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Wednesday, July 18 2018

I once read a little fable about a woman who picked up a snake that was caught out in an early freeze. She tucked him in her shirt and warmed him up. When he warmed up, he bit her. She cried out, "But I saved you from freezing!"
He replied, "You knew I was a snake when you picked me up."

I was reminded of that story a few nights ago. Storms rolled through the area and because the thunder was pretty intense I let the Livestock Guardian Dogs all stay in the barn with the sheep. About 9:30 pm the electricity went out. We were forced to sleep with the windows open. It wasn't that bad because the rain had cooled things off a bit. Through the pitter-patter of rain I kept hearing the guineas give an alarm call but I thought they were griping about the rain so I ignored them. At 10:00 pm a lamb screamed. I bolted upright in bed and ran outside. The lamb had gotten separated from his mother. He was fine. But since I was outside I checked the guineas and the two month old Blue-laced Red Wyandotte chickens. I was unprepared for the image that will haunt me every time I close my eyes.

A rat snake was trying to choke down my favorite guinea. Pearl was too large and he couldn't get past her head. Berserk doesn't begin to describe it. Other Half shot the snake. Saving the pearl guinea was out of the question. She was dead. Her head was partially digested. Because I didn't get out of bed. On the first night there wasn't a dog in there. I was hysterical.

The wounded snake was gonna die but was nevertheless determined to escape the pen. Rage. Rage like you don't know until your animals are threatened coursed through me. I shot him again. As a compassionate person I shouldn't feel any satisfaction but as a rancher, as someone who cared for that bird and raised that bird, and admired that bird, and gave her treats, and loved that bird - it gave me immense satisfaction to stand five feet away from a moving snake and put a .45 long colt bullet through the back of his head. And then that bastard was as dead as the bird at my feet. People more enlightened than myself were appalled and disgusted with me. Frankly Scarlett . . .

The other snake came back the next night. We caught him trying to get into the pen with the adult birds. If the smaller snake could kill a juvenile bird, the larger snake could surely kill an adult bird. The birds are locked up at night but they free range during the day. I'm willing to share my eggs. I'm not willing to share my chickens. The larger snake was shot too. Perhaps I simply haven't climbed that far up the evolutionary ladder yet. Do. Not. Threaten. My. Animals.

I probably should have let the matter die with the snakes, but I can't, and here's why. People make assumptions. Many time those assumptions are wrong. They assume I'm something that I am not. Most people reading this blog assume that I love animals and respect nature. I do. They also assume that because I have a deep, almost spiritual, affinity for nature that I won't kill. Wrong. I will kill something deader than a doornail if it threatens my animals. That offends some people. Perhaps it offends them even more because they never expected that I would do it.

People who want to save every predator are often pretty removed from the predators. They sit in protected homes and tell me that I'm a heathen for shooting a snake because I moved into his home and provided free meals. The meals aren't free. I go to great effort and expense to make sure those meals aren't free. I should also point out that suburbia used to be his home too. Many of these folks also don't have a clear understanding of just how remote our ranch is compared to most farms. People who condemn me visit state parks. I live in the park. When you are trying to raise sheep and chickens in what is, in essence, a large state park, then we'll be on the same page. Let me put it into perspective for you. Would you be so charitable toward the snake if it ate your kitten? Your puppy? It would. This guinea was the size of a young cat or a small Border Collie puppy. A litter of puppies or kittens whelped outside could have been wiped out one by one by a large snake that squeezed through a very small hole. I have always been pretty charitable toward non-venomous snakes but there is a line. Don't cross it.

I live up close and personal with coyotes, bobcats, and cougars. I have never shot at one. Coyotes have killed our calves, yet I don't bait them, lure them, or trap them. Coyotes have come right up to my barnyard fence to watch my sheep and test my dogs. I still haven't shot at them. Many sheep ranchers in our area hire shooters in helicopters to clear out the predators. We prefer to use Livestock Guardian Dogs. My dogs must patrol approximately 300 rough acres. Why? Because the sheep graze that area. Do they kill? Yes. Yes, they do. They will also kill every feral hog piglet or raccoon they can catch. Do I like it? No, but I can't have it both ways. I cannot hire a killer to protect my livestock and then gripe because he killed a raccoon forty yards from my chicken coop.

We put a great deal of effort and expense into containing Livestock Guardian Dogs and livestock. The stock is locked up at night and one dog is left out to guard the barnyard area because we have more livestock pens than we have dogs to guard them.  It is probably not a coincidence that a snake killed a guinea on the one night no dog was on duty there.

Despite all our efforts to coexist peacefully with nature, some lines still have to be drawn, and certain people find that offensive. There should be no misunderstanding. I love nature, but when it threatens my animals, I will not hesitate to shoot it.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 10:36 am   |  Permalink   |  7 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, July 10 2018

There are certain ranch rules we live by. He wants to drive the truck so you'll have to get out and open the gate. The quickest ticket to a divorce is working cattle together. And forget date night, the fastest way to bond around here is finding a snake in the henhouse. On the Red Feather Ranch we've been gifted with more than our fair share of copperheads. I'd never seen a copperhead before we bought this place. Our first summer there were 14 around my back door. That has greatly influenced our daily habits and the direction the farm has taken.

A prairie dog mound. That's what I want. Screw having a lawn. I want a moonscape so I can see the little bastards. For that reason I use the barnyard area around the house as a sacrifice area for grazing sheep and goats. They can go out to the pastures but I still lock them in the barnyard to eat every shred of green the pops out of the dirt. And chickens. Free-range chickens are tiny velociraptors. Not only will they kill small snakes, they eat the bugs that attract the snakes - mainly cicadas. We have so many cicadas that the Livestock Guardian Dog steals them when she hears the rat-a-tat sound of a cicada caught by a chicken. Apparently cicadas are tasty and she enjoys the wings fluttering in her mouth. Her version of canine pop rocks.

This is our third summer here and we've greatly reduced the copperhead encounters but still remain vigilant. We've killed only two this year. Since our war on copperheads I've seen a rise in the non-venomous snake sightings. Most of the time these snakes get a free pass and a tip of the hat. Most of the time.

I draw the line at my henhouse. Big, bold line. No snakes allowed. I have three chicken pens, each with its own coop. At night the chickens return to their coops and are locked in for the evening. While the other Livestock Guardian Dogs patrol the barnyard, a pair of Livestock Guardian Dogs is placed in the center coop to discourage raccoons and the like. The drama started with a pile of sheep shit.

Earlier in the day I dumped a wheelbarrow load of sheep poop in the chicken yard where it sat like a Cocoa Puff volcano waiting for chickens to process it. The chickens apparently had better things to do because they left it there. The Great Pyrenees puppy saw it that night and decided it was the most horrid of mountain monsters. I put her in the chicken yard and left, but her barking brought me back. I was, indeed, amazed. My Pyrenees pup barked at a pile of sheep shit while a five foot long rat snake slithered alongside the chicken coop. She gave nary a notice, such was her panic and fury over the pile of shit. The Anatolian Shepherd who was supposed to be her tutor and coach paid no mind to the snake either. He wagged his tail when he saw me, stepped around the snake and came to the gate. I reached for my phone and called the Other Half.

"Bring me the snake catcher pole."

Our household has evolved a rather unique set of customs, most of which were spawned from close encounters with venomous snakes. At dusk I always carry a Judge revolver in my back pocket. It's cumbersome but it shoots .410 shotgun shells and that's handy when you find a copperhead or two lounging underneath your bedroom window. Because shotgun shells cost a dollar each and a running snake can take two shells, we bought snake catcher poles to grab the varmits with metal claws and detain them for decapitation instead. I still prefer shooting them because most snake bites occur when people are handling snakes, which is a big nope for me. Being male, my Other Half likes to tempt that insurance deductible as much as he can, so he prefers to use the pole grabbers.

I don't want to shoot a harmless rat snake, but I also don't want it in my chicken yard. Not only have my hens stopped laying in there (no surprise) but I have half grown chicks in another pen that I don't want to become snake happy meals. So Stanley Slitterin had to go. He sensed my lack of hospitality and slowly eased underneath the hen house before Other Half arrived with the grabbers. I assured him the snake was ginormous. He gave me that look men reserve for wives who pull them out of their recliners for absolutely no good reason. Whatever. I saw it. And it was big.

Saturday evening we were returning from town and I stepped out to open the main gate. Lo and behold, a copperhead by the gate. I pointed out the copperhead to the husband and made the universal hand signal for a handgun. Other Half nodded and reached for my Judge, which should have been in my hand but was in the glovebox instead. A minute later the snake contracted a lead poisoning disease and we were soon driving into the barnyard. I set my purse down while Other Half unloaded the truck. Time to lock the chicken coops. As is my custom, I carry a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other. My flashlight beam illuminated about ten inches of a five foot long snake underneath the henhouse.

I called for Other Half and showed him proof. The snake stared at us and retreated back under the coop.  That's fine. I was happy. He finally saw the snake. And it was big. As I bee-bopped toward the second chicken yard to lock those hens in, Other Half stopped me. "Give me the flashlight!"
"No." I shrugged off his order. There are two things you need in my yard at night - a gun and a flashlight. I wasn't giving up either. He should have come out better prepared. Then he pointed out a large snake in a dog crate that I use as a nesting box. Oh my. That man definitely wasn't getting my flashlight. Other Half left and returned with the snake grabber. A few exciting minutes later and the rat snake was dumped across the fence and slithering toward the pond. That still left us with a snake under the first chicken coop. Other Half insisted it was the same snake as the one we just caught. No. It. Was. Not. Thus began the two day long argument about whether or not there was still a snake under the chicken coop.

Because we spend entirely too much time on Facebook, we'd seen how people use minnow traps and crab traps to catch snakes, so Other Half bought a minnow trap, stuck an egg in it, and set it beside the coop. Day 1: nothing. Day 2: nothing. He assured me again there was only one snake. I know what I know. I guarded the perimeter. The first snake did not get out from underneath the coop before we saw the second snake. End of discussion. On the night of Day 2 I walked out to lock the chicken coop and froze in my tracks. A rat snake was inside the coop and crawling up the back wall.

The hens were not amused. This is where date nights really take shape in our household.

No matter how annoyed you may be with the other party for whatever their real or imagined transgression, every spat is swept aside when handling snakes. While venomous snakes can be dispatched pretty easily with a pull of the trigger, removing a non-venomous snake that you don't want to harm, but you don't want to touch, can get a little western. I ran. (No, I did not. You do not run in my yard after dark. You walk quickly but not faster than the flashlight beam which hunts for copperheads like a searchlight in a prison yard.) I snatched open the cabin door and interrupted Other Half on his ham radio. Snakes in the henhouse take priority.

    "Get the snake catcher now! He's in the henhouse!" The urgency wasn't because the rat snake would harm the hens, it was because he was confined and we could catch him. My Other Half was sitting at his ham radio desk in his underwear and house shoes. With no boots, no flashlight and no gun, he grabbed a snake pole and made haste out the door. I questioned his judgement. A rat snake in the henhouse does NOT mean there isn't a copperhead in the yard. He ignored me. (When he did these things before we were married, I could simply shrug, now I mentally calculate the Emergency Room bill.)

     Other Half peeked into the henhouse. Then he stood up. There, standing in the dark in his underwear and house shoes, he declared that his pole wasn't long enough. I bit my lip as I tried not to laugh. He left me to watch the snake while he went in search of the longer snake catching pole. Like me, the snake was chuckling.  Moments later Other Half returned with the longer pole. He squeezed the handle a few times to test the grabbers. The spring mechanism popped off. His pole broke. We would have to make do with the shorter pole. Our snake was longer than our catch pole. Things were definitely about to get western.

     The problem with snakes in a henhouse is that you have to bend over to see them. We only had one flashlight and I wasn't turning loose of that sucker. I peeked through the window and held the flashlight beam on the snake while Other Half positioned the pole for the catch. The snake was quite uncooperative and amazingly strong for his size, but the Other Half finally got the snake wrangled and pulled him outside the coop where we could examine him better. He agreed this was a different snake. Much stronger. I whipped out the phone to snap pictures.

"I'm losing him!" Other Half's voice was high pitched, approaching the nine year old girl screech.

I thought this was funny until I pulled the camera aside and looked down. Shit. The snake was getting away. And coming my way.

 (Yes, it's out of focus. Try a snake coming at your ankles and your picture will be out of focus too.)

I grabbed the useless long snake pole and tried to pin him down. Not happening. He slid underneath the pole and came toward my ankles. I screamed like a little girl, grabbed a rocking chair and slammed it down on the poor snake. It is a curious fact of life that two retired police officers can still be reduced to screaming little girls when a snake crawls toward their toes. We finally stopped screaming long enough to re-group, pin down his head, and get a better grip. Then Other Half lifted the head while I used the other pole to support the heavier body. The snake wrapped its tail around my pole and together the three of us walked toward the fence. All was well until we walked away from the security light.

Oh. shit. I forgot the freaking flashlight. Things quickly got dark enough to illuminate this fact. Someone who laughs at millenials left the flashlight sitting on a bistro table when she stopped to take pictures of the snake. Blush. Praying I didn't step on a copperhead, we carried a harmless little rat snake as if he were a giant anaconda. Once at the fence, we dumped the frightened and bewildered snake and bid him good well as he slowly made his way back into the forest. Hopefully the experience will keep him from returning to the chicken coop. It is highly likely that like my Other Half, he slithered his way toward a glass of bourbon.  While he poured, I closed the door on another date night on the Red Feather Ranch.

 Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:00 am   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, July 03 2018

The pastures are parched and cry out for rain.  I am in the field with the sheep when the skies darken and a slow rolling thunder growls across the sky like an angry bear. The sheep gather closer but otherwise ignore the growing storm.  Thunder nears and the heavens spit forth much needed rain.

Not everyone welcomes the rain. Dairy goats opt out and run to the barn.

The sheep are unconcerned.

Puzzled, the dog watches the goats go.

But the sheep still graze.

It finally comes down hard enough for the sheep to mosey in. The dog waits behind the smallest lambs.

They dart and play in the shower, but finally follow like sullen kindergarteners pulled off the playground. It takes us longer to walk to the barn than the rain lasts, but any moisture on pastures is a welcome sight. A nod from the gods. A spit from the heavens. And for that we are thankful.

 Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 09:12 am   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email

Red Feather Ranch, Failte Gate Farm

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