Happy Holidays

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.  Ours turned out to be a beautifully warm, fun, peaceful and relaxing day.  See you next year.

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A Chicken, a Coyote and Two Baby Bunnies

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Guess what I caught trying to break into the chicken coop last night? A coyote! A couple weeks ago one of our hens disappeared. We searched the orchard and didn’t find a single feather. Our neighbors hadn’t seen her either but one did warn us that a coyote had been hanging around so we figured maybe he got her.

Then a couple days ago we were herding a few of the chickens back to their pen and found a pile of feathers in the neighboring field. Now, having seen the coyote last night, I am sure he must have caught her. Poor thing. We think maybe one of the kids didn’t count them when their coop was locked and she was left out overnight.

Thankfully the coop is coyote proof and as long as we remember to lock up all the chickens at night, their safe.

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On a happier note, we have baby bunnies! I’m not going to get into the hows and whys, but in January we ended up with two rabbits. Brae has been asking for a rabbit for years and since she just had a birthday we decided to keep them. We found out too late that neither was fixed and the girl was preggo! In mid February I went in to check on them and heard tiny squeaks. I found four live babies and one dead one. Two more died over the next couple days due to injury and I think a little neglect on the mom rabbits part. But we have two healthy fluffy baby bunnies that are thriving and happy with their mom in their own separate cage from Dad. Brae is thrilled. Her friends all want one and I’m now getting dirty looks from their parents.

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Just kidding. They all think I’m brave for even trying the whole bunny thing. When I have to help clean the cage I regret it, but when I am holding one of these tiny fluffy creatures and when I see the joy on my daughters face when she holds one I can help but love them.

The Hen and the Rooster

Earlier this week I went out to gather up the escaped chickens from the orchard and found them down the driveway chattering away with a beautiful black rooster!  This rooster was very interested in my girls and followed us back to the coop.  I didn’t let him in the pen and tried to shoo him away, but he had other ideas and promptly jumped a good 15 ft straight up into the tree that shades the pen.

At first he was a novelty.  He had glossy iridescent black blue feathers and a bright red comb.  But his glamour quickly wore off afterI spent the rest of the day repeatedly chasing him out of the pen and down the road.  We finally came to the realization that he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  But night was falling and we thought maybe he would go back to his own coop when our girls were put away.

It was not to be.

Tom let the girls out of their coop early the next morning and by the time I got up at around 8:30am and headed out to feed, the rooster had beat the crud out of our favorite hen Betty White.  I found her huddled in a corner of the pen, covered in blood, eye swollen shut, and missing dozens of feathers from the back of her neck.  Our poor hen had been brutally raped by that evil rooster.

I spent the rest of that day tending to Betty’s wounds and chasing the rooster away from the coop, only to have him run straight back.  I even had Chaser, a trained birding dog, out to help chase him away, but that rooster wasn’t fazed.  That evening we went around the neighborhood asking if anyone was missing a rooster and no one was.  Several people knew of him and a few even expressed a bit of hatred toward his tendency to crow at 5am from the road.  We decided that he must be feral or had been dumped by someone who didn’t want him anymore.

The next day he still hadn’t left and the neighbors gathered to discuss what to do with him.  We decided that because of his aggression there was no choice but to end his days.  I felt bad for the rooster, but also felt justified.  Without an owner to claim him he was just going to keep terrorizing the hens and the neighborhood.  We really had no choice.  I promise it was swift and as painless as possible.

Betty has medicine for her eye and will hopefully be as good as new in a week or so.  Fingers crossed.

Introducing the Chicks

When we moved to Sonoma county I really hoped that somehow we would be able to have chickens again.  Even though they ate most of my ground vegetables and pounds of tomatoes I still loved watching them scratch the ground for bugs and fight over a pile of greens.  Thankfully, we were lucky enough to move next door to two wonderful families who have been such a blessing the last couple months.  As we got to know each other we all kept talking about chickens and how we all wanted to try them.  So we have decided to do it together.

One Sunday a few weeks ago we all got together and began building this wonderful coop that our neighbor Nick designed.  When finished, it should house all eight chickens comfortably with a small yard for foraging, nesting boxes for eggs and super secure doors with locks so our babes will be safe from the many raccoons and foxes that hunt the orchard at night.  It’s a palace compared to my previous chicken shanty.

We got several different kinds of chicks from the feed store in town including:

  • 2 Ameracunas
  • 2 Barred Rocks
  • 1 Rhode Island Red and 1 Rhode Island White
  • 1 Red Sex Link
  • 1 Spreckled Sussex

They are a little over a month old now and in a few weeks they will be big enough to go in their new coop!

I know my pictures are awful!  Those chicks were far too fast for my iphone camera.  We are still down a computer and I am currently borrowing by dear friend Tina’s extra macbook until we can get a new one.  We have been slammed with a few unexpected financial messes the last couple months that have really put a damper on our new computer and camera plans.  We are staying positive, trying not to lose perspective, and praying for a bright future ahead of us this year.  

Protecting California’s Grapes with Raptors

Hanging grapes

We got up early Saturday morning to get Tom on the road before the morning fog burned off.  He’s leaving for 2 months to work on a vineyard with his falcons.  Yea, read that again.  Vineyard, falcons…  Pretty amazing right?

Harris Hawk on Farm

A few months ago our plans were just an idea.  A risk.  A leap we could take which may push us further along our list of goals, or throw us down a well of debt and unemployment.  We have normal average goals like buy a house, take a trip to Europe, build a savings, live life the way we want.  In our current situation those were never going to happen, so we decided to take a very planned and scheduled leap into fate.

Tom flying Hermes

What was the plan?  For Tom to transfer from one contract to another.  This means that we will have to move wherever the company puts us this winter.  Right now, I don’t know where that will be yet.  For now, he is living on vineyard somewhere in California scaring away all the little birds that feast on the grapes.  He absolutely loves to do vineyard work.  In Tom’s opinion its a falconer’s dream 8 week vacation and you get paid well too.

Grapevine in the sunRow of Grapes in the sun

So what is he doing exactly?

The company Tom works for is Airstrike Bird Control.  They offer bird abatement services to orchards, vineyards, farms, landfills, airports, schools and office buildings.  Pretty much anywhere you have too many pest birds like seagulls, pigeons or starlings.

GrapesTom Flying Gloria on vineyard

The sugar content in grapes begins to skyrocket during the last 6-8 weeks before the September harvest attracting all kinds of birds.  I have heard that more than half a vineyard can be eaten in a weekend.  Usually vineyard owners hire 5 guys on quads to shoot pyrotechnics all day, to the dismay of his non-vineyard owning neighbors.  Some companies even shoot them out of the air with shotguns full of bird shot!

The problem with these tactics is that pyrotechnics can cause fires and its late summer in California, the wildfire state.  Many agricultural towns in CA have outlawed the use of pyro to avoid burning the town and its thriving agriculture to the ground.  Not to mention the strict rules the ATF instituted this year.  Now you must have a special license through the ATF to buy and use pyro.  This pretty much eliminates pyro as an option for most companies as the license is expensive and time-consuming to obtain.  As for shooting the birds out of the air, that is barely legal and in my opinion irresponsible and immoral.

Tom flying Shirly on vineyard

To protect the grapes, and other crops/landfills/airports sustainably we use trained falcons and hawks, which hunt the birds and chase them away.  A flock of starlings, or any bird, will not understand what happened when a gunshot or noisemaker goes off.  They fly away because of the scary noise, but they don’t associate the noise with the location or understand what happened and why.  This means the same birds will keep coming back everyday to feed.

Harris on Hunting Perch

If you fly hawks and falcons on a vineyard or anywhere else, suddenly the little birds understand that bigger hungrier predators have moved into the territory and they had best move out before they become dinner.  Being chased off a vineyard by a hawk sticks in their minds.  It’s an ancient fear, to be eaten by a hawk, its natural for a prey species to avoid areas that are hunted by their predators.  In effect, they avoid the vineyards with hawks and gorge on those vineyards that don’t.

Vineyard row

As much as I will miss Tom I am excited for him.  He has worked so hard over the last 2 years that he totally deserves this.

If you would like more information about falconry-based bird abatement or Airstrike Bird Control you can visit their website at http://airstriketech.com

And be sure to tell them Tom and Melissa sent you!

Little Chickens in the City

“Here Chickies, here chick chick”, I rattle the jar of chick feed, “Hi my little Chickies.”

I used to wake up in the morning thinking of the dishes I would have to wash before breakfast or how much I hate waking up alone when Tom has already left for work at 5:30.  Now, I wake up every morning excited and worried if the chickens

  1. survived the night (they do),
  2. were cold (probably not, since mom sits on them, we live in California, and its July),
  3. or hungry (probably not since their feeder is always filled and available to them)

I am always hoping that today will be the day the chicks will accept me as a friend.  To tell you the truth, they really don’t need me to do much more than give them fresh bedding, fresh water, and treats.

I used to put stray worms in the garden beds to live out a happy life pooping their way to beautiful tomatoes, now I dangle the poor things in front of chicken beaks.  The longer the worm the better.  Roley Poleys are for bribing the chicks to eat from my hand.  And forget cooking radish tops.  The chickens love them.  To the chickens they go.  Spoiled chickens.

I have always wanted chickens.  I still can’t figure out why.  It might be because they are just so darned cute as chicks.  Every year our family would go see the bins of chicks in the 4-H barns at the County Fair.  At least 100 tiny chirping little baby birds in a low clear bin constantly surrounded by an army of small children.  I was one of those infatuated small children and visiting the chicks is still high on my list of essential fair activities.

I also love anything dual purpose.  Show me a pet that provides me with food and I am sold, hook, line, and sinker.  Tom raised chickens as a kid and liked the thought of Brae growing up with them too.  He called up a coworker who had a small farm.  The guy actually had a couple young chickens that were ready to go and we made plans to pick them up that Saturday.  I spent the rest of the afternoon building a small (and completely free!) chicken tractor out of scrap wood from the garage then spent the rest of the week reading Keeping Chickens by Ashley English.  By Thursday afternoon a mild toothache in Tom’s molar turned into an abscess and we had to call the dentist.  The only day he could fit us in was Saturday.  Delayed one week.

The next Saturday we wake up ready to visit this little farm and collect our new flock.  We called our friend.  The tone of Tom’s voice when he said, “oh man, what happened?” gave it all away.  We weren’t going.

I totally understand why.  The guys wife was bit on the face by a dog and was in the hospital all night.  She is okay, but they needed rest.  Not a problem.  We can wait another week.

Finally Saturday arrives again and we call our friend.

“The hillside near the cows is on fire, but it should be out by the time you get here.  Come on up.”

“Uh, seriously dude we can wait if you are busy.”  Tom looks at me, “This is California, the wildfire state.”

“No, no its fine,” I can hear his happy voice booming from the phone, “Come on down to the farm.”

Brae had a blast feeding the goats, following colorful roosters around the yard, and watching the new filly hide behind her Mama.  The original chicks set aside for us had grown into independent chickens and were not used to people holding them so we opted to get the new chicks that were in a pen with their mama.  Catching them was interesting, one chick escaped through the door and sent us running in different directions trying to corner her.  Then she vanished.  We searched everywhere and just went I was starting to think we had lost her our buddy found the little girl hiding under a pile of firewood.

We left the farm happy, tired, dirty and with 5 new family members.

On the way home, Tom and I debated the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.  We finally agreed that because of evolution the egg wins.

Chicken & Egg Count

  • 1 broody hen named LadyHawk – on loan until the chicks are bigger
  • 1 turken chick named Gumball
  • 3 Ameraucana chicks named Sheila, Darwin and Eleanor.
  • 0 eggs, probably no eggs for 5-6 months, but when they come they will be blue-green!