Opossum Night-Hunting: Fall Veggie Share Week #4 – 11/15/23

 In CSA Newsletter

Opossum Night-Hunting

I’m in my pajamas. I’ve just finished a couple episodes of the Bear. Teeth brushing is occurring. The dog has been let out. I’ve turned the thermostat down. It’s full on getting ready for bed mode at my house. 

Then the barking. SO much barking.

Pepper sometimes gets excited about far away movements and sounds and can get barky at night, but right away I could tell this was different.

There was a whine and a yipping mixed in and I knew right away he had found something.

I throw on my tennis shoes, a coat, and grab my headlamp. The night air is cold, the stars absolutely stunning, and I can feel the frost crispy under my shoes.

Pepper is going crazy by the chicken coop. He has treed an opossum in the non-pruned apple tree. He is yipping, whining, barking, jumping. If he could climb trees, he certainly would have.

I sigh. I have a great respect for most creatures (not withstanding the mosquito), and I immediately know that success in this situation means a dead opossum. Farmers sometimes have to make crappy choices like these. I’ve seen what opossums do to layer hens. Not pretty.

The opossum is a cool creature. Its pink paws are quite dextrous and grabby. Their prehensile tails, while scaly and creepy in some ways, are always very cool in the way they can hang and balance with them. They are omnivorous and have long muzzles that enable a great sense of smell to find the fruit, insects, and small creatures that they eat.

Once I finish accepting what I need to do next, I start doing. My plan is to shake the rodent out of the tree and let Pepper do the rest.

So there I am in my pjs, with a push broom, shoving myself and my broom up into the bare tangle of branches to try and push the opossum out of the tree. Its paws and tail are a formidable match, but eventually I dislodge him from the tree and Pepper expertly attacks.

The opossum then does what they are best known for, it plays dead. Though this is actually a misnomer because they don’t have any active control over this behavior. It is an involuntary physiological reaction to high stress called “tonic immobility”. Basically the animal goes into a state of shock and it can take up to 4 hours for it to recover and gain mobility again.

The opossum state of shock tricks Pepper. He doesn’t give it a death shake. Thinking his job is done, he just leaves the opossum in the grass. I know it’s not dead. I can see its body moving up and down as it breathes slowly. What ensues is a somewhat comical exchange between two animals. I keep giving Pepper the command to kill it. He keeps trying to oblige.. he mouths the animal and then just sets it back down and looks at me, like – hey it’s already dead.

This goes on for about five minutes. Pepper gets bored and starts eating a rotting squash that the chickens didn’t finish that afternoon. I sigh again. I realize that I am the one who is going to have to finish this job.

Shovel time. Ugh. I will spare you the details. My 5 laying hens are still alive this morning, and for this I am grateful. As I disposed the opossum body, I felt respect for the animal and sadness at its fate. Sometimes for one thing to live, another dies. Tis the way of the natural world.

Farmer Cassie