No More Free Range

My neighbor called me the other day and asked me if I had seen the little yapper dog again, because two more of his chickens were missing…just gone…no feathers…no sign. I told him it could be hawks…

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Last night before dark I went down as usual to close up the chickens and Mara was missing. She is an old hen and wasn’t laying anymore, but she always was in the coop at night. I looked around and saw these strange markings in the snow…

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I had no idea what this could be, so I looked it up and sure enough they are the wing tips of a bird of prey.   This morning when I went down to the coops I found more evidence…

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These tracks went on for about 20 feet…

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Really amazing when you think about it.  I can picture the hawk flying close to the ground chasing the chicken and then finally capturing it and carrying it off… no sign of the chicken…

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You can see my boot track in the last picture compared to the wing span. Needless to say I have decided very reluctantly to stop free ranging. My last four laying hens are going to be cooped up until I can get a very good run built.  I have 6 roosters and 4 pullets in the other coop that I was beginning to let out for an hour a day. No more…it’s just not worth it.

That’s my take on it anyway after really desiring to have chickens free range. I’m so thankful that the last hen that was taken was the one that was old and not laying.

So, I think these are hawk wings, anyone have any experience in this? Could they be an owl?  I’m thinking hawk because it probably happened in the day time.

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Pest of the Month ~ Voles?

Such a beautiful morning…I gathered up onions, tomatoes, swiss chard, and lettuce in my big stainless steel bowl and headed over to the strawberry patch.

This is what I encountered…

vole hole

My first thought was moles. I looked it up online and found out a lot about moles and voles.  Moles eat earthworms and grubs, but voles eat vegetation…grasses, flowers, fruits, vegetables, bulbs, and roots.

Something has been chewing on the strawberries, so I have been picking them a little early when they are not quite ripe…just catching them when they start to redden and then letting them fully ripen on the window sill. I have been wondering what was gnawing on them…

Cute, isn’t he or she?

Young Field Vole or Short-Tailed Vole (Microtus agrestis)

This photo is from a great article by the Farmer’s Almanac… Pest of the Month: Moles and Voles

I guess we will be getting out our traps again.  This time a mouse trap might work, according to the  North Carolina Cooperative Extension

You can use a simple, wooden mouse trap baited with a peanut butter-oatmeal mixture or apple slices, although often you won’t need to use bait, because voles will trigger the trap as they pass over it. Trap placement is crucial. Voles seldom stray from their runways, so set traps along these routes. Look for burrows and runways in grass or mulch in or near the garden. Place the traps at right angles to the runways with the trigger end in the runway. Examine traps daily, removing dead voles or resetting sprung traps as needed. Continue to trap in one location until you stop catching voles then move the trap to a new location 15 to 20 feet away. Destroy old runways or burrows with a shovel or rototiller to deter new voles from immigrating to the site.

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This trap picture is from the University of Missouri…more tips at their site…Controlling Voles

The Sage Butterfly also has some great tips… The Vole in the Garden : Control Tips

Anyone else encounter these garden pests?

Where are the hawks and the owls when I need them?

Mr. Knightly Who Turns into Mr. Knaughty

It happens all the time. A nice gentle man who seemingly appears quite loveable and honest gets into a power position and becomes the opposite. This is what happened to Mr. Knightly when the head rooster Copper died, and he took over the position of top roo.

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I went down to the coop carrying the well-known tray of treats. This time is was full of the cut tops of strawberries from our yummy pancake breakfast.  The chickens were all hanging out half way between the house and the coop, so they joined me to walk to the coop where I always put the tray down.

WHOP!!!

What was that? I looked behind me clueless, and just figured maybe a branch had fallen on me. I walked a little further …

WHOP!!! OUCH!!!  It was Mr. Knaughty Knightly! He just attacked me from behind and stuck one of his claws into my leg!

UNBELIEVABLE!

I knew I had to do something immediately to show who is boss. I threw the tray at him, scattering the strawberries all over the driveway. And he had the nerve to go pick one up and start munching on it! I picked up the tray again and threw it at him, and I think he got the message and ran away from me.

I was shaking. I was stunned…This nice gentlemanly rooster had turned into a tyrant! I’m giving him one more chance and in the meantime I’m carrying around a big long stick for protection.

I put hydrogen peroxide on the purplish-red jab mark and then topped it with some Thieves oil. I think it will be fine.

Now the other situation…

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Miss Emma Broody Hen is in the cage up on concrete blocks as many of you had suggested. But at night I let her out so she can go into the coop and be protected. After seeing what the coon did to that metal cage, I just can not leave her just in that cage for the night. I hope I’m not wrong about this…what do you think?

I’ve only been getting 2-3 eggs a day, instead of the usual 5-6. Can’t figure what is the matter with the rest of the hens.

And the owl situation…

That cute little baby owl is now out of the nest and hanging out in a tree closer to the coop…you know…just in eye view of the chickens…

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Let me give you a better dimension of this…

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Along with the hawks that circle overhead in the daytime…you would think we were preparing a wildlife dinner table.

That’s all for now. I’m leaving town for a couple of days…Will there be chickens when I return?

Culprit #1

Here is the first culprit to get caught in our trap…

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But I don’t think he is the one who ate the hen and scared the rooster to death.  I think racoons do most of their hunting at night and he isn’t big enough, I don’t think, to carry a big rooster, like Copper was…and… racoons leave tracks. There were no visible tracks.

The traps are still set and we are still waiting. In the meantime I did a total spring cleaning on the big coop today and all the chickens are going into it tonight. I hope this won’t be as hard as I think it is going to be…

We have been sitting in the meadow watching the owls while the chickens forage around us…

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Every evening I still have been on the alert…I don’t want to lose another hen…

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Or the rooster…

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After Copper’s encounter with the coyote, I began to survey the area around the chicken coops. I tramped back into the woods  searching for the little Welsummer hen, or her brown feathers, and while I was investigating some crows started making a lot of noise in a large old tree about a 100 feet from the coop.

I’m loving crows right now. They alert the chickens every time a hawk comes by. And this evening the crows were dive bombing an owl that has her nest about 30 feet up in the crook of 2 large branches.

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Yes…she is a Great Horned Owl. While the crows persisted in their dive-bombing and cawing, the owl just sat there unwavering, as if it was no big deal. High above I noticed a hawk circling…you know here in Oklahoma the hawks make lazy circles in the sky.

OOOOk-lahoma, Ev’ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin’ lazy circles in the sky.

Here’s an Oklahoma hawk…

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I stood there and watched as the hawk lit on one of the branches near the owl and then dive-bombed one of the crows. Unbelievable!

Later on in the evening when it was quiet, the owl rose up out of her nest…

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And flew off. And then a white fuzzy thing appeared…

baby owlA baby owlet…

Here’s another view…

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This morning when I went down to open up the chicken coops, I checked in on the owls.  Mama and baby were sitting together…

owl and baby