Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘free range

RS Interview 2

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The Relative Something interview with *The* John W. Hays ventured onto the subject of animals…

RS: Have you appreciated living out in the country during the virus outbreak?

JWH: Immensely!

RS: Why wouldn’t you!

JWH: This month marks 8-years that we’ve been here. The time passes in a blink, yet feels like ancient history when we dredge up memories of our first days back in 2012. We recently looked through pictures of what it was like when we first arrived before we made changes to the landscape and had the paddock fencing installed. The differences seem rather dramatic. We’d totally forgotten how it looked back then.

RS: You prepared the place for horses and now there are none.

JWH: You noticed. We have yet to finish reconciling that. We’ve teased with the idea of hosting rescues during the summer months but so far it’s been just talk. We remain hopeful that it still could happen in the future. I keep imagining the time will come. This place is made for horses. Nothing can replace the precious years we had with our herd of four.

RS: Your place is also made for chickens.

JWH: Well, yeah, them too.

RS: How’s the flock merge progressing?

JWH: Pretty good, I think. We may take the step of removing the barrier dividing the coop this weekend. Cyndie has been letting the pullets and Rocky roam free all day long to deal with the three hens whenever they show up to establish their dominance. As I have pulled in the driveway after work all week, I have spotted the white feathers of the Light Bintrahmas from a distance, moving farther from the coop each day. The rest of them blend in too well with the background to be visible from far away.
Cyndie reported the trespassing pale orange cat was again lingering menacingly close the other day. We are contemplating setting a trap to catch the prowler and turn him or her in to our neighbors, in case any of them want to claim responsibility. Not sure what we’d do if nobody recognizes the troublemaker.

RS: Have you seen any evidence of other predators snooping around?

JWH: Not during daylight. The motion light outside the bedroom comes on a lot at night, so we know the raccoons and deer are wandering around, but our chickens are locked up tight in the safety of the coop at that point. Every day we make it without the free-ranging flock being attacked becomes a little victory. We know the fox, possums, and coyotes are out there. Cyndie also heard the noticeable sound of a hawk the other morning. She left them under the netting with their breakfast for a little longer than usual that day.

RS: Where is your dog all this time?

JWH: Delilah has become accustomed to life on a leash and seems all too happy to spend the majority of her days indoors where she can harass the cat, Pequenita and get underfoot in the kitchen when Cyndie is baking. She displays an untrustworthy curiosity in the chickens and is rarely given an opportunity to be near them. Delilah tends to redirect her Belgian Tervuren Shepherd energy into trying to claw her way through glass windows to get after the taunting squirrels out in the yard acting as if they own the place.
She does welcome any excursion outside for projects where she can pretend to be helping while we work. When the jobs don’t involve gas-powered engines or proximity to chickens, we gladly include her.
In our house, dog and cat are pretty much like rival political parties. They aren’t buyin’ what the other is selling and they tend to profess a different version of reality. We’re never sure who is more guilty of instigating when differences of opinion flare up and hissing ensues.

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Written by johnwhays

October 16, 2020 at 6:00 am

Gettin’ There

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Well, in case you haven’t noticed, today is June 14th. It just so happens, the Tour of Minnesota biking and camping week starts on June 15th. Holy COW, that’s tomorrow! I suppose I better start getting ready to go.

Today is my last day at the day-job before starting this annual biking adventure. After that, it’s a quick stop for some supplies, a rush home to get some grass cut, and then it will be time to start packing.

Tent, check. Sleeping bag, check. Bike, check. Helmet, check. Bike shoes, check. As long as I pack those essentials, I will be functional. The rest is just superfluous accoutrements.

Okay, maybe I’ll bring a camera, and some clothes, a sleeping pad, sunscreen lotion, and ibuprofen. But that’s it. That’s all I need.

Oh, and a toothbrush. Spare shoes. A raincoat. A hat.

I found our old original Foxtail toy. I’m bringing the Foxtail

After dinner yesterday, in order to check off a couple of chores from my pre-departure list, I pulled out the diesel tractor and attached the loader. Cyndie and I transferred three large piles of composted manure to a remote location, to provide plenty of open space in the compost area before I go.

Whenever I was off dumping a full bucket, the chickens would show up to check out what Cyndie was doing. I could see them scamper away each time I returned. Eventually, I paid them a visit on foot to offer my regards.

They are just starting to show hints of what they will look like when they mature and start producing eggs.

As of last night, we still have all twelve birds. This kind of success is what breeds our willingness to keep trying the unencumbered free-range life for them.

After they start getting hunted again, our thoughts will change, I’m sure.

Speaking of them getting hunted… while the world was all caught up in the escapades of the downtown St. Paul raccoon that scaled a 23-story building in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, we had our very own varmint contemplating a climb up the side of our 1-story coop.

I admit, it wasn’t nearly as exciting, but it made for a cool capture on the trail cam.

You can almost read his mind, as he computes the potential reward of maybe gettin’ up there.

I wonder if I should be electrifying the hardware cloth that covers the windows. I’m hoping there is no reward whatsoever should he or she actually decide to make that climb.

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Written by johnwhays

June 14, 2018 at 6:00 am

Being Stalked

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She’s all alone, but not alone. Our sole survivor from last year’s brood, this amazing Buff Orpington, has finally ended her non-stop calling for her two most recent missing companions.

She has avoided death on multiple occasions, once even getting bloodied from a too close encounter within Delilah’s jaws. Now, left to fend for herself alone on the roost in single-digit cold overnight temperatures, she seems to be doing her best to tough out her rather dire situation.

The hungry spring predators appear to be stalking with unprecedented boldness. Based on our experience the last five years, the number of roaming tracks in the snow during daylight hours has picked up significantly.

Yesterday, every time we turned around there were fresh tracks showing up in areas we had recently walked, and they weren’t all the same. I would guess a dog or coyote, probably a cat, and definitely that troublesome fox.

I pulled the memory card from the trail camera, only to find the sly critter had completely avoided detection. Based on her travel pattern, I have relocated the camera, pointing it off the trail into the woods where I hope to catch her looking more into the view, as opposed to walking across it. This will also reduce the repeating shots of Delilah and us walking the trail that tends to clutter the results.

If you look at the shot of the fox I posted the other day, she was leaving our property with nothing in her mouth. Following yesterday’s tracks led us to two different spots where a large number of feathers revealed locations where the future meals had been stashed.

Cyndie wondered about putting extra effort to protect the buff against the obvious stalkers, and as a result, we did end up coercing her back into the coop early in the afternoon. One way I look at the possible inevitability of her fate is that it would save us needing to convince the year-old chicken to accept the twelve new chicks (now looking a lot like “tweens”) that will soon be moving to the coop.

By the time the next brood makes it to the free-ranging stage of life, the phase of ravenous spring predation will have calmed to the occasional massacre by some roving set of fangs like we suffered last June. Then we’ll find out which of our new birds are as cunning and lucky as the Barred Plymouth Rocks and our lone Buff Orpington were.

It’s no wonder why free-range birds are so precious.

It’s a jungle out there. So to speak.

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Written by johnwhays

April 7, 2018 at 10:04 am

Slow Start

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Despite an early wake up call from the Post Office this morning, informing us we need to come pick up a package containing our new chicks, I’m experiencing a bit of a slow start. Maybe it is because I stayed up later than usual watching games of college basketball in the men’s NCAA March Madness tournament.

Maybe it’s a Foo Fighters hangover after bingeing episodes of Sonic Highways, Dave Grohl’s self-described 2014 love letter to the history of American music.

Whatever it is, I need to shake out of it and hit the ground running after I finish writing this and eating the breakfast Cyndie just served before she heads out on the chick run. She said she was making home-made eggs. We had eight in our stash this morning.

I wonder how many eggs we will be getting per day next year at this time? I’m guessing that will depend on how many chickens we can avoid losing in a massacre like happened to our first flock last June. It’s one of the facts of free-range life around here.

Predators happen. We are choosing to take our chances and have elected not to get a rooster or confine our birds to protected spaces. It may be an inefficient model for having chickens, but the benefits of enjoying our roaming hens everywhere around the property seems to balance the risks for us to have accepted the situation.

I gotta go.

Check out this photo of the way snow is melting in the shadow of the wood fence.

Isn’t nature fascinating?

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Written by johnwhays

March 16, 2018 at 8:00 am

Tragedy Visited

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I’m home again and Cyndie has everything under control, despite trying to do everything with one arm. The only difference I notice between now and a week ago when I left is the grass is long again. No surprise there. My thanks go out to all the people who helped out around here while I was off biking and camping.

The news that I shared with my fellow riders all week long was about a tragedy that happened on the Friday night that was supposed to be my first night of camping. An as-of-yet unidentified intruder decimated our chicken flock.

These three are all that we have left.

I hadn’t planned on being home at the time, but I was. With the bike tour starting less than a half-hour away from our home this year, I was able to use most of the day to finish chores, but I didn’t plan on running out of gas. The amount of time I spent getting to town and back was enough to throw my grand plan all out of whack.

Plan B involved driving to the school where the Tour started so I could get registered, then continuing on to the next exit off the interstate, where I picked up a prescription for Cyndie. With that in hand, I needed to drive back home to deliver it to her, so I decided to just sleep there and return to the school in the morning.

My sister, Mary, was over for the weekend to assist Cyndie. As I focused on packing for my trip, they headed out to close the door on the chicken coop for the night. Uncharacteristically, they found one chicken was up on our driveway by the house.

Eventually, they discovered two lifeless bodies, one inside the paddock and one just outside that same fence. Cyndie found one of the Barred Plymouth Rocks walking near the coop and got it to go inside. The one up near the driveway, the surviving Buff Orpington, was hiding in the woods and and wouldn’t come out until the next day.

I had gone out to bury the two fatalities in a compost pile and discovered the other Barred Plymouth Rock up in a tree. I was able to grab her and return her to the coop to keep the other one company for the night.

Final tally of the nine we had: two confirmed dead, three survived, and four missing in action.

Cyndie and Mary scoured the property for signs, but found no evidence to clue us in to what might have become of the others. We lost all of the Rhode Island Reds, two Buff Orpingtons, and one Barred Plymouth Rock to an unknown predator or predators.

Never saw or heard a thing, before or since. Could have been a neighboring dog or cat, or any number of wild threats. It’s possible that the some of the four missing chickens just ran away and never made it back home. I doubt we’ll ever know for sure.

It’s a risk we take to have free ranging chickens.

This morning when I wheeled a load of manure out to dump on the pile, the three surviving chickens were doing their best to dig through the compost and eat as many bugs as they could.

We’re gonna need more chickens.

I need to go mow the lawn.

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Written by johnwhays

June 24, 2017 at 9:46 am

Coming Together

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I was keeping Delilah tied close to me while cleaning up around the paddock, partly to keep her out of trouble with the horses, but also because I don’t want her venturing to the full reach of the leash, scouting chickens. She seems to understand the drill.

After retrieving her from the kennel located behind the house, we walked along the back pasture fence line toward the chicken coop. I had already checked on the chicks earlier, so knew where to expect them. Keeping myself between the chicks and Delilah, we strode parallel to the coop where I stopped to put the memory card in the trail cam for the night.

She was appropriately curious, but not frantic over the presence of the birds. I doubt she will ever reach a point where she would let one of the birds walk into her space without attempting to grab it, but it feels nice to have her practicing a respectable level of calmness with them in view.

In the paddock, I had my attention on the task at hand, letting Delilah explore the immediate vicinity around me. When she stopped and stared, I looked up to find the chicks making their way over from the coop to join the horses for some short grass grazing.

Although separated by safe distances with Delilah restrained on the leash, it felt good to have us all coming together in the paddock. It was a hint of the ideal we wish could somehow come to be.

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Written by johnwhays

May 26, 2017 at 6:00 am