Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Trapped Critter

Well, I did catch a critter this week.

It was several nights ago. Right outside the chicken tractor.

I don't know if it is the critter that was carrying home chicken dinners the week before.

But it was definitely nosing around the henhouse for some reason.

Is that what you call circumstantial evidence?

Anyway, here's the story:

After last week's demise of several of our egg laying chickens I decided that it was probably prudent to put out some traps. Live traps. Those big cage like contraptions where the animal walks in the opening to eat the goodies on the inside, steps on a plate that trips the door, that slams shut behind it.

I have several of these contraptions and I sat them around the chicken house and baited them with hard boiled eggs and old hamburger meat.

If I was going after a chicken eater, I reasoned, I should put in bait that a chicken eater would like.

And the first night, the night after I sat the traps out, I got up bright and early and went up to the hen house and...

The traps were empty.

And so I made sure the bait was fine and the traps were still set and the second night came around and the second morning dawned and I ran out to the traps and...

They were still empty.

So, the third night came around and the third morning (it was Sunday) and I slept in and I didn't get around to going over to the hen yard until late morning (because I wanted some fresh eggs for a late breakfast).

And there was the critter.

Sound asleep in the trap.

It wasn't a fox.

Or a bobcat.

Or even a house cat (I find the most often caught creature in my live traps to be one of our four housecats -- you would think they would learn).

NO. The trap had the second most often caught animal inside.

A raccoon.

A medium sized raccoon (seldom are traps occupied by large raccoons which seems that raccoons learn about the nature of traps a lot faster than our housecats).

Now, once I've caught it, the question is, what am I going to do with it?

If I let it go it will no doubt continue with its evil ways, only this time, making sure it avoids traps.

And I'm sure that there is someone out there that eats raccoons, but that someone isn't me.

Which leaves me with basically one option.


How far away do you need to relocate a raccoon to keep it from returning to its original home?

One mile? Two miles? Ten miles? A hundred?

Well, I picked up the trap (waking up the occupant) put it in the back of the pick up and drove about five miles as the crow flies.

Took the trap out of the back of the truck (this is an area more wooded and less populated with humans than our farm).

Put the trap on the ground.

Carefully lifted up the door.

And stood back.

And the raccoon, did nothing.

Instead of running for freedom, it sat there inside the trap and stared at me, not, apparently, trusting my motives.

Now, how do you get a raccoon to leave a trap?

I walked around the trap, so it would look through he open door at me.

I rocked the trap back and forth. 

I told it to get out. 

I picked up the safe end of the trap and shook it up and down.

And finally I just walked away.

And after a while, the raccoon, finally, noticed the open door, looked around. Made sure I wasn't anywhere around. And finally...

Made a run for it. Out the door and up the nearest tree.

Since then, since the relocation of the raccoon, no other chickens have disappeared in the night. I imagine it is a little bit of wishful thinking that we've solved that one problem, though.

And I should keep the traps set and baited.

Oh well.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Avian Flu and the free range flock

Last week one of our shareholders forwarded me an AP article (Flock-Killing Planned if Bird Flu Found WASHINGTON, Apr. 19, 2006) about the USDA’s plan to kill chickens and turkeys in the event of an Avian Flu outbreak in this country.

Of course I went ballistic because the article said that chickens locked in buildings and cages are much less likely to contact disease than chickens that are outside.

I know, and anyone who gives the matter a moments thought knows, that chickens locked up beak to butt in those chicken concentration camps known as chicken houses are much more susceptible to disease than properly feed and moved pastured chickens are.

Here’s why.

The apologists for the poultry concentration camps argue that since the chickens and turkeys locked inside these buildings:
1. never get to see the outdoors,
2. that they never ever see the sun,
3. that they never touch the earth,
4. that they never get to scratch for worms and insects and weed seeds,
5. that (if they are raised for eggs) they are locked 3 or 4 chickens to a cage,
6. that they stand on wire caging and not the earth,
7. that they live in cramped quarters with thousands and thousands of often genetically exact sisters,

Because of this, the argument goes, because these poor chickens are confined they are less likely to come in contact with disease than healthy pastured chickens that are allowed to do all of those natural things like like go outside, scratch, socialize and are allowed relative freedom.

That’s the argument.

And the reasons why that argument doesn’t hold up are many but the first one is obvious.

Assuming that the disease vector for avian flu is from wild bird to domestic birds (and most of the proof is that that is not the vector, but..) but assuming it is just because the confined chickens are locked up doesn’t mean they are separated from the environment.


Look at these henhouses’ massive ventilation systems. Air from the outside is forcefully pushed through these henhouse with numerous fans, vents and ducts. (if the houses did not circulate air from the outside the confined chickens would soon die).

Now, let’s go back to that flu infected wild bird. In the one case it lands in the pasture and comes in contact with a free bird, infects the free bird, and then that bird infects the other birds.

But let’s take the same hypothetically flu infected wild bird. What if instead of landing in the pasture it lands on the roof of the warehouse where the confined chickens are housed, lands right next to those massive fans, and as it does, as chickens do, it relieves itself.

Instead of the virus coming in contact with the one bird suddenly there is an entire henhouse with thousands and thousands of genetically similar birds inhaling the flu virus.

Ask yourself, which flock would sooner become infected?

The fact is, confined chickens are much, much more susceptible to disease than free range chickens.

An important point, though There is a lot of proof that avian flu is not being spread by wild birds, but instead it is spread by the corporate poultry industry itself. But I’m not the expert. A good webpage with an excellent paper on the issue is

Friday, April 21, 2006

a very sad story

I have a sad story to tell.

It was two nights ago.

Just as it was actually getting dark.

Suddenly, there was a scream.

And then the sound of a struggle.

And then another scream.

And more struggling.

And one more scream. One that died off into silence.

I was out the back door but whatever was gone on was now over. It was now perfectly quiet.

Just a beautiful spring evening.

But the fight, Actually the assault, sounded like it had happening just outside of the house.

Maybe around back. Somewhere out in the forest.

But not that far away.

I stood there. Looking into the dark and not seeing anything.

The dogs, our two Great Pyrenees guardian dogs, Andorra and Twain had started barking. This is a breed of dog that is supposed to instinctively want to defend against just such an event, They are supposed to be out there right away defending against assaults in the dark.

But so much for breeding. You could tell they both were pretty clueless. They had no idea where the screaming had come from. At first they would look in one direction and then another.

And now, whatever had happened, it was over. The attack had happened and the victim was either out there in the dark hiding from her assailant.

Or she was dead.

I thought about getting the flashlight and looking around but what was the use? The forest by now was night-time dark, and deep and there wasn't a clue as to which direction to look.

So I didn't. I turned and went back into the house.

"What happened?" Wenonah asked. She was waiting by the door. "Did you see anything?"

I told her what I found out. Nothing.

"What could it have been?"

"I don't know."

And dinner was ready. Wenonah has this idea that we need to be on a diet so it was broccoli and chicken. And a salad with hardly any oil.

"Do you think it was a chicken? It sounded way to big for that."

"Or maybe the peacock?"

"Maybe it wasn't one of ours. Maybe it was something wild. The whippoorwills have just come back. Maybe a fox caught a whippoorwill while it was singing along the powerline?"

From there we went on to speculate on which predator.

"Not a possum, or a skunk. They aren't much for a fight like that."

"And I don't think a raccoon could have given that much of a fight."

"And only a fox if it was something on the ground. I don't think a fox could tangle with one of the peafowl anyway. That would have been a much longer fight."

"Maybe a wild dog. It could be a dog from one of those new houses being built up on top of the ridge, over in Prince William County?"

"I think Andorra and Twain would have known if there was a dog around. They would have gone into high alert. They would be barking still."

"Bob cat?"

"Coyote. People say they've seen coyotes in the area."

The next morning I walked down the road to let the chickens out of the chicken tractor.

Every evening, as the sun goes down the chickens stop their scratching in the pasture and come back to the chicken tractor and climb inside.

And fly up on their roosts for the night.

And every evening, just as its getting dark, I walk down the road and close them up for the night.

So, here I am in the morning. the morning after the assault. and I stepped over the electric fence around the chicken pasture and opened the henhouse door.

And quickly jumped back as the mad rush begins.

Chickens flying out the door, making a mad rush to be the early bird.

I stood there and watched for a minute or two. It's always a trip to watch those hens rush out for their day's work. Chickens are definitely the archetypal 'early bird.'

Unlike me, they are the type that is up and at it in the morning whether they've had their coffee of not. I actually know some people like that too.

And after watching them for a little longer I slowly turned and started looking.

Looking until I found what I had expected to find.

A trail of feathers.

You could see where the chicken had first been grabbed right under the house.

One of the chickens had decided that she didn't want to go in last night.

That it was a nice night for staying out.

More feathers where whatever it was that had done the attacking had dragged his victim under the fence.

And on the other side of the fence the victim must have made a break for it. The ground was all torn up. A struggle and more feathers.

And then a trail back into the bushes, through the briars, over to where a hole had been cut, or I guess I should say gnawed, through the plastic anti-deer fence.

And then more feathers, another struggle.

And that was the end of the trail. No more fighting.

Somebody got themselves a chicken dinner.

And the gene police had thrown someone out of the pool.

And speaking of chickens the USDA, in the likely event that Avian flu comes to our country, is forming plans to kill all of the small flocks of pastured chickens in the entire country.

At the same time they intend to kill all of the organic and small chicken flocks (with their diverse genetic pool).

The USDA plans on giving the corporate chicken factories a free ride (even though there is overwhelming proof that the spread of avian flu through Asia and into Europe and Africa is largely fueled by the practices of the corporate chicken industry).

The USDA's arguments for killing off the genetically diverse, pastured flocks of chickens while not touching the caged, often genetically engineered chickens owned by the corporate 'food manufacturers' are patently bogus and do not hold up to any close examination what-so-ever.

The people making this policy over at the USDA should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.

But then what do you expect?

Over the weekend I'm going to put up on our blog a critique of what the USDA plans to do and why and then show why their arguments and reasoning wouldn't keep a fox out of a henhouse let alone a virus.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

toad orgy

It finally happened.
Saturday night.
Actually, it started in the evening, about 6 pm.
And lasted all weekend long.
You could hear the croaking and whistling marching (should I say hopping) on the farm from every direction.
The toads were on the move.
A determinate, marching, horde, leaving their hidden holes in the forest and fields.
And converging, one hop at a time, on the goldfish pond.
It was, alas, the annual frog get together. (for more information, see Toad Orgy on our webpage).
By one in the morning there were, from my count, 75 plus toads frolicking in our front yard goldfish pond.
When I first heard the croaking, actually a sort of high pitch whistling, I ran out and turned off the electric fences (see Fried Frogs on our webpage). Every time I see a poor toad who has attempted to take a short cut across the chicken yard and instead got himself fried on the lower wires on the electric netting, I feel somewhat guilty.
And on the night of the annual toad orgy there could easily have been a catastrophe of merrily hopping toads suddenly getting toasted.
(one disaster, fortunately, averted)
The toad get together is one of the event I wait for each spring. (and not because of some weird thoughts about toad sex) but because it has marked, ever since I've had a goldfish pond, the last frost of the year.
And the signal that it is now OK to start planting.
Which is what intend to do this coming week.