Dec 18, 2008

Mystery Solved!

For several weeks now we've been stumped by not only what has been getting into the feed in the barn but also how it's been getting into the building in the first place. At first, the feed lids on the large rubbermaid containers would be moved a bit and, naturally, there was much dissention among the ranks as to who forgot to close the bins, thus leaving the feed open to hungry mice. Then we made sure the bins were securely closed at night yet in the morning found chew marks near the handles on them, holes that finally grew large enough for a small mammal to breach the closed container and then the holes grew even larger still. David went out and bought all new metal bins, which weren't cheap, but as wood and plastic are chewable (though I can't imagine either would taste very good) and metal isn't, we figured that this would stop the grain thief (or thieves) in its tracks. It didn't. All it did was anger the animal who had been feasting by night at our expense and who now had its very generous food supply suddenly cut off.

With the metal lids tightly locked down, we'd close everything up for the night only to find, come morning, that the lids were hanging off and something had eaten a great deal of the grain. This precipitated the need for heavy industrial oven bricks placed on top of the tightly closed lids. This didn't work either: the bricks would be pushed to the floor, the lids unlocked and opened, and much feed missing. Two bricks clearly only slowed the animal down a little as both bricks would be shoved aside and the metal bin opened once again. And in a show of utter rage at the amount of work needed to finally reach its dinner, the lids had been tossed clear across the room. Three bricks on top: nearly 15lbs in total weight was what it finally took to keep the hungry thief out of the bins and from the more easily breached one: a chain saw in its carrying case placed on top as well.

And how the hell was it getting in the building? We couldn't find the spot, though we looked and looked.

So we had been speculating as to who the diner(s) might be. Mice were ruled out after the first round of holes grew bigger than a mouse would need for climbing into the feed, and most certainly when it came to opening the lids as they're just too tiny and without strength. Squirrels are smart enough to open the latches on the bins but most likely not strong enough to have moved nearly 10lbs in weight before getting to those handles to unlatch the lids and I certainly wouldn't think a squirrel would have been able to toss those same lids away at such a distance. The general consensus was that it was our chatty raccoon neighbors we hear ambling about the yard in the wee hours or our old friend, Mr. Your-Food-Is-My-Food-And-I'm-Damn-Hungry Woodchuck (remember him?). These two particular little fiends would have not only the intelligence to repeatedly foil our attempts to secure the feed, but the body weight and the dexterity to move heavy objects in such a deliberate way.

This afternoon Griffin was out there cleaning the barn and feeding the poultry and when he opened the feed area, there it was, frantically trying to push the bricks off the top of a bin: the biggest, fattest squirrel he had ever seen. He estimated it had to go at least 10lbs, very likely even more. It was simply enormous. The squirrel was, of course, instantly startled by the sudden appearance of a human and took off in the other direction towards the back of the room. Griffin followed it and then went outside and around the back to where the portly rodent had gone and sure enough, up under the flashing near the roof, the squirrel had pulled the siding down (but not off), giving it a large door through which to enter and leave, but was virtually undetectable to the naked eye as the siding flapped back down as soon as the chunky one had squeezed back through. Griffin didn't have his camera with him, but he did manage to get some grainy footage on his cell phone of the Large One making his escape. That is one fat squirrel.

It is our belief that the squirrel started out a fairly normal size as none of us had noticed any particularly corpulent rodents on our property, but then as he ate more and more and got fatter and fatter, he needed to chew bigger holes to get in, thus the first bin holes growing in size gradually over the course of a couple of weeks. As he grew bigger, he also grew stronger, thus the ability to circumvent one obstacle after another placed in his path to stop him from getting into the feed bins. After all, night after night after night he had an all-you-can-eat buffet. He never had to forage, thus getting no exercise at all, instead he simply sat in whatever bins he could open and ate until he was full (and clearly beyond).

To be honest, I never would have guessed that the world's fattest and laziest squirrel was the culprit and I was also secretly hoping for something truly interesting and maybe even a bit exotic to be discovered out there. I don't know about you, but I don't consider a morbidly obese squirrel all that interesting. Sad, maybe, but interesting? Not so much.

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