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The Homestead

Our First Predators

Blog, The Homestead
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A few months back, during the heat of summer our “original” rooster, “Fabio, Mr. Pickle Pants” (Yes, that was seriously his name) disappeared in the light of day. Like, gone. No feathers, no squaking, no noise to let me know something was going on, he was just gone. It left us perplexed, but we were only disappointed as it was culling time and we missed out on the benefit of feeding him out and trying our first chicken. That sounds a little barbaric to say it that way, as if we don’t care about our animals, but its just how life goes when you are raising your own livestock. Back when small family farms were essential for survival, it was part of life and we have tried to help our kids have a healthy understanding of what our livestock is for. We respect our animals, we care for them and tend to their needs, we enjoy them but eventually its probably going to be our dinner. Don’t get me wrong, we love our animals. The kids often ask to “play with the chickens” and we lift them up over the fence to do so. The littlest of our children both love to sit outside the fence and watch and giggle at them scratching and pecking at one another. We all enjoy letting them out early in the AM and see them on their roost at sunset as we close them up for the night. Even the hard work of cleaning out the coop and getting fresh bedding in, is a chore that no one complains about.

Unfortunately, we had what I feel was our first real loss a few weeks ago when we found one of our hens “Dolly”, with its neck half pulled through our fence and our rooster “Michael Bolton” gone. It was right after sunset and my husband had gone out to close them up for the night. He called me from outside and said “We have dead chickens, I need your help.” I threw a coat on and ran outside. I couldn’t believe it. I had been home all evening, but busy with the kids and the house, but i hadn’t heard anything to let me know that an epic battle had taken place. The feathers scattered everywhere told a different story. Originally, when I got arrived to the scene and it looked like all our chickens were dead. Their bodies strewn along the fence in a complete wipe-out of our flock. As we checked each one, we realized we had only lost one. The others were scared and trying to hide. One was so terrified and desperate for safety, she was hiding under the body of the hen that was dead. It was so sad. It had been raining for the first time in about a month and the weather was just nasty. It was windy and cold. They were soaking wet and shaking. I felt so bad for them. They were seemingly terrified as we picked them up, checked them over and placed them in their coop. Once we gathered them all, we realized our rooster was missing. We looked everywhere. We followed feathers and analyzed the crime scene (CSI- farm style) but couldn’t find him anywhere. We decided to set a trap with the chicken we had lost and hope our rooster was hiding out somewhere and would appear in the AM.

Nate and I were both so high strung when we came back inside that we couldn’t sleep. I think I got about 3 hours of sleep that night and woke early listening for that all familiar crow of “Michael Bolton” (ROFL at that sentence). But it never came. I can’t say I was sad over loosing him. Just the day before we had decided he needed to be culled. He was attacking our kids and generally, was so aggressive you couldn’t even touch one of the hens without the consequence of his terror. He had attacked me one morning from behind and I couldn’t get him off of me. I screamed so loud you would have thought I was being attacked by a bear. My husband had heard my shrieking and came running to see me finally getting myself out of their enclosure, crying and cursing at the stupid bird. I seriously laugh overtime I think about it. I cried over a rooster-a BIRD attacking me. Im obviously a rookie. He had scared me more than hurt me. I had just let them out and was walking out of their enclosure when he came flying across the yard and just WENT FOR IT. He got me with his spurs and no amount of me fighting back, kicking back or yelling back would make him relent. Only the sight of the big bird got him to quit. Literally as soon as he saw my husband he was like “ohhhh crap” and he high tailed it (I’ve got some good zingers this morning!) back to the coop. So needless to say, i was perfectly happy that i never heard his crow again. I’m sure all our neighbors were too.

The loss of our hen however, was really disappointing. We left the trap out with her in it for several days but caught nothing. Recently, we found the chicken feeder knocked over and dragged to where a predator had made an entryway into the run by pulling up the chicken wire, in an attempt to get away with some loot. Little thief. Our trap has gone off, multiple times since then as we have tried to draw in the predator with bread, chicken feed, poison and any other things our farming friends have told us to use.  We are assuming that whatever it was that set it off was large enough that when the trap went off, its rear end was able to catch the trap before it closed completely. The bait is always gone, but the cage is always empty.

A few weeks back we heard the birds making a ton of noise and discovered a red fox just sitting, watching them from over the fence. This happened two mornings in a row and about a week before we lost our hen and rooster. So, we KNOW we have a fox, but we are pretty sure that what got in their run was a raccoon. With no success trapping the chickens nightly visitor, we installed a trail cam to figure out what we are fighting, so we can decide how to get rid of it. We heard from someone on a Facebook forum for farmers in our area that they have used marshmallows and have trapped over 50 raccoons. So we decided to try it out last night. And wouldn’t you know.

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The first picture is obviously a raccoon. The second a opossum (that word is NOT spelled right. I just don’t get it!)

The morning after we set the trap we woke up to go out to let the chickens out and I took out my 22 just in case. I got close enough to see a dark SOMETHING in the cage and sent the kids back inside to investigate on my own. I was a little excited to see we had actually FINALLY caught the little bugger. It was “the thrill of the chase” more than anything.

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I ran across to my parents house to get my younger sister. I knew she would want to see it. She thought it was cute- until it hissed at her. I let the kids come back out and see it too and they were pretty impressed. I don’t think I have ever seen a raccoon up close like that, so it was a cool experience for them to see it up close and personal. My husband came home and took care of it and we plan to continue to use the marshmallows and trap if we continue to have any more problems!

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Nate and Jen: 1

In using a point system, we are still a bit behind, but my how the tide is going to turn. I can feel it.

 

The Chicken Coop

Blog, The Homestead
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“Look what I got Papa!”, we coached our 5 year old to say as we were on our way home. I had stopped by Tractor Supply and brought home Chickens. The chickens my Dad “DID NOT WANT”. We started small with 3 baby chicks, adding 5 more later on. 3 orpingtons, 2 rhode islands, 2 new hampshires and 1 golden comet. I don’t remember most of their names. The one whose name I did know, lovingly referred to as “Fabio Mr. Pickle Pants” recently vanished without a trace, so it might be best the others remain nameless. We had no idea what we were doing, honestly. We bought some books and read up, keeping them indoors and under a heat lamp for the first few months. I am so glad that stage is over and we have them in their chicken coop. We planned this from scratch, getting visual ideas from pinterest but really coming up with all the structural, functional ideas on our own. I don’t have dimensions on me, but I can tell you if you plan to build anything similar to this, it needs to be built where you plan to keep it. We had to move it a few feet back when we decided to make our run a little larger then we had originally planned and that was TOUGH. We still have some painting to do on the front of the run, but functionally its working and the chickens are loving their new living quarters. Especially since they are now free ranging everyday within our moveable electric fence. Originally they were allowed to free range but they began to wander too far away and into the neighbors yard (even though we live on 5 acres), so we decided it was best to allow them to free range…but with limits. Outside of it taking awhile to build, and the fact that we still have not put on the protective edging to keep little ones from getting caught on the metal roof, this was a fun project to complete and we are pretty happy with the way it turned out.

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We were obviously rookies when it came to a chicken coop. We had been watching youtube and researching so we knew that chicken coops need really good ventilation. Our ventilation was an accident, but worked out perfectly. As you can tell in the picture our ventilation is the entire space on all four sides between the metal roof and the structure itself, protected heavily by chicken wire to prevent predators from getting in. We also built the nesting box out the back of the coop and screwed in a perch using a sturdy branch. As you can tell in the pictures, we decided to put down sticky tiles we got from home depot to make clean up easier. Since then we have discovered an even easier way to clean the coop is to cut up and fit to size a tarp. When we want to clean it we just remove and dump. We have added an automatic waterer since the photos were taken and a run as well.

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Welcome to Our Homestead

Blog, The Homestead
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My husband spent 8 years in the Marine Corps as an infantryman. 8 years of blowing stuff up, beating down doors and shooting stuff. We moved back to the east coast in late May of 2015. And that’s when my life took a disgusting, dirty turn (um, have you heard of “bot flies?!”…google it.). Apparently hidden deep down inside of my ruggedly handsome, hardened ‘grunt’ was the desire to farm. A dream I had previously never heard about. So slowly but surely we began convincing my dad whose property we share (aka sending our kids to him with said animal in hand and instructing… “Look what IIII got Papa”) and began building The Homestead at Cherry Lane. We are now the hesitant proud owners of Chickens and Rabbits and an overflowing garden that provides us with the majority of our veggies. We even built our own chicken coop. It only took 2 months.
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