What Is It?

Have you ever played a game where you have to figure out what something is based on a tiny part of a photo? I enjoy those. A surprising photo I recently captured makes for a good guessing game. I progressively zoom out in each picture below to keep you guessing as you read this post. How soon can you figure it out?

Also in this post:
- Cat Attack! Mexican Jaguar?
- Updates on Previous Projects
What Is It?

Cat Attack! Mexican Jaguar?

On Monday morning around 8:30 something jumped over my chicken paddock's electric fence and killed Sporty, one of my best chickens (he was a good worker). It then jumped back over the fence with Sporty and carried him away.

I was working out at the time (yes, I still do regenerative workouts in addition to all the physical labor involved in ranch life). I heard the chickens making a ruckus, but that's not a rare event (we are learning through experience what their different noises mean, just as a mom learns what her baby's different cries mean). I decided to check on them before I went on with my day. 

The chickens were working on tearing apart the compost pile for me like always, but one hen was still carrying on away from the others. Then I saw just beyond her a whole bunch of feathers on the ground. A quick head count revealed one missing bird. Then I noticed some feathers outside the paddock. Upon further investigation I found another feather about 30 feet away. I followed the trajectory and found another feather, and then another. Then I found a BIG cat track.
What Is It?
I kept following the trajectory of feathers and tracks into thickets of mesquite trees that grow along Hunter Creek. As I headed into the thickets I caught a fleeting glimpse through the trees of a dark brown or black, low-to-the-ground creature fleeing the scene of the crime. Left dead lying on the ground was Sporty. In my hand was one of his green feathers I had picked up at the paddock. I went the direction of the fleeing creature but lost his trail so I took the feather to show the girls and tell them what had happened.

We decided to retrieve the body and consider butchering him. His body was still warm and there wasn't even any blood, just a broken neck. While my wife practiced her butchering skills I went back to tracking and discovered there were two sets of feline tracks, one big and one small. Cubs will often stay with their mom until they grow up and learn to hunt for themselves. 
What Is It?
Based on the tracks I would think the culprit was a desert cougar if I hadn't seen that dark fleeing figure. Cougars are normally a sandy color. The only other possible size match that I'm aware of is the Mexican jaguar I'd heard rumors of. Turns out they're not just rumors. There's been multiple instances of them in this part of Arizona. But their coloring looks about like a leopard in my opinion - sandy with dark spots. That doesn't match the fleeting glimpse I saw. Upon further research I discovered that some of them are black (link includes picture) - something like the opposite of an albino. Is that what killed Sporty? I don't know.

Updates on Previous Projects

What I do know is that my electric fence doesn't stop predators who jump over it in broad daylight and then do it again with a chicken in their mouth. The only thing I know for certain that it can stop is a mouse - in case you haven't guessed yet.
Electric Fence Stops Mouse Dead!
You might notice in the picture there is aluminum foil on the electric fence with peanut butter smeared on it for training purposes. The idea is to attract critters to the peanut butter so they get a shock and learn to avoid the fence. I guess the mouse learned a permanent lesson. Hopefully some bigger critters did as well.

The chickens needed some training as well but not regarding the fence. They could easily fly over it, but apparently they know it's a dangerous world out there so they stay safe inside their paddock. I had to train them to work and to use the automatic feeder and waterer. The work they're doing is making compost. Compost is probably the very best organic fertilizer. It is filled with microbes that serve as plants' microbiome. Compost creates healthy soil in which we hope to grow plenty of food for people and chickens.

You can dramatically speed up the compost making process by frequently turning your stack. Or you can let the chickens do half the work for you. They tear it all apart looking for bugs and adding to its value by pooping all over it. I restack it once per week and the cycle repeats a few times until the chickens turn it into rich compost. These were adult chickens with established (lazy?) habits when I got them. So we dump fermented grains and veggie scraps on the compost stack every day to get them in the habit of scratching it for food. I had to help rip apart the first stack at one point. But they now know what to do and go right to work every morning when we unlock the chicken coop.

I did a lot of research to find the best automatic feeder and waterer. After over a month of use I can say I'm very happy with this simple, DIY setup. Common problems with chicken feeders and waterers is that chickens track all kinds of gunk in them, poop in them, etc. They have to be cleaned and resupplied daily. Plus rodents eat their food which is a total waste of money. The setup I'm using keeps the food and water clean and the rodents out. We only need to add food and water about once per week and the thermal mass from several gallons of water reduces freezing problems.  A picture is worth a thousand words:
You can use parts from the hardware store or find DIY kits online to turn just about any container into an automatic chicken feeder. It needs to be elevated to keep rodents out. The automatic chicken waterer has what's called water nipples that can be found online and at some farm stores.

We had to train the chickens to use them. I just set a little food on the edge of the feeder and they figured the rest out pretty quickly. Training them to use the water nipples took a little more work. We had to take a bird and cause his beak to peck at the little silver button so the water comes out. The others watch and learn. It took a few attempts with different birds and we still weren't sure if they got the hang of it. But eventually we saw them using it.

The automatic maggot feeder (one of the ways we turned our rodent problem into a solution) is working quite well since we've been having daily highs in the 60°s. When it was staying colder it seemed like I was just collecting a pile of rodents in the bottom of the bucket and then when it warmed up all of a sudden all I could see left was a pile of hair. Maggots make a great, free protein source for chickens. 

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  1. Pingback: Favorite Critters at Sabbatical Ranch – Sabbatical Ranch

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