch of chickens.

Sandy Holsonback in a guest columnist for The Reporter.

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