A couple days ago a few weeks back last November I was helping our son with a few projects around his homestead. Gets me off the hill here and I am grateful he can utilize my aging expertise. Plus we get to spend time together. It doesn't get much better than that.
Except for that darn retaining wall behind his place. Apparently I'm pretty good at alignment, slope and level, and apparently I volunteered to lay down the first row. In the muck. And the mire. And blasting, with a pick, several inches deep in some places, an underground boulder the size of Colorado.
See what I did there?
My back hurt for days after that eighty foot experience. But I digress.
I always "release the hounds" in the morning here, my slang for letting the chickens out of their secure night quarters. I always get in a quick survey of the territory immediately surrounding their fenced in yard when I do this. I also get in a survey when I lock them up in the evening, but it's hard to do if I lock them up after dark. Without a floodlight of course. Or ten thousand Aborigines with candles.
So I locked them up on a Wednesday night after dark, no survey. The next morning, when I went up to release them for their all day romp in their yard, I noticed a tell tale crime scene of feathers just outside the fence.
Tell tale crime scene of feathers? Well... I've seen a few of those scenes now.
See what I did there?
This scene wasn't just a random feather or six. Nor was it a gargantuan, gruesome head-missing mess a raccoon, ringtail or skunk might leave, like what happened in Massacre at Keet Creek. Or Raider in the Night. This was a very neat, roundish collection of about ten gold feathers. This was not a raunchy, cold-blooded, Manson style blood-thirsty free for all party bash 'em up slaying; this was a cool, calculating predatory kill.
It was also a day time attack. The feather tuft was not there Wednesday morning. I would have seen it, it was too obvious. So it happened some time between 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM on Wednesday.
Just to make sure, I went back in and counted the birds. Actually, I only looked for two because of the feather color. I knew exactly which breed had been hit. Sure enough, I had only one remaining Buff Orpington. If there is any silver lining in this, at least she was a four year old bird, way past her prime egg laying age.
But she was part of our family and one of the original flock. There are only three hens left now from the original flock of twelve, started in 2012. One more Buff and two Barred Rocks. And that damn rooster. And this is why we add two to four new chicks every year.
I was a little mystified, not sure what the heck the predator could be. Most of your chicken predators are night aggressors, a day attack is rather unusual. I had seen a hawk sitting on the fence edge some weeks before. I'm pretty sure he was calculating as I had. He could hop on in but would not be able to get out of the clothesline covered area with his wings spanned. I chased him away anyway.
But still, I'm not convinced a hawk could get a hen up and over a six foot fence. He could go in for a kill, but never get the hen out. A fox couldn't climb over the fence, that species was out. A bobcat could probably get in and get a hen out. Hmmh. I needed to cogitate.
The day after the crime occurred I was outdoors all day catching up on maintenance. Weed whacking, lawn mower, leaf blower. Loud power tools all day. And as I played I cogitated away. And kept a wary eye up at Chicken Fantasia Land. No action, no threat. Nothing was going on.
Had I been hallucinating again? No, a bird was missing. Something had happened.
Friday morning I released the hounds as usual. Then I went grocery shopping. When I returned the chickens were out in their yard, eating bugs and yakking. Sun bathing in the dirt. Doing stuff that chickens do. I proceeded to put the groceries away and then commenced some house cleaning.
I figured all the outside activity the previous day would have kept any predator away, even Jehovah's Witnesses. But now I was inside and a bad guy might not know I was around. I kept a wary eye out, making sure I glanced up there every ten to fifteen minutes or so. I figured if the girls were out clucking in the yard everything was fine. Plus they have a very loud and distinctive "mortal danger" alert cluck. I am so in tune with those birds I can hear that cluck even if I'm in a car with ACDC playing at volume ten. Six miles away.
As I moseyed along on my cleaning morning, I went out the side utility door for no specific reason at all I recall. Might have been to toss something in the garbage. Might have been cosmic. But as soon as I took one step out the door I glanced up the hill and not twenty feet away stood a frozen in mid stride beautiful brown and grey cat. It was heading in the direction of Chicken Fantasia Land, about forty feet away.
At first I thought it was one of our long haired tabbies, who are both looking glorious now in their full winter coats.
And then I thought if this was Daisy or Lily they had to have been taking some steroids. Whichever they were sure looked bigger than usual.
And then I said to no one in particular, "This is a fucking bobcat."
Then she ever so slowly started a retreat. I slowly moved forward and grabbed a rock. Then I threw the rock in her direction, started shouting and clapping. She hastened her retreat and scampered off up the hill into the thick underbrush.
Clapping and shouting worked in this particular instance. It might not work in every instance. Like if you're confronted with a bear. Or zombies. I would recommend a big gun if confronted by either of these two creatures. Like an AK-47. Or a howitzer, for instance.
She was big as far as bobcats go. I was almost thinking she might be a small mountain lion until I witnessed her retreat and saw her bobbed tail. She was a big, beautiful cat. She was also a big, beautiful and extreme threat to my chicken's well being. I had a problem.
I obviously couldn't watch the hen house all day, every day. I'd be like the great hen protector Fog Horn Leghorn of Looney Tunes cartoon fame.. All day. They don't make enough of anything to cover that kind of boredom therapy type situation.
Goldie, our rooster, might have the best intentions, but he would be no match for a bobcat. And I wasn't going to keep them locked up all day.
We could get a dog. We've been talking about that. But then that would be one. More. Thing to take care of. I already don't have ten spare seconds. Add another dimension to that? What to do, what to do?
As I did my Bobcat research amid completing house cleaning, I kept a wary eye out. About the time I finished the house and was going to start researching in earnest up here, I glanced up in their yard. No chickens were visible. I immediately went out and found them all inside the hen house, looking rather spooked. The rooster, to his credit, was standing guard at the door.
I figured they knew more than I did. I had been watching the hill since I scared her away and hadn't seen a thing. But then, I was dealing with one of the smartest predators in the wild. She wasn't going to be seen again. I decided to go with the chicken's instinct and locked them up in their secure cage.
Then I came back up here and started researching the potential of going electric. It almost sounds like Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival, but it's not quite that entertaining. Or historic.
It wasn't ten minutes before I heard the distress cluck chorus. LOUD. I jumped up and ran to the appropriate upstairs window.
"Holy shit," I exclaimed, to no one in particular.
That big beautiful cat was inside the chicken's yard, running around the pickle barrel, trying to figure out how to get into their secure cage, which I had closed and locked not ten minutes earlier. He was actively prowling and the birds were singing. Not happily either.
I dashed downstairs. As soon as she heard the door open she turned and looked at me. Within a quarter of a second she leapt effortlessly about fifteen feet to the top of the back fence. She was on top of the fence for another quarter of a second and then was down and gone. It took about four seconds from the door opening to her completely disappearing. Boom. Gone.
I shouted and clapped for good measure. Just to show who's boss. Threw another rock.
Again, not sure if this would work for a bear. Or zombies. Might need back-up. Like that howitzer. And a machete.
She's been back, that beautiful cat. I have found evidence of her lurking. Yeah, I'm not ashamed to say I am becoming knowledgeable about wildlife scat in these here hills. It helps to know what has been prowling about, especially when one has delicious chickens.
But the girls are safe. I went electric. Just like Dylan.
Amazon.com. A lifeline for folks in the country. It cost about $90.00 and took me about two hours to get it all dialed in. A lot cheaper than a dog and much less time involved too!
The first time was a nice little nip to the hand right after I installed it. Not too bad, but enough to let you know you wanted no future part of it. In fairness to my stupidity, I did kind of want to know what strength of jolt it offered. The second time, right after a rain, with water still standing on the wire, was more like a taser. Ah chi mama, that lit my entire arm up like the 4th of July. In fairness, I have no idea why. That was just plain stupid.
Never again. However, if you're ever over and want to test it yourself go right on ahead. After you sign a waiver of course. And next of kin have been notified.
There hasn't been another attack since we went electric. I currently believe the flock is safe from predators. But then, I did before. This is the country after all. Who knows what form a beast will take to be the next to try and feast on our girls?
There is no drought, here at least. Our little slice of heaven, along with most of Northern California has been officially declared drought free. And why not, we've received 23.25 inches of rain just this month, which brings the total to 51.75 inches already this season. To compare, we received a total of 51.25 inches last year. And only received around 32 inches in each of the previous drought years. 56 inches is normal.
Cheers to almost being normal.
Rain wise, that is.