If you raise and mess around with a farm flock of chickens — like I do, and have done for 15 years — you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to losing chickens to accidents and varmints of all shapes and sizes. But, no-o-o-o-o, last week along came an entirely new way to lose a chicken from the flock.
But, before I describe it, let me recount the ways that I can think of off the top of my head, that I’ve had chickens kick the bucket. First, just plain get sickly and die within a week; also, drown in a bucket of water; get head caught in a nest and hang itself; die from impacted egg; get leg caught in a wire fence and die; killed by neighbor’s dogs; killed by my own bird dogs; killed by foxes; killed by owls and hawks; killed by raccoons; killed by coyotes; killed by possums and skunks; hostile roosters kill each other; personally step on baby chicks, baby chicks drown in water pan, baby chicks killed by overturned feed pans; and baby chicks killed by black snakes and bull snakes.
Now I can add still another. I’ve had three broody hens setting on clutches of eggs in my “Chick and Quail Condo” — three small pens, entirely enclosed by boards, chicken wire, screen wire doors, and tops of 2-by-4 welded wire. The only way for anything to get chickens in the Condo is to dig under or climb through the ceiling wire.
Last week, the first hen hatched eight healthy chicks and they are doing fine. The other two hens are/were to hatch their eggs on May 8. So, imagine my surprise and consternation two mornings ago when I went out to do chores and discovered a complete disaster in one of the Condos. First, I noticed the hen wuz dead near the entrance door. She was a large, mature Black Cochin hen. She wuzn’t bloody nor partly eaten. Second, eight of the dozen eggs she was setting on were gone and four were still in the nest. There wuz no burrow into the Condo. The door wuz still locked. All the wire wuz intact. “What happened here?” I asked myself.
Then my gaze went upward and I found my culprit — a huge black snake as big around as a shovel handle and about 5-feet long. He wuz resting, intertwined on top of the 2-by-4 welded wire, and I could see a string of egg bulges along his length. I have had snakes kill baby chicks and eat eggs numerous times, but I’ve never had a snake kill a mature hen.
Well, I’m pretty tolerant of snakes when they stick to eating rodents, but this fellow had to pay the ultimate price for his transgressions. He (I’m assuming a “he” since I can’t determine the sex of snakes) wuz a pugnacious fellow and wanted to bite me when I tried to pull him out in the open. So, I resorted to the single-shot 22-cal rifle and birdshot that I keep handy on my utility vehicle. That blacksnake is now resting comfortably in my compost pile, along with his victim and the remaining four eggs.
What a winter/spring weather cycle we’re caught up in here in middle-America! Yesterday early afternoon it wuz 80 degrees and sunny. By nightfall the temperature wuz 40 degrees. Today it’s rained, sleeted, and snowed, the temperature rose to 41 degrees, and the wind it 30 mph out of the northeast.
An earlier freeze got my peach crop when the trees were blooming. I’m pretty sure this round of freezing temps will end my apple crop before it starts. The trees were in full bloom. I’ve had potatoes planted for a month with no emergence. The radishes and lettuce stand is sparse. Only the onions are growing properly. The tomato seeds I planted took three weeks to emerge and the seedlings are barely past the two-leaf stage.
No one can accurately tell the freeze damage to the up-until-now excellent wheat crop. There’s hardly any corn planted in the area.
And, yet, I’m grateful becuz my pond is one of a handful in this area that’s had enuf runoff to fill it. I’m sure the fish will be biting like crazy when spring weather hits for good.
I’ll make a few final comments on the recently-completed Old Boar’s Tour of the Southern Flint Hills on Gravel Roads. First, the drought is extremely hit or miss in the southern Flint Hills. In one watershed the creeks would be running and the ponds full or filling. Drive 10 miles into the next watershed and it wuz dry as a bone. I’d guess that more than 75 percent of the farm ponds were still needing runoff.
Second, Canby Handy and I witnessed with certainty the rapidly-disappearing evidence of the exodus from rural America in the last few decades. By staying on the gravel roads, we passed literally hundreds of decaying, abandoned farmsteads — many of them marked only by the old root cellars/storm shelters and now-wild daffodils and flowering shrubs to show evidence of human habitation. It marks a sad chapter in our nation’s history.
Third, much of the southern Flint Hills are inexorably being invaded by cedar trees, hedge trees, and black-jack oaks, despite control efforts of landowners.
On the positive side, we saw many relatively new, modern farmsteads throughout the region — just not nearly as many folks as before.
I’ll close with a few wise words about food from farmer/activist Joel Salatin. He noted, “The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.” Amen, Joel!
Country music legend and icon George Jones has gone to the great C/W concert in the sky. He wuz my third favorite country music star, behind Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall. RIP, George.
Ya’ll have a good ’un. ❖