Saturday, January 21, 2006

Attack of the Feral Chickens

I once headed an organizing department for a non-profit where the media person, the guy in charge of public relations, claimed that he had once worked for the tabloid Weekly World News.

You know the paper, the one that, on off news weeks, runs a banner headline about space aliens abducting the President.

Then they’d have a front page picture of the current President standing next to an off-the-shelf space alien.

I remember going down the hall to the PR director’s office where he’d have examples of WWN headlines taped to his door.
headlines like:
Origin of Species found in Alabama cave (with, of course, an accompanying picture of a dinosaur)

Abramoff reveals all ‘Space Aliens made him do it’
(picture of Abramoff and the same alien that had previously kidnapped the President).
Cure for Climate Change discovered by 98 year old Grandmother in attic (grandmother holding mysterious looking box)

The only reason I mention this, the PR director and his headlines, is because of this week’s newsletter subject.


Now I don’t have a picture yet but I’m getting ready to grab my camera and open the window. They’re out there somewhere.

I’ve seen them.

There’s a dozen. Eleven hens and one rooster.

These are fowl that a long time ago escaped the confines of their chicken fence and for some reason stopped going home at night to roost in the hen house.

And, even, have stopped squeezing under the pasture fence to make a foray to the chicken feeder with its store bought laying mash.

Instead, they live ‘out there’ somewhere. Probably in a tree on the edge of the fields.

And in the early morning, when no one is looking, they steal up to the dog bowl and, with a minimum amount of squawking, quickly empty it.

And sometimes I also see them, these feral chickens, in the middle of one of the fields.

I'll stand there for a moment watching and thinking:

"Now's my chance. If I'm careful now is the time to catch them.'

Catch the feral chickens and bring them back to domesticity.

But lets stop right now and before I draw the picture of a grown man, wearing heavy boots and a stocking cap running across the field chasing little birds let me answer your first question.

Why do I care?

I mean, jeeze, what damage are a dozen scrawny little chickens going to do anyone? I mean, If the want to live in the bushes, why can't they live in the bushes. What harm are they doing?

Why worry?

Well, I'll tell you why.

Yes, I will admit, right now the feral fowl aren't doing much harm to anyone. Stealing a little dog food, scratching up a little winter rye. If I didn't know it was the feral fowl I wouldn't even notice the damage.

So I will admit, right now they aren't causing any harm to anyone.

But I'm not worried about now. What I'm worried about is this spring.

I can envision it well, too. A delicate row of broccoli, hundreds of baby plants. I've spent all planting. I work at my days work with satisfaction and park the tractor, walk back to the house, eat dinner, go to sleep.

And wake up in the morning and look out the window to see:

A dozen feral fowl ripping up my day's work.




and finally, Eating!

Eating all of those plants I had just so painstakingly put in the ground.

By then I will be thinking SHOTGUN. Get the shotgun.

But it will be too late. Revenge does not bring back dead broccoli plants.

So, today, right now, I am thinking preventive detention.

I am thinking that it is time to catch those fowl before they get into trouble.

In fact I've been thinking about this for several weeks now. I've even prepared for the safari. I've gone to the big game hunting store over in Manassas (I bet you didn't know there was such a place).

Last week I went to that big box sporting goods warehouse. The place that had hundreds of rifles hanging on the wall. Rifles next to serious looking bows, Bows with sharp arrows. Handguns and bullets. Special scents and camouflage and tree stands and knives and even camouflaged boots for traipsing around in the woods so the wild animals won't be able to see your feet.

Last week I went over to this warehouse of special hunting equipment and I made my purchase.

I went in the back where they keep the elaborate fishing rods and tackle and I bought myself a large fish net.

The perfect weapon for running down feral fowl.

So here's the picture.

Me, running across the field, holding a nine foot pole up in the air, at the top of the pole is a large net, flying behind me, sort of like a kite.

And the chickens, all ten of them, one moment out in the middle of the field scratching and pecking. The next moment running in ten different directions.

Wings flapping.

Lungs screaming.

Little chicken feet running.

Running, the word I guess is scattering.

Scattering in ten directions, but mostly scattering toward the woods and into the briar patches.

Once in the briars they crawl into the deepest reaches. As far enough back into the thick of it as a little bird can squeeze. Places, I should point out, where nets can not follow.

There I am, net over my shoulder trying to get at these feral fowl and the deeper I push into the thorns the more I get scratched and caught up in the briars.

I stand there for a moment, caught up in the stickers, net in the air, chickens squeezing further away.

And then, and then I give up.

Admitting, once again, that the chickens have won. They have escaped the net and a life of quiet domesticity over in the hen yard.

Which gets us around to the question.

What am I going to do?

How am I going to capture the feral chickens before planting time?

Do you have a solution?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wasn't that a mighty wind?

Wasn't that a mighty wind?

I don't know how it was where you live. But out here, on the farm, we had one impressive wind storm.

Even down here, down toward the bottom of the mountain, we had several gusts that came close to hitting 60 miles an hour. And with the snow (did you have snow?), the snow wasn't really doing what you would call 'falling', Instead it was more of coming sideways.

The snow would come whizzing out of the north, along the front of the mountain ridge, and then shriek out of the trees and rip straight across the field in front of the house and then vanish into the south.

I imagine it didn't touch ground until it got down around Charlottesville.

Which made me think of all those people living in those new houses up on top of the mountain.

I wonder what happened to them? 

Did they get picked up and blown away, blowing through the sky with the sideway traveling snow?

I can just picture them caught up in the top of some tall trees down Charlottesville way.

I wonder if they needed any help getting down?

I'm almost serious.

Down here the trees were bent almost sideways, especially with one of those big gusts. But it had to be worse up on top. A lot worse.

All night long and through the next day you could hear the roaring of the wind going over the top of the mountain.

And this wasn't just some abstract roar either. It was solid. Palpable. It was like the sound of a really large, world class waterfall, like Niagara or maybe the one down in Brazil. Iguassu. A constant heavy vacuum cleaner sort of sound that almost made you think that it was causing the top of the mountain sway back and forth.

I could almost visualize some of those people who live up there stepping out their front doors and Whish.

There they are in Charlottesville.

In fact, I should probably drive up and check on Scott and Brenda. I'd hate to think that the wind got them.

Which makes me remember when I first moved to Colorado, way back in the early 70's and waking up in the early morning for my first Chinook wind.

I was living in a house out by the foothills up near Fort Collins and I woke up with the house literally swaying back and forth.

I got out of bed and the front hall was already with about an inch of dust that had blown through the cracks around the front door (and yes, it was a pretty tight door).

I was afraid my Volkswagon bug was going to get blown away. I risked the wind and quickly ran outside and drove the bug around to the backside of the house and therefore more protected.

The rest of the night I was awake with the sound of the roaring wind, worrying that something would, at any moment, come crashing threw a window, or worst.

I remember with a Chinook, the one good thing, is that it gets real warm (for a little while) and then the temperature takes a nose dive and as often as not, when the windstorm is over it starts snowing.

Which bringing us back to Virginia.

I wonder if we're going to get a winter? Last week the temperature was actually spring like. Wenonah says this means that 'we're going to pay for it. We'll probably have a February where it never climbs above freezing and it snows every other day.

I'm not that pessimistic.

I mean, after the wind stopped blowing, and after I went out and assessed the damage (the ends blown off the mobile chicken house, a shed picked up and turned on its roof, a number of tree limbs on the driveway, and the trash cans. The wind came whipping around the back of the house and picked all six of them up, trash and all, and dropped them about a hundred feet down the power line).

Anyway, after I assessed the wind damage and even started cleaning up the mess I sat down at my computer and started ordering seeds for this coming season.

So far this year I've received close to 40 seed catalogues from 40 different seed companies (I'm not kidding either, that's forty seed catalogues). Word sure gets out when you have money to spend. Companies that sell only tomato seeds. Others with only heirlooms.

So many choices.

Here I am, with all these seed catalogues spread out on the floor trying to decide on which seeds I'm going to buy from which seed company.

To help matters I got phone calls last week from three different seed salesmen from three of the companies I usually buy from just 'wanting to see if you have any questions.'

The salesman from Johnny's left a message on my answering machine saying. "This is the time of year you usually put in your order. I just wanted to see if I could be of help." Actually, I had finished my Johnny's order the night before. Am I that predictable that I put in my orders the same time each year, or is it just a coincidence?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Do I have a mountain lion story

Well, its hard to believe, living on the outer fringes of the DC suburbs, the sound I heard the other night did sound a lot like what people tell me is a mountain lion.

Go to:
and then click on 'cougar6'

You'll hear something that sounds a lot like what I heard (especially the third part of this rather long cry) New Year's Day morning.

But whether, what I heard was a cougar, or whether it was a fox (they sure put out a noise that sounds like a demented child screaming in the night) or, my choice, a barn owl, I do have a real life, almost got eaten, mountain lion story for you.

Here it is:

We are in San Francisco for a long weekend a few years back and decide we should take off an afternoon for a hike. I had an old book of trails in my bag and from the descriptions the closest afternoon hike was just over the Bay Bridge.

So we get in our rental car and drive north over the bridge and along 101 until we found the turn off described in the book. Of course, since the book was a few years old a lot of development had changed the landscape and so the trail head was hard to find. Meaning, we drove around for a half an hour not finding the trail but finally stopping at where another trail headed down a gully.

We walked for several miles through the woods without seeing anyone and then the trail climbed back and forth up a mountain and then along a ridge where it joined another trail.

This trail, something new, developed for mountain bikes and horses, was full of people, flashing by on their expensive bikes and every once in a while, clumping along on horseback.

Not where we wanted to be.

After a while, though, we saw a poorly used trail going off to the left and then up and around a small peak. Of course we left the traffic and set out on this unused trail, back into the brush.

We had hardly left the bike trail when looking down at the ground on our new path, we could see regular piles of scat. Scat with high concentration of fur. Now, that should have been a warning of some sort but here we are just outside of a major American city, in fact, off in the distance, in between the ridge tops, you can, actually see the Bay Bridge.

And there was that bike trail not to far behind us. A trail just loaded with suburbanites on their bikes.

I didn't think much more about the scat and we kept on climbing. The trail weaved it's way further and further back along this hillside and then up along a canyon rim. Several miles passed by and now we are walking on a trail that is surrounded on both sides by shoulder high brush. Real thick brush.

Anyway, I'm walking in the lead, in front of Wenonah, the trail is so narrow you can barely go single file, and we come around a corner.

And there, right in front of me, not more than half a dozen paces away, sunning herself, right in the middle of the trail, is this cat. A huge cat. Probably longer than I'm tall (not counting her impressive tail).

And the cat wakes up.

And jumps...

And me, apparently, not thinking too clearly, starts running. Not away from, as any reasonable person would do. But, instead, right toward the cat.

Chasing her.

At the same time as I'm running, I'm trying to get my camera, this really nice Nikon, out of my day-pack so I can get a picture.

This cat, likewise is running, fortunately, in the same direction I'm running. Meaning, she's running away from me.

In just a few seconds, before I could get out my camera, she runs down the trail and disappears around the next bend and, temporarily, out of sight.

I guess, not wanting to have her picture taken.

Because, by the time I get to the bend in the trail, and I should mention that I haven't slowed down either. The only thought I'm thinking is that I'll never forgive myself if I don't get a picture. Anway, I get the camera out of my daypack and round the corner, I couldn't have been more than a half dozen seconds behind this large, I mean this very large cat.

And I turn the bend, just a few seconds behind the cat, with my camera out and...

No cat.

The trails empty.

I'm standing there in the middle of this rather narrow trail. A trail that is surrounded on both sides by thick, dense, shoulder high, brush.

Down hill, maybe half a mile away, I could see a dozen deer in a clearing grazing. And around me, flying circles in the air, are birds. Birds which, no doubt, had been in the brush a few seconds ago before being disturbed by a cat. By the large cat. I mean, by the large mountain lion.

I stood there for a while. at first peering into the brush, looking if I could see where the cat had run to. Increasingly, though, realizing that what had just occurred in a rather happenstance manner was rather fortunate. I mean, I realized, there was no reason that the cat had decided to run with me chasing her. The cat was large enough that it could have just as easily been the other way around. Me running away and her, with her long tail swishing behind, chasing.

By then Wenonah had caught up with me and was asking, not having seen the lion on her own, was asking what I thought I was doing. Running off down the trail like that leaving her all alone.

And as we stood there, the two of us, I had the strongest feeling that we weren't alone. That somewhere, probably somewhere very close by, there was someone else, someone with a very large tail, this someone just inside the thick wall of brush.


I started to explain all this to Wenonah. That here we were, close enough to San Francisco that you could see the top of the Bay Bridge, and that only a few feet away was an animal that hadn't yet accepted the idea that humans were something to be feared.

But then, I hadn't taken a picture of it and how else are you going to get anyone to ever believe a story like that.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A scream in the night

Something woke me up!

It is New Year’s morning. Actually its one AM. The first hour of the new year and I must have been asleep for several hours.

However, a few minutes ago, I suddenly sat up in bed.

My first thought was to go to the closet where we keep the shotgun. And unlock the door.

And get the gun out.

And go to the cabinet drawer. The one with the lock. And unlock it. And get a box of shells.

There is something outside.


At first I thought it might be in the chicken pasture. Something might have got a hold of one of the chickens, only...

Only, that’s not what it sounds like. it’s something else. Something I’ve never heard before.

Without turning on the light, I get dressed, pulling on my coveralls and a flannel shirt.

My heavy boots.

While I’m dressing I hear it again. Once, twice.

It’s something I’ve never heard before.

I don’t get the shotgun but quietly go down the stairs, grab my coat at the front door and go outside.

It’s dark out. No moon. broken clouds shifting back and forth in front of the stars. It is abnormally still.

The dogs, our two large Great Pyrenees which should have been half way up the mountain and barking at whatever was out there were instead both in the front yard, under the old pear tree.

They are wide awake and listening with their eyes staring up into the forest.

Even the birds, the roosters in the pasture and the geese and turkeys, creatures that normally would be yelling and squawking at an unknown sound were silent.

Even the forest is quiet. I don’t hear any birds or animals or even the wind. Everything is quiet.

Except for the scream.

A scream every 30, maybe every 45 seconds.

At first I wanted to say it was some sort of bird. Maybe a large bird. But I listened and that’s not what it was.

It was something else.

It was like there was something else out there. Something that made everything, every creature in the forest hold its breath, lay as close to the ground as possible, hoping, it seemed, hoping that whatever it was wouldn’t notice them hiding.

Here I am standing outside, in the dark, everything so quiet and then a scream and then the silence again.

I thought about going back into the house and getting our shotgun. Hesitated a moment and then slowly walked up the drive, toward the forest.

And how about right there we stop for the farm news? Stop right in the middle of the night and talk about... vegetables.

There’s not to much farming going on this time of year.

The chickens are still laying a dozen or so eggs a day. You are welcome to come out and collect them. Free.

The snow and ice are gone from on top of the lettuce and mustard and while I haven’t walked out in the field to check it looks to still be alive. You are welcome to come on out and pick some (check with me first, I’ll walk out and see what shape its in.

We will start our 2006 subscription drive in early March. I’ve pretty much put the new 2006 information up on our webpage. More details when we get closer to the time.

Here’s one for all of you who want to spend a month getting away from it all. Do you want to spend a month, rent free, in a villa on the beach in the Yucatan? We have some friends that run a small villa way down south in Mexico, almost to Belize. They go north during the summer to work and are looking for some house sitters. This year they need someone starting March. Contact me for details.

Cows/beef. Last call for putting in your order for pasture raised beef. My neighbor’s cows go to the butcher in just over a week. Contact me for details.

Laying hens. I am reducing my flock of chickens. Is your backyard zoned for chickens (to show how old I am, when I was a kid growing up in Arlington the old couple down the street had several hundred chickens. On Sunday mornings, just as the sky was getting light, I would be out delivering papers and on many mornings I would see the woman come out in her yard, grab a couple birds, hang them from the clothes line and... and start the process for a Sunday chicken dinner.

Which brings us back to the sound in the forest?

Was it the sound of something being eaten?

It was creepy. Eerie. It sounded a lot like a human baby deep in the forest, screaming.

I felt a chill go down my spine.

I started running through the list of things it could be. A bird? None I knew of.

A bob cat? I don’t know. Maybe? But not really.

A bear? What does a bear sound like?

Not a dog. A coyote? No. Not a wolf either.

I couldn’t think of what it could be. Which made me think about it maybe not being something I could identify. Imagine being on the edge of a dark, dangerous unknown forest. Before the ever growing city when the forest went on and on, all of it except the very fringes unknown and listening to the distant calls of animals only imagined. Not knowing what animals exist or don’t exist in the deep darkness.

I stood there for a while longer, standing in the cold and dark and then I turned back toward our house with its doors and warmness inside.