Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘predators

Today’s Lesson

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Today, Cyndie and I are trying to process what lesson we might learn from the ultimate demise of our entire brood of 14 chickens over a span of two weeks when previous years have allowed us so much more time. Whether the most likely threat was coyotes or possibly hawks, we feel completely outsmarted and helpless against these forces of nature.

Yesterday, when the last four birds were taken from us, a leftover pile of feathers in the middle of our back yard, just steps away from where I was obliviously lounging on a recliner beside the fireplace, provided a particularly harsh stab of our inability to protect them.

Should we have changed something about our routine after the first attack? After the second?

It’s a moot point now. Except, there remains the probability we won’t give up trying. After the second attack, Cyndie decided to order an incubator to hatch some of our own eggs. If predators are going to keep taking our birds, we might end up just raising even more.

Evidence pointed to the latest attack playing out in uncomfortably close proximity to the horses whom we are striving to make feel safe and welcome. For now, our focus of attention shifts much more in their direction.

They provide both solace and distraction from our grief over the decimation of the chickens. We are learning how to frame our recent experience losing chickens and trying to soothe the angst of relocated rescue Thoroughbreds.

It may be today’s lesson, but I sense it is going to take a lot more time than a single day to fully absorb.

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2021 at 9:39 am

Sickle Feathers

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Well, it happened again already. Predators paid another visit in broad daylight, still ghosts to us, but deathly real to the chickens. This time we know that Rocky was right in the middle of it. Once again, chicken feathers were spread far and wide around our property. Rocky’s were close to the coop.

Tail feathers on Wednesday.

Minus tail feathers on Thursday.

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Cyndie found the intact bodies of two Light Brahmas. We lost the last Domestique, the two-year-old Golden Laced Wyandotte, and one of the Barnevelders. Another five down, leaving Rocky and three hens as all that remain to keep flies at bay, just at the time we brought horses back onto the property.

We can only hope that Rocky dished out as much abuse as it looks like he endured.

Cyndie picked up Rocky’s sickle feathers. We can only imagine what the fracas must have been like. I was at work and Cyndie never heard a sound. Most likely the horses would have been unsettled by the energy of predators on a killing spree. When Cyndie came out, everything was calm and collected.

I guess we should find solace in the fact our animals don’t appear to fret over the past. Everyone seemed just fine when it was over, albeit short some feathers, in Rocky’s case. Wish I could say the same for us.

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Written by johnwhays

April 23, 2021 at 6:00 am

Unpleasant Reality

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Today’s post is one I don’t really want to be writing, but it’s the story to be told. The ever-present risk of free ranging our chickens played out yesterday afternoon between the hours of 2 and 4 o’clock. We had stepped back into the house to dry off from hours of being out in the rain or slogging away on tasks in the barn.

An unidentified foe or foes, invisible like the ghost of almost every previous such incident we have experienced, attacked our chickens and left us down four hens. A fifth, the old Buff Orpington, was injured and cowering in one of the corners under the barn overhang.

Two of the Light Brahmas stood around her, appearing to offer both comfort and protection. The wide spread of locations where bursts of feathers revealed shadows of the violence that occurred presented a complicated picture of how this incident must have played out.P4090007e

Near the coop, two or three eruptions of feathers. On the other side of the back pasture fence near the round pen, two more, all looking like feathers of a Domestique and the only New Hampshire hen. Near the barn, another Domestique. In the middle of the large paddock, it looked like Buff’s feathers.

Way over on the far side of the barn and around the hay shed, up onto the pavement of the driveway, one more Domestique.

Cyndie picked up the Buff and placed her in a safe space in the barn. There was some blood from her injury. The hen accepted some water with supplemental iron and enzymes. She survived the night, but when Cyndie checked on her this morning, it was obvious she was in distress. While grasping with the difficult decision to end the Buff’s suffering, Cyndie ended up witnessing the sight of the hen’s final spasm of death.

We are down five hens, leaving eight survivors and Rocky. There is no way of knowing what our new rooster may have achieved during the fracas, but one version is that he saved eight. In fact, it’s possible he kept the Buff from being killed and carried away, which is interesting to contemplate since he was usually busy trying to excommunicate her from the group whenever possible.

P4090001eHe shows no evidence of having any of his feathers ruffled. The attacker(s) left behind the fully intact body of the New Hampshire, which means the only missing bodies are the three Domestiques. It is hard to imagine it was a lone fox carrying these three off from such a wide span of distances. Much more understandable if we envision two or three coyotes.

We know coyotes exist in the area, but in all our years here, I have yet to see even one roaming on our land. Even when predators pay us a visit in broad daylight, they remain unseen ghosts for me.

We are granted the privilege of living with whichever chickens they allow us to keep. We still have one hen of the Domestique breed left. While the surviving chickens were wandering around later in the day, I noticed that Domestique trailing far behind the rest of the group.

Poor thing probably wonders where her mates had gone. I was thinking she probably shouldn’t stray far from Rocky’s side. Her breed appears to be a favored one for the local marauders.

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Popular Nest

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We have four nest boxes in the coop for the hens to lay their eggs. History has revealed the box closest to the chicken door is the most popular.

I suppose when ya gotta lay, the first box might be a welcome necessity.

Cyndie is suspecting we’ve got a rogue who has chosen a spot other than the coop, based on the daily total of eggs collected falling a little short of expectations. She reports a pattern of suspicious chicken “call-outs” that frequently occur post egg-laying now emanating from a location other than the coop.

A cursory survey yesterday afternoon didn’t provide any evidence supporting her theory, but the fact this situation has occurred twice before feed our belief it is not only possible, but likely.

I told her she should let Delilah search using her incredible scent-detecting nose, but then we both felt a hesitancy over offering any encouragement to our intrepid tracker for predatory behavior toward our chickens or the eggs.

If it turned out to be just one hen choosing a remote location, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. Since the egg counts have seemed to be down by more than one a day this week, we are a little concerned that allowing this behavior to go unchecked might inspire more hens to participate in laying eggs in a nest of their own making.

Maybe it is unlucky we’ve seen such little evidence of predator pressure on this latest brood of birds and it has nurtured a complacency about their level of risk. Sure, they are domestic chickens, but they need to realize they are living in the midst of actual roaming wildlife.

A lone hen sitting on a nest in the woods of the neighbor’s property behind our shop garage (where Cyndie senses the familiar clucking outbursts have been coming from) will be no match for the fox that has been caught on the trail cam crossing onto our land from nearby.

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Written by johnwhays

April 7, 2021 at 6:00 am

Bloody Mystery

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It is never a good thing for chicken owners to come upon loose feathers and blood drops in the snow. Yesterday afternoon, that is precisely the scenario Cyndie happened upon.

First, here are the facts we know. All 14 of our chickens are still with us. Cyndie was walking Delilah and came upon spots of blood in the snow. As they approached the barn, the appearance of enough loose feathers to imply something amiss raised her alarm. She secured Delilah in the barn and rushed toward the coop.

We are putting the basis of our conjecture about what might have happened on her findings upon arrival. Rocky was standing guard outside the coop and all the hens/pullets were inside.

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After determining none of the chickens were missing, she went back and followed the blood trails. When she told me about it, I joined her and we walked a long way to see if any more information could be gleaned from the evidence. We could tell the tracks made it all the way to the road, and by that distance, it seemed clear the bleeding was greatly reduced.

The size of the footprints lead us to suspect a small cat, which aligns with the location where we have frequently seen a cat of unknown ownership prowling.

The rest remains a mystery, but we have developed a possible explanation from the data available.

We think our rooster, Rocky, took on the attacker and successfully fought it off, sending it away wounded.

Earlier in the day, while I was walking Delilah, Rocky let loose with a series of about seven “cock-a-doodle” calls. He is still about one syllable short of the classic rooster crow, but it gets closer each time we hear it.

Cyndie is hoping to get a closer look this morning to assess for possible injuries. It looked like there were mostly yellow feathers tossed about, which points toward the Buff Orpington. They all looked okay in the coop, but the birds do a pretty good job of masking any problems they might be suffering, which makes good sense as a survival instinct.

Here’s hoping the wounded visitor will lose interest in our flock now and redirect its attention somewhere a little less threatening, and that our theory about Rocky’s heroics happens to actually be true.

Written by johnwhays

January 11, 2021 at 7:00 am

Overnight Snow

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It’s so much more gorgeous to have snow brightening up the landscape this time of year. We awoke today to a nice coating of white covering everything, which pleasantly provided a precise visual for the travels of our resident wildlife on Delilah’s and my walk this morning. The timing of snow and our walk meant that we came upon individual, single tracks from the fox, raccoons, deer, and a cat who visits almost daily.

The chickens showed a reasonable bit of hesitation upon exiting the coop, but quickly got over it and skittered their way through the trees toward the barn for breakfast. They didn’t linger long there. Before Delilah and I had even completed our full circumnavigation of the property, the chickens had scrambled across the driveway to one of their favorite spots beside the shop garage.

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Rocky was his bold self despite his aversion to putting both feet down into the white stuff. There is a lot of single-foot balancing that goes on during the snow season for our birds. They’re such chickens.

Yesterday, while traveling the trail on the southern border of our property, I caught sight of a bald eagle circling the precise location where the chickens hang out, flying just above the trees. Before I could react, I found the birds were all under the barn overhang and the eagle was already moving on to the neighboring fields.

It was an immediate relief but obviously only a temporary reprieve. Our birds free range in a cruel rural world where predators prowl.

Every day they come through unscathed is a victory we celebrate.

Tomorrow through Tuesday we are expecting sunshine and daytime temperatures above freezing, so the white-flocked Christmas card views out our windows won’t likely last.

Nothing lasts forever so we practice appreciating the sacred in each precious moment. A fresh coating of pristine white snow helps to make that exercise a breeze.

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Written by johnwhays

December 19, 2020 at 11:22 am

Gory Find

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We have been living in rural farm country for eight years and seen some interesting things, but yesterday’s find was a new one for us. As I pulled into the driveway at the end of my long commute home and climbed the first incline, my eyes spotted something in the grass beside the pavement that stood out distinctly for its uncharacteristic color.

My brain quickly worked to make sense of it and toggled in a split second between thinking it could be something that had fallen or been tossed from a passing vehicle or possibly a cluster of brown oak leaves on a fallen branch. I stared toward the image as I slowly rolled past until it was out of view.

Then I stopped the car. My mind couldn’t make sense of what I’d just seen.

I needed another look. Putting the car into reverse, I rolled back slowly until the unidentified object reappeared out my window. It was not a cluster of brown leaves. It was redder in color. Honestly, it looked like a surprisingly large chunk of raw meat.

Logic suggested I might want to get out of the car to take a closer look, but I had no interest in getting any closer to that ghoulish specimen. I put the car back in gear and rolled up over the hill to find Cyndie walking toward me with an arm-length plastic veterinarian glove on and carrying a plastic bag.

Obviously, she had just discovered this spectacle moments earlier. She described walking Delilah back from the mailbox and catching sight of the oddity well before the dog did. Cyndie shortened Delilah’s leash as they neared and when the oblivious dog was almost past it, her nose picked up the scent and she lunged against the leash, hoping to do her own close inspection.

Cyndie walked her far enough ahead to secure the leash to a gate and walked back to see what it was. We are not schooled in such detail, but it was very obviously a large chunk of raw meat and included what looked like valves? She took Delilah back to the barn where she found the glove and bag to go remove the body part from beside our driveway, which is how we came upon each other.

Questions linger. What is it exactly? Where did it come from (wild or farm livestock)? Where’s the rest of the carcass? Who (what animal) dropped it on our property? Why did it get dropped (still plenty of good eatin’ there)? Where was the animal taking its prize? A lone wolf? Pack of coyotes? Mountain lion? Stray dog? A neighbor’s cat?

I agreed with Cyndie that we didn’t need to leave it out for critters to have a second chance at it. It occurred to me that, were I more motivated, I could quickly set up the trail cam to see who returns to the lingering scent in the darkness overnight, but I’m happy to live with the mystery.

For the sake of those who feel no need to see what it looked like, I’ll offer the image in the form of a link: Gory find. There is no size reference, but it was larger than any cut of roast I have ever seen in the grocery store meat departments.

Try counting the tooth mark punctures.

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Written by johnwhays

November 18, 2020 at 7:00 am

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 Brahmas 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

Main Topics

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There are two primary topics dominating life around Wintervale lately: chickens and baking. Each having nothing to do with the other.

Last night it was all baking.

Super-sized apple cider oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and strawberry hand-pies custom ordered by the berry farm.

I contributed to the best of my ability. They both tasted delicious.

This morning, the chickens will get our main attention.

I suppose the dog and cat are feeling a little left out of things. Pequenita has been relentless at seeking attention whenever I venture near the bedroom –our bed being her preferred domain. Delilah will get some extra adventure later today when I take her exploring off-trails in our woods looking for evidence related to the raucous coyote howling we endured Wednesday night/Thursday morning.

I’m hoping that pack of predators are all well-fed now and won’t have any reason to hang around our property on the very day we plan to let our chickens get their first taste of free-ranging.

It all serves as a reminder we are living the country life.

I guess the two main topics could better be labeled, baking and pets.

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Written by johnwhays

October 9, 2020 at 6:00 am

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Stealthy Visitors

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We had a light coating of snow overnight Sunday night and that made for great tracks viewing yesterday. Cyndie spotted footprints that didn’t come from our chickens.

Based on recent sightings, we both believe it was a pheasant that we’ve seen hanging around recently. These tracks were made between the time Cyndie and Delilah headed out on a walk and returned a short while later. They never saw the bird that walked by.

There were also paw prints from a critter large enough to take interest in chickens.

 

In fact, Cyndie followed the trail of these tracks right to the coop, where she found the chickens all perched up on the roost as if seeking refuge as far above the ground as possible.

No harm done. Not this time, anyway.

Just some footprints in the snow from stealthy visitors in the broad daylight.

Maybe the visitors didn’t have enough time to linger longer because Cyndie and Delilah were making rounds. In the case of our chickens, this is probably a very good thing.

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Written by johnwhays

January 14, 2020 at 7:00 am

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