Sunday, February 23, 2014

# 503 - Replenishing the Flock - Twenty Chicks!

Last weekend, I went to bed with a heavy heart after putting my only surviving chicken in the coop, for her to roost alone for the night since the rest of the flock was attacked and killed.

For the next few nights, I found it very difficult to sleep as I was constantly listening for the one surviving chicken to suffer an attack as the predator somehow would steal into her secured coop. I kept the .22 at the front door, just in case. But, so far we have made it through each night with "Survivor" still intact.

It is likely that a large predator with a hearty appetite found our chickens, perhaps the coyote that Sgt. Dave has seen running past our acreage made his way here for a feast.

But, we decided to not allow the predator(s) to win, so the day after I found the chickens...this past Monday, Sgt. Dave took me for a day out on the town with a trip to the feed store to buy chicks. He does sweet things like that, knowing I truly miss my chickens and am concerned about the one chicken being left alone.

No, these are not boxes full of fast food, but they are holding
twenty chicks ready to enjoy their new home.

Knowing the hard truths of raising chickens because of three years of experience with small flocks, we decided to go ahead and buy the largest flock to date for our farm. After all, we have acres of land and want to put it to good use.

I ended up with 20 chicks.

The funny thing is...we went to the feed store and made our first purchase, but we ended back there at the end of the day to get a second batch of two additional breeds.

With this flock, I will have five different kinds of chickens:

1. Rhode Island Reds
2. Barred Plymouth Rocks
3. Buff Orpingtons (same as I had before)
4. Black Australorps
5. Ideal 236 - also known as White Leghorns

If my long-time readers remember, the first batch of chicks we bought were kept in our master bathroom garden tub until they were big enough to move to the outdoor coop in the backyard of our suburban home located in the Greater Houston area.

My niece, Shaye, helping with the chickens that we kept in
our backyard.

They are sleeping in a special cage built by Sgt. Dave that is solid and with tight woven galvanized wire to prevent any predators from breaking in. The cage has a heat lamp shining upon it so the chicks will have warmth and the cage is inside my secure metal shed that I use as a laundry room.

Every day I am in that laundry shed multiple times and the dogs LOVE their "babies."

They sit against the cage with big grins.

The puppy, Gracie, is leaning that we protect the chickens and live peacefully with them.

A few chicks have the beginnings of feathers, so they should be growing fast. Over the next few weeks, we hope our lone, surviving chicken will become acclimated to the chicks so they can peacefully co-exist. Truthfully, I just want that surviving chicken to keep surviving. Her being the only large chicken puts her at a disadvantage.

But, she is laying one nice-sized egg per day. I can't believe we are only getting one egg per day! For three years, we have had an abundance of eggs being laid just a few steps from the front door. I cannot imagine having to BUY eggs from a grocery store. Yuk!

During our trip into town, we also stopped by Lowe's to get more supplies for an expanded chicken coop and to reinforce the one we now use.

No make-up and with laundry in background, but heck, it's a good moment.

Perhaps we bought too many. I don't know. If so, I will try to sell a few as full-grown laying hens in a few months. But, it will work out. I think I will be end up with a considerable amount of eggs. Having extra eggs won't be a problem. Our dogs love scrambled eggs and having too many might help us cut back on the cost of dog food!

Sgt. Dave might have to start taking some ultra-fresh eggs to people at work in downtown Houston

The Circle of Life just began, again, at point "A." And I am happy in spite of our recent farm-loss, even though I miss Beaker with a pang of anguish at her demise, but that is part of Farm Life Lessons that mirrors the ups and downs of reality.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

# 502 - Sad - Predator Visit

Well, I recently wrote a post about the raccoon Sgt. Dave trapped. We soft hearted types let it go. But, we live on acreage adjoining the Big Thicket Preserve, so we have more than an abundance of wild-life out here.

I am sad today because I had five chickens and four of them have been killed by some predator. I cannot believe we had a near-wipe-out slaughter episode because we've lived here for over eight months in the country, with the chickens free-ranging, and they have survived. Only one made a complete disappearance, which took my number of chickens from six to five. And the locals said my chickens wouldn't survive the first week out here because of abundant wild-life.

However, today, I came back onto the property to drive up to a farm-horror-scene. Clearly, my chickens had been slaughtered. I immediately could tell that something VERY WRONG had happened. My heart has sunk to my feet.

I was by myself...well...and with my three dogs in the truck. After seeing the carnage upon driving up, I could not even park the right way. I just pulled further in and jumped out of the truck, then began running around to see what had happened, and if, by some miracle, any chickens needed help.

And you should have seen me, the closest weapon I had at that moment was a golf putting club and I had it ready to wield with fury.

But, it was too late.

Feathers were in huge piles, here and there, clearly signs of a struggle. One pile appears to be an area where the entire chicken was torn apart and dined upon for quite a while. My favorite chicken that I hand feed almost daily, Beaker, is gone and her dark feathers with soft downy feathers are left behind.

The worse part is that some of the feathers were gross with bits of raw gunk on them and the puppy, Gracie, began to eat the feathers...until she got into MAJOR trouble, then she stopped, immediately. That's the last thing I need, for the dogs to think the plucked feathers taste good.

My Aussie, Howdy, is extremely protective of the chickens and I always refer to the chickens as his "BABIES!" And he is in tune, highly, with their various sounds of clucking, from soft happy sounds that have Howdy relaxing with a doggie grin, to their screams of distress that has him jumping any hurdle and knocking down anything in his path to get to his babies.

Even if we are watching tv and a show comes on with chickens in the scene, he jumps up in a panic and won't let up until we allow him to go check out the real chickens.

So, Howdy was racing from one area to the next, jumping the creek, running and running as he searched for the chickens. He was COVERED in mud. He knows their smell. He always goes up behind the chickens to sniff, as if it is his mental "count" of the hens. But, he couldn't find them.

Liyla, our old dog, just stood in one of the big pile of feathers and kept sniffing and looking up, as if to say she knew things weren't right.

And I walked and walked around the land, truly ready to shoot the predator with a .22 rifle.

For over two hours, I walked. I didn't want to give up. I went back and got chicken feed in a cup and walked the same areas while shaking the container, which is a proven method to get my chickens to come running, while knowing I was probably going to come across pieces and bits of my chickens instead of finding them alive.

Regardless, I was going to bury any remains that I found. But, there wasn't enough left to bury.

However, imagine my shock as the one remaining chicken began to literally RUN toward me, as if she were going to fly into my arms. I was so happy to see her. She walked with me through acres of land, staying by my side. Actually, she ran out to me as soon as I got out of the truck and began to inspect the first piles of obvious violence.

She was by herself. None of the other chickens were running behind her, as is usual.

Tonight, it was sad to see that one chicken in the coop by herself because she'd normally be tucked among four other big feathered friends.

All of this has prompted us to know the chicken coop will need to be given priority and a re-design to accommodate the new batch of chicks we are about to adopt for the farm. I can promise you that I am going to sorely miss all the beautiful eggs we were able to pull out of the coop every day. The one chicken remaining will probably give us one egg per day. One golden egg per day.

However, I do believe that the chicken-killing-predator has learned that a feast is waiting at this location and it WILL be back. Whether it is raccoon, fox, rogue dogs or will be eager to fill up again.

I'm not kidding, I'm ready to sit in sniper-position outside, waiting patiently with my rifle for a return attempt so I can knock off the killer. For those of you who are regular readers, you know I am patient and determined enough to do such a thing.

The first experience with letting the trapped raccoon be free has been a hard learned lesson of the wrong thing to do and the wrong method of doing it. I am glad to have blog buddies who spoke up loud and clear...trying to warn me. I had already made the first mistake; however, there's no telling what attacked the chickens. I have also heard a LOT of shooting around the property, which means a hunting crew with hunting dogs could have POSSIBLY come through our property by mistake. I would hope that a responsible hunter would have left us a note and reimbursed us for our loss, which is what I would do if my dog caused any kind of property damage for someone else.

And I know that we will be getting more wildlife and security cameras in place so that there will not be any more mysteries about these things. I never thought about putting one up to monitor the chicken coop, but that is next.

As for the raccoon we had trapped, I now am reconciling the fact that releasing a prowling predator is not a smart decision. On a farm, in the country, the wildlife must be battled so that the livestock can survive or we must drive a far distance to release the wildlife so it won't be able to easily find its way back to a farm feast.

For now, I am grateful for my blessings, but feeling really down about having my little flocked nearly wiped out, save for one little hen that somehow survived. I think I will rename her, "Survivor."

And I will start over.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

# 501 - Raccoon Visit - Caught in the Trap

Man, I am far behind in my posts! I am trying to catch up, so I'll be hitting the posts heavy.

We had bought a trap set at the local Tractor Supply store and after setting it every night, we were pleased to soon discover a raccoon in the trap. Perhaps this raccoon was a small female, not yet grown, but very observant.

Truthfully, she was pretty darn cute with that mask-like appearance circling big brown eyes. But, she had to GO, and I was hoping she would run far away, but I doubt it. I don't want her hanging around here because she'll likely come back for my chickens

The little raccoon was rather docile, up until the part when Sgt. Dave's fingers got too close to the top of the cage. I have that moment on video. Otherwise, she kept an inquisitive expression.

Of course, our youngest daughter, Stefie, wants us to keep every creature we find. If we did, soon we would be opening our own wild life park. And our oldest daughter, Heather, is very involved with abused, neglected animals, but I think she knows this raccoon belongs in the country as a WILD creature!

To be honest, this raccoon's small size saved her life. Sgt. Dave said that her fur pelt did not have enough fur to cover his big head. I agreed.

The dogs were extremely curious, but we kept them at a them enough room to get a look at her as she began the nasty hissing with arms reaching out of cage to scratch and attack. No, that's no so cute.

But, I am so fascinated by the unique appearance, intelligence and scavenger abilities of a raccoon. It's interesting that they usually stand at some body of water while eating so they can constantly wash their food as they eat it. I guess they are the OCD critter of the forest.

These Bandit-Masked Raccoons can get to about 23 pounds and they usually live 2-3 years in the wild. This little gal probably finds a lot of her food in the creek; she omnivorous and that means she's a mammal that will eat just about anything, including meat. But, most of her diet is likely to be frogs, insects, mice, and raccoons love to raid nests...yikes for my chickens!

As a side watching the video, you see how fantastic it is for me to tackle a task with Sgt. Dave nearby...I try to video the raccoon and Sgt. Dave continuously puts himself in front of my camera action. Blah!

I joked with Sgt. Dave that his bait of the raccoon traps with cat treats has probably taught this little raccoon gal a lesson on traps. I wouldn't be surprised if we woke up to find her in the trap again in the morning, her tummy full of cat treats.

What will be next? A skunk?