Hello fellow homesteaders,
The mystery about what exactly happened to Flock Leader Jr. just took another strange twist. The wretched arctic chill finally evaporated here in my part of Appalachia. The ice and snow-covered ground rapidly turned our land into a mud bog, but at least we not longer had to pack water and crack ice at the barnyard multiple times per days.
We excitedly ditched our heavy winter coats, pulled on our muck boots, and started working on our farm road. Our house is a ½ mile from the start of our driveway. The windy dirt farm road goes uphill past the house and butcher shop, shelter house, pond, camping area, down to the barn and pole barn, and then straight uphill a rugged dirt hill to the fruit grove and upper pasture.
The upper pasture is the most beautiful place on Earth. I love to ride up there on the 4-wheeler after doing morning barn chores, my faithful blue heeler, Jovie following me from in front (it is a weird and very annoying habit she has) and sipping on my a.m. can of Coke while soaking up the serenity of secluded loveliness of the area. You can look in any direction, including up, and have absolutely no idea what century it is, its pure untouched nature as far as the eye can see.
My hubby’s beloved Massey Ferguson is down..again, so he had to use the 4-wheel drive Kubota smaller tractor to work on the farm road. His efforts to scrape off the snow and ice before it turned cold again and left the narrow road to the barn even more of a skating rink, proved problematic and eventually provoked a lot of muffled cursing.
A little tip for all of your single or newlywed homesteading ladies, when a man is having problems with machinery or engaged in plumbing repairs, it is always best to give him a wide berth, do not try to help, commiserate, supervise for the sake of safety and definitely do not ask any questions – just go find something else to do until the matter is resolved.
The Kubota got stuck in the mud bog in the narrowed opening along the farm road between thick trees and the pond – blocking access to the barn by vehicle. Trying to get it out made the ruts far worse, the opposite of what the outside chore was supposed to accomplish. Trying to pull it out with the SUV did not work. Trying to pull it out with the Dodge truck did not work. Eventually, wrapping the wench on the 4-wheeler around a tree was a success – well, by success I mean the Kubota got out of that particular rut. Until the ground hardens I will be walking to the barn, you have to ride of the pond dam to get past the area without getting stuck now and that make the vehicles, and especially, far too “tippy” and sideways for my taste.
I had plenty to do while Bobby missed his Massey Ferguson and struggled with the mud bog that we had formerly referred to as our farm road. I decided to release Rooster, the baby goat, and her momma, Pearl, from the birthing pen for the first time. Fun work, right?!
I was not sure how things were going to go with Not Negan, he was not exactly behaving like a proud poppa should. We are going to band Rooster and turn him into a weather as soon as he is old enough. Little horn buds are now showing on his head, he is simply adorable.
The releasing of Rooter and Pearl went far better than expected, at least from my point of view. Not Negan gave Rooster a gently shove with his horns once or twice after he and his momma were first granted their freedom, but after that, he paid no attention to his kid at all. Not Negan had only one thing on his mind..romance. Pearl shut him down repeatedly, but he still keeps right on trying.
Rooster is living up to his name, he has true grit. The little bouncing black bundle of fur is making friends with everyone in the barnyard, eating breakfast everyday with his new besties, the Bess and Blossom, the mini donkeys, and exploring the hillside with the dogs and the pony.
The chickens, guineas, and real roosters, are still living in the barn. The did not venture any further than their feeding spot off the tack room until the weather broke. I had hoped their desire to free range and meander near the chicken coop would once again entice them to start living inside of it, but so far, no such luck.
Because the flocks free range all day, keeping the chicken coop clean was never really a big chore. I decided to go give it the once over and make sure the ducks, its sole inhabitants now, had not made too much of a mess over the past week.
Once inside, I made two shocking discoveries. A hen, a Bantam hen, I think from the dimensions of the eggs, has apparently been sneaking back in the coop to lay. I hadn’t check the nesting boxes on the upper wall for at least a week because the ducks were the only ones bunking there.
I collected the eggs to bring home to do the float or sink test to see if they were still any good. As I turned around to walk out, my head still shaking back and forth in bafflement about the recent antics of the chickens, I found Flock Leader Jr.
The day before, the human door on the chicken coop was iced over too much to open. I tugged and I tugged, but it was not going to budge. The warmer temperatures during the day turned cold again that same night, and all of the dripping water turned to ice. I walked back to the house and got a power drill, and removed the screws from the flock door inside the run. I only use the run as a brooder during warm weather and to quarantine potently sick birds or new additions to the flock.
The ducks, frantic to get out because they knew they were missing morning feed, were honking and quacking away inside, but they were not coming out. Eventually, about to lose my patience, I got down in the still thick snow on my hands and knees to peek inside and let them see me, so they knew it was safe to come out.
When I looked inside the door, there was a blue plastic tub turned sideways in my way. I had forgotten about putting the tub in there when introducing the coop to Soup and Stew’s chicks a month prior. They were used to sleeping on top of straw inside it in the run and I thought transferring them in that would make the transition less traumatic. I forgot to remove it later and it was now frozen to the floor of the coop.
I walked to the barn and grabbed a pitch fork, the carrying on of the hungry ducks growing louder by the second. The backside of the tote was facing the opening, so I rammed, and rammed, and rammed some more, the end of the pitch fork handle into the plastic tub until it broke free.
Once the opening was clear, the ducks came waddling out at lightening speed, and we all walked back to the barn for feeding. Because the Bandit, the pony, had gotten tangled in some loose barbed wire that had drooped because of all the ice, I quickly forgot about the blue plastic tub once again.
That is where I found Flock Leader Jr. inside the blue plastic tub. He did not have a single mark on him, no wounds anywhere. Now, I do beak and bill count during morning and evening barn chores, I knew exactly when he came up missing – the day when I found a bloody rooster foot print on top of the feed tub.
That was the only spot of blood that I had found, none in the ample inches of snow, none on top of the nearby straw and hay bales, no blood trail leading anywhere, just that one perfectly shaped rooster foot print. The only evidence that any brutality had taken place, were a handful of chicken feathers scattered about about three feet away from the bloody print.
The amount of feathers would not have been alarming if I had not found the foot print and came up one flock member short at count. The only thing I could figure, is that a hawk had been perched behind the barn was both hungry enough and brave enough, to swoop inside the structure to turn one of my roosters into a meal, flying off leaving on a trace of the bloody carnage behind. Thankfully we do not have an owl problems. Had it been a hawk though, one would think it would have been back to feast upon my flock again, and that has not happened.
Now, my theory of Flock Leader Jr.’s untimely demise makes has been blown out of the water. The hubby thinks he froze to death, but I don’t think that theory makes much sense. The ducks were in the same coop, and survived yet another frigid night just fine. The rest of the flocks were sleeping in the barn rafters, it is a very cool old barn made out of lumber grown and milled on the property, but plenty of air gets in between wall boards. If any chicken or rooster was going to die of exposure, it would have been one of my coop coup flock member and not the rooster nestled inside a solid structure surrounded by nice warm straw.
My guess is Flock Leader Jr. had something wrong internally, and thankfully it was not contagious. But, that still does not shed any light on where the bloody footprint on the feed tub came from. I did another beak and bill count just to make sure I had not made an error before, and everyone was still there.
The hubs said may a rooster steps in blood from a wound of another barnyard inhabitant and just happened to land on the feed tub. That seemed like a plausible theory, but I looked all over for more blood at the time, and did not see any. Since the flock was not leaving the barn at that time, I didn’t search further than the immediate area.
I look the horse, mini donkeys, pony, and goats over on a daily basis, none of them had any wounds. Andy had a little scratch, likely from rubbing up next to his favorite that sits right next to the barbed wire fence, but the scratch barely even broke the skin and would not have created the amount of blood necessary to make such a bold and full chicken foot print.
Neither Jovie nor Daisy, our grandkiddos’ dog are in heat. Ruger, the hubby’s blue heeler and Jovie’s brother, did injure a paw nail severely enough he had to go to the vet and get it removed. Ruger sometimes goes to the barn with Jovie and Daisy and I for evening chores, but if his wound generated that much blood I would be surprised, and surely would have found a blood trail somewhere, if a flock member had stepped in it.
Still looking for logical explanation to the bloody print, but I might never find one. Flock Leader Jr. is now resting in peace. On a happier note, we will soon be giving four penned guineas a forever home! My Bobby was out on a real estate appraisal appointment and the client just happened to have guineas.
She said they kept attacking her neighbors chickens so she had to pen them up and just hated to see them living like that. It is odd that guineas would attack chickens, they are coveted by so many homesteaders because they protect their flocks. Perhaps the guineas viewed the neighbor’s chicken as intruders and were trying to protect their territory and its inhabitants.
We are going to pick up the guineas this weekend. I will keep them in the run for a few weeks to acclimate them to the barnyard and to get familiar with the flocks and other free ranging critters. I don’t want them to go on the attack here and not be able to keep them. Guinea Carol, she is named such because she is such a mother hen to all the animals and a true survivor (named after Carol on The Walking Dead) is going to be so thrilled to have more of her kind to mingle with – maybe she will even find a significant other. I am not sure of the sex of the four guineas, it is almost impossible to tell by looking. If you don’t hear them calling what sounds like, “Come back, come back, come back” or see keets running behind their momma, they just look and act too much alike to determine their sex.
Happy homesteading y’all – stay as warm and dry and unstuck as you can while keeping up with your chores during this crazy winter weather!