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*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Archive for the ‘Chronicle’ Category

Getting Away

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We have made a quick change of scene, which comes at a convenient time to allow our minds to stray from the heavy angst associated with Wednesday’s violent upheaval in all things chicken-related.

Yesterday, Cyndie’s mom drove out to our place and the moment I arrived home from work, the three of us packed up Marie’s car and headed up to the lake.

We picked up a take-n-bake pizza from Coop’s that tasted more scrumptious than ever and turned on the replay of the 17th stage of the Tour de France on the satellite TV.

It served as a balm for my wounded psyche.

Festivities for today involve a visit from special guests. The Wilkuses are flying to the Hayward airport from their cabin near Grand Rapids, MN. How fun is that?!

Primary objective: Swim in the lake. Followed closely by eating too much fun food, gabbing away for hours on end, and probably one more dip in the lake, just because it’s there.

We’ll try to pretend this getaway keeps us from thinking about the loss of almost all of our chickens.

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Written by johnwhays

July 16, 2021 at 6:00 am

Beyond Control

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The lesson I am being given the opportunity to absorb this week involves the concept of accepting things that are beyond my control. I can lure a raccoon to my trap but I can’t force it to step inside.

That’s one version. There is another that is having a much greater impact on my sensibilities. We just learned that the 20-acre plot adjacent to ours along the northern length was sold by foreclosure this month.

So many questions. How come we failed to discover anything about the situation in advance?

I have subsequently stumbled onto a document that reveals the judgment of foreclosure was entered in early April. The notice of foreclosure sale was drafted in May. The public auction sale at the front entrance of the Pierce County Courthouse was scheduled for July 6th at 9:00 a.m.

Did the property sell?

Who might the new owner(s) be?

Might they plan to build a home on the otherwise forested and cultivated acres?

Could we be at risk of losing our precious natural forest boundary that provides a priceless level of privacy?

I have half-seriously pondered many times how special it would be to purchase the forested acres that surround our rectangle of land on two sides, but never imagined it would be feasible.

To find out now that there was an opportunity I failed to notice is something of a gut punch.

If it was purchased successfully, what happens next is largely out of my control.

I’ll imagine that the new owners will strive to drive off the fox that we think lives in those woods and will be prudent about controlling the raccoon population that probably includes the smart one who seems to know all too well to not fall for my baiting tricks.

If they decide to build a house, I will visualize it being located up on the high ground where I’m sure the cultivated fields offer many prime options. That would be well out of sight from our house so that we wouldn’t be a bother to them, you know.

I plan to do more sleuthing to learn if the sale was recorded, and when/where details were, or will be, made public.

I have no idea what the lag time might be for land record details to be posted online, but nothing new is currently showing at the online land records portal on the county web site.

Meanwhile, a third thing that is now painfully obvious for being out of my control is wild predation on our attempts to free range chickens. I do believe, certainly based on our opinions as of last night, we are done trying. Around dinner time, we lost 22 of our 25 birds.

Sorry, David.

Since Cyndie said this time she has had it for good, I suggested we give you the three survivors.

She said, “They won’t last that long.”

I can’t argue with that assessment.

She did say that you can take our bags of chicken feed, variety of feeders, and multiple waterers.

I’ve seen her change her mind before, but this time I am ready to lobby strongly that she not start over another time.

However, history reveals this as another thing that is beyond my control: Countering her amazing ability to recover enough to regain her glimmer of hope after the immediate pain of the loss eventually eases.

For now, it feels like neither of us wants to repeat this highly unsettling routine one more time.

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Trapping Failures

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I thought it would be easy. We watched for a couple of weeks while a pest company trapped eleven raccoons just beyond the net fencing around our chicken coop. I monitored the location with my trail camera and was present to witness how they baited their traps. We provided our trap for their use to increase the chances and it snagged at least one of the eleven, so I know it works.

Since that time, there have been more occasions when it didn’t trip than when it did. One time, a wandering cat cleaned up all the bait without pulling the trigger on the hatch.

Two nights in a row, we overlooked turning the camera back on, losing the chance to see who has been stopping by. Well, one of those nights this cat did trip the latch and got itself trapped, but I didn’t get to see when, or how, or whether any other critters came along before or after.

On Sunday night there wasn’t a single overnight event to trigger the camera. Seems strange to me, except that it successfully captured two pictures of me closing the coop just after I turned it on for the night. After that, nothing.

Yesterday morning, Cyndie reported evidence of lots of shenanigans around the coop overnight. When I got home from work and checked the memory card, there were 83 images throughout the night. The adult and juvenile raccoon were back after days of not seeing them.

Unfortunately, I had not set out the trap for them. It had been relocated to the hay shed where a woodchuck/groundhog has been making daily appearances.

It’s a lot like a game of Whack-a-Mole.

But if I didn’t have any trapping failures, it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding when we finally do enjoy a little random success.

Meanwhile, we heard a lone coyote howling just after sunset the other night.

Aahhh, country life.

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Written by johnwhays

July 14, 2021 at 6:00 am

Perfect Execution

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After feeding horses and before heading in for our dinner last night, we spent a little time mingling with the chickens as they foraged the shaded grass between their coop and the barn. Cyndie brought out some chicken treats and worked an exercise of calling for them to come to her as she offers to feed them from her hand.

They haven’t received as much of this training as earlier batches we have raised, and it shows. The reactions were delayed and there was a noticeable lack of total buy-in from the group as a whole. With a bit more practice, it won’t be long until Cyndie frequently finds herself with a trail of birds following behind her as she strolls anywhere near where they happen to be hanging out.

While we were lounging in their presence, practicing trying to account for them by breed as a method of quickly identifying if anyone is missing, we enjoyed the thrill of witnessing a perfectly executed emergency response drill.

Maybe it wasn’t even a drill, but we weren’t able to scope out a possible threat they sensed.

At the sound of one unique call, without hesitation, the twenty-some mix of pullets and cockerels made a mass exodus from the open mowed grass into the thick cover of growth just to the right in the image below.

One second they were all roaming around in the open and in a flash they became instantly invisible.

It is a fascinating thing to watch. We wondered which one made the call, as it wasn’t obvious to us, but whatever was said, it made an immediate impression on all of them.

Probably half a minute later, one bold girl wandered out to reclaim the spot she previously held, and soon after the rest did the same as if nothing had happened.

It all echoed nicely the practice we’ve witnessed many times with horses where they execute an alarming rush to escape the immediate vicinity and a minute later go back to grazing as calmly as ever.

I’m happy our chickens are demonstrating this skill so well, given they are going to need it for the balance of their free-ranging days with us.

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Written by johnwhays

July 13, 2021 at 6:00 am

Trouble Starting

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Despite the ongoing dry state of our soil, we’ve got areas of grass that well deserved to be mowed over the weekend, but I never got the chance. The ol’ Craftsman lawn tractor wouldn’t start. Actually, it tried to start several times until it stopped rotating the flywheel and just made a whiny sound. That set off days of trial and error troubleshooting. I thought it was the solenoid, but I was wrong. Then I wondered if it had something to do with the battery. That didn’t appear to be the case.

Next, I wondered if the Kohler engine might be seized, because I couldn’t move it. Then I removed the starter and discovered the engine wasn’t seized. The starter seemed okay, so I mounted it back in place, and lo and behold, the engine spun again. Twice, in fact, before it resumed doing nothing but whining.

Now I have a replacement starter on order.

Since I couldn’t mow with the tractor, I switched to the Stihl power trimmer and headed for the labyrinth.

Once again, we are finding that the earth is slowly swallowing the stones we placed to mark the pathway. Even with the ground hard and dry, the rocks seem to settle ever-deeper, and the grass gladly works its way to cover their edges, pushing them down even more.

The horses are doing their part to keep the paddock grass beautifully mowed.

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It crossed my mind that I could use their expertise on the runaway growth of grass between the barn and the chicken coop while the mower is waiting for its starter.

In the amount of time it would require to install temporary fencing around that area, I could take care of things using the power trimmer. If the ordered part doesn’t arrive on the day advertised, I just might do that.

The starter will be here about the same time the weather is predicted to possibly bring rain. It’s frustrating because we really need the rain, but, at the same time, I really want to get the grass cut.

I may not have trouble starting, at that point, but I just might run into trouble finishing.

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Written by johnwhays

July 12, 2021 at 6:00 am

Morning Discoveries

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As we came around the bend of the back pasture perimeter and walked past the chicken coop, the early sunlight revealed a surprising number of little webs in the grass toward the barn.

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Was there a recent hatch? This wasn’t a normal everyday sight in our experience. These little funnel webs, likely the work of a grass spider, each are the work of separate spiders.

This is the same grass that I gladly lay down on to stare at the clouds or hang out with our animals. Gives me second thoughts about doing so.

Maybe the chickens will find the spiders to be a delicacy. Our birds made an early appearance to the compost area this morning but seemed much more enthralled with the untended cover area around the edges than with the piles themselves.

They must be almost overwhelmed with such an amazing amount of choices for their scavenging compared to the scoured and cracking dry dirt that remains in their fenced courtyard space around the coop now. They look almost confused over whether they should nibble on the green leaves at head height everywhere around them or scratch the ground and hunt for movement or just chomp on the clouds of flying insects hovering around manure.

Both the chickens and I couldn’t be happier with the current state of free-ranging life they are discovering this morning.

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Written by johnwhays

July 11, 2021 at 9:41 am

They’re Free!

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We opened the fencing of the coop courtyards to the big wide world yesterday and the chickens slowly, but surely, began expanding their perimeter. It started with an initial surge seeking the wealth of green grass just beyond the fencing.

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They have completely decimated the grounds of their confinement. Scorched earth. It made the growth surrounding them appear incredibly lush and particularly enticing. Eventually, they calmed down a bit and began scratching and leaping after the bugs that come along with the healthy greenery suddenly available.

While I was sitting with them, the initial sounds of a cockerel learning to crow arose from within the coop. The only thing I know for sure is that it wasn’t our long-ago identified Buffalo Bill, as he was out with me. The birds have become difficult to tell apart and with twenty-five in constant motion, hard to count.

I couldn’t tell who was missing.

This morning, a group of them discovered the mother lode.

As I shaped the three compost piles yesterday to maximize the processing, it occurred to me that my control over the piles was about to end. From past experience, I know that the chickens are able to destroy the structures I build up faster than I can maintain them.

It’s a minuscule gripe, as they are busy doing precisely what I want them around to do: control flies. I can live with the mess.

Now begins the ongoing challenge of our birds avoiding the random daytime threats of marauding predators. We can keep them safe in their coop at night, but we don’t have control over all of the critters that occasionally switch their hunting from the dark of night to broad daylight.

They are free, but for the game of life and death, it’s game on from here on out.

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Written by johnwhays

July 10, 2021 at 9:12 am

Winning Cups

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I watched the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup by defeating the Montreal Canadians on Wednesday night. The television broadcast included some post-game celebrations and interviews with winning players. It included the typical reaction of, “I don’t have words to describe the feeling.”

The mostly bearded and predominantly burly men were hugging with passion and obviously over the moon with joy.

They won the Stanley Cup.

“We worked so hard for this.”

Yeah, I’m sure they did. Surviving a season of games and all the playoffs in the NHL is quite a feat. It’s in the realm of racing a bicycle for 21 days in France or climbing in the death zone to reach the top of Everest.

Heroic efforts like those bring the ultimate rewards that participants struggle to describe.

On Thursday morning, while I was grunting and sweating through my daily exercises for core strength, the thought occurred to me that I work really hard on this but I don’t get a cup.

The rest of us work really hard at our jobs every day. We labor through getting errands done, bills paid, mouths fed. We sweat and ache, we race, we problem solve, we fix broken things, and do the laundry. Sometimes it feels like there is not enough air to breathe.

But we don’t suddenly win and then take a few months off. No trophies, no podiums, no mountain tops. Day after day we get up and fight our battles without an end in sight.

Maybe that is why I like to watch sports. I live vicariously through the athletic accomplishments of others. This line of thinking has given me a new understanding of the people who buy lottery tickets. It becomes their shot at winning the cup. Otherwise, it’s just the daily grind with no end in sight.

I work hard. I’d kinda like to have a Stanley Cup moment like those guys.

Wouldn’t we all?

Now get back to work. It’s another day of doing what all the rest of us do every day.

We can watch trophy celebrations on tv later.

 

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Written by johnwhays

July 9, 2021 at 6:00 am

Guessing Game

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With our fields all freshly cut for hay, we have been inviting the horses out to graze in the pasture again. They have shown much less interest than I expected to see. I think they know how dry it all is and find it no better than what is available closer to the water and their preferred territory inside the paddocks.

Last night, Cyndie and I walked out into the back pasture to see if they would join us. Mia eventually made her way into the round pen.

Swings and Mix followed along after a bit, Swings stepping inside and Mix choosing to circle around outside.

Light chose to stay back under the overhang until much later. After we had exited the pasture and moved our focus to the chickens, Light showed up to graze just inside the pasture, parallel to the coop.

Can you tell the difference between the older Buffalo Gals and the younger Rockettes?

It’s difficult to tell unless we focus on the breed. Of course, with the mixed results of the chicks we hatched that Rocky the New Hampshire Red fertilized, the breeds are not entirely obvious. It’s still not obvious which of the Rockettes are roosters in hiding.

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Those two faces are looking much more rooster-like than the rest of the young ones, but they aren’t visibly bigger yet and their legs don’t stand out as distinctly thicker/longer.

With 25 birds constantly in motion, it’s hard to keep track of which one is which. I’m pretty sure I’ve counted the same one twice every time I’ve tried since we merged the two groups. Until the size becomes obvious or they grow rooster tails, it’s pretty much a guessing game about the ultimate outcome of our hatched chicks.

One thing is for sure, though. None of them look like chicks anymore.

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Written by johnwhays

July 8, 2021 at 6:00 am

Returned Home

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Traffic from the holiday weekend added about 40-minutes to our drive home from the lake. The usual intersections that tend to cause backups were significantly more backed up due to the increased volume. Other than those choke points, we rolled along reasonably well.

The highlight sight when we reached our driveway was the view of our fields freshly cut and dotted with multiple round bales of hay. We’d gone from telling our renter that the fields wouldn’t be available because we planned to let the horses graze them, to asking him to do us the favor of cutting them because the horses didn’t eat as much grass as anticipated.

The chickens have grown enough over the weekend that an unknowing eye wouldn’t be able to see a difference in age. At the same time, I am not ready to claim it obvious which of the Rockettes are going to be roosters.

Upon our return, I finally was able to unpack my travel gear from the bike trip, the weekend memorial for Cyndie’s dad, and the following weekend of 4th of July events. I am ready to be home for more than just a brief visit.

I still feel as though I have yet to process the joys of bicycling and camping with fellow adventurers back in the middle of June, let alone the whirlwind of happenings since.

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I met some wonderful new people who richly enhanced cherished moments when I was able to reconnect with precious riding friends from previous years. It was a little disorienting to depart the ride a couple of days early, but I am clinging to my memories of the notable times I shared conversation with several special people and the many laughs with groups of others achieved before I had to make my early exit.

One particular extended climb stands out for me among the many we faced because it forced me to stop partway to take a break and shortly thereafter had me walking my bike at the steepest incline. I’m afraid I no longer have the lung capacity to feed the needs of my leg muscles to endure hill-climbing like I used to.

Luckily, cleaning up horse manure in our paddocks doesn’t involve hill-climbing of any significance. I can do that all day, and after being away for another weekend, there is about a day’s worth available for the scooping. I am at another transition point where it is very possible the bike will be hung up for the rest of the summer while my time pursuits will be focused on projects on our property and up at the lake that don’t require pedaling.

One thing I’d like to accomplish is to convert some of the old deck boards into a small covered firewood storage rack for the lake place. I’m looking forward to being home again for a few weeks and resuming the rhythms of my usual routine. Hopefully, it can lead to time for a little extra-curricular carpentry.

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Written by johnwhays

July 6, 2021 at 6:00 am