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The Great Escape

Autumn is coming, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite season. It gets pretty cold at night, but we still have sunshine during the day, without the heat. There’s still some harvesting and canning to do, but the rush to get the bulk of it done has passed. Everybody else gets to have a lazy summer, we get lazy autumn.

Saturday morning was chilly, and nobody had to be anywhere. The perfect day to stay in bed until it warms up outside. The yard is quiet, except for the rooster, but that’s nothing new. But he sounds awfully close this morning. Nah. I decide he’s just getting his big boy voice and has gotten louder. (In reality, my eyes are closed, my feet are warm, and I don’t want to get up.)

Strangely, after I hear the rooster crowing, I hear something tapping across out patio. I decide it must be Tori heading out to work. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t ever leave by walking past our door, and she’s a lifeguard wo has no reason to wear high heels to work. It also doesn’t matter that I have to get up to use the bathroom, and her car is still in the driveway. (I’m going back to bed to close my eyes and warm up my feet.)

I really have no idea what these noises are, but my bed is so warm and cozy, I don’t give it much thought. Some of the birds get out from time to time. They find a hole under the fence, or manage to flutter high enough to get over the fence. They stay close, and return to the yard when it’s time to eat.

One minute, I’m sleeping soundly and snugly, the next minute Charlie is charging out the back door. “All the turkeys are out!” Oh, that doesn’t sound good. We clipped their wings so they can’t fly, and they’re too big to squeeze through the holes under the fence. “The chickens are out, too!” Crap! Good-bye, snugly bed. “And the ducks!”

The panic is now setting in because the only way everybody could have gotten out is with a major breach of security. Either the fence is down, the gate is open, or a tornado blew through, picked up the birds, and set them down outside the fence. Since we’re not in Kansas, it has to be the fence or gate. This means the alpacas could be out, too. As I said, crap!

Running out the back door, we check the alpacas first. They’re in the yard, even though the gate IS open. Once we know the pacas are safe, Charlie closes the gate and we start to figure out how to return our two-legged critters to the fold. Peanut takes matters into her own hands. Most of the birds are foraging in the woods, so Peanut charges through the group, and sends them scattering. Oh, great.

As it turns out, the solution was as easy as that. Once the birds are flushed out, they immediately head straight to the gate. We open the gate, they all file in, and we can relax. Except for the two or three or four birds that ran the opposite direction. Not to worry. By noon, out last wanderers have returned.

Neither Charlie, nor I, are sure how the gate came to be open. Friday evening, when the kids were visiting, one of the turkeys had gotten over the fence. Charlie thinks he may have opened the gate to get the turkey in, then forgot to close it, when he was able to pick up the turkey and drop it over the fence. Who knows? This is why we hook the latch.

latch

All’s well that ends well. And I can try to sleep in again, next weekend.

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Chicken Killin’ Varmint

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday I woke up to two dead chickens. They had basically been decapitated, and I didn’t know what could have happened. There’s been an outbreak of avian flu locally, but does that make a chicken’s head explode? I had been leaving the small coop door open because the ducks like to go in and out through the night. They’ve all been outside for about a year, and we haven’t had any problems.

I decided to close up the door, and potentially sacrifice our two ducks, in order to save the flock of chickens. Before we had chickens, we had no idea that once they go to sleep, you can do just about anything to them that you want. (Come to think of it, Charlie sleeps that soundly, too.) Ducks will at least wake up and run away if something starts chewing its head off.

Early Saturday, I wake up to the sound of a screaming chicken. And quacking ducks. And barking dogs. This can’t be good. I’ve heard the chickens put up a racket when they’re upset, but this was SCREAMING. I didn’t even know chickens could do that.

I obviously haven’t learned my lesson about running outside to take on predators, because I once again took off in my pajamas. The chickens had been tucked in and locked up for the night. That had to mean that they really were suffering from some brain-exploding virus. Right?

The dogs and I ran out to check things out, and there are two more chickens on the floor. One is dead and headless, but the other one is breathing hard, and weakly squawking. When it’s dark out, and you only have your pajamas, it’s hard to see what’s going on. Back in for the flashlight…with its dead batteries…back in for the flashlight on the phone.

There is nothing I can do for the one chicken, but the other is fighting the good fight. All the other hens are up on the perches, really upset. Then my light catches THIS critter:Mink

It’s a mink! I don’t support killing minks for fur, but I also don’t support minks coming around and killing my chickens. If I get a hold of him, he’s going down!

Knowing this is a predator issue and not a brain-exploding virus issue, I pick up my warrior chicken and put her back up on the perches. Her face is a little beat up, and she’s murmuring softly. I tell her how proud I am of her screaming loudly enough for me to hear her. I tell her I’m proud of her for fighting back. And I tell her she did the right thing. She didn’t answer, but that’s OK. I’m going to take care of her, and I’m going to take care of Black Bart The Chicken Eating Varmint!

When I go back to feed everyone, that damn mink scares the hell out of me again! This time he’s hiding behind the food tub, and when I opened it up, he took off through a hole in the wall. Ah ha! That’s how he got in.

Charlie heads out with his shotgun, and I follow to make sure nobody gets caught in the crossfire. Black Bart is hiding now. Using plywood, Charlie blocks all possible points of entry.

Our hero has made it out to the yard, and she’s pecking around. She’s staying away from the others, which is probably a good thing. I don’t want them picking on her. Right now, she’s looking good, and I’ll keep an eye on her throughout the day. Most of our chickens don’t have names, but I have named my brave girl Xena. Yep, Warrior Princess.

Xena

Xena and Spike at snack time.

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Meat-Eating Hypocrite

I know I’m a hypocrite. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I eat meat. I live on a cattle ranch, I raise chickens and ducks, and Tori wants a pig. The hypocrisy comes from the fact that I don’t want to be responsible for killing animals. Tori will not hesitate to point out that since I eat meat, I’m still responsible for them dying, even if I’m not the one doing the killing. I get that. And it bothers me.

I’ve gone through livestock catalogs and websites, trying to desensitize myself to the various “processing equipment.” That’s what they call it. Not “killing tools.”  I started by focusing on poultry equipment. I was getting used to seeing the equipment, and putting myself into heavy denial about what each piece was used for. Then I was traumatized.

poultry processing

Jon, our attack rooster, had to go. He would come after me every time I entered the yard. He was doing his job, protecting the hens, but I was not happy about being the target for his spurs. I couldn’t get any chores done, without holding a stick in one hand to fend him off. There was no way I could let the babies in the yard with him. I put in the kill order, and asked Charlie to “take care of business” while I was in town. Charlie got busy with other chores, I got home early, and I found him cleaning up the kitchen, with the plucked bird sitting up in the sink. The bird was already supposed to be in the freezer, and I was supposed to get to pretend he had simply run away.  I completely lost it. I’ve seen plenty of raw chicken in the sink, but that’s not the same as seeing a dead, plucked chicken in the sink. OK, it IS the same thing, but it’s not. I was devastated. I was a sobby mess, completely overcome with guilt. How am I ever going to be a REAL farmer, if I can’t handle being responsible for the death of even one – really mean – rooster?

cock a doodle doo

The next week as I was cooking chicken, I realized I probably needed to get over it. For the record, I’ve tried being vegetarian. Within a few weeks I got really sick and came to the conclusion that I needed meat to be healthy. I know vegetarians will argue with that, but I really need more protein than I can get from a vegetarian diet. And I like meat.

I go back to my catalogs, and my desensitization practice.  In my head, I understand that many meat and poultry farms raise their animals in deplorable conditions. Even “cage-free” really only means the birds aren’t in an actual cage. It doesn’t mean they aren’t crammed, wing-to-wing, in an overcrowded barn, de-beaked so they won’t peck at each other. I know if we raised our own meat, they would live a happy life, with lots of room to roam, fresh air, sunshine, and good food. Until we killed them. It’s that last sentence I have a hard time with.

chicken crowding

RJ and hens

I FINALLY decide that if we had enough chickens, and Charlie did all the processing while I was away (allowing me to pretend the chicken fairy simply delivered them to our freezer), I could probably handle it. That’s when I came across “lung pluckers” in the poultry catalog. Lung pluckers?!?!?! Those can’t possibly be what they sound like. Can they? Yep, they’re exactly what they sound like.  Ugh. I’m right back to square one – a meat-eating hypocrite.

I’m still struggling with this whole killer/meat-eater thing. I get that if I eat meat, that meat was once alive. I get that even if I don’t personally kill the animal, I’m still responsible for its death. I even get that pretending the chicken fairy delivers ready-to-cook birds to the grocery store is, maybe, a bit delusional. I figure that, come next spring, we will probably be raising meat birds, and I will get used to it. Maybe. I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, today at Cabela’s, Charlie stopped to look at meat grinders and sausage makers. Ugh. Pleeeeze! Let me get used to the idea of chickens, first.