Sunday, July 20, 2008

A survivor and two more victims

Thursday night was blissfully quiet, but on Friday night our English shepherd, Porter, started viciously barking close to midnight. The kids let him out of the house, and Katherine followed. She saw something rather small fighting with a turkey in front of the barn. It dropped the turkey and ran west down the road. Porter -- remember he is a herding dog, not a guardian -- first ran to the turkey and pounced on it. Katherine convinced the dog to leave the poor traumatized turkey alone and chase the attacker down the road, but it outran them and went under the bridge beyond the west end of our property, which was when they gave up.

We're thinking it had to be a young coyote. It was too small to be an adult, and an adult would have taken the turkey with it. We've seen a coyote run off with an adult turkey or goose between its jaws. The attacker could not have been a raccoon because it ran much too fast for a coon. And it makes total sense that it was a coyote since it ran under the bridge down the road. That's the same end of our property where all the other coyote attacks have taken place. We're thinking that a pack of them is living by the creek down there. Luckily, the turkey survived, although it did lose a few feathers in the fight.

Last night was worse. Margaret went out at 10:30 to take the livestock guardian dog for a walk around the property. She heard chickens squawking in the barn pasture -- the interior pasture where we put the sheep after the sheep attacks -- the place we thought was the safest place on the farm. An intruder would have to go through two fences to get in there. Margaret took the lead off the dog and let him run. Two dead chickens lay in front of the buck pen, beheaded and half eaten. Obviously, there was more than one intruder, but they escaped before Margaret could see them or the dog could catch them. The dog has no trouble catching coons, however, so it appears coyotes are the most likely culprit. This morning, Jonathan found another mostly-eaten chicken.

I'm not at all happy that a pack of coyotes has decided that my farm is their buffet. Hmm ... what shall we have tonight? Lamb? Chicken? Turkey? The only thing they haven't had is goat. This didn't make sense to me at first, but then I realized that it takes a pack to get something as big as a sheep, but a single coyote, even a juvenile can get poultry. The sheep were in a pasture that had electric fence around it, and on one of those days, I know the electric had shorted out because the lower part of the pasture was flooded. That would make it quite easy for a pack to enter the pasture and take down a sheep. Since the goats are all behind woven wire or livestock panels, I guess it's just not as easy for several coyotes to jump the fences. Since the chicken attack in the walnut grove, we added a single wire of electric above the woven wire out there. But when you consider that there were probably three coyotes in the pasture last night, it's surprising that they went for chickens, rather than another sheep -- unless they were juveniles.

As I'm writing, my family is talking about this situation, and we just realized that we have not seen the three half-Muscovy ducks that live in the pasture. Best guess is that the last time they were seen was a week ago. A blog read emailed and asked me why we don't keep the chickens inside at night. We do have a chicken house, but there are always a few chickens that decide that they don't want to live there. They are the free spirits of the chicken world -- the fowl that want to take full advantage of being free range. That's the case with the chickens in the pasture. I can hardly even claim them as ours. They live on what Mother Nature provides them, and they lay their eggs in tall grasses, where they eventually set and hopefully raise a clutch of chicks.

Our guineas and some of our turkeys also roost in trees, although a coyote certainly couldn't snatch them from a branch 20 feet up a hickory tree. So, when a bird decides it wants to live wild, there isn't much we humans can do about it. On a homesteading list a few days ago, one woman was chronicling her ongoing struggle to get her guineas inside at night. I told her to give up. Besides, guineas are more wild than domesticated. A friend of mine told me that during an ice storm one year, her guineas clung to the tree limbs with icicles hanging off their feathers.

As for the half-Muscovy ducks, they spent their first summer between the creek, the pond, and the pasture. Their mother, being a Muscovy, really didn't care for the pond and creek much. She spent almost all of her time in the pasture; she still does. We've tried moving her out to the chicken house, which sits on the edge of the pond, but she wants nothing to do with it. So, her ducklings eventually decided to stay in the pasture with her.

It's frustrating that the pasture and all the fences seem to be worthless now, at least when it comes to keeping out intruders. In the past, it was the chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese that were at risk because they were not confined by fences. Lately, they seem to be the lucky ones.

The llamas should be arriving today. I have such high hopes that they'll get this problem under control.

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