Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘raising chickens

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.

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

June 6, 2018 at 6:00 am

Uninvited Visitor

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We like to be very open and welcoming around here, but some guests from the animal kingdom are a little less welcome than others. I am not much of a fan of snakes, despite all the wonderful things about them.

Something deep in my brain holds an aversion and I’ve never found an urge to get over it.

For the most part, I try to ignore them and leave them be, hoping they are busy helping keep our other crawling critter populations in balance.

Lucky for me, I wasn’t the one who opened the big door to the chicken coop yesterday morning to be greeted by a healthy looking garter snake. That treat was reserved for Jackie, who happens to share my disdain for the creatures.

Cyndie reported using some sticks to evict the unwelcome intruder.

Our guess is the snake slithered up the ramp to the chicken door. Maybe, in its defense, it was after a mouse that had invaded. I hope it wasn’t thinking it could find an egg to eat. Too early for that. Our birds haven’t reached that level of maturity yet.

Since it was discovered first thing in the morning while they were opening the door, we suspect it had been in there all night. I’m told the chickens didn’t show any signs of distress over the intruder.

Although, maybe that explains why more of the birds are seeking high perches finally. Cyndie said she found two had made their way to the narrow ledge above the window, which makes them top chicks over the rest who settled for the two roost branches.

We saw this same behavior from last year’s flock when they were young. I’m guessing small space becomes a less appealing spot when they get to be full-sized.

So far, the twelve new birds have avoided calamity and are now beginning to show signs of social interest in our presence. I think it is related to their growing confidence in the territory they have mastered around the coop. As a group, they are starting to expand the distance of their excursions, and show a willingness to follow us more and more.

That’s one of the behaviors we particularly enjoyed with last year’s batch. It is nice to have the return of that added pleasure in our activities around this paradise.

Stumbling unexpectedly upon the presence of a snake… not so much.

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Written by johnwhays

June 2, 2018 at 9:09 am

They’re Out

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It wasn’t a great escape. It was a controlled release. Yesterday, the fencing was removed and free range of the grounds has been granted, along with the heightened risk of exposure to predators that goes with it.

Boy did the chicks have fun. They romped to and fro through the woods, eventually stumbling on the composting piles of manure. Their next move was back into the thick growth on the edge of the woods, but at least in the right direction, toward the coop.

Mildly anxious about their first day out, I decided to go sit beside the coop and hope for their return. In no time, they emerged from the underbrush with a flurry to reconnoiter around the comfort of their home.

I sat with them and enjoyed the bliss of the moment, as they happily explored the areas just beyond the border of the old fencing.

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At dusk, Cyndie found them all in the coop, although reporting the good news with frustration that they still are showing no interest in roosting. I’m hoping that natural chicken instinct will get them up there eventually. Last year’s young coop residents needed no encouragement to seek the highest possible perch.

We have no idea why these twelve are behaving differently.

Looks like the Golden Laced Wyandottes like having their picture taken.

I don’t blame them one bit.

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Written by johnwhays

May 21, 2018 at 6:00 am

Finally Out

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Yesterday was a big day for the chicks. After having spent a month in the brooder and two weeks confined to the coop, they finally set foot on mother earth.

Cyndie and I created a fenced courtyard that allows us to open the chicken door and let them test out their skills on the ground.

We also installed plastic awnings over the side windows for added protection against blowing rain. The warm days that have finally arrived necessitated removal of the plastic panels over the windows, to increase cross ventilation. All the windows and the entire ceiling are covered with 1/4″ metal hardware cloth for enhanced air flow.

The temperature in the coop soars when the sun is shining high and hot.

The chicks were typically tentative about venturing out. We slid open the chicken door while working our way around the fence perimeter, burying the bottom in the ground. Despite our verbal enticements to coax them out, the top of the ramp was the farthest any of them wanted to venture.

There would be five or six heads peeking out, and maybe one brave bird stepping on the stoop. Then there were none. The chicks would all move back inside to the safe familiarity of their last two weeks.

It was getting hot, I was getting tired and sunburned, and the hour for lunch had already passed. Without waiting to witness the chicks achieve touch down, I headed up to the house.

Not long after, Cyndie arrived to join me, announcing they had all suddenly conquered the ramp and made landfall. I missed it.

That’s okay. I also conveniently missed the other end of the milestone: the frenzied struggle to make them all go back inside again at dusk. That’s when you end up crawling around on hands and knees beneath the coop to snag birds and toss them back through the chicken door, trying not to let the ones already inside come back out again.

Thankfully, Cyndie took the first shift. I’ll have my turn soon enough.

Today is World Labyrinth Day! The weather is good, our land is mostly dry, the trees are budding and the grass is growing. If you are reading in the Twin Cities, it would be a great day to visit us and walk with the world for peace!

The coffee will be on and the fresh horse-shaped cookies are delicious. I’ve tested one or two. Cyndie says she made them with less sugar than the recipe specifies.

Peace!

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Written by johnwhays

May 5, 2018 at 8:32 am

Let’s Move

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When they started out in the brooder five weeks ago, our chicks had plenty of room. They are now getting a little testy with each other over their lack of space.

It’s time to move to the coop.

We probably would have already moved them, except it’s been so cold and snowy.

Now we are expecting a run of warmer weather and they are going to be movin’ on up.

You can see in the photo that they are sprouting enough feathers to reveal their eventual colors. The Golden Laced Wyandottes are showing that golden lacing nicely. They all have a long way to go before maturing into their wattles and combs.

By that time, we will need to have decided whether to let them roam free or keep them confined to protect them from predators. For a while there we felt okay with last year’s experiment, but with the rash of springtime attacks polishing off the last of that brood, it doesn’t feel quite right to not try something different.

We’ll move on that decision when they start to out-grow the coop in a month or two.

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Written by johnwhays

April 19, 2018 at 6:00 am

Quick Fox

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That didn’t take long.

From the looks of the feathers that flew, the Buff put up a fight yesterday morning.

Cyndie found the lifeless body beyond the hay shed, not far from our property border to the north. That is a long way from where the trail camera captured the fox crossing our trail in the woods, but it is in the same general northerly direction. We think we have a pretty good idea about what direction from which the threat originates.

Meanwhile, my relocation of the trail cam did not produce the hoped for results. I’m guessing the motion of moving branches was triggering the captures. I scanned 722 images and found one with a nice face shot of a squirrel and one blur of a smaller squirrel leaping through the air. Nothing else, beyond wiggling branches.

Having read about the superb cunning of fox behavior, and their ability to learn patterns of our movement, I’m even more impressed over the great snapshot we have from the morning last week when the two Barred Plymouth Rock hens were dispatched.

It is not lost on us that the elusiveness of this predator has kept us entirely blind to its presence, beyond the one picture. Even though it has obviously been active during the day when we are out and about, neither of us has ever seen it with our own eyes.

Foxy, indeed.

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Written by johnwhays

April 9, 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