Friday, November 02, 2012

Unruly animals at Pratie Place

It is so hard to manage the animal kingdom.

My son's darling dog Julius turned out to be a master chicken-killer. Of the three times he's managed to slip away from Ezra, two have ended with (within about two seconds) a dead chicken and a mushroom-cloud of feathers. One time he only got a huge mouthful of feathers and the half-plucked chicken ran away and hid under the car while I hit the ground grabbing the murderous canine.

There turn out to be many murderous creatures in our woods. Twice a chicken has ventured out beyond the deerfence and gotten hit by something out there. A tremendous squawk had me running out of the house. There was a huge pile of features and a chicken lying on its back, feet in the air. Dead? No, just waiting. A couple minutes later it picked itself up and limped back home. I now see that feathers are a survival mechanism - the big old hens have so many feathers that an attacker will hopefully be going "ptui, ptui, ptui" long enough for the bird to run away.

There are coyotes in our woods, we hear them, and Ezra saw a fox one afternoon walk right past the donkeys towards the chicken house. We lost eight of our big birds before I realized they were being taken in the morning when the light-sensor opened their door in the dawn and they sleepily walked into waiting mouths.

There is also something small and slithery out there that managed to get through a hole about 2" high, right under the eaves of the chicken coop (which is on stilts), kill a chicken and eat only parts of it, and squeeze back out again during the night. Twice.

After that, the one remaining Americauna (it was her two last sisters that were dismembered in the night) has refused to go back into the coop, though it is weasel-proofed now. She roosts high in an oak tree, no matter how cold, rainy, or windy it is. In the morning she comes down and waits for me to let the others out of the coop (I don't use the sensor any more, I wait till it's broad daylight). At night, when they are lolly-gagging their way down to the coop, she hops on the porch rail (the porch is high off the ground), then grunts and jumps onto the hummingbird feeder, and then winds up and plops up into the oak tree. I saw her fall out once. I don't know how long this can go on.

To replace the dead, I sent away to for "six assorted rare females." It was summer, and the box sat somewhere for a whole day in Ohio - when it arrived, only one of the five was alive, screaming its head off among the corpses. What a terrible day!

We had a big black Australorpe brooding at the time. Since we have no rooster, this simply means a chicken awash in hormones takes a notion to sit in an empty nesting box for a few weeks. You can throw her out again and again and she'll just go back and sit in that empty box. On the advice of the "pastured poultry" list, I slipped the surviving chick under the Australorpe and they adopted each other immediately.

We named the chick "Lucky." For a wonderful week she went all around the house under the fierce guardianship of her adopted mother. Then, one morning, it was her mother that was the victim of the unseen predator and Lucky ran around screaming all day. Luckily, I'd sent away for another batch of "assorted rare" and was able to catch Lucky and slip her in with them.

They're teenagers now. Lucky is only a week over but she's twice their size. We have a black-and-white spotted teenager with a crown of feathers - she's an Appenzeller and we named her Coco Chanel. We have a tail-less white one with huge fluffy legs covered with feathers - Ezra named her Disco Sally. There is a sleek tan one with a black neck and tail feathers, and there's Lucky, huge and blue-gray. They make a striking quartet.

And there are six new youngsters not sure yet whether the wide world is the place for them - they spend most of their time lurking in the coop.

Now we get to the donkeys. Little Hector has turned out to be a mazik, a sheygits. He has never taken to being led on a halter, and so when we go back in the woods I used to let him just tag along with me and Jethro - who until recently has been quite docile and content on his leash. Now, watching Hector rush ahead, cantering and kicking and generally having a hell of a time, Jethro wants to do it too - and he's so big, I can't stop him. I like watching the two of them cavort, but I don't like that I can't keep them from going to the next door neighbors' houses and eating their bushes.


At 7:04 PM, Blogger novelera said...

I love your "critters" posts, Jane. Thanks for the update. And more pictures of Jethro and Hector when you have time, please, please!


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