Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn...

So the holiday season is upon us, already. That means the cold weather is coming - today in fact, as I type, we are watching it drop from 64F to 32F before sunup tomorrow! It's ok, as Farmer Wendy reminded me a few weeks ago when I was whining about losing my winter squash plants to an unpredicted freeze, "everything has its season."  I know she is right, but it is still so hard to watch plants that I've nurtured along for months succumb to the cold. If only I had a huge greenhouse, I could.... never mind. She's right, who wants to eat okra and winter squash all year long anyway?

Eating in season is part of what makes a CSA fun, interesting and probably more healthy. There are plenty of writings on the importance of "eating your greens" in the winter, fresh fruits in the summer and so on.  We're so spoiled by supermarket availability, we often forget when things are supposed to be in, or out, of season.  (Although, one bite into a hydroponically raised tomato will quickly remind you - January is NOT tomato season in Dallas.)

Our animals on the farm have a season, too.  As recently as this past Wednesday, our beloved Snowball's season ended. Now for some of you hard-core farmers, this may not be as big a deal as I am making it out to be as a former city dweller who still makes pets of just about any animal that comes my way.  But, Snowball was not just another rooster around here.  He was everyone's rooster. The kids who came to the farm to visit looked for him, pet him, fed and even got to hold him. He came on field trips with me to teach school children, and even made an office visit or two! I had no idea how many people were afraid of chickens and roosters and it was nice to watch these folks learn that not all fowl, are foul.  So far, we've always had friendly fowl at Eden's.  The only exception was an old Tom turkey - I understand they can get ornery as they age, and Tom Tom was known to nibble on your shorts - or leg! But never have we had the cases of roosters chasing people down or spurring them. Other than Snowball, there weren't any roosters that stuck around unless you had food for them.  

Anyway, last week Friday, one of our CSA members witnessed feathers flying in the chicken coop area and heard a commotion. As he approached, he saw Snowball in a fight for his life with what was described as "the biggest house cat I have ever seen!" He hissed at the cat and it fled, up over the fence - front paws at the top of the 6' fence, and tail touching the ground....that's a pretty darn big house cat!

He described its coloring and features. This was no ordinary house cat. But what Bobcat has a long tail? And a mountain lion would have a solid colored coat, right? Did we have a mystery animal on our hands?
There was even talk for awhile that it was a Jaguarundi, a somewhat rare and Federally protected animal native many hundreds of miles south of here. With the drought and scarce food, many predators are moving out of their normal habitats, so who knew what we were up against? We never did find out even though I saw a cat-like creature creeping through the grass the next morning, I couldn't get a good look at it - or a good shot. I've since mowed down all of the tall grass and hopefully upset its hiding places.  Eliminating habitat and food sources are the best way to control unwanted wildlife. I learned disposing of one, via lead poisoning, only creates a void for another one to come in.  You have to get to the root of the problem, whatever is feeding on your livestock.

All I knew at the moment, was that Snowball was bleeding and the girls were upset. We quickly ushered everyone into coops and I took my injured rooster to the house for some first aid. Initially it didn't seem like a very bad wound. I was quite hopeful he'd be just fine. After all, this was Snowball - he'd managed to escape the jaws of pit bulls!

Sadly though, as the days drew on, Snowball developed pneumonia, apparently the puncture wound introduced something to his system because his skin was not infected externally. And, he may have had something inside punctured or ruptured, as the jaws of this nearly 20lb, 6' toe to tail creature tried to ring his neck. Fans of Snowball rallied to raise funds to help with the vet bill, not something we usually have around here for our chickens, and have sent condolences in his passing.

Snowball will surely be missed and it will take awhile to fill his talons. Not all roosters will sit so patiently while 100 3rd graders touch their beak, waddles and cone, squeal when he eats out of their hand and bump into him as others from behind push to get closer to see him.  No, Snowball had more patience than I sometimes do.  And funny thing is, he was a "stray". Early one spring, about March I guess it was, I noticed this pretty, young, white rooster wandering around with my flock. "Where'd you come from?" He'd make a trek back and forth to the nearby apartment complex daily, so I figured someone got a "cute chicken" for Christmas, and it turned out to be a rooster.... when will we learn not to buy kids baby animals for gifts? That's another subject I guess.

He was quickly accepted by the others here on the farm though, I suspect because he was so young as normally a strange rooster would quickly be chased off the property by the veteran residents.  And little by little, he began roosting with our flock in the barns.  He was pretty tame, coming when I would call to him and offer feed from my hand.  He was a natural for my educational program.  And, since Chipper had recently come up missing, Snowball was now the head rooster in charge of this job.

What we've learned since losing Snowball, along with 2 other roosters, our last guinea and a hen - all in the last week - is that we need to seriously figure out a way to better protect our flocks from what appear to be predators that are sticking around.  Premiere One has an electrified fencing set up we have a $250 pledge towards the purchase of.  This, in addition to some LGD, 2 Great Pyrenese, should significantly reduce our exposure.

One of our CSA member's, a couple from the Rowlett area, have decided that the farm needs better protection in the way of a pair of LGD.  If you're unfamiliar with them, I'll have more soon in another post, specifically about these dogs and their role on a farm.  I'm excited to be getting them, and ever so grateful to my CSA family for pledging to support them.  Vet bills can get very expensive - not to mention feeding two dogs that will probably outweigh me! I can eat vegetables for a long time and not care, they probably won't be as happy if that's all their diet consisted of.

So, it is with sadness I bid farewell to my buddy Snowball, the one red-eyed and one yellow-eyed, people friendly rooster, and with anticipation I await the arrival of 2 rescue GP dogs, to be described soon.

One season ends - and soon another will begin.  Turn, turn, turn.

Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!