Daily Archives: October 20, 2008

Jumping mouse, lethal chicken

Babycakes makes her first kill

Babycakes sifting through leaf litter, looking for edible morsels like mice!

Babycakes sifting through leaf litter, looking for edible morsels like mice!

I just witnessed my little ‘Babycakes’ kill, and begin to devour, a mouse. As she was scratching at some leaf mould in the garden, a mouse suddenly jumped out from under a leaf; she grabbed it by the back of the head, shook it, stomped on it, shook some more, stomped some more, until it was a twitching wet lump. Who knew that chickens were predators? Until this moment, I had not thought of them in those terms. Now, I will have to seriously reconsider whether or not I need a barn cat!

Babycakes is a young chicken that I incubated and raised this spring. She was one of two eggs to hatch–and the only one to survive the first two days–of a batch of 42 eggs (it turned out there were very few fertilized eggs in the clutch). She hatched early, late one Friday night when I was not expecting the eggs to begin until Saturday at the earliest. Needless to say, I was incredibly disappointed in the hatch rate and, at first, resented the work ahead of me for ‘just one chicken’. However, she was a stroppy little creature and I admired her determination to survive from the beginning. I got attached to her quickly; this happens when you have to hand-raise a solitary baby.

Babycakes hunting down grubs in an old stump.

Babycakes hunting down grubs in an old stump.

When a wee creature spends its first days of life nestled inside your bra keeping warm–thanks to poorly timed power outages–you can’t help but bond with it!

The first couple of months were more or less a solitary confinement situation for her (apart from the time spent down my bra), because I didn’t have any other baby chicken at the time to socialize her with. She spent her formative months in the garage: first in a box and then in a small ‘transition house’. Her only socializing was with me when I came to feed and water her, or just plain talk and pay attention to her. She was a chatty little thing, so often I did more listening than talking.

It wasn’t long before her name just slipped out of my mouth one night while addressing my husband: ‘So, did you check on Babycakes when you closed up the garage?’ This is how animals are named on my farm. I don’t set out to do it, but sometimes it just happens.¬† With a name, Babycakes will likely live out her days on the farm until she dies of old age, or meets some otherwise unpreventable demise.

This is the closest I can get to Babycakes, and she won't stand still for the camera!

This is the closest I can get to Babycakes, and she won't stand still for the camera!

Once she got big enough to move into the chicken shed with the others, she revealed an independent spirit and maintained a separate existence from the other chickens: she roosted on the watering can instead of the roosts with the others, ran towards my gumboots  asking to be picked up whenever I entered the paddock, and generally chirped her little head off throughout the day.

She still roosts on the watering can even though she is now nearly 5 months old, but no longer feels the need to take comfort in my gumboots. She has come into her own.

She is a pretty chicken but very camera shy. I tried to get a nice shot of her a few days ago, and again today with her grand prize in her beak, but she won’t have it. One day when I do get a nicer shot, I will put it up.

9 Comments

Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Sustainable Farming

A time to kill

I shot my first live animal yesterday, and I was not on a hunt. I caught a young red fox trying to dig his way in to my turkey pen. This was the same little fellow that had been prowling around my place every night for several weeks now, keeping me awake thanks to the vigilance of my dog. I’d seen him on several of his mid-night ramblings but not bothered to try to shoot him; I just let Tui (our dog) out to take care of him, and she was enough to chase him off.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. He showed up around 3:00 in the afternoon, give or take. I’d just sat down for coffee with my husband, when we noticed the turkeys’ sudden agitation at something. They were ringing their alarm bells, pressing themselves up against the near fence-line and generally making it well known they were not happy about being captive.

My husband ran towards the turkey pen and shouted that he’d spotted the fox. Upon hearing the word ‘fox’, I leaped into action and ran to the house to get my gun (a Ruger .22 semi-automatic). When I returned and closed in on the turkey pen, the little fox was still trying to dig his way in and wasn’t at all alarmed by my presence: not something you want in a wild animal. I took aim through the fence. Once he felt my presence, he stopped digging, sat down, and looked at me, unblinking.

Admittedly, he was a cute little thing, so I paused to consider what I was about to do.¬† Should I shoot him? Should I let him go on his way? He’s so cute, can I really do this? But I knew I had to shoot him now. He would be back, and if bad luck would have it, it would be when I’m not home to deal with him. It was a case of killing a fox to save my turkeys: my animals, my livelihood, my food security. Typically, you know when a fox has been in the chicken house because they kill everyone in there. It is not enough for a fox to kill just one chicken or turkey and leave, like an eagle or a hawk. It is the signature of a fox to kill everyone, and I could not risk losing my turkeys to him.

After considering all this, again I took aim. I was about to shoot when I realized the shot I had was not a good option. There were two layers of cross-wire fencing to shoot through, so it could end up in disaster. The bullet could hit a wire, ricochet and miss him all together, or worse–hit one of my turkeys. I decided I would risk letting him escape this time, and tried to get a better shot.

While I was repositioning myself, he went around the barn and behind the paddock fence-line. I ran around the other side of the paddock and into it, so I could take aim through the fence and not have it in my way. Meanwhile, he took off to the other side of the slough.

Once across to what he thought was safety, he sat at the base of a tree and, again, turned and looked back at me. Yes, he was cute. Yes he was a young one–probably only a year old. He had such a sweet face, I almost lost my nerve. Again I took pause for a brief moment, but ultimately mustered up the courage to shoot: he would just be back if I let him go. I hit him in the chest and he barreled over backwards, recovered his footing, and took off at a lope.

Now came the really difficult part: I had to try to find my way across the slough (not an easy task) and then track him through extremely dense bush. I got my dog and my husband rounded up to help with the job. We found the blood trail and followed it, but it was rough going. The undergrowth here is full of brambles and –worse–Devil’s Club, which can take out an eye if you are not careful.

I now know that following a blood trail sounds easier than it actually is. I had never done it until yesterday. It was not easy–even with the dog trying to lead the way. We got caught up for far too long trying to get across the slough and even longer trying to get through the dense brush. Finally, we got through the bush and came out on my neighbour’s driveway. We followed the blood trail along the driveway, through the back of my neighbour’s garden, and finally out in to the field that he’d crossed and into the deep forest at the edge of the field.

He’d obviously come to the farm along a similar path, and so, once in the field, the dog got confused and we lost more time–tracking him back and forth along the two paths, coming and going. Eventually, we passed a patch where he’d urinated on his way to my farm. I knew it had to be on his way to the farm and not his return route because the urine was still wet. Not only that: when we finally picked up the blood trail again, it was along a slightly different path. We backtracked along the blood trail and followed it to where he crossed another slough and continued deeper into the forest.

It was not long after this point that I decided to give up. The dog was beginning to look uneasy, the light was going, the rain was coming, and, having passed two fresh piles of fresh bear poop, I figured that being in this dense forest with nothing more than a .22 was not wise. If the dog was nervous walking in the footprints of a bear, so should I be.

I felt bad for not being able to make sure I’d finished him off. There is no doubt in my mind that he will bleed to death, but I would have liked to have finished the job myself. The downside of this is that he’s out there suffering; yet there was and is nothing more I could do. To have continued to track him that late in the day, and with such fresh bear sign around, would have been dangerous. Furthermore, it has rained hard overnight so the trail of blood and scent will be gone today.

The upside of this event, however, is twofold: he won’t be back, and last night I got my first whole undisturbed night’s sleep in weeks.

5 Comments

Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Politicking with predators, Turkeys