Ranching

Chickens





Goodwench had wanted to have some chickens for a long time. It turned out that one of the women she works with had chickens that she was ready to give up to a good home. Originally they were to be a wedding present for us, but with all the chaos of putting the wedding together, some things got put on the back burner. There was also a chicken house that we were to have as well. Finally, on about 11/28/98, I decided to see if I could take Tanya the trailer and go pick up the chicken house. I took my main farm hand, Micah along to help. The house was just supposed to be 6' x 8' so I really thought we could just load the whole thing on the trailer. Upon arriving at the amazingly suburban location, I quickly realized that size was not the problem. The house appeared as if it had been built by an eighth grader about 12 years ago, and in fact that was the case. Not only had the years of use led to a fair amount of rot, the framing was not quite what we'd call conventional to begin with. On top of all this, the roof was made of 5 different size pieces of 1/2" plywood, resting on 1" x 4" 's and covered with very heavy asphalt shingling material. As soon as we attempted to lift the house, all thoughts of simply setting it on the trailer vanished. Checking in the truck's tool box, I could find a couple of heavy hammers, though they did happen to be ball peen. I had no wrecking bar. A few well placed knocks brought the chicken house down to 5 main pieces.

These were loaded on the trailer and brought home to the bottom of the pen. This pen has wire mesh fencing six foot high, and we call it the emu pen, because that's what the prior owners had built it for. We really need to come up with a better name, but I'm afraid that one may have stuck.

On December 5, 1998 our chickens arrived:

This picture is of the longhorns arriving, cause the chickens only came in cardboard boxes in the back of the Grand Cherokee, and I didn't think that would be an exciting picture at all. Besides, it was too dark to take any pictures anyway. They have a better chance of learning to roost in the house if they are first released after dark.


12/13/98 The house has been up, roofed and painted for a while now. We went to Tractor Supply on our lunch hour last week to buy heat lamps because the nights had been getting very cold for here. It was down into the 30's.


3/31/99 The house and enclosure have been complete for some time now. The eggs had been appearing regularly and in decent quantities. When Buffy began to sit on a nest of a few eggs, Goodwench decided to let her roost. Since then, Margarite has also "gone broody". She and Buffy have actually switched off on the nests a couple of times. We may have allowed too many eggs to build up in the right nest, which had originally been Buffy's. There are so many that it looks like it might be hard for one hen to cover them all well enough. We're still hopeful and have bought Purina chick starter food.


Here's a shot of the finished chicken house and Henry

4/16/99 Reality has hit the chicken operation. Last Monday evening I got home to take care of the animals. As I was feeding the chickens, I noticed I didn't see BlackWing, Margarite's little chick, anywhere. When I went out into the yard part to spread the corn scratch, I found a horrifying sight. There was a pile of feathers, a breast bone and two chicken feet. This was all that remained of Margarite and her new baby. I borrowed the only leg trap the guy visiting Slick my neighbor could find. Slick was in the hospital for his shoulder surgery. That night something sprung the trap, but I didn't catch anything. The next day I got out of work as early as I could and rushed home, only to find another half eaten carcass dragged out of the pen this time. I realized that there were places where something might have been able to get under the wire fence, so I had put fence rails on the ground up against it a number of places. Goodwench was sick on Wednesday, so I took a "Family Leave Day" to stay home from work with her. I went to the USDA office in Marlin, but they had no information on dealing with chicken predators. They recommended the County Ag Extension agent who wouldn't be in until 1:00 PM. Meanwhile I checked everywhere in Marlin for traps, but no one had any to sell. About two weeks before this, I had found a skunk in one of the box stalls of our barn when I went into it to get some lumber to improve the chicken roost. I don't know if he or I was more scared, but I got out of the stall after dancing around him without being sprayed. About a week after that I went at night out to the feed shed to get some feed for Buffy's baby who was staying in the extra bathroom because the others had been pecking her while she roosted. Because of having seen the skunk, I took my trusty little Ruger stainless steel .22 pistol. When I opened the door and shined my light in, I found myself staring right into the masked face of a raccoon. This is a mammal I've always respected, so I didn't take a shot at it. When our third chicken was killed and not even eaten, I really regretted not dealing with the raccoon. By Wednesday evening I had gathered up a number of traps, including box traps and snares and set them up all around the chicken pen and the pen we use for baby cattle that surrounds the chicken area. Goodwench had me move the cattle back into the surrounding pen in hopes they might help scare off any predators. We found out that another set of neighbors who keep a couple of dogs out with their chickens had also been loosing one chicken each night. I used a can of sardines for bait and felt like I'd set as many traps as a "Home Alone" movie. When I checked the traps right before bed Wednesday night, nothing was caught and none were sprung. Thursday morning I rushed out to check the traps before daylight. I had two possums and a raccoon that I am fairly certain was the same one I saw in the feed shed. I got them all appropriately removed from our immediate area in time to get to work, and we lost no chickens that night. One of the possums was caught in a box trap baited with the barely eaten carcass of the third chicken that was killed. No more chickens were lost last night or during the day today, so I am hoping that our chicken predation problem is solved. Goodwench has always been opposed to most hunting and all trapping, but after the grief and horror of having BlackWing and the three adult hens violently killed, this problem was addressed with her approval. This really was not at all a pleasant thing to have to deal with, but nature is not all cute and beautiful. If one is going to keep animals, we owe them the best protection we are able to give them. I will still keep some traps set for the next night or two and check with neighbor who was also loosing chickens before I really believe the problem is solved. Meanwhile, the two outside cats will just have to continue to share the house with our house cats.

In Memoriam: Margarite and BlackWing
4/19/99 Last night about 10:30 Goodwench asked if maybe we should the box traps baited with sardines, just in case we didn't get our only predator. The way I looked at it, we had nothing to loose by continuing to bait the box traps. If one of our cats finds its way in, he can be just released. If another chicken were to be killed, we would wish we had kept trying to trap predators. We got flashlights and a can of sardines. We baited the first two traps that are located right around the chicken pen. Goodwench hadn't remembered the third box trap, which is a home-made one on loan from our neighbor Slick. Using the flashlight we made our way to far end of the field. In the trap was a raccoon, a bit smaller than the first. It was kinda cute looking, so we figured we'd just haul it out about ten miles and release it in the morning. We still had a few sardines left, so Goodwench dropped one through the cage into the far end. The coon didn't go after it, he just stood there staring up at us. Goodwench started to slip another sardine through the cage right above the coon. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we wittnessed the full savage fury of a coon attack. It just threw itself at Goodwench's hand with teeth and claws flying. It was really every bit as scary as the first time an alien baby tore out of a human host in the first Alien movie. Nature sure can be viscious. Goodwench thinks this one may have had rabies or something wrong with it. She has seen and dealt with raccoons all her life and has never seen anything like this. She's seen them hiss like a cat, but all the while backing up a bit. This one just threw itself at Goodwench's hand with absolutely nothing held back. I don't even want to imagine what the injuries from such an attack would like. We both felt a new horror at what the chickens that were killed had gone through.

Email me at goodwrench@cyberranch.org
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created 12/13/98
updated 4/19/99