Late night visitors, or The attack of the coyotes

A little after midnight, both dogs leap at the window, growling furiously.  For a moment, I think Hunter (the lab mix) is going to go right through the glass.  I run to the kitchen to open the door and let them out before even checking to see what they are so upset about.

[Missing picture here]

Wait.  Back up a bit.  It’s Friday evening and I come home to discover the chickens missing.  I look around with the flashlight and see no evidence of predators and start looking around the coop, in bushes and in trees.

Here, chickee chickee.  Here, chickee chickee.

Two appear from under the coop which I quickly catch and lock inside.  Kneeling down with a flashlight, I can see the feet of the other two, but they aren’t budging.

Do you know how many things there are out here that would love chicken for dinner?

Reasoning with them doesn’t work.  Even as I list the predators for them.

Weasels, mink, raccoons, foxes, dogs, coyotes, bobcats, cougars . . . and you know, I’m not so sure that the tracks all over around this coop aren’t bobcat.  You may have taken over her old home, you know.

They coo at my voice, but refuse to move.  I give up on catching them, but not on getting them through the night alive.  So I bring the dogs down and walk them around the coop several times.  The plan is to let the dogs out every time they bark, following with a flashlight.  They’re pretty much allowed out anytime they want, anyway, but now the stakes are a little higher.  We’ve only been here for a week, and all evidence suggests that the wild things that lived here before us have not yet ceded their territory.

Fast forward several hours.  They’ve already been out twice, chasing who knows what.  Maybe just barking for the pure joy of it for all I know, but if there is any chance of them getting to the chickens before something that would actually do them harm, I don’t mind.  Hunter is lunging at the window and I’m grabbing my jacket as my daughter says,

There’s something out there, mom.  I see something like a dog.

The dogs race to the door and push past me as they round the corner and take on the intruder at a full run.  Make that intruders.  Hunter is immediately on the heels of one coyote, chasing him across the road, across a cornfield, across another road and I finally lose him in a line of trees.  Copper is doing his best to keep up as the rest of the pack disperses.

Yes, pack.  A whole pack of coyotes (at least ten by my daughter’s count) had been lounging in my front yard only moments before.  Mouse watched them lope up to the yard, not twenty feet from the window.  Some sat and stared back at her, some sniffed around, some even lay down.  None were in the least concerned about us or the dogs lunging at the window.

Until they were released.

I heard Copper’s trail call every few minutes, each time further off in the distance.  I grew concerned at just how far they were running.  And while Hunter may give a single coyote a bit of a challenge, he is no match for a pack.  Not to mention the little beagle.  When would the coyotes decide they were on their own turf and ready to fight for it?  Once I could no longer hear the barking, my anxiety grew.  These coyotes were bold, unlike the ones I am familiar with from other places we have lived.  If it weren’t for the night time yipping, I’d never have known any were present at all.

But this pack was lounging in my yard, in the open and nowhere near cover.  When my daughter looked at them through the window, they just looked back.

Finally, Hunter comes trotting up our road, tail held high as he keeps pausing and looking behind him.  He is significantly faster than Copper, but he rarely goes far without him.  Copper, however, doesn’t appear.  Hunter trots to the top of the hill, turns and waits.  I haven’t heard Copper’s bugle in some time, but Hunter begins to prance and lowers his head in a play bow.  Out from behind a snow drift comes those flopping little beagle ears and both dogs bound to me, overwhelming me with affection.

They are keyed up, and unharmed.  They bear no evidence of anything but a hard run.  But they are excited.  Copper comes in with an energy that seems to set everything around him abuzz.  For the rest of the night, he alerts to everything, even the sound of the heater kicking on.  He is tracker dog extraordinaire.  After all, that little beagle just took on a pack of coyotes and won.

And the chickens made it through the night.  And I . . . well . . . I awoke with a little greater appreciation for the role of the family dog out here where he has a job to do, as well as for the wild things all around us.  There are all kinds of things I know are out here, passing through our property on their nightly hunts.  I know it even without the tell tale tracks in the snow.  But it is different to know something, or even to see evidence of something, than it is to see it for yourself, to confront it and to drive it back.

I think about them sometimes during the day, the coyotes which contribute to significant livestock losses out here, as well as the cougars which seem almost a thing of myth.  Everyone talks about them, and sightings, though rarely confirmed, occupy more than a few conversations over coffee.  Then one gets hit on I-80 in Gretna and you know.  You know. It isn’t just talk, like a rural version of the urban legend.  Because there is no way mountain lions are strolling along I-80 if they are not experiencing population pressure out here.

Sometimes the hair on the back of my neck goes up in the evening as I lock up the chickens.  It is almost as if I can feel something watching me from just beyond the shadows.  Hunter’s low growl as he presses himself protectively against my leg and watches the hedge on the property line makes me hold my feed bucket a little more like a weapon, but I stop to stare into the darkness.  Because these wild things that lurk in the shadows were as much a part of why I wanted to move out here as the ability to raise the chickens and goats I will have to work so diligently to protect from them.

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13 Responses

  1. Wow, how exciting and scary. A definite eye opener and poignant reminder that moving out to the country isn’t all peace and serenity.

  2. There are two times a day that we won’t let the dog out when he hears something: dawn and dusk, because of coyotes. He is not match for a pack and we don’t want to lose him. But he gives us enough warning to allow my husband to grab his pellet gun if need be. Most times he is growling or barking to chase after a darn rabbit or squirrel, and occasionally a mere lizard 🙂

  3. Reminds me of Little House in the Big Woods, when Ma patted the bear in the cow’s pen. 🙂 Their dog was also a little one, and also fiercely loyal and protective.

    The role of pets as useful animals is often put to the wayside in a society where most people live in the city. In my opinion, the greatest crime against dogs, as pets, is when they are stuck in strollers and pushed around the neighborhood. They need to be allowed to be dogs at least some of the time.

    I’m glad that yours had the chance to show his stuff, and protect his people.
    .-= Kristina´s last blog ..Too Much Harry Potter =-.

  4. They certainly are proud of themselves! I’ve been a little more conscientious about nighttime outings since, keeping them leashed. I don’t think even a pack will take on two dogs and a crazy lady with a pot in our yard, but I fear if the dogs chase them far enough into their own territory, eventually the coyotes will turn and fight. Like maybe in a month or so when they start having pups.
    .-= Dana´s last blog ..Late night visitors, or The attack of the coyotes =-.

  5. Wow; your dogs are awesome! I’d be wary for them also, like you said. I’d love a little homestead with chickens & goats someday, but that’s a bit *too* much nature for me LOL!

    My kiddos loved this story!

  6. Enjoyed your post!

    BTW your blog header photo thing-a-ma-jiggy really confuses me, makes me think you’re in the tropics on an island. Aren’t you inland in the boondocks in a farm type place? We need a photo of your new homeplace!

    1. It’s Ireland, at least in my imagination. 🙂 I actually would like to put up a picture of the property, but I’m not much of a photographer and we’ve been wrapped in fog or snow ever since we moved in. Maybe after the spring thaw.
      .-= Dana´s last blog ..The joy of morning chores =-.

  7. We have foxes. My husband went out one night and disturbed them, and they ran up our apple tree. Until that night, I never knew foxes could (and do) climb trees. We also see them occasionally when we come in the drive at night.

    The raccoons stay at a respectful distance, and though we do hear coyotes, we have never had them close, to my knowledge. There was a black bear sighting last summer, and the neighbors will call when they see an occasional cougar.

    I sometimes get that feeling of something lurking also, and can almost imagine the disappointment when we get our chickens locked up in time each night.

  8. Wow, that is amazing and scary all at the same time. An amazing sight to see, but I would be terrified for my dogs to go after an entire pack. We had a fox cross through our yard last week and thought that was cool. Lived here in the woods for six years and that was a first.
    Blessings
    Diane

  9. I’m so glad I found your site, through the homeschool toolbar no less. We live out in the middle of the woods and I can’t tell you the amount of times we’re awaken by our lab and beagle due to the coyotes nearby. The pack has even been know to wake us through the baby monitor, thankfully we are past the need for those now as it is very creepy to hear those at 3am like they are IN your baby’s room.

    Anyway, so glad I found a fellow rural homeschooling mom. I look forward to reading your future goings on.

    Heather

  10. Oh, I’m so happy to meet you, too, Heather! I can’t even see my neighbor’s house from where we live, so it is nice to have some cyber-neighbors to chat with over tea!

    Diane, I absolutely love foxes. We had a fox den up the road from where we used to live and I loved watching the kits play on the hillside when we drove by. They were so unconcerned about the cars, but if you slowed down or rolled down a window, they disappeared immediately.

    Sinclair, I’m yet to see a single raccoon. I’ve seen some as roadkill, but no closer than two miles from us. I haven’t even seen their little hand prints in the snow. I’m sort of wondering if the strong coyote presence isn’t keeping them a little further off?

  11. Christine, as soon as I have a decent picture, I’ll update it. 🙂 Maybe in Spring if I can get hubby to climb on the roof to take some pictures.

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