Monday, November 16, 2015

The Hopeful farmer: Of chickens and raccoons and rats

    We own chickens.  We  are neither chicken fans, nor chicken haters.  We just own them because when we first bought our farm it had  an RA40 zoning, and our realtor advised us to get animals on it, so it would not be deemed recreational, but agricultural.  Okay.  You have heard the rooster saga - Snowy,  was a bully, and eventually became coq au vin.  Yummy!
    Over a month ago, one of our Austrolorps was getting picked on by the other chickens.  She went from being a pretty black chicken with iridescent feathers to this

Her back was raw and bloody from them picking at her.  I put a blue cote antiseptic on it, hoping they might lay off if they did not see the red back.  No such luck.  So we took her out of the coop and let her free-range.  We figured she had a better chance against the occasional hawk than she did with her flock.  We dubbed her Raggedy Ann and crossed our fingers.  She promptly settled herself on the highest  bale of hay in the stack, and was quite happy.  She would come running up to the car as we pulled in at feeding times (why we did not hit her, I have no idea!)  and she contentedly wandered around the coop, as if taunting her flock mates with her freedom!
    Of course,  we had to put down some food for her, as most of the insects are gone at this time of year.  This allowed the rat that I knew was somewhere on the farm (I saw it last summer) to become bolder.  We saw it drinking from the ewes' water bucket, and every night it dragged raggedy's pellet bowl under the pallets  in the hay  shed.  Not good.  Then a few days later,  all the chickens in the coop were  sitting out  in the run - even though it was cold.  I opened the coop door to change the water, and the rat was sitting on the feeder chowing down on pelletized chicken food.   It looked at me, then took off.   Many friends made sweet references to Templeton, but I assure you, there is nothing sweet or romantic about a rat in the coop.   The next day we had set rat traps.   After two days we had caught  (and killed) one rat,  and two field mice.  We have seen no others, and the traps remain baited but not sprung.  So Rat Abatement Complete.
    A week or so later we had a dead, headless chicken.  Damn!  Raccoon?  Weasel/mink?  Time for research.   We returned the next day to three more dead chickens, only two missing their heads, the other just mauled.  Pretty certain it is raccoons.  We had one in the barn last year, and as adorable as they look, they are vicious when it comes to the flock.   We have been much more vigilant as we  have entered the dark season to be certain to close them into the coop at night,  and check carefully for signs of climbing or digging by the predators.  
      We are down to six chickens from eleven (one died of natural causes), so we thought, let's try putting Raggedy Ann back in the coop.  Things were fine for  a week, but yesterday, as we were checking the sheep, there was a hullaballoo from the coop, and Raggedy was getting chased again - even though she is full feathered and healed.  So back out she came, and up on her hay bale she perched.   I just hope there is enough insulation  in the bales for her to stay warm as winter approaches.  
     I do not understand  chickens.  They are not unlike humans.  "Oh, we have a predator senselessly killing us.  Instead of banding together, let's pick on the outsider."  Stupid birds. 

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