Yesterday I sadly closed up my hen house with one less chicken. We have been allowing the chickens to stay out until sunset when they will choose to put themselves up voluntarily. We had decided this was best because soon, very soon, there will be unfavorable weather conditions out of doors. We are allowing the horses extended grazing hours and we are allowing the chickens extended “browsing” hours. This has been working out well, although I admit, I worry about their decisions sometimes. Although, we do have a VERY protective Rooster that runs this little harem of chickens.
|Jack with his harem of hens|
So protective that we had been contemplating what might ‘need’ to be done about him as he has come after both myself and my daughter as a bluff. No damage, yet, but also he does not have his full spurs yet and I would hate to get struck by a set of full-grown Rooster spurs. My approach has been to simply educate him that coming after us is “not wise.” So far so good, but every once in a while he’ll take a “cheap shot.” Back in Texas we had several roosters. The ones we allowed to run with our 30+ hens were a Barred Rock Rooster and a Barred Rock Rooster/Americauna cross. They were both stellar roosters. When these two were getting older we added to Americauna Roosters (my breed of choice). They all did their job, and did it well and we only had a few losses over a 3 year period in a fairly hostile environment. We ran the gamut of chicken predators. You name it, we pretty much had it: Coyotes, Skunks, Opossums, Raccoons and Hawks. Here in Massachusetts we have the same list of predators PLUS we add to that list Fisher Cats (in my opinion they are like a miniature Wolverine), Bears (not as bad of an issue in general, they pretty much stay away from people for the most part), and there may be more (Pine Martens, etc?) but this is a bucket list, so I can get on with my story.
So the day-before-yesterday, I found a pile of ‘Wilderness Creature Scat.’ My assessment is that it is probably from a Coyote. We had one so-brazen-one (I do believe I mentioned it in a blog from last Spring) that came a left some Scat on top of a pile of horse manure I hadn’t taken up the hill (to the Great Manure Pile) yet. Also I had seen one on the level, the 2nd level of the barn, but down towards the path closer to our outdoor arena.
So, when I saw this, I knew it was not one of my dogs, although just as big as my 90 lb, Italian Maremma’s, poo. So that is a big Coyote. Seeing the size of the deer and other animals around here, it isn’t too surprising. I have yet to see a local Coyote with my own eyes. The Coyotes back in Texas were roughly the size of my Aussies. My male Aussies weigh-in at 50 lbs and my female Aussies at 44 lbs, some of the stats on Coyotes that are recorded say they are 60 lbs. I believe this may be an accumulative average of Coyotes. Judging by the size of the Scat in the picture below, the Coyote seems a bit larger. If you are squeamish, look away now as I have posted a picture of Critter poo (Scat) below.
You may be saying, “…that doesn’t look that big,…) well, having had dogs for a very long time, and having had some more dominant dogs that mark territory with not only urine, but also feces, I would say that the creature squeezed out just a representation of itself. A “calling card” if you will, so it did not completely eliminate it’s bowels here, it only left a message here to my resident canines telling them that they’d better watch out because they are infringing on it’s territory by being here. Not good, but I feel we are in pretty good… paws.
|Possible Wolf x Coyote cross|
|Coyotes are known to kill domestic dogs, and also will breed with them.|
|Coyote at Yosemite|
|Pack of Gray Wolves|
As I said above, at the Wild Animal Orphanage we also had a Coyote. His name was Wiley. He had been raised from a cub and was familiar with humans, but he was not comfortable with humans over all. The lady that raised him used to come in and visit with him and he would give her an honorary pack greeting with little yips and tail wags, etc. It was very sweet. Once she left he would resume shy coyote behavior and would slink around his enclosure and hide in his dogloo and behind his dogloo. Coyotes are very intelligent, as are wolves. Coyotes do tend to be more shy which is why they have been successful at surviving so long throughout history. They have been known to lure domestic dogs away and kill them. In difficult times, they have also been known to petition domestic dogs to breed them so that their lines can continue. Another reason why they have continued to be successful despite excessive persecution by hunters, farmers and ranchers. Contrary to popular understanding they always run in PACKS of at least 2 (male and female) to MANY more. When they “pack up” their behavior is much like a Wolf Pack. They howl and regroup to go on a big hunt. They also howl to establish territories. Generally they are respectable in their hunting and for the most part will restrict their hunting to wilderness creatures and wilderness produce; berries, in TX they are known to eat Mesquite seed pods, etc, they are very resourceful and opportunistic, again which is why they are so successful. Once, a long time ago, we lived in Louisiana. We lived on a Nature Reserve on the back of Barksdale AFB. We had a community out there and everyone had their pets, naturally. Well there was a Coy-dog that lived out there on the Nature Reserve. He had a mate and we would regularly see him. He was beautiful, he had a long, flowy coat. I named him “Salon Selectives Coyote” because as we would pass him in our vehicle his hair would blow like the old Salon Selectives commercials (some of you may remember). He was an awesome and faithful hunter. We would regularly see him on the shoulders of the road with a freshly caught rabbit clenched in his jaws.
Well one day we passed by and saw him laying down, he was dead. I was so sad, I knew it was him because I recognized his flowing fur. Not long after this incident we noticed a change on our usual evening walks. There was a trail that connected our two neighborhoods out in the Nature Reserve. It was paved with asphalt and we walked it regularly with our dogs. On the trail we would see coyote scat with fur that was “wilderness creature brown.”
Well, soon after Salon Selectives Coyote died, the color of the fur in the scat changed. We began to see orange, black, white, and every other color you would see a cat or dog in. We began to see signs go up in our neighborhood saying “Lost Cat,” “Lost Dog – needs medication” (the coyotes had a crazy night that night!) and the like. I warned my neighbors as they were letting their cats out “business as usual.” They had no idea of the danger lurking in the woods. Long story short, many pets were taken and killed or nearly killed. My neighbors lost a cat they were cat sitting and one of their cats was nearly killed. I found him on death’s door with his clavicles crushed and he was severely dehydrated from blood loss. We rushed him to the vet and they were able to save him after extensive surgeries. He looked like “franken-kitty” for a while. Anyway, my point is that when there is an upset in the pack structure (ie, the dominant male- Salon Selectives Coyote – died, the dynamics of the wild coyote pack changed, they had a good provider in their male and with him gone, they needed to eat). One night we saw the coyotes packing up to go on a hunt. There was a large number of them. We were more than a little concerned by what we saw and we turned and went home. This is when I decided to research what I saw and found out that this is common. The female was probably left with mouths to feed and had to go with the easiest source of food, domestic pets. Crazy days!
So back to my chickens, well as I finished doing chores and came in the house I happened to notice my chickens standing near their chicken pen. They were calm one minute and the next minute they were pinned to the shadows and the rooster was making a funny squawk. I went out to see what he was so upset about and I see the source of his concern up in a tree by our “moat.” A juvenile Red-Tailed hawk. He was watching and making the chickens feel very uncomfortable. I decided it would be best to put the chickens in their house early, to be on the safe side. As I ushered them up into their chicken house I did a head count and one hen was missing. As I shut the door I contemplated where the last hen could be. I went back and began searching. Sometimes the hens will get separated for various reasons. It is usually short lived and then they regroup. So I looked around at all the usual places, but I did not find her. She is a our darkest red hen, a red sex-linked hen. I came inside and had already started preparing dinner so I had to stay in but I sent my daughter out with Ronen, our best “hunting” dog, to go look for the hen.
|Ronen, going “hen-hunting”|
I gave specific instructions and she went off to try to find the lost hen. Even for feathers, signs of a struggle or whatever the case may be. Sometimes hawks will catch prey and eat it on the ground if it’s too heavy to carry off. Then they’ll guard it from up high and return and eat it as they feel the need. So I told her to be thorough. The feathers are messy when plucked so I knew she would find something if there was something to be found. She went all the way around the barn, to the upper level and all around. Still she found nothing. Everything seemed normal so she eventually returned. The horses were relaxed and everything was fine, so it seemed.
So we committed the situation to prayer and I told Abba, “well if the chicken needed to be someone’s lunch I understand.” We left it at that.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Job 1:21
The next morning I went out to the barn and did my chores as usual. I was struggling with whether or not I should let the chickens out and I felt that “I should.” So I went to let them out and they practically fell down the ladder, they were so excited to come out. There have been a lot of grasshoppers out lately, I’m certain they were dreaming of tasty grasshoppers. I prayed that Abba would keep them safe. I counted 4 chickens come out of the chicken coop. Jack-the Rooster and 3 hens. So I knew the last hen was in the hen house probably laying an egg. A few moments later she emerged and came down the ladder. I was refilling their water so I went and hung their water container up and I heard a hen, still in the chicken house. Confused, I looked down at the hen at my feet and I knew Jack had already escorted the other hens to the front yard so I went inside the barn to investigate what I heard, or thought I heard. Guess WHAT?!?!? That little dark-red hen was up on top of the stall divider!! 🙂 I was soooo elated! I did not think I would see this hen again and if it was Abba’s will, I was ok with that, but here she was! What a SURPRISE! I thanked Abba and helped this hen down. She was having trouble trying to figure out how to get back down off the stall divider. I pet her, hugged her and put her in the hen house. I guess she had a scary night because when I went back about 30 minutes later, she was STILL in there. Silly girl.
I am a HAPPY girl today! I’m breathing a sigh of relief, now hopefully these silly girls can STAY out of trouble. I’m thankful that she’s still here and she’s fine. I’m thankful for a feisty Rooster and a safe place for them to roost even if they don’t make it into the chicken house. 🙂 Thank you Abba!
For more info on Coyote-Wolf Hybridization see the following article: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/11/111107-hybrids-coyotes-wolf-virginia-dna-animals-science/