Thursday, August 12, 2010

Loss of Life on the Farm.....

Farm visitor and friend Julianna feeding Chipper and friends in their yard.

Sometimes Life on the Farm is difficult. I don’t mean in the sense of it's hot or hard work or anything like that. Every career has its ups and downs and farming is actually very fullfilling in most respects. But what I mean, is for me, sometimes parts of it are just difficult to understand.

Granted, I am no doubt a city girl who plopped herself into a “country” occupation in the middle of an urban area, so I wasn't raised with a country mindset. And rural as it may be, to the delight of most city official types and those anxious for urban sprawl, it is still very developed and overrun with concrete, buildings, apartments and lacks of green space as our town "progresses". But where my farm sits, on 14 acres, surrounded by 90+ more vacant acres and a pretty large 10+ acre tract across the street and another 6 or so next door, it surprises me the degree to which I am starting to have city critter problems.

Coyote, fox, the occasionally loose dog – all of these things I would expect to have. But last night, whatever it was that broke into my chicken yard, was there just for the sake of the killing. Not one of my chickens was removed for a full meal. And this type of killing, is indicitive of city living critters. I hear the story from my fellow city dwelling chicken owners, all too often. But this has just started to become something I've had to even think about here. And this is the 3rd attack now.

The scent of skunk was pungent in the air early this morning when I awoke - at about 3 am thanks to little Ed. (He’s still a kitten and on nocturnal timing and wanted to chew on my toes.) I came out of my closed up room and it smelled as if the skunk was camping out in my kitchen its scent was so strong. But, he/she does tend to take up residency under my old house so I didn’t give it much thought. I suspect this is the same skunk I recently lost one of my hens to, and rescued 4 out of 5 of her chicks from.

Well, those chicks, now pullet size, and 3 of my full grown roosters appear to have been the latest victims. The faint smell of skunk was still in the air when I was gathering up the limp frames and feathers of my friends this morning.

I may never get used to this part of urban farm life. The senseless loss of life. At least in the country, the reason for the loss is generally to feed a hungry coyote or a momma and her young, or a hawk or owl. But this was just a slaughter. And my heart is heavy and a bit angry at the "circle of life" story. Why such violence in the animal world? Are there not enough trash cans to overturn or rabbits to chase down - or whatever skunks generally eat?

People say "Your loose chickens are safer in coops" rather than allowed to roam free like naturally they would be – well, I rarely lose any of my chickens roosting up in the rafters of my barns all night long. Even the big ol' "chicken" snake one of my horse boarding customers has nicknamed The Kracken, doesn't bother them unless they are an abandoned sick chick or missed egg. But, trapped in a coop, they are helpless – with no where to go, no way to get away. This creature, this ruthless critter – tore at that coop until it ripped chicken wire loose from the wooden frame – just to kill its sleeping residents.

So, this morning I said good bye to the 4 remaining chicks, Popeye – my one eyed rooster, No-Butt, who defended himself against a dog about a year ago and came away with everything but his, well, butt feathers – but had re-grown the most beautiful white striped tail feathers in its place, and to my sweet Chipper, (son of the late mysteriously missing gentle Chief), who was also one of the two beautiful and gentle roosters I would take with me to educational talks, special events and just bring out at market day to meet the kids and show people how gentle roosters can really be.

I’ll miss them all of course. And I realize that “they are only chickens” – as some more seasoned to farm animal deaths or those callused to sentiment might say, but they were MY chickens and they were like pets to me. So imagine having 7 of your pets lost, all at once, overnight. This was not a good morning. Made seeing 3 flats of fall squash, beans and melon seedlings on the floor of my greenhouse an hour later somehow less maddening – knowing it was one of my yard chickens that runs free who’d found its way in there – I could hardly get angry. I’ll just replant.

Snowball will have to work all of the shows now for awhile, until I can find another of my roosters to tame. They are so much more afraid of us than we can be of them. It takes a long time to get them to really trust you so they don’t try to flap their wings like crazy to get away – which scares most kids and adults alike in a close up setting.

And tonight, I’ll have to set my alarm for the wee hours to see to it that my other friends that are in the other coop stay safe until I can figure out how to safeguard their coop. I'll have to set a live trap - much to the shigrin of my friend Bonnie Bradshaw with DFW Wildlife Coalition, who says you can't effectively relocate wildlife. This one is going away.

If only my neighbors didn’t care so much about having chickens get on their property that I have to worry they will call animal control again to come pick them up as they wander to their barns; then none of my chickens would have to be sitting “ducks”, locked up in jails at night. They could all roost in the barn at night and be like real chickens.

That is Life on the Farm in the 21st Century I guess.

Anyone got a recipe for skunk?

UPDATE! - After further investigation, 2 ducks were also found, near the pond - with footprints of a dog..... that would explain a few things - including the brute force in which the wire was torn apart on the coop - AND the exit hole found later on at the other side that I didn't see in my grief this morning. Sounds like we have a mad dog on our hands......that can be a bad thing. A very bad thing.

MarieEat Your Food - Naturally!