We had a couple of hard losses on the farm this summer. Tom, our 7 year old Heritage Bronze turkey was starting to decline and he finally reached a point where his quality of life just didn’t overcome his problems any longer. He had a good run, at 7 years old!
Sadly, Goose had such a strong bond with Tom, and we think he was brokenhearted. He followed his best buddy to barnyard heaven a week later, at over 30 years of age.
We will miss these two irascible characters. Farewell, feathered friends…. may there be nothing but sunny pasture wherever you are!
All photographs courtesy Christopher Germano.
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
When you risk your life to steal eggs from the turkeys, just so you can incubate them and try to be more successful at raising poults to a Thanksgiving weight, it doesn’t seem quite fair to get half way to the goal line and have a raccoon change the end game. There are so many calculated steps to raising turkeys in the best of situations. And for what?
Maybe if I hadn’t just looked at the turkeys that day and thought how big they were growing. Maybe if we hadn’t named one Nellvira after a friend’s daughter. Maybe if we had paid more attention to what could get into the enclosure rather than how the babies kept slipping out of it through the lattice work. Or, maybe nothing could have kept this raccoon from taking advantage of not only six turkey poults but also five chicks we had enclosed in the same pen.
The thing about raccoons is that they get into a blood lust with young chickens. This has happened before, but a long time ago. When I think back, I would have blamed the last massacre to ignorance on our part. Now I think it is just a crime of opportunity.
We were new on the farm and we had 12 chicks that were probably three-months old. They had been staying in one side of the coop at night and everything seemed calm. Six were in one section and six in another. I came out one morning and all the chicks were dead or missing in the back part of the enclosure.
The next evening I moved our remaining birds into a smaller coop area since I could see where the raccoon had broken through some rusty chicken wire. When I came out in the morning, the remaining chicks were also dead, strewn over the yard. A new hole had been punched in the wire just to prove a point. My birds had been trapped with a maniac. I had that sick feeling. We re-fenced everything immediately, but, as the barnyard saying goes, “It’s like closing the stall door, when the horse has already bolted.” or something like that.
The thing about raccoon frenzy attacks is that they don’t kill the birds because they are hungry. They kill them because they are blood crazed. Heads are ripped off or guts spilled out, but there is no eating. There are actually very few feathers spread around either. The lesson drives home: the farmer needs to be more attentive, but then, if you think about it, the farmer always needs to be more attentive!
Plus, raccoons are smart. After this last attack, for which one lone chick survived, we set a trap baited with cat food and salmon. If I was a hungry raccoon, I would have gone for the food. But, wait, we said these raccoons aren’t killing for hunger. Heck, no! They’ve been eating all the cherries and berries they can find, enough that there are none left for us.
The only thing we ended up catching was a chicken when I forgot to spring the gate in the morning. It was my escape artist, the chicken that dug up the new garden veggies 2 times running. If I had paused long enough to think about it, I might have left it in the cage to be bait for the raccoon. Could have taken care of two problems at once.
The raccoon has not yet been caught. We have five turkeys left for Thanksgiving… possibly. They are still so small we have them in the house and it’s doubtful they will have enough size by November. We removed the massacre enclosure and are re-securing the chicken wire in the coop for a later release. Maybe they will be Christmas turkeys if they ultimately survive the chicken yard battle zone.
The lone survivor of the attack now has a name. We call her Tina Turner. She is a Polish Top Hat and shakes her head of feather hair as only Tina Turner could. So, drum roll please… Presenting…Tina Turner, a hell of a survivor. Let’s just hope I haven’t jinxed her here. Of course the raccoon will have to catch her first and none of us is quick enough to sneak up on her these days…I doubt even the raccoon!
Photo: Tina Turner as a Polish Top Hat chicken!
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones