A disappointing day
This has been a tough year of hard work. The weather has been a challenge to say the least with unseasonably cold temperatures most of the summer coupled with dry conditions. On the plus side we planned out this years pastured chicken enterprise to the tee. After last years shortage of baby chicks we didn't want to get caught coming up short two years in a row, so Kelli arranged it in advance with our regional hatchery to have consecutive delivery's of broiler chicks through out the spring and summer. It was working beautifully. We even successfully raised a batch of turkeys the first time since we've been here. We tried turkeys once years ago but they all died within the first few days or so. We found out too late that often you have to teach the babies how to eat and drink by putting their beaks in the water and food dishes. Once we learned that this is sometimes the case it was too late and they all died. This time we did it right and have been eagerly waiting for our first farm raised turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.
Out of a dozen baby turkeys we wound up with 9 adults. We lost three early on. They have been at butchering size for a couple weeks now. Once people found out we had turkeys we had numerous orders for as many as we could spare. We planned on keeping two for ourselves and selling the rest.
Well all summer I've been faithfully tending the turkeys and hundreds of broiler chickens. We ordered the broilers in groups of 30 for every couple weeks or so. That way it's been easier come butchering time so it's not such an all day project. We can process about ten chickens an hour going at a reasonable pace without going at breakneck speed all day long. That's what we have to do when we raise a hundred at a time.
So as the season is winding down we've wound up with one movable pen for the 9 turkeys. And three other movable pens for the remaining chickens. It's been a great year for raising poultry. However, we did have one short stint of hot weather and lost a couple to the heat but, other than that the cool weather has been good for them.
Well, to get back to why this day has been one of our most disappointing times of our lives while living here at our farm. Last night we had a pretty good wind storm. It was raining and it was a little warmer than it has been the past weeks. Kind of felt like summer again. The lights kept flickering and we even had a few brief power outages. We turned off the computer and unplugged the Internet. Just to be cautious I even filled some extra water jugs and made sure the dogs water bucket was topped off. The outside chores we're all done so everything was just fine, we were ready for what ever nature would throw at us.
Well, by the next morning the wind had died down quite a bit and we were surprised to see that our world was white once again with a fresh layering of snow. I wasn't in any hurry to go out and do my morning chores since the temperature had plummeted. A huge change from the previously wet and balmy air the night before. So I was really milking my morning coffee and enjoyed just looking outside at the beautiful fresh snow rather than going out in it.
As I gazed out at the beauty of the morning a movement caught my eye. At first I thought it was the neighbors dog coming for another visit. Then I realized it was a coyote. A very nice looking one that I had seen just down the road a matter of days ago. It appeared to be eating something. By now the whole family was looking out at the preoccupied critter. He was definitely feasting on something. Not a real good sign what with all the animals we have around here. We have sheep and we have lots of poultry. Maybe one of them got out and the wily coyote got it. At this point I thought it highly unlikely that it had gotten in with any of our animals since they are all penned up pretty good.
Even though the coyote was a pretty nice looking animal, in fact it is about the nicest looking one I've ever seen around here, I didn't want to push our luck and let it keep eating whatever it was that it was eating. In all likelihood it was something that belonged to us. So I ran for my rifle and headed outside. It was a little farther off than I would have liked for a good clean shot. And for some reason my adrenaline was pumping pretty good so when I set my sites on it I was shaking quite alot. Too much actually. The critter sensed my presence and he started getting nervous. He trotted over to something else and started nervously eating, again. By this point I'm starting to think the worst. There was now at least two dead somethings out there. Not good, not good at all. So I took aim at it again. It seemed even more imperative now. Once a varmint gets a taste of something they are hooked for life. And they won't stop until there is nothing left for them or they themselves are dead. With coming to this realization my heart started to pound even harder making it even harder to hold my aim on the target.
The coyote new I was there. He was a good sized animal with beautiful fur. He began to eat nervously and could hardly stand still. He was moving about. After every bite he'd act as if he was going to run off. He was wolfing it down. So before I could gain my composure and calm my shakiness I took a chance and pulled the trigger. AND I MISSED! I couldn't believe it. The first time I ever missed a predator since we've been here. I only had one bullet in the gun so I reached for my pocket to get another one. By then he was on the run. He was out of sight before I could get my rifle loaded again. A hard lesson learned, don't go out with just one bullet in the gun. Take the extra time to load it up.
Well, I went out to see what it was the critter was eating and I could hardly believe my eyes. During the night the wind blew over 3 of my movable pens and there was not a living bird to be seen. The things the coyote was eating was not one but, two of our prized turkeys. The wind was so strong the night before that it turned over 3 of our pens tumble weed style. As I assessed the damage I saw not one living bird. I realized that it must have happened sometime before the snow came because there were virtually no tracks in it. Just the ones from the coyote who returned for breakfast. As it went, my family spotted another one that I didn't see at that point, out along the tree line. So there was at least two coyotes. The dead turkey's we're easy to see, their dark bodies against the newly laid snow. The chickens were white and I only saw a couple of them. I figured the field was full of them and I just couldn't see them against the snow.
The gravity of the loss took a little to contemplate. Let's see, "one pen 28 chickens, the other 8 chickens and the third pen 9 turkeys, all together 45 birds gone". Words kept going through my mind like "no sense crying over spilled milk" and "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away".
I was especially saddened at the loss of the turkeys. I babied them all summer and was looking forward to a delicious farm raised Thanksgiving meal. I couldn't believe I was so stupid as to not stake down the pens in that wind. We haven't had wind like that for a long time and I just did not think of it. However the ones that tipped over we're not the hoop style pens. They were 3 that I slapped together with parts I had on hand. They're square. Kind of like Salatin style pens but taller. Taller is the mistake. We get fairly big winds across our quarter mile field and everything should be stream lined out there or staked down. Once again I remind myself "no sense crying over spilled milk." What's done is done. I just really hated losing those turkey's. My parents pastor was even getting a couple for a church dinner.
The rest of the day we kind of did damage assessment as we went about doing the things we do. The snow eventually melted and we only found two chicken carcases and about four clumps of white chicken feathers. There are over 30 birds unaccounted for. I found the remains of almost every turkey. So we wonder where are the rest of the chickens? Someone suggested maybe they are still alive out running around somewhere. Not likely though, because you would think we'd see at least one.
There must have been a pack of coyotes. Which is not uncommon in these parts as we often hear them in the woods at night. And more and more there are wolf sightings in our community. A wolf was spotted just three driveways down from us. Less than a quarter mile away. A few weeks ago I saw a smallish looking female a couple miles down the road. My parents saw one in the same general direction but, farther down the highway. Someone else we know, recently almost hit one with their car in the same area. And last year friends of ours had a wolf in their pasture lazily laying down and looking in the direction of their cattle. Must of have been trying to figure out if they were big deer or what! It never bothered their cattle however. Which is great!
Our friend with the cattle told someone from the DNR about it and they said there wasn't any wolves in our area. I told my friend that if that's the case then he should be able to shoot that big "dog" that's been eyeing up his cattle. Now don't get me wrong I think wolves and even coyotes are real neat. They have their place in this world for sure. But, not when it comes to our livelihood. My policy is if they don't mess with me I won't mess with them. A friend even chastised me once for not taking a shot at a fox that was passing through. I didn't figure it was hurting anything so I let it be. I could have shot it, but I didn't.
Wolves are getting to be in the news more and more around here. It seems they are killing peoples dogs. In particular hunting dogs. Here's a link to some of that news. Wolves kill five more hunting dogs in northern Wisconsin by Paul A. Smith of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.