Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘predators

She Knows

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I walked into the kitchen and said to Cyndie, “She knows.”

Cyndie instantly agreed, “Oh, she totally knows.”

Our departure for a 9-day getaway to visit Cyndie’s parents in Florida was still a day away last night, but both of us picked up a powerful vibe that Delilah was already beginning to mope as a result of our telltale activity.

She laid under the table and watched us with her eyes, without picking up her head. Suitcases had been brought out of storage. Cyndie was kicking into high house-cleaning gear, and both of us were mentally grinding through virtual lists of tasks to be done, items to be packed, “i”s to dot and “t”s to cross.

Delilah has witnessed this scene before.

One of our newer house and animal sitters, Anna, will be taking care of our place while we are away this time. I’m hoping the weather will be uneventful and the predators all stay away while she is on duty. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we lose a hen (or hens) during her stay?

I’ve tried to point out to her that it can happen at any time, hoping she won’t suffer too much if a loss occurs on her watch.

We drive to the airport this afternoon for a flight out around the dinner hour, departing just as a mass of colder air with a chance of some snow is expected to pay a visit. Guess it’s not the worst time to be escaping to Florida.

I’ve been pondering what I might choose to do for blog posts while we are away. One possibility that keeps tugging at me is the challenge of choosing one photo per day to convey what we are experiencing. At the same time, I assume a week of leisure might free me up to do more writing than usual, so maybe I don’t want to restrict myself to a single picture.

Either I’ll write more, or I’ll take a break and write less. We’ll just have to wait and see what captures my fancy, after I settle in to that eastern time zone with the warm, humid air.

One way or another, you can rest assured that, for the next week, I will somehow be sharing the most delectable morsels of our adventures in Florida, visiting Cyndie’s mom and dad.



Written by johnwhays

January 18, 2019 at 7:00 am

New Prowler

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Cyndie and I understand that we are rarely alone on our evening outings to walk the dog, even though most nocturnal visitors go undetected. It’s usually apparent when Delilah recognizes we have company, if she picks up a fresh scent and strains against the leash with startling urgency, but even she fails to notice sometimes.

I always wonder what might be just out of the reach of my headlamp. Occasionally, the sudden rustling of branches startles me when it is a deer that finally decides it’s time to bolt away from the too interested dog making lunges in their general direction.

Last night, Cyndie didn’t get out to shut the chicken coop until it was pretty dark outside. As she and Delilah arrived near the coop, Cyndie heard a rustling that alerted her to make a hasty approach. She hooked Delilah’s leash to the paddock fence and rushed to close the chicken door.

The scuffling sound moved from the leaves on the ground to the branches of a small tree just two steps from the coop.

Hello there, opossum. What brings you to our free-range chicken’s neighborhood?

We’re thinking we might not want to wait so long to get the coop secured for the night any more.

I wonder if the raccoons, skunks, barn cats, fox, neighbor dogs, and now, opossums around here are all friendly with each other, or if they actually avoid interacting somehow in their frequent evening forays through our territory.

It’s been like Grand Central Station lately with the visiting critters. Maybe they have booked tickets on different successive days.

At bedtime Sunday night, there were two beady masked eyes peering in our bedroom door from 4-inches off the deck. I think the snoop was hoping to get another glimpse of Pequenita. The cat was ferociously trying to scare off a curious raccoon a while back, but instead of fear, that evening the visitor looked rather smitten.

Cyndie said she decided to avoid further interaction with last night’s opossum. With the horses all bunched nearby in the corner of the paddock to see what all the fuss was about, and Delilah tied nearby, Cyndie didn’t know how the tree rat would react if she challenged it.

Might have just “played possum,” but she decided not to tempt a more chaotic result.



Written by johnwhays

October 16, 2018 at 6:00 am

No Idea

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It’s a complete mystery to us, and an entirely unexpected circumstance for the demise of another chicken. I fully expected it would be a predator killing and running off with our next victim.

Jackie found an ominous scattering of black chicken feathers inside the barn yesterday afternoon when she arrived to tend to the horses.

We leave the bottom half of the split doors closed all day to dissuade the chickens from getting inside and leaving their calling cards all over the barn. They are certainly capable of hoisting themselves high enough to get up and over the half doors, but we have yet to catch them doing so.

Our first question is, then how did she get inside? Did she come in of her own accord?

The scattering of feathers were generally confined to two separate spots. What caused the loss of feathers?

Eventually, the trail of feathers led to the discovery of a body, curled up like a little napping kitty, back behind a stack of rakes and shovels leaning against the wall. The deceased hen was completely intact, with no visible wounds.

What was the cause of death?

We have no idea.

Did it get inside on its own and then have a panic attack? Did a predator chase it inside? Carry it inside?

Would a potential predator leap over the door? A cat would.

Did the chicken come inside and then surprise a predator inside? Most likely guess would be a neighbor cat that was trespassing in our barn.

This would have happened sometime in the middle of the warm sunny day yesterday. Cyndie and Jackie said it was really windy around here during the day. Did that have anything to do with how or why the chicken ended up in the barn?

No idea.

We are now down to 9 chickens, three each of the three breeds we purchased. In fact, we only paid for nine. We received 1 extra chick for each breed back in March. This marks the end of the spares provided to cover for possible loss due to any hardships for day-old chicks traveling through the US Postal service.

We received other news from Jackie last night. After a couple of weeks back in classes at UW River Falls, she has decided she needs to move back on campus. Our live-in helping hand will no longer be available to provide the coverage for us like she did through the summer. Jackie has allowed us a good number more weekends away than we’ve been able to achieve previous years.

Our basement “apartment” may be back on the market for someone who knows and loves horses. Also being able to handle a diva of a Belgian Shepherd would be an added plus.



Written by johnwhays

September 14, 2018 at 6:00 am

Eggs Soon?

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Lately, we’ve been wondering how close our chickens are getting to their egg laying stage. One of the signs is when the wattle and comb develop and reach full color. Ours are growing at various rates.

Even among the single Buff Orpington breed, there is a range of maturity.

I checked my blog posts from last year to see when the first egg showed up. It was August 8. This year’s batch were all born a week earlier, so if their growth is similar, the beginning of next month could be the start of the daily egg gathering adventures.

I sure hope the predators around here stay focused on wild game for a good long time.

The other day I noticed these twelve have taken an interest in dismantling my woven stick ramp into the coop.

I’ve patched it up a few times, but they always go back to pulling out sticks. If they keep it up, it’s going to be a BIG step to get in to roost at night.

Maybe they know something I don’t. How big a gap would it take to discourage snakes from wandering up to get inside?

Just because they are chickens doesn’t mean they aren’t able to make an occasional intelligent decision, don’t you know!



Written by johnwhays

July 21, 2018 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.



Written by johnwhays

June 14, 2018 at 6:00 am

Night Visitors

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I finally relocated the trail camera. It’s still viewing the same general area, but it now sees from the other direction. Instead of facing the coop, I attached it to one of the legs so it is facing out from the coop.

If there was any question about whether the fox was still hanging around, or not, we got our definitive answer Monday night.









I think it’s cute to see how the fox tips its nose up in the direction of the coop window. Might be picking up a familiar aroma there…

There are still plenty of rabbit sightings, and last night there were a couple of dark figures in the distance that defy positive identification. I get the impression that one of them was a local barn cat. Cyndie didn’t seem convinced, although neighbor cats are frequent visible visitors around our place.

There was no question about one other regular attendee to the coop area, although there are likely many more than just one trekking past throughout the night. Exhibit A:

I found some online advice yesterday about ways to keep foxes away. One farmer swears 100% success with his method. It’s urine. But, there’s a trick to it. The instructions insist you have to actually pee on the fox’s den. Oh, I suppose you could just collect specimens and dump them on there, but where’s the fun in that?

My problem with that solution is that I have no idea where the fox’s den is located. I should have followed tracks when there was still snow on the ground.

Putting out a live trap would catch more barn cats and raccoons than fox. The common opinion is that a fox is too smart to fall for that trick.

Last evening, after Cyndie brushed Delilah, she took all the dog hair down and distributed it around the coop. Delilah can’t stand guard there, but her scent can hang around all it wants, for whatever good that might do.

Frankly, we are growing more wary every day that a daylight attack on the chickens, similar to what occurred about this time last year, is not only possible, but likely.

In last night’s fading sunlight, I was hanging out with the flock as they lolled about between the coop and the paddock. Many of them showed a fondness for perching on the bottom board of the paddock fence, which reminded me of the behavior of last year’s flock, right before the June 16th massacre that dwindled their number.

For the time being, we’ve still got twelve chickens, and we are enjoying each of them to the fullest. And they seem to be enjoying us, as measured by their cute little hustle of approach when we are in their vicinity.

I wonder if they know how many visitors show up to their coop every night while they are sleeping.



Written by johnwhays

June 6, 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.



Written by johnwhays

April 7, 2018 at 10:04 am