View of our farm-top from the Tallgrass Prairie - Oct 2011
More Farming with Nature photos here
I have a rare few minutes at home alone. The Pandora soundtrack playing in the background is the Verve's Rather Be Here. "I'd rather be here than be anywhere. Is there anywhere better than here?..."
On a day like today it is easy to know Gratitude. Invite her into your car, house, life, and conversations. If one is convinced that we are living in the very best of times today but tomorrow we face challenges of limited resources (financial, energy, soil, you name it) then these perfect days and minutes are all the more savored and precious because one cannot take for granted that there will be more days like today or more moments like this very moment. Regardless of the where the world goes, we can all learn from Steve Jobs that every moment is to be well lived.
I drove home alone (the rest of the family going to the Friday Night Lights in the neighboring town) with the sun setting over the prairie. Another dramatic sunset due to the dust and soil kicked up from the 2 months without rain and the harvest in full gear. Geese are flying south again now that the insanely violent winds calmed down. There were deer along the roadside. I was returning from a family celebratory dinner at The Cabin Café in Clinton, MN. The Cabin, by the way, had locally grown fruit and vegetables and the food all made by scratch by Doreen. Doreen is a superb cook and invests in healthy food.
Tonight Mike charged me with getting the chickens safely into their hut for the night. It's already near dark and the chickens are still out. Just what Mike was afraid would happen and did. Yes- I forgot to put in the chickens (about 125 broilers). So I'll have to run outside with a flashlight and get the chickens into their hut before it's pitch dark. Hopefully get the turkey in too.
But I just can't pull myself away from The Verve singing Rather Be. Too perfect a soundtrack for this day.
I'm back--the chickens and turkey are safe in their hut. And I'm reminded of a few things:
1) That it is always good to go outside on a moonlit dusk/dark night
2) That having to do chores is a blessing in making you go outside and be
3) That it's damn sensible (and humane) to put the chickens in at night
In just the past 20 minutes I was reminded that we farm amidst the wild, like few commodity sized farmers do. This place where we live and farm has deep molic soils next to complexes of pothole ponds and prairies; all intertwined. I stood outside between the barn and house (which are ridiculously far apart due to building the house on one hill in a swamp and the barn on the other hill in the swamp I imagine) when an animal stirs in the grass to my left. Then the coyotes start to yipe yipe yipe awooooooooooooooo--sounding too close for comfort. The chickens, now safe in their hut, start to stir around. They recognize the sound of a predator. I make for my house. There is lightening flashing all around the horizon to the south and east. And a three-quarter moon above me with wisps of clouds passing over.
We've had more of our broilers chicks and chickens lost this year than any time in the past. Massacres of dozens of baby chicks and finding the remains of the mature chickens nearly ready for butcher out in the fields. We keep our chickens in pens at night and even tied the dog to the pens for a couple weeks as the predation was so bad. But we farm amidst nature--sloughs and prairies and wetlands. We are 'blessed' with fox, skunk, weasels, mink, raccoons, owls, coyotes, and hawks. And they all love to eat our happy, free-range pasture raised chickens. What's sad is that sometimes it seems like a senseless slaughter dozens of chicks as they just leave them laying there - dead and uneaten.
Farming wise, this means the cost of raising our chickens has skyrocketed this year. It's one thing to lose a $1.25 baby chick and another to lose a full grown, ready for market 8 pound broiler that has consumed $8 of high quality feed. That's a full $9.25 loss to distribute among the remaining chickens--and we've lost dozens.
Live and learn. Or lose and learn. I'm grateful to Jane who with her sensible good humor wrote up the Golden Guide to Chicken Death. Click on extended reading for all the gory details.
Jane's Little Golden Guide to Chicken Predators
Description of damage or loss Probable predator
Dead chicken in pen, scattered feathers, may have entrails torn out = Hawk
Headless chicken carcass found in morning, either inside or outside shelter; may be slight smell of skunk = Owl
One to several dead chicks or pullets found in the morning with gashes on neck but no other damage, especially in pen or shelter that you thought was secure = Weasel
Six to several dozen dead chicks or pullets found in morning, damage to heads and necks, minor feeding on carcasses = Skunk
One or two dead, partially eaten young chicks per day in or near pen = Crow
Missing chickens, may find feathers on the "back 40" = Fox
Dead chickens scattered across 40 acres = Raccoons
Scattered broken eggshells in laying flock shelter = Skunk
Two dead hens, one missing, and a very guilty looking German Shepherd (submitted by Jaden Forbord of Starbuck, MN) Inside job
Predator Predator control measure
Hawk Put up tall posts in your pen and weave twine in a criss-cross pattern between posts, as high up as you can (so that you can walk through the pen). Hawks will see this as a trap and won't enter the pen.
Owl Close up all gaps in the shelter with solid material (wood, sheet metal) or with chicken wire. Be vigilant about closing up all chickens inside the shelter every night.
Weasel Trap it.
Skunk Shoot it.
Alternatively, put an electric wire around the entire perimeter of the pen about four inches off the ground. Fill in all gaps or holes where a skunk could possibly slip under the wire. It is difficult to keep a wire this low "hot," because weeds & grass will continually grow up and touch the wire. Skunks are dedicated diggers - if the bottom of the fence isn't protected with an electric wire, they will get under it.
Crow Keep chicks indoors until they are large enough to make a crow think twice, and fast enough to get away. Or, put up netting over the top of the pen.
Fox Have a fence that is at least 3 feet high chicken wire, topped with hot wire that is no more than 3 inches above the chicken wire. Make sure the chicken wire is taut between posts. Fill in all gaps where a fox could slip in under the wire. Build up soil or place logs at the bottom of the chicken wire fence to discourage digging under it.
Raccoons See "Fox." Raccoons really, really don't like getting shocked by an electric fence. They are not as prone to digging under fences as a skunk, but they can climb over any fence that doesn't have an electric wire to stop them.
Inside job See "Fox." Also, make sure that your canine doesn't sneak in past you when you go into the pen - and always remember to close the gate behind you.