Saturday, October 31, 2009

A disappointing day

Well, what can I say, today marks one of the most disappointing days we've had since we've lived here at our place in northern WI. There is a reason for everything but, today's disappointment finds us scratching for answers wondering about the deeper meaning of life and it's seemingly random events.

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 ea
ting 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.

I read this story the other day. It was written back in September. I was especially taken back by some of the comments that followed the article. One commentor accused the author of being anti-wolf or so it seemed. And more than one expressed anti-hunting sentiments, very strongly. I guess what takes me back is the fact of how people become so impassioned about something that they take leave of their senses. I found myself being annoyed how the pro-wolf people bashed the hunters for not wanting to lose their dogs to wolves. A couple of them painted hunters in some kind of Neanderthal light. And I was irritated by the ones who seemed anti-wolf. People will argue over anything I guess. Just seemed kind of "Jerry Springer" to me. I was very annoyed by all of the comments following the article. I didn't think any of them made very good arguments. But, then again I get annoyed by most comments that follow articles I see in the news. A totally different subject but, I see those kinds of moronic comments as proof that fluoridated drinking water is effecting the population.

Anyway, we had a bad day today! One that will go down in our family archives as one our most disappointing. It's not just the monetary loss which we estimated it to be about $800 worth of meat. But, it is all that goes into it. You take care of something from it's very beginning. Birds are especially fragile as babies. You feed them, take care of them, keep them warm and dry. Keep them safe as humanly possible then in one night after weeks and weeks of care they're wasted!
There's alot of uneaten meat out there but, we just can't get ourselves to eat something after a coyote. There was one turkey that didn't have any thing eaten off of it but, just knowing some critter killed it is was enough for us to lose our appetite for it. If it was a matter of survival that might be a different matter.

Life is full of disappointments and one struggle after another no matter where you live or what you do. Just seems a little more so living this kind of life. There is more opportunity for stuff to happen I think. Something is always against you. Predators, pestilence, drought. Weeds! And and more weeds! The sun, the wind, the rain. The elements are against all of us. Everything you build is immediately becoming undone by all these things.

It seems all our work is a matter of organizing all the battles. We have to fight for what we have and for what we do. For life it's self. I look forward to the coming day of peace when the Prince of Peace comes and every one will "sit under their vine and under their fig tree". Finally, all of creation will live in harmony.
Until Next Time


Blogger Leon said...

I don't even argue with "don't-you-dare-to-shoot-this-beautiful-coyote" crowd after this story: my friends had a lot of problems with a neighbor (who has some humane society activist and so on) because they shot a few stray dogs and coyotes roaming around their stock. Later that lady decided to get some chickens and the first night some of them got eaten and even more killed. I'm sure you know the end of the story - the humane lady went to the town and got a bunch of traps and a gun the very next morning No more coyote love for her.

It's easy for people to protect wolves and such as long as they don't threaten their stock or family. Civilization gave some people luxury to choose what they eat or luxury not having to deal with the predators but they don't realize it was a gift, they think they deserve it somehow and make up 10,000 silly moral things to use this to feel superior toward other people. Many also are too stupid to realize how easily what was given to them may be taken away.

Really sorry about your birds. Picking up spare parts after something like that is the hardest part of animal farming, at least to me but it's probably impossible to avoid it 100%. You can go for a few years between the accidents and as you learn you can go longer but you can't really always control everything.

8:15 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Thanks for the comments and story about the "humane lady". You make some very good points.

Sounds like you have lots of experience with predators and animal farming.

Just this morning me and a neighbor set out a small trap line in hopes to catch a coyote or two. There's been a bunch of them around so we're hoping to have success.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Leon said...

> Sounds like you have lots of experience with predators and animal farming.

Actually, no - I've only lost animals to predators twice and there was a very close third one but that time all lived. First time it was a dog and somehow it didn't register that much - I spent a few nights sitting there with a gun and waiting for coyotes to come back but that was it. Second time it was two sheep and I felt so bad about it ... I don't know, I really felt like I failed them. Also, I was really mad because no one eats my sheep but me or people I let to eat them. So, I spent a few days researching it, put up a new fence, got a big aggressive dog, closed the pole barn where sheep sleep with woven wire, installed motion lights on the barn - the whole nine yards. I'm the only guy in the neighborhood with a nine wire POS/NEG fence :) but that's OK - I'll do all I can to make sure I'm not growing food for those freeloading coyotes. They don't help me to raise sheep - they don't get to eat them, period. I know there is a chance one day my defenses may slip somewhere but ... Well, anyway, from all the reading and asking around about coyotes that I did back then, I remember that killing them all is pretty much useless, since it creates empty hunting territory for another family to move in. (I know it feels good though). Killing/trapping just those that get in a habit of hanging around livestock is sometimes useful but only until summer, when the young ones need a lot of food and hunting lessons.

On the other hand, coyotes (and even wolves) are not heroes - they only have so many hours before the sunrise, so if it looks difficult on your farm, they'll just go next door. So, nothing beats a good fence and 9-wire HT electric is the ticket - let me know if you're interested, I think I still have the file with that extension study and pictures/measurments somewhere. Even 7 wires work sometimes but if you do 7 adding two more wires is neither difficult nor expensive, so it looked like a no brainer to me.

Anyway, good luck with your predator control measures and hopefully they won't bother you again for a long time.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Kristi said...

I'm so sorry for you. It can really be disheartening when things like this happen. I gave up on chickens for a long time when a stray dog killed all of mine. I do have chickens again and rethought my coop. It's much stronger now. I even buried hardware cloth a foot down to keep out digging animals. So far it's worked. (they free range during the day) Still it's sickening to have so much hard work and care destroyed in a few minutes.

10:37 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Hey Leon,
I reckon everyone with animals has at least a couple stories of some kind of losses. You’re one up on me in that I’ve we’ve never lost a four legged animal to the varmints. It’s only been birds. With the exception of two of our rabbits that were killed by our own pets. My dog killed one and one of our barn cats got the other. Oops, I just remembered that the dog also killed one of the cats. But, these were ‘self-inflicted’ losses I guess you could say.

People have been asking us how our sheep are doing and if they are at risk. I was talking with my neighbor one day and I joked that if they ever get any of our sheep then I’ll quit my job and devote the rest of my life eradicating varmints. I was joking of course.

Like you say getting back at them can “feel good” but, I wouldn’t seriously want to totally eradicate any predator. We’d be over run with rodents, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, etc. if we did that. There needs to be a balance to be sure.

Right now in our area, coyotes and wolves are out of balance. There’s too many of them. There’s been talk of taking wolves off the endangered list and having a season on them. That wouldn’t hurt my feelings in the least bit if they did that around here. Black bears are actually becoming a nuisance around here as well. Their numbers seem to be way up from what they used to be. Last year a man hunted for black bear on our neighbors land. He got a small one. I’d like to see a few more taken out as well but, I don’t know of anyone else that hunted for them this season.

We’ve used electric fairly extensively over the years to keep animals in but, haven’t set it up to keep animals out. However, we tried it this summer to keep deer out of the garden but, must have done something wrong since they just jumped right over. I think we didn’t have the spacing right.

One thing I don’t like about electric is the maintenance. We have a lot of sand and we lose our grounding when it’s dry out. I pour water on the ground rods and that helps. Everyone who uses electric in this area does the same. That’s the only way to keep the ground good, as far as I know, when it’s dry. As far as keeping our animals in they usually know when it’s not working before I do and out they go looking for the “greener grass” on the other side. So I reckon it would be the same song and dance for keeping varmints out. Plus, I use a solar charged fencer. Northern Farmer talked about the one he uses and I’d like to invest in one like his eventually. His has a lot more ‘zap’ than the one I have.

Thanks for the continuing dialog. You make some great points.


Hi Kristi,
Yeah, it is always something. It isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last. We all were especially disappointed to lose the turkeys. But, we just breath a deep sigh and say “oh, well”. We will definitely try it again next year, Lord willing.

Thank you for the condolences.


11:10 AM  
Blogger Leon said...

Hi Russ,

We have the same problem with the coyotes - it's too many of them + stupid people in the suburbs feed them, so they're not afraid of people now. Old timers will tell you that a light bulb and a radio will keep coyotes away - not anymore. One of my neighbors who has a lot of valuable poultry now wears a handgun on her (Wild West style) at all times when she is on the property because coyotes are so bold, even during the day.

Deer is not a problem here so I don't know much about deer fence but the ones I saw were either really high (like 10- 12' high) or there was 2 of them, about 3' apart I think. I do know quite a bit about dry sand and electric fences though :) because we often have no rain at all from October to May. The answer is POS/NEG - that is every other wire is hot and the rest is connected to GROUND on you charger. This way you don't need the soil to carry any charge at all - any creature that touches two wires gets zapped like you won't believe (I know - I did it a couple of times :) You can convert it to regular grounding during wet season but I don't bother since it works pretty good. Right spacing is the key though - you start really close (3 -4" between wires) next to the ground and graduate to 12 - 15" higher up. Works really good with HT fences. Premier also has POS/NEG electronets - I just love them. And it doesn't take a very strong charger to energize it since the charge always travels through metal.

Glad if any of this helps,

10:40 AM  
Anonymous wl said...

Wow...we feel for you. We've lost small amounts (a few chickens here or there) to coons and weasels, and though we hear packs of coyotes in the quarry at night, they've never bothered us. But your loss is on a pretty large scale, and all that work!

9:42 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hey Leon,
Thanks for the tip on the POS/NEG set up. I know of that set up but, never tried it yet. I wondered if it worked very well. By what you say, sounds like that is the ticket. Thanks!

Everyone with animals has stories like these. We've been fortunate in the past so I reckon we're now paying our dues. Thanks for the coment.


9:06 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Unfortunately, your story reads just like mine. The only difference is the coyote killed the majority of my layers, rather than the broilers, and I had deliberately let them run around during the daytime. I too was able to shoot once and missed. My egg selling operation had been expanding and I was selling 14 or 15 dozen a week, and now I'm down to between four and six eggs a day! Thankfully I had a batch of Rhode Island Red chicks in the barn that were safe. It was certainly my worst day in a long time.

8:52 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi Jonathan,
Sorry to hear about your misfortune. You took quite a hit.

Seems we are all in good company. I've heard many a story of folks getting wiped out or nearly so to one varmint or another. It's always disappointing when it happens.

Just last week our friend Kristine lost a goat to a couple stray dogs. Her and her family were pretty shook up about it as the dogs mauled the goat right in front of them. They managed to shoot one of the dogs but, the other got away.

It seems 2009 will go down as a year of disappointment for alot of folks.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Take care and God bless,

10:18 AM  

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