As if lambing season isn’t enough to deal with in the spring, our larger feathered friends and livestock took a hit in April. Turns out everyone in the woods is hungry by the time winter is retreating and raccoons are not dissuaded by the size of a bird, be it a peacock or a turkey.
The first casualty was Fred, our magnificent 20 year old peacock (sure, not a turkey, but he needs to be mentioned). Fred was our masthead, our showy bird, a photographer’s dream, and a beggar when it came to crackers on the deck during a summer happy hour with friends. He was also a favorite of our guests and many a child drew pictures of him and left us notes about their new found friend. As a beggar, the bird had learned that the best handouts derived from folks who came and went and who delighted in the fact that he would roost right outside the cabin living room, peeking in the window for dinners and games of cards.
We suspected nothing to start. Heck, Fred had been posing on the back deck just the day before, but it seemed odd that he wasn’t around that next morning for breakfast with the chickens. Odd enough that I decided to walk up toward the cabin to see if he was only being lazy and still astride the railing roost. From afar, I could see a mound of feathers on the ground. My heart sank because I knew the rest.
It’s hard to go from a gorgeous bird to a carcass, but that’s all that was left. A tail feather here and there across the lawn. The breeze kicked up some beautiful iridescent blue green pin feathers and that was all that remained of Fred. I picked them up and stuck them in the fence. A farm memorial.
Life goes on at a farm and we chalked up Fred’s untimely demise to a bold raccoon. Our next victim was only days later. One of our turkey hens had decided to sit on a nest outside of the tight chicken wire of our coop. We had moved nests before and never been able to get the birds to sit again so we decided to leave her be.
When we entered the chicken yard the bird looked odd, bedraggled, dirty. She staggered. The nest was demolished and all the eggs gone or broken. As I picked her up for a better look I realized she had lost most of her feathers under her wings, there were flaps of skin hanging loose, and she had a big gouge out of her back.
Time for vet-in-training Annie to do what she could.
“I don’t know anything about birds,” she said. We called the local wildlife rescue for a primer on bird doctoring.
A quick trip down to the store for bandages of all kinds and a rifle through the human medical supplies for antibacterial ointment and then the bird was scooped up and placed on the dining table, for lack of anything else at the right height and with the right amount of light.
Even for Annie, who will perform a necropsy just to figure out what went wrong with an animal, it was a pretty gross job. For me, it was downright disgusting as we first cleaned then medicated the areas that had been ripped by sharp raccoon nails and teeth. The bird wasn’t all that happy either, especially when we fashioned a holding area for her in the kitchen with straw as the flooring and a heat lamp to keep her warm and dry.
Luckily for the hen, after a few days she seemed recovered enough to return to the chicken yard. Plus, the smell always tells us when its time for the animals to depart our living quarters. Sure, there was dirt in the chicken yard and birds are not kind to the down-trodden, but the turkey seemed more at ease with some space around her and not our household domestic goings, especially at meal time when undoubtedly we were eating a cousin or some other brethren.
For Annie, it was another notch on her belt of things she could add to her laundry list of farm experiences. Maybe useful in vet school. Maybe not. For the farm, it was a lesson in predators and the fragility of beautiful life. It’s all about the circle that won’t stop, no matter how resplendent the victim.
Photos: All of Fred. Doctoring of turkey was too gross.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones