The weather generally dictates my schedule for the week. Lately it’s been cold and windy, so I’ve kept to indoor projects. But the last week has been a different pace, with Forrest now retired. There is an ease to everything – staying up later watching a good movie, getting up later than usual as a result of being up so late, and eating when we’re hungry instead of a set time for meals. And because of the times, we are indulging in a lot of internet news. Of course there is the distraction of four fawns that parade past the computer room window. Often in the mornings, Forrest makes time to walk to the orchard with them.
The winter time can be difficult for wildlife. With most plants in a dormant stage, and good cover a bit harder to find, we see a lot of predation. I have noticed the scat of various predators both near our house, and on pathways through the woods. Many predators make their presence known, while others are cleverly hidden and it is rare to see them. The bobcat is one such hunter. Yet a couple of weeks ago I saw one in broad daylight, down below the slope, waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting small mammal. I managed a photo before it got up and sauntered off. I felt as if this bobcat was used to being around humans. This caused me a bit of worry about the fawns. They’re old enough to run fast and far, but the bobcat is an agile runner and killer. Our first orphaned deer, Daisy, was attacked by a bobcat while trying to save her first fawn from an attack. She survived the fight, but her fawn did not.
Being a keeper of chickens, I continually work to keep the flock safe. Unfortunately, our chicken barn is old and dilapidated. Forrest has worked to put metal siding along the bottom in many areas, to keep varmints out. But predators are clever opportunists. In a little over a year’s time, we went from a flock of fifty-two chickens, to the current number of thirty-one – which includes Dale the rooster. Last winter was especially hard with very cold temperatures, and then a respiratory illness was introduced to the flock. Buying from a local breeder without checking credentials, cost us dearly – we learned a hard lesson. That illness was the start of the dwindling numbers. Then, two foxes attacked in February, and we lost a total of six chickens. In the days that followed, a few more died for no apparent reason other than we suspected stress and shock from the fox attack. In mid-summer we found three young opossums living in the barn. While they were not old enough yet to pose a threat to the chickens, they were robbing eggs from the nest boxes. We trapped and relocated them. Next, it was a group of raccoons that were frequenting the barn area, likely eating the deer feed we keep handy for the deer in their old pen. I have never forgotten the night more than a decade ago when we lost twenty-six hens in one night to a raccoon massacre. Raccoons are trapped regularly here, and transported a good distance off so they don’t find their way back.
Over the summer I noted that Dale the rooster spent a lot of afternoons giving the danger alert call. I know this sound – it’s truly alarming, as if he’s highly stressed. Anytime I heard Dale make the danger call, I found a red-tailed hawk or a Cooper’s hawk lurking high above in a tree. A couple of times I saw a hawk fly low over the pen, ducking under the big pecan tree that shades the chicken barn. Fortunately, Dale’s alert always got the hens safely inside. I also added large branches with leaves attached to help give the chickens cover in the large pen, just in case they couldn’t make it into the barn. Then last week, Forrest discovered a hawk tearing up a hen. It was Twinkie – the smallest hen we have, who always let me hold her.
We don’t generally kill anything unless it makes an attack on our chickens or the orphaned deer we raise. The hawk will not be dealt with since they are a protected species. So we will just provide a safer chicken yard environment as best we can. People seem to feel comfortable with live-trapping and release – it sounds wonderful, no death, and a fresh start somewhere in the wild where we believe they flourish. But it isn’t always that smooth of an outcome. Many times, these transplanted mammals end up in unfamiliar areas and are run off because of territorial boundaries of their own species. It takes time to familiarize themselves with the layout of their new area and to locate food, water and shelter. And they may be targeted as prey by another predator. When we trap and release, we spend a lot of time finding a place where we feel they have the best chance to survive, and one far enough away that they don’t attempt a trek back home.
Predators are always present. They exist commonly in the human world as well. Surviving them requires continual awareness — watching and waiting… being fit for battle, and ready for the fight.
© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…