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Carl Wernicke: Oustmarting Raccoons & Getting A Good Night's Sleep


How to get a good night’s sleep seems to be a recurring topic in our hectic, modern society. And with the Baby Boomers aging into growing sleep problems, it’s likely going to be a lucrative medical field as well.

For me, a good night’s sleep starts with my chickens. I’ll explain.

Doing anything new involves a learning curve. In our case, deciding 10 years ago to raise chickens for the eggs was definitely new. And we basically just jumped in after doing a little research. Which is where the learning curve comes in.

What I learned is that every time we made a mistake, we lost a chicken. Or several chickens. I have been told that while I am definitely smarter than the raccoons, foxes, hawks and other predators that like chicken, they have a lot more time. And they use that time to study what we humans do to protect our chickens.

Especially raccoons, which seem to think that most of what humans do is for their benefit. What we did was build a sturdy coop screened with chicken wire. Chicken wire is laced together from strands of galvanized steel, and it seems pretty tough.

But it also rusts fairly quickly outdoors. Raccoons, meanwhile, spend a lot of time every night checking out the chicken coop; once early in our chicken raising career I went out late one night upon hearing alarmed clucks from the coop to discover two raccoons clinging to the wire, well above the ground, hungrily sniffing the chickens. One morning I came out to find the hollowed-out, feathered carcass of a chicken that had come too close to the edge, and had been grabbed by a coon right through the wire. He ripped her head off, and well, you can imagine the rest.

Anyway, the raccoons come out every night to push and pull on the wire, seemingly undiscouraged to find it secure night after night. Eventually they find rusted strands they can break, and if they can make a hole big enough (and they can slip through a surprisingly small hole) they are in, and we lose some chickens.

Now, we like to sleep with the windows open, and the coop in the garden is right outside our bedroom. It didn’t take long for me to become overly sensitized to night noises, making for shallow sleep. Every time an alarm was raised in the coop, I heard it and sprang out of bed. Sometimes I arrived in time to save the chickens, and sometimes I arrived in time to clean up the mess, which is no fun at 2 a.m. And sometimes it was a false alarm.

Finally, upon the advice of smarter people, I replaced all the chicken wire with galvanized hardware cloth, which compared to chicken wire is like steel plate, and lasts a lot longer.

Magically, my sleep improved dramatically. And as I snuggle into the blankets on cold winter nights, I derive great satisfaction from imaging the raccoons’ frustration with this new situation.

So my advice for getting a good night’s sleep? Get some chickens.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.