Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘prey

No Mercy

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Graphic Content Warning of Life and Death on a Farm…

It was a gloomy and foggy morning. I offered to build a fire in the fireplace while Cyndie went out to do morning chores, tending to our animals. When I stepped out on the slippery deck in my house slippers to gather kindling, I picked up the unnerving sobs of pain and sorrow wafting within the soup of grayness that covered our land.

I called out to the fog, not having any idea which way the sound was coming from.

“Cyndie?!”

No reply.

I moved around on the deck, trying to get a sense of which direction her cries were coming from. It changed from right to left. I called again and again, but she didn’t reply. I grew angry because I wanted to know if she was injured and what I needed to do in response, standing now on the icy driveway in my slippers.

She was walking upright, and carrying something, so I guessed she was alright. The most likely problem was a dead chicken.

Finally, I demanded a response and she angrily growled that she had killed a possum that had gotten in the chicken coop and killed one of our Australorps.

How did it get in? Cyndie didn’t know. There was no indication of disruption around any of the doorways or windows.

The logical deduction: the critter had already snuck inside when the chicken door was closed last night.

Never underestimate the wrath of a mother reacting to harm of her precious brood. With lethal vengeance, Cyndie unleashed her grievance with a shovel, destroying my custom ramp in the process.

She admitted that any neighbors outside at the time probably heard an earful of expletives howled along with swings of the shovel.

There are now eight surviving hens and they seem very happy to be out of the coop, soaking up the above-freezing temperatures that are the source of all this fog.

The temperature climbed 75 degrees from Thursday morning’s -36°F to yesterday afternoon’s +39°F. Our thermometer reveals it didn’t drop back down below freezing overnight here, so the melting and thawing is in full swing.

The horses seem pretty pleased with the change, too. Free of their blankets, they were romping all over the paddock yesterday, running and kicking with gleeful energy.

This morning, Cyndie and I aren’t really feeling as much glee.

We are left wondering if recent events mean we will need to institute a full nook & cranny search of the coop every night from now on when we close the chicken access door at dusk.

I guess it beats the alternative we faced this morning.

 

Written by johnwhays

February 3, 2019 at 10:59 am

Her Story

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This is what she said: “If we were in the tropics, I would swear the sound we heard came from a tiger.”

When I got home from work yesterday, Cyndie described a morning adventure she and Delilah had. Due to a morning breakfast date with her dad in St. Paul, Cyndie rousted Delilah a little earlier than usual for a morning walk.

When they stepped out the front door into the pre-dawn light, the “tiger” unleashed a roar that stopped them in their tracks.

Cyndie said Delilah looked back at her as if for instruction, or possibly to check if maybe they could go back inside. They stood there, frozen and then the cat snarled again. Amid the sound of breaking sticks, Cyndie noted there were also unhappy sounds from an unwilling critter victim.

Delilah took a step forward, as Cyndie described it, as if her instinct was leading her to chase, but then quickly thought better and looked back again for direction. The sounds of the fracas started and stopped a few times while they stood there, but Cyndie could not make out any sign of where in the woods the action was occurring.

Deciding it felt prudent to put more space between themselves and the wild cat, Cyndie directed Delilah to turn around and head for the driveway, instead of down the trail in the woods.

“Raawwwoooooowwwrrr…”

It’s a good thing our chickens aren’t out roaming around when it’s dark. At the same time, I sure hope this predator continues to find enough meals in the hours when our hens are safely roosting in their coop, so it won’t need to do any supplementary hunting during the day.

Oh my.

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Written by johnwhays

March 30, 2018 at 6:00 am

Joking’s Over

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Last weekend, while spending extended time with friends in our home, I came to realize from some comments that I tend to paint an unbalanced portrait of Delilah, which leans toward the harsh. As recently as two days ago I posted a picture that I intended as humorous, giving her a thought bubble that played on my tendency to trumpet her carnivorous nature.

By frequently referring to how ferocious she can be, I have been neglectful of her gentle side. Our little pooch presents with a happy-go-lucky gentleness more often than not. In fact, it is probably why I don’t tend to write much about it. Her good behavior is so common as to become overlooked. We take it for granted.

It’s the exceptional moments of craziness that grab all the headlines.

Well, it’s hard not to write about the exceptional moments.

Today, I am feeling some regret about my attempt at humor over Delilah’s interest in our chickens.

Yesterday morning, while Cyndie was cleaning up under the overhang of the barn, Delilah could hold back no longer. She lunged hard enough against her leash anchor to break the handle and bend the hook it was hanging on. The handle banged against the siding of the barn and caused the horses to jump, alerting Cyndie to go check on what happened.

In that flash of seconds, we lost our first chicken to a predator. A domestic predator.

We knew all along that having free-ranging chickens around Delilah was high risk, but we simply hoped for the best. It seemed that our gradual controlled exposure to their presence was being accepted with surprising calmness, between bouts of excessive interest.

We knew she wasn’t to be trusted yet, but there were enough moments when she was demonstrating appropriate acceptance of the chickens that we felt hopeful about the chances of further improvement.

We don’t fault her for acting on her natural instinct. Delilah has given us a chance to more closely consider the delicate balance of predator/prey relationships. She is also forcing us to renew our attention to directing her exactly in the manner we need her to behave.

It’s not the dog that needs the most training. It’s her handlers.

To her credit, Delilah’s choice of victim turned out to be the extra Rhode Island Red from the batch of 10 we received for our purchase of 9 chicks. We are now down to three each of the 3 breeds we ordered.

Maybe yesterday’s incident will help me to think twice about joking over Delilah’s carnivorous ways in the future, but I’m guessing my writing will still highlight more of her wild behaviors than her quiet moments. It’s the nature of this beast.

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Written by johnwhays

May 24, 2017 at 6:00 am

Intriguing Finds

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Imagine this: Delilah and I were on another walk around our property. How many times have we done that before? Regardless the frequency of our travel on the variety of paths available, there is always something new to discover. Yesterday in the quickly fading light of day, it was snow and marks in the snow that caught our attention.

Well, my attention, anyway.

In both cases, I had almost entirely passed by the beauties when something caused me to stop and fish the camera out of my pocket. Despite the bitterly cold temperature and the low light, I came up with images that work for me.

The first subject was a couple of balanced mossy rocks that the snow had frosted with a flair. It flowed down from the top of the upper rock and circled perfectly around it as it settled over the rock below.

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The second find was even more fascinating to me. At first glance I assumed the marks in the snow were probably from George and Anneliese’s dogs, but one mark didn’t make any sense. My brain processed it as if a bear had swung a clawed paw.

Probably not.

Then it occurred to me. That was the shadow of a passing wing! These were the tracks from a predator snatching up prey. Wow.

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I had to halt Delilah’s progress so I could get out the camera again and position myself to capture the shot. I couldn’t reach because she was pulling against me toward something more interesting to her.

I called her to come back toward me and then quickly pleaded with her to stop and stay, in fear she would come barreling all the way back to me and stomp through the scene. Luckily, she stopped.

Just another walk around the property. Yeah.

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Written by johnwhays

December 14, 2016 at 7:00 am

Mysterious Shriek

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I was already on edge Wednesday night, after the close encounter with the traffic fatality earlier in the day, so the blood-curdling wail that arose in the darkness beyond the bedroom door to the deck easily startled me out of bed. It was around 10:30 p.m. and the mysterious cry that began surprisingly similar to the sound of our teapot on the stove actually had me questioning how the water could possibly be boiling at that hour.

The distressing shriek just kept going like a siren, causing both Cyndie and me to climb out of bed to investigate. I grabbed a powerful spotlight that I keep next to the bed for just such occasions, and scanned as far and wide as limitations of view allowed.

There was no sign of any activity, even as the suffering victim continued to scream. It was chilling. There was no pause for a breath. I was wishing the predator would just finish the job and end the misery. It lasted somewhere between one to two minutes long.

I strained to get a sense of the distance, or any other identifying impressions. The sound seemed to move away and then come closer. I wondered if it was airborne. Did an owl grab something? What would react to attack by emitting such a piercing cry?

I didn’t trust my senses enough to feel confident about the apparent movement. Maybe it was just resonating in a way that made it sound like it was flying around. Since it was carrying on for so long, I had time to step outside for a better vantage point.

Are you kidding!? I wasn’t about to expose myself to whatever savage beast was out there in conflict mode. Well, actually that’s exactly what would have happened, since I was “dressed” for bed at that hour. But what I mean is, I wasn’t going to put myself at increased risk by stepping outside into the darkness, not having a clue what was out there.

When the sound finally ceased, we climbed back under the covers and I pretended I could fall asleep, despite the rambling thoughts of what the heck just happened outside. Soon we were both wondering out loud about what animals, both the predator and the prey, were most likely responsible.IMG_iP3036eCH

I asked Cyndie to give the area out back an extra search in the morning to look for tracks or signs of a fight. She found no evidence whatsoever. George was over for dinner and cribbage last night and he suggested that the screaming was probably a rabbit, and the attacker could have been a coyote or fox. That I believe as easily possible, but if they were under our deck, I don’t know how they got there without leaving tracks somewhere.

The rabbits are plentiful around here and Cyndie did find a super-highway of their tracks in our woods. She took this picture for me to use.

We’ll have to watch that spot and see if there are one less sets of footprints showing up from now on.

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Written by johnwhays

February 12, 2016 at 7:00 am

Wild Game

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What a day that was. I initially chose the title of this post as a reference to Delilah’s diet yesterday, but the US Women’s soccer team decided to play the final match of the 2015 World Cup tournament in such a way as to steal the meaning. What an outburst of effort they put forth in that first half last night! Carli Lloyd getting a hat trick as quick as she did was astounding to witness.

They played the final two games of the tournament as if they were the best team in the world. I’m happy they were able to lift the cup at the end. They earned it.

Earlier in the day, our dog took it upon herself to hunt for her own breakfast. Her usual fare from us is a mixture of dry food and some meat from a can, twice a day, but yesterday she seemed particularly determined to get her protein from live-catches.

With Cyndie gone to the lake, I was on my own to try to keep track of Delilah as she romped off-leash in the manner she has grown accustomed after just one week of being watched by a new master. In just a few days, Cyndie accomplished more control over our dog roaming freely than I was able to achieve during the entire time I was home with her.

Not long after I had become engrossed in my tasks of putting out morning feed for the horses, and cleaning up their manure, I realized Delilah had gotten out of sight. Eventually, I found her on the other side of the barn, excitedly engaged in a “negotiation” with a young rabbit. It was not an exchange that the rabbit was going to win.

Meanwhile, the horses were demonstrating their high sensitivity to the predator-prey drama unfolding, even though it was out of their line of sight. They knew exactly what was going down, and remained on high alert until it was fully concluded. It prompted an increased sensitivity in me for the poor victim whose life was ended for our dog’s meal.

Back in the house, I opted to serve just dry food for the morning feeding. After her early morning excitement, Delilah was confined to her kennel in the yard while I went under ear muffs and used the power trimmer and then the diesel tractor to mow down more rampant growth around the property.

When I had finished, and it was time to feed the horses again, I hooked up Delilah to her leash and brought her with me. When we got to the back pasture, where I had just mowed, I decided to let her run free inside the fence. Before I could even get her unhooked, she reacted to a scent, despite the strong wind, and pulled hard to get after something. When I opened the clip on her leash, she bolted for the spot uphill in the direction from which we had just come.DSCN2675e

It looked like a mouse that had probably been killed by the mower. It appears that the scent of death is something Delilah is exceptional at detecting. I moved on without her and headed toward the barn, to put out the horse’s evening feed. Delilah caught up to me eventually and lingered for a while, briefly annoying the horses with some aggressive barking and threatening gestures. One of these days she is going to get kicked and it will be no surprise.

To her credit, when I finished in the paddock and was ready to wheel manure out to the compost pile, she heard my call and came running from somewhere out of sight. The success thrilled me, until I got the gate open and she sprinted up the trail into our woods without me.

I finished puttering with the compost piles and contemplated how I might get her to come back. Then I heard the tags clanking on her collar. She returned with her 3rd prize of the day: a freshly killed squirrel.

Our intrepid hunter seemed driven to not eat canned dog food this day. She, and the US women’s soccer team, had their hearts set on wild game, for sure.

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Written by johnwhays

July 6, 2015 at 6:00 am