I have always loved living in the country, and was outside playing, riding horses, and fishing all my life. I really can't imagine growing up anywhere else but here. I am quite thankful I never had "Gameboys" or "Xboxs" to waste endless hours playing. I love nature, with all it's flora and fauna. Here in Maine, we have always had a vast array of wildlife, and still do to this day.
Which brings me to a problem I have had to handle for years, and frankly, I have not done a very good job. As a "gentle-woman" farmer, I have always owned chickens. We have never NOT had hens actually. I have eaten farm fresh eggs for so many years I think I would probably have an allergic reaction to store bought eggs. I love my biddies, and even though we have had as many as 120 at once, we still have favorites and names for some of them. We like to let our hens "free range", meaning they are loose to roam and eat delicious grass, worms and bugs. That is what makes the fresh taste and bright yellow yolks farm eggs have. ( I tell my girls to go a little easy on the worms..yuck..)
The problem is, not only do we like to see our free ranging hens out enjoying their day, but so do varmints. They LOVE a nice free range hen. And, of course, there are so many different varmints around that there is a never ending supply of critters trying to eat my biddies. I know I just sounded like Ellie May Clampett, but I was trying to make a point. We have seen, here at Homeland Farm over the last several years: Lynx, Bobcats, Coyotes, Foxes, Fisher Cats, Weasels, Black Bear, Eagles and Hawks, and some very large animal that Cliffy and others think is a wolf hybrid, or extremely large coyote. It is truly amazing we have a feathered friend left on this farm, and were it not for the diligence of the farmer and farmer's wife, we wouldn't.
Now, I am a "live and let live" person. I have never killed a creature in my life. Until I met Cliffy, I never had access to a gun, which was probably a good thing. I used to live next door in my grandparents house, before I moved into Homeland Farm with my family. We had chickens in my Uncle Billy's barn, and had been having terrible trouble with foxes. I started sleeping with my "Blank" shooting gun near my bed, so I could get up and grab it if I heard something at night, or in the early morning. One such morning, I heard a commotion outside my window, which faced the barn. I was more then half asleep, but rolled over and grabbed the blank gun and started hollering "GET OUT OF HERE"! As I pulled the trigger, in bed. In a house full of sleeping kids. Several times. I laugh now as I think of that. The explosion of hollering and dog barking and gunfire, was, at a later time, very amusing. The kids all came running into my room, and by now I had gotten up and was looking out the window, watching the fox high tailing it down back, as fast as he could. Brogan hollered "What the heck?Why did you shoot in the house, for Gods sake?" I turned around to answer her, and she burst out laughing. I had fired apparently at very close range, because my face was all black with gun powder. That, dear friends, is why I never owned a real gun.
I often had to use whatever was at hand however, to save the girls. One night I was asleep, and yet again, I hard the sound of chickens in duress. I leapt out of bed, and ran to the barn, opened the hen house door, and flipped on the light. There, in all the dust, feathers, and chaos, was THE biggest, fattest raccoon I had ever seen. He was standing up straight, reaching up with his cute little hands, trying to get to the window he had come in through. He stood over 3 feet tall, with his arms stretched up. BIG and FAT.
And now, he turned around and made his run for freedom. Which of course, was the door, right behind me. I was wearing the latest in raccoon chasing gear..my granny nightgown.
I hollered my usual cry of "GET OUT OF HERE!" and kicked out at him as he ran by me, out the door into the dark alley where we had no lights. I only grazed him and he disappeared into the darkness. It is hard to get a good purchase when you are kicking in a nightgown, I discovered.
I ran out behind him, and started running down the alley toward the front of the barn. I looked down and darned if he wasn't running right along side of me, casting an uneasy glance my way as we both huffed and puffed down the alley. I was in my "prime" back in those days, so I turned on the juice and got ahead of him. I burst out into the front cow stanchion area and grabbed my broom. Now all this did not take place in silence. The hens were still cackling, and squawking and I was hollering and hooting and cursing, and that fat raccoon was snarling and hissing and we were both running barefoot. He ran into the cow area, saw the open door behind me and made a run for it. I hoisted up my floor length granny night gown, and swung that broom as he ran past me. I paddled his fat butt the whole length of the stanchion room, hollering and hooting like a maniac. I can honestly say, I never saw that raccoon again.
Foxes are a different story. Once they find a good hunting spot, they come back. Often. This spring we had a terrible time with foxes. They started coming around early, and that was it. They came almost every day. They varied it just enough so you didn't know for SURE they were going to be here, but more often then not, they were. Foxes are truly sly, clever creatures, and NOT afraid of humans. After they had killed several of our hens, over a few week period, I said we have to get serious. They figured out that my blank shooting gun was just that..shooting blanks. It wasn't until we busted out Cliffy's real guns, that they were scared. Slighty. But, not if I was shooting. They knew there was no danger there. You know the old expression " Can't hit the broadside of a barn"? Yeah, that was me. On several occasions, they attacked so fast, I never had time to even get a gun out. ( I'm apparently NOT in my prime any longer...)
Once I was sitting in my office, not even daring to have my music playing for fear of missing the R.A.B. ( Rooster Alert Broadcast), when a fox ran past the back barn door, not 10 feet from where I sat, chasing a poor hen. I bellowed my usual war cry "HEY! GET OUT OF HERE!!" and ran out the door. The gun was down in the laundry room and I knew I didn't have time to go get it. He heard me holler and ran past the hen, and squeezed through the horse pasture fence behind our back lawn. I grabbed what was handy, a shovel, and started banging it on the metal of the four wheeler and waving it around in the air. The fox stopped, turned around and looked at me. The little bugger was sizing me up! I could almost hear him thinking.." Oh man, thats the slow gimpy one thats past her prime and can't shoot. What am I running for??" He actually turned around, and headed BACK toward the barn! "CRAP! CLIFFY! WHERE ARE YOU??" I hollered. This was war. I didn't get a responce from Cliffy, so I ran back to the laundry room and grabbed the gun (out of the mixing bowl, of course) and ran, kind of, down to the barn. Mr and Mrs Guinea were having a royal conniption so I knew he was close by. Sure enough, there he was sneaking through the grass, headed toward the chicken coop. I leveled that gun, and BLAM!" Missed him by this much", as Maxwell Smart would say. However, it was enough to scare him off..for THAT day.
The foxes stopped coming by as suddenly as they started. By mid summer, we never saw another fox again. I assume they were killing to feed their kits, so I was glad we never killed any. I just hope they don't come back again this year.
The strange thing last year was that while we had a mess of foxes, we didn't have any coyotes. The last we saw was the fall before, when one of them got one of our turkeys, free ranging of course. The thing about poultry is, if there is a way to get killed, they will find it. The turkeys liked to free range as much as the hens, so for a short time each day, we would let them out and they would wander and eat grass. There is an old wives tale about turkeys being dumb, and I can verify it is true. We had to chase those things out of the road, out of the flower beds, out of the horse stalls etc. It was like they were desperate to find a way to die. Well, one day, Cliffy and I walked out the back door to see where they were, and they were caught on the backside of a fenced in area, which of course, abutts the woods. Where the varmints live. Cliffy walked down to herd them back out, and suddenly hollered "Carmen! Get my gun!" I looked down and didn't see a thing, so therefore wasn't about to run if I didn't need to. "What is it?? What do you see?" I yelled back.
"A coyote or some sort of large animal just killed our biggest turkey!" he responded.
"Crap!!" I said, as I walked down toward the woods. "Is it still there?"
"No, its gone, but boy that was big." He said he really didn't think it was a coyote. It was really tall, and had a real long tail and swung his head around to look at Cliff when he approached. When Cliff turned to tell me to get the gun, it disappeared.
My mind was on to other matters now. "Is the turkey dead?" I asked. Cliffy was in the woods now. "Yes, its dead. Its our biggest." I thought for a moment..then said.."How bad is it? Did he make a mess of it?" Yep, I know you know where this is going. He said it only had a broken wing and his neck was crunched, where the animal had hauled it out into the woods.
So, I said..." Drag that bad boy out here and we can dress it out. A broken wing won't matter and we have to cut off the head anyway." So, with the banjo tune from "Deliverance" playing in my head, Paw and I dressed out that ole turkey and stashed it in the freezer. Brogan said to me the other day "What is in the freezer in the trash bag that looks like a small human?"