You can take the girl out of Spenard but you can't take Spenard out of the girl.
April 25, 2008
The day after Barabajagal was killed, I made a point of trying to get the chickens locked up a little earlier than usual. About an hour and a half before sunset, I'd managed to get them all inside the coop except for four stubborn hens. You can chase them all you want but, if they refuse to be caught, you just can't catch them. I had other chores to do so I left them to scratch up earthworms in my freshly plowed garden plot.
About 7 pm, shortly before the sun went down, I was locking Lemon into her bachelor apartment coop for the night. I was about five minutes away from heading down to Frankencoop to corral the wayward hens when I heard frenzied squawking. The chicken assassin had returned.
Sure enough, as soon as I got down to the coop, there were only three birds outside. The brown hen I called Chemo was missing. I named her that because another chicken had pecked most of the feathers from her head, leaving her bald.
Chemo was one of a group of hens I call The Greys. Joe Boomhauer, who gave five of them to me last spring, said that's what breed of chicken they are. For a long time, I had trouble telling them apart so I just called them The Greys. One Grey mysteriously disappeared last year and another was eaten in the Great Bobcat Massacre of Aught Seven. It was two of the Greys that recently hatched and raised a couple babies. (One of them later relinquished her maternal duties to the other and returned to the flock.)
The next morning, I let the chickens out to free-range for the day but made a point of being present at Frankencoop for the final hours of the day. And I was sure to bring my gun. I set up a folding chair behind some brush and kept my eye on the woods. But nothing came.
Nothing came the next day either, though I almost blasted a gray tabby cat that's been hanging around for a couple weeks. Not by accident either. I recognized the cat and yet still wondered if perhaps it had been responsible. Maybe I'd been wrong about it being a bobcat that ate my chickens. Maybe it wasn't a wild animal after all. I was ready to kill anything that set foot outside of those woods.
I decided against killing the tabby - at least for the moment. I'm glad I did too because, the next day, I would see the real killer.
The following afternoon, around 5 pm, I got in the truck and headed down to the coop for my stakeout. As I rounded the bend in the driveway, a blur of reddish-brown crossed my periphery. For a split-second I was ready to write it off as a product of my recently jumpy imagination, but then I saw it again.
The blur stopped to stare at me. It was a large red fox, standing a mere 40 feet from the chicken coop. I reached for my gun on the passenger seat before the truck had even come to a stop. But before I could get the barrel out the window, the fox ran into the forest.
I haven't seen a lot of foxes in my life: One in the back field last spring and a few spotted on the Alaskan Highway. But this one was by far the biggest fox I've ever seen. But there was no mistaking it for a dog or anything else. It was definitely a fox.
I looked up red foxes on the internet and found they can be up to three feet long (add almost another two feet for the tail) and weigh up to 30 pounds. The fox I saw was safely on the large end of this scale.
And the bastard grabbed another chicken yesterday afternoon. This time it was the Grey that had recently rejoined the flock after raising two chicks with another Grey. The mama hen is now he last of the Greys.
Mama Grey takes the babies on a stroll
As of this morning, the birds are under strict lockdown. No more free-ranging for at least a week. Not until I get back from my very first trip away from the farm. In a couple days, I will drive to the Florida panhandle for a camping getaway with BMac & Dani. BMac is in New Orleans again this spring, building stages for JazzFest.
For a few glorious days, we will bury our toes in the sand and stare at the horizon over the Gulf of Mexico. We will drink real beer and eat real chicken.
April 17, 2008
I spent most of yesterday down at Frankencoop, clearing brush and dead trees out of the way and burning them in a bonfire. I'm also preparing another large garden plot down there.
I was enjoying watching the chickens run around. Spring had made the roosters, Gimpy and Barabajagal, extra feisty and randy. In recent weeks, Barabajagal had been challenging Gimpy's status as top cock. They'd occasionally spar in the yard, even drawing a little blood.
Yesterday, Barabajagal was making a play at Cheepacabra, the sexiest chicken in the whole wide world. She is queen of the coop and Gimpy's favorite lady. Few things piss Gimpy off more than Barabajagal trying to fuck her.
Cheepa & I
Barabajagal would try to mount Cheepa. Gimpy would run at them and knock him off. Cheepa would run away. Gimpy would run after Cheepa so he could mount her and show everybody who was boss. As soon as Gimpy's back was turned, Barabajagal would try it again. Poor Cheepa did the most running of all, not wanting any part of this macho contest.
As I watched this sex farce play out (with the Benny Hill theme playing in my head), I thought about grabbing my camera out of the truck. But I was busy working and figured there would be many more chances to film the roosters jockeying for position.
I was wrong.
As it turns out, that will be the last memory I have of Barabajagal.
He didn't show up at sundown when I locked the chickens up for the night. At the time, I didn't realize he was missing. I had come up one short in my count but didn't think much about it. It's often difficult to count the chickens once they're all in the coop. I neglected to do a more thorough roll call, thinking I had merely miscounted.
I was also distracted by the unexpected addition of three more young chickens to the flock that afternoon. They were factory farm refugees that escaped the trip to the slaughterhouse, brought to me by a worker on that particular farm.
I call them The Freshman Class
By the time I had the coop locked up, the sun had already set and I still had a few more chores to complete before it got dark. I did a cursory check of the grounds for any dawdling chickens, but found none.
But this morning when I let all the chickens out, the count was still one short. That's when I noticed it was Barabajagal that was missing.
I started looking around the area and it wasn't long before I found the first sign of Barabajagal's demise - a mess of feathers on the east side of Frankencoop.
As I walked down the hill, I found more feathers. The trail led into the woods where I found a pile of his iridescent tail feathers and a couple tiny bones.
The feather piles and condition of the remains (or lack thereof) is very much like the bobcat attack that took two of my chickens last spring. I think it must've happened about an hour before sunset.
B.J. Boomhauer had come over with his tractor to plow up garden plots for me. I remember being up at the house, showing him where to plow, and hearing a commotion from the coop around six o'clock. By the time I got back to the coop, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I initially thought the noise was from older chickens picking on the freshmen again but now I realize it was Barabajagal being attacked.
And here I am still with four young roosters to kill and some goddamned bobcat has to pick my favorite goose-stepping, pigeon-toed rooster! Next to Cheepacabra, Barabajagal was my second favorite chicken of all. And there wasn't even enough left to bury in the pet cemetery. I never did find any wing feathers. Maybe I'll find them later today. Or perhaps the bobcat took the wings back home to feed hungry baby bobcats.
Last photo of Barabajagal, taken around 4:30 pm yesterday.
I guess this solves my problem about what to do with the young rooster I'd decided to keep. His name is Rob - short for Robot Rooster 3000. I brought him up to the house last month when I noticed him walking with a limp. He's fine now but has a funny mechanical way of walking that led to the name.
I didn't know he was a rooster when I first brought him up to the house. That became evident later on but, by then, I was already attached to the little guy. I had worried about his place in a small flock that already had two permanent roosters, but that won't be an issue now.
Shit. I was hoping that, for a change, I'd write a post about something other than chickens.
April 10, 2008
Oh, so much chicken drama since I last posted!
I've killed and butchered two more of the excess roosters since then. As much as I hate killing them, I am getting better at it. I finally have a regular chopping block now, made from a large pine log and two large nails.
The rooster's neck goes between the two nails. They hold his head in place while I hold onto his feet with my left hand. I hold the hatchet in my right.
The birds are actually quite calm when I put them in this position. Of course, after the hatchet comes down, all hell breaks loose.
Yes, chickens really do run around with their heads cut off.
No, I won't post the video of it .
Yes, I do have video of it.
I'm just not ready to share it yet. Maybe next time.
I didn't get nearly as many baby chicks as I had hoped for - only two. Quite a disappointment since two hens had been sitting on over a dozen eggs. The problem was that the two hens were sharing a communal nest, snuggling up to eachother to keep the eggs warm.
See, all my hens lay in a communal nest. When one of the hens started setting, the rest of the hens kept depositing eggs in the same place. A few days later, a second hen starting setting on those. I finally encouraged the rest of the birds to start another communal nest elsewhere in the building.
Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. The first two baby chicks hatched right on time. But about half of the eggs weren't due to hatch for another couple days. The mama hens somehow forgot this fact and abandoned the nest the day after the first two chicks were born. On that same day, a third chick hatched but the mama hens didn't seem to care. They were too busy taking care of the two other chicks.
I scooped up the newly hatched chick and the rest of the eggs and brought them up to the house in hopes of hatching them myself. I put them in the same bathtub/lightbulb set-up I had used with my original chicks last year but, alas, it was apparently not warm enough to incubate the eggs.
Oh, so close!
I ended up hatching about half a dozen but they didn't last long. They all died, including the already-hatched chick. A couple hung on for a few days. Some died within minutes after hatching. Some hatched a couple days too late, already having depleted food reserves gained from the yolk by the time they emerged from their shells.
Thankfully, the two chicks being cared for by the mama hens are not only healthy but incredibly cute.
Sadly, one of my original chickens died a week ago. She was one of three hens I call "The Biddies." One morning when I went to let the birds out for the day, she didn't leave her roost. While all the others were greedily eating breakfast, she just sat there on the roost with her eyes closed.
I checked on her again a couple hours later and she was sitting quietly in a corner of the coop. I brought her up to the house in hopes of nursing her back to health, but she died that evening.
Since she had been sick, I couldn't eat her. I wouldn't have eaten her anyway. I couldn't eat any of my original chickens anymore than I could eat one of my cats. Instead, Biddie became the inaugural burial in Spenardo del Sur's pet sematary.
Sundae throws the first dirt on the coffin
It was weird having two chicken corpses in the fridge at one time. One shelf held a freshly butchered carcass that would later be turned into chicken salad. Another shelf held a fully-feathered bird waiting for a funeral. Some days, it's a little like playing God. Deciding who's going to die and who's going to live. Who's going to be eaten and who rates a burial plot.
There's even more chicken drama, but I think that's enough for now. Sigh...I can't believe how much of my life revolves around chickens. What happened to me?
On a lighter note: I'm pretty sure one of the nanny goats is pregnant.
Comments? Questions? Spare change?
Send it to Jackie at RanchoSpenardo.com
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