We're discovering more and more desperate desert critters that want to eat our stuff. And there's no shortage of critters who want a chicken dinner. We had to chase off another attacker - twice in a row! More on all that below.
Terror of the Neighborhood: Javelina
I recently reported that a BIG cat and its cub attacked our chickens and killed one of them. Later that week I went to town for groceries and chicken feed. That night the ranch was visited by javelina who had quite the party. They got into a freshly-stocked cooler full of organic squash, cabbage, carrots, and apples and two 5-gallon buckets with 40 pounds of just-purchased, organic chicken feed. They ripped open all the produce packaging and ate all of it except half a carrot and the top of a squash. They managed to get the lids off both buckets of chicken feed and eat about half of it. They left a huge mess behind and muddy, pig-like nose prints smeared everywhere.
A lot of people have never heard of javelina. Nor had I until I came to the Southwest. They are truly disgusting and destructive creatures - imagine crossing a boar and a rat and you get a peccary (the family javelina belong to). Not really, of course, but that's how nasty they are. They look and act like a hairy pig with tusks that are known to tear dogs to pieces and injure unfortunate humans.
It's illegal to use lethal force against javelina or big cats except in self-defense (not in chicken defense). In both cases you can get a permit during hunting season. Javelina run in packs called squadrons. Their natural diet is prickly pear cactus so imagine a mouth tough enough for that! They are notorious for things like destroying your garden overnight, chewing up your irrigation, rooting up your yard, getting into garbage and tearing it up, and making a general nuisance of themselves. It's surprising people allow them to cohabit populated areas.
Low-Tech Trail Camera
We had been terrorized by javelina on two previous occasions. In both cases they had gotten into some garbage bags and made a big mess. Dry creek beds serve as wildlife corridors and that's where the javelina have come from in the past. There's a nice sandy area leading out of Hunter Creek that I smoothed out with a rake and set a block on it's side with a rat trap set on top of it baited with peanut butter. If you've ever dealt with rat traps, you know they pack quite the wallop.
My low-tech trail camera works! The first time it went off hoof tracks had gone right up to it and then took off another direction. Tracks don't leave good impressions in sand unless it's wet. In this case the stride showed it to be a deer. But after the javelina had a party at my expense I set it up right in front of an empty feed bucket. Sure enough, unusually deep-gouged javelina tracks made a mad dash straight away from the sprung rat trap. Can you picture the spring-loaded trap smacking a javelina right in the nose? Maybe even snapping closed on his tongue that he'd then have to pull loose? Sorry, but that's the only satisfaction I have found so far in dealing with these miscreants.
Plants Disappear, Trees Fall Over
I would love it if we could live with gophers. I'm not crazy about the little piles of dirt they leave around, but even it has come in handy before. I love that they create tunnels through hard desert soil that both aerates it and allows water to infiltrate it. The thing that concerns me is the disappearing garden plants I have witnessed (not here, yet) with nothing but a hole left in the ground and the horrible stories I've heard of trees that die and fall over after having their roots eaten by gophers. That would be devastating after all the work that goes into nurturing trees, not to mention the expense.
The picture at the top of the page is my daughter with her first trapped gopher. She took on the challenge of trying to outsmart them. We have plenty of them, but not as many as I imagined. They make a lot of piles of dirt which gives the impression of a lot of gophers in an area, but it's usually just one solitary critter who lives alone in a large underground home. The piles of dirt are from excavating their home. They plug the hole and then move along.
You can find instructions online for trapping gophers. You just have to be careful not to teach them to become "trap smart." We've trapped three of them so far (we add them to the maggot feeder - more free food for the chickens) and are already running out of gopher-hill areas. That's a relief! Because we're still trapping other rodents in droves. Apparently this last monsoon season enabled a "bumper crop."
We have an upstairs and a downstairs. Upstairs is the courtyard where we're building Superadobe domes, putting in a food forest and other gardens, and currently rotating the chickens through paddocks to build soil. Downstairs is more like a campground and staging area for innumerable projects. Between the two is Kai Blue Creek.
About a week after the cat attack we were downstairs late one afternoon when we heard the chickens start freaking out. On my way upstairs to check it out I caught a glimpse of a large critter as it jumped over the chicken paddock's electric fence. The girls went a different direction to head it off.
I did a quick head count when I reached the paddock and one was missing: Gray Beard. Funny name for one of our youngest, biggest, healthiest roosters whose lower feathers were all gray.
As I turned in the direction of the fleeing critter I got a clear profile shot of a coyote before he descended into Kai Blue Creek as the girls and I were closing in on him. He didn't have a chicken in his mouth but I dashed after him anyway thinking there may be a pack and a different one may have Gray Beard. I didn't find any coyotes so I circled back to the paddock where the girls had gone.
The next question to answer was where was Gray Beard? We spread out and went in the direction the coyote had gone, eventually finding him under a mesquite tree. As we were discussing what to do with him we noticed he was still breathing. Mamma Stevens had her nurturing instincts kick in and she immediately began caring for the injured bird.
Gray Beard had two puncture wounds on his neck and a hurt leg. I thought his neck would be broken and we should just finish him off but mamma wanted to try and nurse him back to health. If she was successful, I thought it would be amazing and wonderful.
We took him downstairs and while she was getting him comfortable in a bin with the lid adjusted for ventilation the chickens started freaking out again! Off we went, hollering while running up the trail, seeing the coyote go flying over the fence again. This time there were no chickens missing but I went after the coyote anyway, thoroughly flushing the creek bottom and surrounding thickets until I was sure he was gone.
Gray Beard made it for a couple days but he could barely drink and wouldn't eat at all. You could tell he wasn't going to make it so we put him out of his misery and butchered him.
We'd been seeing signs of coyotes almost daily for some time, but after chasing one off twice in a row we didn't see any signs for over a week. I was sure he or another would be around sooner or later and sure enough, late yesterday afternoon we heard the chickens freaking out again. Off we went, hollering while running up the trail. We didn't see anything, but the chickens were really shaken. They migrated into the coop and let us lock them up early for the night without playing games like some of them often do by slipping out right when the door is closing.
There are two creeks that run through the ranch. They are dry most of the year, but flowed several times during the last monsoon season. Thickets of mesquite and other vegetation follow along both creeks. I decided it was time to make more trails through the thickets and patrol them frequently. It won't stop nuisance critters from coming through, but it will discourage them from making their homes there.
I enjoy trail blazing and trail walking so this is a fun exercise. And it furthers our goal of creating "a healing garden type setting with fragrant plants alongside quiet, contemplative seating and paths, a food forest to provide shade, a splash of color to provide visual stimulus, along with the sound of plants that rustle in the breeze." Along with the many other projects we've been making steady progress on, thanks in large part to my wife and youngest daughter, these greenbelt trails along the creeks are bringing the vision of Sabbatical Ranch into reality.
Roadrunners are often seen patrolling our existing trails so they will also enjoy an expanded trail network. They help us keep down the pest population and are one of the critters we enjoy sharing the desert with.
"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" (Genesis 1:27-28)
Dedicated Christian, patriot, family man, founder of Sabbatical Ranch