Tag Archives: Chickens

GARDEN JOURNAL ** Predators Trying to Eat My Girls!

It started at 1:00 am this morning. My husband heard something outside; he jumped out of bed and grabbed his rifle. Its times like these that I realize that I had no idea what I was getting into when we moved to the back country. I am so not used to someone grabbing a rifle to solve a problem.

Its freezing, snow had been predicted, but we both dashed outside in just slippers and PJs. The first thing we saw was that I had left the coop open. Immediately the guilt set it in, but there was only time for action to see who we could save. I dashed back inside and grabbed the flashlight. While I held the door open and shined the flashlight into the coop …

Jack (my husband) points the gun and shoots! I don’t know what he’s shooting at but it’s not dead yet. He shoots again. My hand shakes, the flashlight beam wavers. I don’t like shooting, it scares me. The predator crawls to the open door and dies; it’s the biggest possum I have ever seen. My husband drags it out and we look to see how many of my six hens it got. One Rhode Island Red is dead. I feel terrible, but it gets worse. We count chickens, it looks like five girls (hens) made it through OK. We go back to bed.

It took forever to get warm and to get back to sleep.

Later, while having morning coffee, looking out the window at the coop, we were talking about what a crazy night it was and how upset our neighbors must be at shots being fired in the middle of the night. My husband felt bad about the hen. I was feeling bad about the hen and the possum. If I had not left the coop open the possum and the hen would still be alive. Then we saw this beautiful coyote come on to our property. Predictably my husband runs for the rifle. I shout, “No!” I have a real soft spot for coyotes. He does not; one killed his dog when he was a kid. I said the hens are safe in the coop and he should not shoot at the coyote. Why am I even having these conversations anyway?

We watched the coyote sniff around the coop and then wander off. I think fine, see chickens are safe and coyote is safe, win – win right? We sipped our coffee and I am going on and on about how beautiful the coyote was when the coyote streaks across the yard with one of my hens in its mouth!!!

We are both out the door and yelling before we can even think straight! The coyote drops the hen and dashes off. Of course, you guessed it, my husband and had gone for his rifle (again!) I yelled don’t shoot it. He’s not convinced that NOT shooting it is a good idea, but he knows I will freak if he shoots it dead so he fired off some shoots to scare it.

I went after the hen, yes I’m still in PJs and slippers and it’s starting to snow. The hen has disappeared. She is just gone. By time I got around the corner of the house she had vanished. I looked everywhere; followed the trail of feathers she was dropping until the trail ended. I was afraid that there was another coyote on the other side of the house who picked her up; anyway I looked for her, went inside put warm clothes on and looked some more, tramping around as it snowed.

After giving up all hope for any happy outcome what so ever, becoming resigned to the fact that I had failed my little flock of hens, not just once by leaving the coop open, but twice by not counting correctly after killing the possum and leaving one poor little hen wondering out by itself all night, I went back outside to sow some wildflower seeds. The snow had stopped and the ground was wet, a perfect time to sow wildflower seeds for flowers next spring and summer. I was in the front garden when I heard the best little noise ever, the soft clucking sound of a hen checking to see if I might have some treats. Yay! There she was, a bit battered, but overall in better shape than you would think after being  between a coyote’s teeth. So, she is back in her coop and I now understand why so many of my friends built chicken runs and do not free range their chickens anymore. I’m not sure what I will do. Certainly devise a better system to remember to close up the coop after the girls have gone in for the night – if I let them out during the day at all anymore.

Planting gardens that are more like small farms and orchards, having animals to care for and keep safe, making choices about eating a wild Thanksgiving turkey I had to pluck myself are all things that remind me that living in the back country is a lifestyle change that I embrace but not a lifestyle change I was really prepared for. I’m playing catch-up here, I read blogs by others that are trying to do what we are doing and they are encouraging.  We are 20 to 40 somethings and baby boomers, a small but growing group who are reclaiming the privilege of growing our own food. We make mistakes but we keep trying.

possum

Possum (not the one that got shot last night)

coyote

Coyote on the prowl!

 

 

PERMACULTURE ** Design Principle #5 – REDUNDANCY in the Garden is Good

Gardens that are riddled with redundancy thrive!

orbit timer_irrigationWHEN a key function such as getting water to the garden is supported by multiple elements such as:

  • Drip lines on timers
  • Rain barrels
  • Hoses, with adjustable spray nozzles, that are long enough to reach all parts of the garden

OR the key function of enriching your soil is supported by the elements of:

worms_red wigglers_ compost bin

Compost bin made with old wood pallets and red wiggler worms in a worm farm

  • Compost bins for kitchen scraps and shredded paper
  • A worm farm
  • Using poop from your small (or large) flock of chickens, geese or ducks

Then, if any one of these elements or functions fails, the whole system does not fall apart.

Even as I write I realize this principle planted right in the middle of the ten Permaculture design principles is in some ways redundant because I have already talked about some of these things in the first four principles.

Redundancy improves our chances of success. If I need to get up a 6am to get to the airport on time I set my cell phone alarm, the alarm on my nightstand and I raise the shades so the sun shines in my window. This insures that I will get up at 6am. The same applies in the garden.

When choosing plants and trees for gardens and orchards plant three or four different varieties of the same fruit or vegetable just in case one or two varieties fail. I also plant different varieties in different locations on our property so if one type of tomato in the garden gets a bad case of powdery mildew or an infestation of the tomato hornworms and the crop fails I still have the tomatoes I planted in the orchard. Of course if all goes well then I end up with a bumper crop of tomatoes and I am very busy canning, dehydrating and juicing!

Araucana_chickens_hens

Ameraucana Mix with Attitude

If you start a backyard flock of chickens for producing eggs and manure consider getting a variety of hens rather than just one breed. I have a Barred Rock, a Rhode Island Red, a Black Star, a Swedish Flower Hen, a Welsummer and two Ameraucana mixes (also called Easter Egger chickens)! Why have so many different breeds? Some of the hens lay later into the winter (the Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red), some lay blue eggs (Ameraucana mix) which are pretty, some of the hens are unique looking and are good layers (the Swedish Flower Hen) and so it goes. If you are not breeding chickens why not have a few different breeds?

Redundancy multiplies and strengthens the connections we build so our gardens thrive and produce abundant harvests.