Opossum

This possum was a previous visitor to the Atyeo house, found in the garage while cleaning out for a wedding. 

I don’t get a lot of uninterrupted sleep these days. My baby girl turned 2 a couple weeks ago, and I love her dearly, but she has never been a good sleeper. If you count my pregnancy and the bladder issues that came with it, it’s been well over two years since I slept through the night.

This is where my mom likes to remind me that I was 4 years old before I routinely slept in my own bed all night. We’re half way there!

On a recent week night, the toddler miraculously slept through her regular midnight wake-up. I was sleeping soundly and would be until she stirred at her usual 5 o’clock hour – would be, if not for the chickens.

We live in central Sioux Falls, a city that allows residents to keep up to six hens. We were early joiners of this backyard movement. After the garden, the chicken coop was one of the first additions to our yard – a perk my husband and I looked forward to as new homeowners.

The chickens have become like pets. They’re entertaining little lawn dinosaurs in addition to providing our daily breakfast. We enjoy giving them vegetable scraps from preparing our dinner and watching them scratch, peck, fluff their feathers for a dust bath and do all those things that silly chickens do.

That is not to say that the birds are trouble-free. Cleaning their coop on steamy, hot summer days is an unpleasant chore. And we spend way more on chicken food than we would on store-bought eggs. But it’s the recent middle-of-the-night fiasco that tops the list.

Squaking from the chicken coop below my bedroom window woke me after 2 a.m. The girls have done this before. They get pushy on the roost and squabble with each other. This time the yelling went on and on. I started to worry that I’d have the new neighbors banging on my door and complaining that our chickens are louder than their dog.

I’d like to start our neighborly relationship with a good impression, so I dragged myself out of bed to see what I could do to set things right on the roost. I grabbed a winter coat, shoved my bare feet in my boots, took a flash light and headed to the back yard. Four of the birds were in their outdoor run, clucking, carrying on and jumping over one another in obvious distress. I lifted the lid to the nesting box to find our smallest hen huddled there in terror.

That’s when I saw it, the dingy fur and the tell-tale rat-like tail of a possum. Our chickens had every right to complain. I wouldn’t want to share my bed with such an ugly creature, either.

With a wave of my flashlight, he moved along. The possum scurried through the coop, under the fence and out of the yard. I haven’t seen him again.

It took some convincing to get the chickens back in their coop. A few I had to herd back into confinement. Other than a few ruffled feathers, they were unharmed, and they eventually settled in for the rest of the night.

My husband slept through the whole ordeal. And the toddler? She was up at 5 a.m., on the dot.

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Janelle is editor of the Tri-State Neighbor, covering South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, northwestern Iowa and northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at jatyeo@tristateneighbor.com or follow on Twitter @JLNeighbor