Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘predators

Three Survivors

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It was hard to avoid the harsh reality of our decimated flock of chickens when we returned to Wintervale yesterday afternoon. It was the first opportunity I was able to spend any time in daylight to finally see some of the areas of lost feathers marking where 22 chickens had been snatched.

As I was cleaning up three days of manure in the paddocks, I spoke out loud to myself when I spotted the distinct feather markings of Buffalo Bill. It looked like he didn’t give in without covering a bit of distance.

The poor horses must have seen this whole attack unfold. I hope they weren’t overly stressed by the incursion happening within their fenced confines. Maybe they were able to recognize only the chickens were being targeted.

We had asked our animal-sitter to keep the three surviving pullets shut in the coop until we returned after the weekend so she wouldn’t have to fret over their vulnerability.

Now we are faced with deciding if we are going to continue that practice or not. It’s sad but neither Cyndie nor I seem to have much will to invest any more hope toward an imagined future for them with us. I hate to think this way, but part of me wonders if it would have been easier if these three didn’t survive.

Cyndie buttoned up the fence boundaries of the coop courtyard in the two places where we had created the openings for those couple of days of free-ranging before the attack. We let the three prisoners out into the fenced space for a few hours.

I wondered if the coyotes were skulking around the edges of our property watching to see what we were doing. The last four times we have lost chickens happened shortly after we had gone back into the house. That can’t be by chance. The predators have to be watching to see when we are out and when we are not.

If I thought it would help, and if we somehow decided to have chickens again in the future, I’d make it a practice to always come back outside and check on things a few minutes after having gone in the house.

I wish we could offer the three survivors some consolation for the trauma they endured. Standing within the fencing with them yesterday, it was easy to see the new anxiety they exhibited over sudden movement and unexpected sounds. They were very jumpy birds.

Maybe these three had honed their emergency response hiding tactics better than all the rest. It’s sad that I had just written about the flocks’ impressive rush for emergency cover a mere two days before the massacre. I suspect that would protect them better against an assault from the air than the packs of fangs coming after them on the ground.

If those three survivors could talk, I wonder what they would have to say about the traumatic events of last Wednesday around dinner time.

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Written by johnwhays

July 19, 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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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

Chicken Thoughts

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It was a good question. What are we going to do differently to protect our new chickens this time? When I heard myself answering, I realized how little in-depth thought I have actually given the subject.

Are we doing them justice by raising them amid the same risk of predation that decimated all our flocks before? I’m not sure.

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Cyndie has dubbed them the Buffalo Gals and the Rocketts in reference to their origins.

My primary reason for wanting our chickens to free-range is for the service they provide in controlling bugs. I’ve also discovered how much fun they are as companions and that they convert the things they find to eat into amazing eggs.

I’m not against considering ways we might dissuade such frequent attacks on our flock as we recently experienced. I will put renewed effort into staging my trail cam in locations where I might capture evidence of visiting predators to give better confirmation of what we are dealing with.

It feels a little like our efforts to constrain water runoff and control erosion or prevent excessive sediment where we don’t want it.

Nature does what it does. Our best successes will come from finding constructive adaptations instead of entirely stopping things we don’t desire from happening.

Imagine the predation phenomena from the perspective of the flies and ticks that try to survive on our land. They are under constant assault from chickens.

Our chickens face threats from their natural predators. We’ve decided to not confine them to fenced quarters that would make it harder for the fox or coyotes to kill them.

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Today, we hope to clean up the coop and try making some modifications to accommodate housing more birds than ever before. The Buffalo Gals will be moving to the coop soon. That will allow us to get the Rockets out of the basement bathroom and into the larger brooder tub in the barn.

We will give our chickens the best life possible for their time with us. Past demonstrations have shown their natural instincts help them control their own destiny up to a point. Their life here will not be risk-free.

For the time being, I guess we are demonstrating we are choosing to accept that.

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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