Life in the Slow Lane: "Supermoon"

This "supermoon" has been a killer, literally.

After almost six years living smack-dab in the middle of this predator superhighway, I've figured out the cycle. On normal nights, the hunters come out just after full dark and hunt until around 2 AM, when most of the nightwalking critters settle into their burrows or nests. The predators then return to give it one more shot just before dawn when the daywalkers begin to stir. This means that around 9 PM or so I get to listen to the yip of coyotes and smell the stink of the javelina. Then, at dawn, as I start out to release my livestock I hoot back to the Great Horned Owl, who once tried to take a poult in front of me at dusk, and watch the dogs track the lion's movement up the hill across from my house. But the nights of the full moon are the worst. With so much light all the prey creatures are out and moving, and every predator wants to get them some of those critters.

On those nights I can count on walking the property a couple of times, just to share my scent along with that of my dogs. I really don't have a choice about making these walks because my dogs, bless their pea-picking little hearts, want to protect me before they protect the livestock. This is a human-created problem, specifically created by my ex, who insisted that my working dogs and cats were actually pets. Given that handicap, Moosie and Bear still do a magnificent job.

Take three nights ago when the moon began to seriously brighten and the coyotes invaded the property. I'm absolutely positive that the coyotes were after the sheep, just like I'm absolutely positive that this is the same pack that took about a half-dozen sheep this year from a place down on Swinging Bridge. Remember that post where I mentioned Bear snarling for the first time and--I think--biting the coyote that tried to come through a hole in the fence? Well, three nights ago I heard that same deeper coyote voice. He must be the new alpha male for the pack. As he sang out his "yi-yi-yi". Bear went crazy, only his barking didn't rise from the the fence line, it came from the middle of the pasture. And then Moosie barked from the same location.

That brought me out of bed with a start. By the time I joined them near the turkey coop, I could hear the coyotes circling over by my neighbor's house. Thinking the excitement was over and that the dogs had just gone down to challenge the coyotes at the back fence, I returned to bed. An hour later, I swore I heard the coyotes and dogs back in the pasture. Once again, I went down to join them and, once again, by the time I got there the pack was outside the fence. An hour later, it happened one more time.

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My new culvert grate is multi-layered.

By now, I was sure that at least a couple members of the pack were making their way onto the property somehow, no doubt to test if these dogs really were the threat they seemed to be. But how were the coyotes getting in?

I gritted my teeth in frustration. The culvert.

My house sits right below the hill up which JoJo Lane runs. This means that when it rains water rushes down the hill to flood the somewhat flat area around my house. When it really rains the water comes with such power that it can tear up the asphalt. Hence the culvert. It was added to funnel as much of the torrent as possible under the road, where all the water and its destructive power is spewing out onto my property, tearing an ever-deepening gully in my hillside before entering the Mason Ditch in what is one spectacular cataract. (Thank you, YDOT.)

Accommodating that much water requires a really large metal pipe and so large a pipe has created not only a predator entry point, but a dog departure doorway. I think Bear discovered the culvert on his second day here on the Farm. Being Bear, he convinced Moosie to go with him for a little walkabout. That's when I installed the first permutation of the dog-detainer-grate.

So, when the coyotes ended up on the property the other night I knew that my first grate had finally failed. Not surprising, given the power of the water that passes through it. Sure enough, when I looked the next morning I saw that it had been dislodged. No problem. I went to my store of potential detainer grates, picked one made of even heavier metal and installed it with my go-to fix-all installation package, otherwise known as plastic baling twine and T-posts. Over the course of the winter, the new grate will be reinstalled on a hinge of some sort. Because this version has narrowly spaced metal bars, I want to be able to move it out of the way when the rains come, otherwise the culvert will soon be filled to capacity with rocks, gravel and sand.

Then again...hmm... No, I suppose I can't let the culvert fill with rocks. Too bad.

So with new protection in place and having triple-checked all the coops and pens, I started for the bedroom two nights ago thinking I'd be sleeping for at least a few unbroken hours. I was mistaken.

Just before 8, which is usually my bedtime since I'm usually up at 4, Bear went crazy and left the porch at top speed, a very un-Bear-like pace. He barked the whole way down into the pasture, Moosie barking with him. I threw open the back door in time to hear a loud metallic crash. The sound made me think that the middle turkey coop had been breached. Terrified for my birds, I dashed outside, flashlight in hand.

All of a sudden, Moosie was at my side and panting the way he does when he's in kill mode. Yikes! Had he broken into the turkey coop? How? He'd just been on the porch. There hadn't been enough time for him to reach the coop and break into it. More importantly, I installed a second, protective metal door over the original coop door after Moosie's last little turkey mistake. I knew for a fact that I'd bungied that second door over the first just two hours previously. I was certain it was impenetrable.

Sure enough, at the turkey barn all the doors were closed and locked. There was no sound of distress from either the enclosed portion of the turkey barn or in the chain link guarded middle coop. As I ran the flashlight beam over the roosting birds in the middle coop, my turkeys calmly watched me in return. I moved on to the brooder coop. Safe and secure. The birds inside were more agitated, but nothing like the all-out panic generated by a Moosie incursion or the otter's appearance in the coop last year.

What the heck? I had heard that crash. If not the coops, then what?

I swung the flashlight toward the pigs. They were snuggled together for warmth but managed to roll their heads toward me in the light. Whatever had happened sure hadn't bothered them.

It was as the beam passed over the pasture around their coop that I saw the bird. It was my biggest tom this year, the one I was sure weighed in at 20 pounds. He was laying on his side halfway between the turkey coops and the pigs, his head erect and his beak opened as he panted, but his legs splayed in a way that suggested serious injury.

Only then did I recognize what that metal crash had been. Something heavy had bounced off the corrugated roof of the middle coop, stretching out from where the hayloft ends. The turkeys hadn't been bothered by it because they're always up there dancing on that metal roof. The sound was a familiar one.

With that, I was certain I knew what had happened. Because this tom is the biggest boy in the flock, he was constantly being picked on by Tom and Tommy II. And, because of that, he'd taken to escaping me as I put the birds away. I couldn't blame him, not when he was sure to be abused no matter what pen he went into. As he'd done a time or two before, he must have flown into the old hay loft and hunkered down so I wouldn't notice him. And I hadn't.

There's only one predator that could have brought such a big bird down from that spot, and it wasn't Moosie. (Despite all his efforts, Moosie hasn't yet mastered climbing ladders.) The lion must have been craving turkey that evening. She must also have believed she was far enough from the house to avoid the boys, who are now a confirmed lion hunters. That explained Bear's frenzy as he left the porch. Dragging him away from that lion once he had her in the tree hadn't been easy.

That metallic crash had been the lion bouncing once on the corrugated roofing as she leapt toward what she must have assumed was safety. Only she came down on the wrong end of the barn, too close to the dogs. With Bear gaining on her, she'd dropped the bird on her way to the far fence and escape.

Even though blood wasn't gushing from what few injuries I could see on the tom, I was pretty certain he wouldn't make it through the night. Then, much to my surprise, when I placed him in the brooder coop he got to his feet and walked away from me. Hoping for the best, I returned to the house and went to bed. The boys only dragged me out once more that night, around midnight. I didn't bother checking on the tom, since disturbing them at night isn't good for anyone. When I went out to open the coops just before dawn I found him curled in one of the nesting areas, gone but still warm.

Unwilling to lose so much meat to my compost heap, I brought him in to process him. My suspicions were confirmed after I skinned him. There was a two inch gash in his breast that pierced him so deeply it had almost cut his liver in half. I breathed in relief. It had absolutely not been Moosie who had injured this bird. But even better, after driving off the lion Moosie had come to me instead of finishing the tom. To the best of my knowledge this is the first time he's managed to control himself after blood has been spilled. And Bear! Bear the Lion-hearted Lion-hunter. Good dogs. Good, good dogs.

But I've had enough of these successful failures. I just want to make it through the next two overly bright nights. After that, I might sleep for a week.

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