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An impromptu raccoon hunt is just another day on the farm

Jenny Schlecht explains how a "where are you" call led to an evening of protecting barn cats and hunting raccoons.

The head of an orange cat from the back is visible in the foreground, while raccoons are dead on the ground of the chicken coop in the background.
A curious cat inspects recently vanquished raccoons in an old chicken coop.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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"Where are you?"

When my husband calls and asks me that question, it's almost never for a pleasant reason. It's not, "Where are you? I've got supper ready." Or, "Where are you? I want you to see how I cleaned the house."

Instead, it's, "Where are you? The cows are out, and I could use a hand." Or, "Where are you? I need you to throw on your coveralls and help me sort off this cow." Or, "Where are you? I got too close to the slough and need you to pull me out."

This particular "where are you" came as my daughters and I were en route from Montana to home after Thanksgiving. It was Sunday evening, and our plans up to that call were to unload the car from our travels, make a pizza and get ready to face a new week.

I answered the question somewhat warily, that we were on the gravel roads very near home. I knew from conversations throughout the day that one thing after another had gone wrong on the farm, from morning until that point.

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The explanation of the "where are you" came then. It turned out that after a long day of everything going slightly wrong, my husband had tried to round up the herd of spoiled barn cats we keep around. We lock them up for the evening in an old chicken coop so they are warm and safe from predators and have an opportunity to eat cat food without the interference of our dog.

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The job takes about five minutes and is usually completed by our daughters. But this time, he noticed cats would run to their home, then stand at the door and hiss before turning and running off. It tipped him off that an intruder — or intruders, as it would turn out — were in the coop.

There were, he explained, three big raccoons in the coop. He wanted to shoot them, but cats — living up to their curious reputations — kept sneaking up to see what he was doing. He was afraid of a cat jumping in the way of a bullet meant for a raccoon or of an injured raccoon killing one of the beloved felines.

So, instead of a leisurely evening of pizza, we parked the car and jumped out, just a few minutes after the call. My younger daughter stayed in the house and occupied the youngest of the cats, a group of large kittens who are hard to contain. My older daughter stayed outside and tried to keep the rest of the cats busy with some food away from the raccoon hunt.

I joined my husband at the coop, alternating between holding open the door, holding a flashlight and grabbing cats that had escaped our daughter's grasp.

In the end, we defeated the raccoons. The cats could return to their home, and we finally got our pizza.

I relayed the story the next day to co-workers, one of whom has lived only in cities. She laughed and said something to the effect that she just will never understand my life.

It is true that our lives on the farms are never boring. Something always happens that was unexpected or even unimaginable. There's always something to do or something to fix or something to ponder.

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It's also true that it's not the life for everyone. Some people don't enjoy the unpredictability. They don't want to get a call on a dark Sunday evening about raccoons or cows out or tractors not starting.

But the least those of us who live this life can say is, at least we'll always have a story to tell.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.

Opinion by Jenny Schlecht
Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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