May 2013- more predator problems

why so hard?

You could ask me how this small scale farming life is at any given moment, on any given day, I would nearly always have a different answer. Most days are just lots of enjoyable hard work, awesome self-employment with my sweetie, enjoying the outdoors. Today though, I’d say it’s rough, frustrating and hopeless. Most days are not like this, but it’s been a hard day. We’re having predator problems. These problems began the first spring we were farming here. This is our 3rd spring here and we continue to battle the assorted nightime predators. Raccoons and weasels/mink. We had an adult goose get killed last week, and then more recently, a chicken hen was killed right by the rabbitry, pulled through the mesh bottom. Dogs, hello? What are you doing not paying attention to a giant raccoon pulling a chicken to it’s death right near where you sleep? Uggggg.

Then, this morning I found 8 Rouen ducklings killed inside their chicken tractor, which is enclosed by electronet. This Electronet has been such a blessing and worked perfectly for us last year with our pastured chickens, but now the predator has breached our one safety trick. THIS IS SO VERY FRUSTRATING. The evidence says weasel/mink, as the ducklings were pulled beneath the edges of the “tractor”, and had a small bite out of their neck and that is it. Dead. Several others appear to have had a close call and what I don’t get is why they hang out so close to the edge of the tractor in the dark in the first place. Also, how the fuck did that weasel/mink get past the previously impervious electronet? Within this net, we also had rabbits, the Bubsters (broiler chickens) and the oldest goslings, each in their own tractor. Praise be, none of them were attacked, but the rule is that the predator WILL return the following night, so we had some work to do. What, we weren’t sure, but we had to make some changes.

People, if you are beginning a pastured poultry aspect to your farm- my advice to you is to have 100% enclosed night shelters. Let them out to run inside the electronet during the day, but then lock them up at night. This “chicken tractor” bullshit, with the open bottom, is only asking for trouble, death, despair, financial loss and sadness. We thought we had it down with the electronet surrounding the tractors, but we were wrong. We thought we had it down by having 3 farm dogs who are outside all night long, but they don’t do enough. We got the Herman Chenowith book, about making enclosed portable coops on skids for pastured birds, but the skids won’t really work on our piece of land with bumps and rolling slopes. We’ll be making some totally enclosed version of this, but on a wheeled chassis instead of skids. It just will take some time to build. We had planned to have these porta-coops made earlier, but with the late spring, the snow and soggy wet, we couldn’t get the chassis out of the fields where we’d bought them. So our Bubsters are back in the brooder-mobile and will go in and out starting tomorrow, and the ducks, rabbits and goslings are in a new location surrounded by electronet and we’ll be tying a dog out next to them. Pastured meat is really tasty, but we are not raising it for the fucking predators to enjoy.

I guess what’s extra frustrating today is that it really always feels like we’re playing catch up, trying to fix things in retrospect. Maybe this is our learning curve time, but I don’t like this feeling of failure and frustration and sadness.

One more thing I have to mention- I’ve been successfully “mob grazing” the laying ducks, and totally love working the girls into this rotation of fresh new paddocks every couple days. But today, they pushed their fence over and got out. While Andrew went on the feed run, I’d been inside cleaning eggs and candling, listening to a podcast (thank you Gudrun!!) and I came out to check on everybody, and saw some movement in the garden, WAY over by the tractor- yes the ducks got out. And suddenly I realized ALL OF THEM were out. Do you know what it is like to corral 275 ducks back to their paddock? It’s crazy making, that’s what it is…..luckily they were all safe, and sassily scooted their bums right back to where they’d escaped from.

memorial days

I just walked into the kitchen, been seeding like a fool and time to fill the wine glass. My heart stopped when I recognized Gordon Lightfoot’s voice coming from the speakers. WPR was playing his song The Edmund Fitzgerald. I stood, transfixed and my eyes flooded as I thought of my mom. She loved him. Anyone famous who was Canadian, she loved, and she’d always point it out to us too: “Oh that John Candy, oh he’s so FUNNY! And he’s a CANADIAN.” A constant thing in my childhood. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and suddenly I was having a small memorial. She doesn’t come to me that often anymore, but when she does, it is undeniable.

The past few days have been really amazing, getting the huge garden space filled with plants and seeds. We waited for so long for the soil to be dry enough to till and get the garden in. And we just had a frost too, luckily the tomatoes weren’t put out yet. What a spring. Since my Mom and i don’t get to talk in person anymore, I lose touch with her presence. It’s not sad, it is just the eventual thing that happens to anyone who loves and loses someone. But this little moment today with Gordon Lightfoot brought her back to me, and I am so grateful. Damn, I wish she could see all we’ve done here. xoxo Mom.

coq au vin

We had this Jersey Giant Rooster, who I got on trade for a tub of my homemade goats milk mozzarella last summer. My friend had gotten some Jersey Giant pullet chicks, but as is usual with “sexed” poultry, a rooster appeared.  This young guy was to be the new rooster for our small flock of chickens, as my old Australorpe was acting a bit seniorly as he was about 7 or 8 years of age (that’s like 75 in human years). The Australorpe was always gentle and courtly with the ladies, never an aggressive rooster. I hoped he’d train in his replacement in a like-fashion. It went ok last summer and fall with the 2 roosters and the small group of lady chickens for them to tend, although the hens split into two groups of who favored which rooster. Very interesting.

Then my Australorpe passed away this winter, of natural causes. I’d bought him on craigslist for $10 a long time ago. He was such a gentle guy, never underfoot or in the way, and he was just so beautiful to look at- ebony plumes glossed with violet and emerald tones. The Jersey Giant had similar looks and a taller stature, but the majority of the hens didn’t really like him much until the Australorpe passed away. They honored their king and leader with their loyalty. But when he was gone, they looked to the new guy for protection and attention. One by one however, our small flock of older chicken hens has been preyed upon or died from natural causes, until we only had one hen and the Australorpe left.

Since last fall, we’ve been noticing how annoying it is to have 100% free range chickens around the yard- they’d go into the hoophouse and peck at tomatoes and other succulent plants we’ve tended like maniacs, or jump up on flats of seedlings getting hardened off outside the house for the day, demolishing them. We kind of decided no more yard chickens, after these remaining two, the Jersey Giant and the Barred Rock hen. We let them wander the farm yard and fenced off the hoophouse off so they couldn’t get in there.

And then the attacks began.That Jersey Giant was SO stealthy. God, he was just really and admirably sneaky. I’ve heard of and seen asshole roosters just run at people, no holds barred, leaping into mid air at them. It’s a frightening sight! But a sneak attack is worse, I think. The first time I was leaning over the goslings’ playpen filing their water tub, and suddenly felt a “thud” against my boots. I looked around and there’s nothing there, but then you see the rooster slinking away proudly. This began to accelerate, and I noticed he had this pattern of pretending to not care I had just walked past him, he’d peck the ground, acting all passive and non-interested. But if I turned to watch behind me as I walked past, he’d begin a fast paced strut in my direction.

It got worse in the past couple days. I got a painful puncture on my shin- he had massive spurs, which are basically like the dew claw on a dog, except they stick straight out and look like a mid-evil super sharp dragon horn. So we caught him in a net and put him in a cage. I knew what I had to do.

I gave it a day, thought about it. He voraciously crowed from his cage, did the little “I’m just pecking at the ground” routine whenever I went by, and reached down and felt where he’d punctured me. It was time. I got him out and I cut his jugulars and hung him to bleed out. I boiled water and scalded him to remove his feathers, gave his head and feet to Belle, our Heeler. She’d also been a subject of his testosterone laden attacks, so I felt she really deserved this treat. When I eviscerated him, his testicles were ENORMOUS, each one almost bigger than his gizzard! Go figure.

Now I know he was just doing his job, being a rooster. But I cannot handle getting attacked. And tomorrow after his body rests in the fridge tonight, I’ll be making Coq Au Vin, France’s brilliant solution to deal with attack roosters. I cannot wait.

Ironically, we brought home 131 roosters this very morning. Cute, tiny fluffy roosters. They won’t be staying around long after they hit puberty, as these are the heritage birds slated for our heritage Chicken Shares in November.

We’ve got an assortment of breeds and also some Dark Cornish, which are one of the breeds involved with making the famous and amazing Cornish Cross. I’ve given up thinking we’ll ever be a poultry breeding farm and let that be the specialty of other businesses, so we won’t be keeping anymore roosters around here!

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