The immense 8-week-old chicks still sleep with Kimber, wings shuffled like cards, the red heat bulb turning the cold coop into a chicken nightclub.
It’s not really cold enough yet for the chicks or their water to freeze, but it’s close and the light will help get Kimber laying eggs again when she weans these chicks. Which she seems just about ready to do. Shoot, I would.
Raccoons like the red light, too. Or maybe it’s the dog’s water that lures them in, mysteriously disappearing overnight, leaving a ton of dirt in the bottom of the bowl.
Farmers learn to read the signs, and we guess right, because every night this week, even after we take the water bowls inside, three big raccoons hang out on the decks for about 45 minutes. We are now on their routine midnight loop. They are undeterred by any lingering scent of Ruby’s territorial urine, which is supposed to deter them, by flashlights or taps on the window. Garfield hisses at them from the cat condo. They make a series of return visits during the night. A mom and two big juveniles. It’s wrestle-mania, a raccoon rodeo.
When they corner Garfield in the cat condo early one night, before we have locked the screen, our hearts harden a bit — they are just expressing their Raccoonness after all — but we decide to buy a trap. Old-timers around here always laugh at “missing cat” posters. They explain — “There’s no such thing as a missing cat, only an ex-cat. People think the coyotes get ’em, but it’s mainly the raccoons.” We bait the trap with cat food, put it on the deck, and disguise it with cedar branches. The plan is to release them up the road in a big chunk of forest.
The cold is bringing out the wild critters, and our job is to nurture and protect the domesticated ones, at least with regard to the chickens, until we eat them. The more I am around the chickens, I have to say, the more comfortable I am with harvesting the cockerels after the New Year. Tux and Dusty, but particularly Tux, have been pecking viciously on Steve all week. They grab onto the side of his neck and hang on for dear life as he runs in panic-stricken circles trying to escape the attacks.
One evening when the Bearded One was closing up the coop, Steve just fell out of the nest. He stood up, looked around and then marched back up the plank. But a few days later, after witnessing the daytime pecking Steve was enduring, we knew the truth. He was pushed.
“Cut that out!” I shout. This business of establishing the peck order is disturbing to me. It’s so violent, it freaks me out. I run after them with our son’s old toy hockey stick and try to get Tux to quit harassing and hanging onto poor Steve’s neck. I remind myself that this is their way. That this is not cannibalism, which I’ve read happens when chickens are raised in tiny cages. This is Chickenness, oblivious to human behavioral constructs like saloons and spas and courts of law. I don’t care — I will whack Tux a good one next time he chomps down on Steve.
We fill Ruby’s water bowl for the day, and as we head up to the chickens before our walk, the Bearded One spots bear tracks on our driveway.
Maybe they’re from the same bear recorded on our neighbor’s critter cam, although our tracks appear to be a mama and baby. There’s more than one bear in these woods.
The chickens flock to us. We’ve quit trying to grab them, and now they’ll eat cracked corn straight out of my hand. It’s very rewarding. I give them a piece of toast and some oatmeal leftover from breakfast, a slug-infested cabbage plant, and yet another handful of cracked corn.
The Bearded One sets up their new bathtub with wood ashes and Diatomaceous Earth to help prevent lice and other parasites. They have a good chicken life, and will have a good (quick and unexpected) chicken death. If Steve can make it that far, anyway.