Since we have had the laying hens, darling hubby has been preoccupied with releasing them. I have visions of fancy multicolored bantams frolicking and crowing as the Bards and Rhode Island Reds lay, and lay. In all honesty, we both share the idea of Free Range Hens and other fowl roaming the yard, scratching away eating every nasty bug this desert throws at us.
Ever seen a Giant Desert Centipede? The 1st one we saw was over 10 in long - no lie - and rounder than a 25 cent piece. Not as large as a 1/2 dollar. Regardless i took the garden loppers to it. Cut it in half it still came at me in full charge! I proceeded to sushi the prehistoric monster. Bits of white meat everywhere, it's pincers snapping away, YUCK. By the end of last season i was merely stomping on them and sweeping them off the patio. There are some very nasty spiders here. More prolific and venomous than the snakes. The hens will eat them joyfully.
Yesterday morning, my dearest wheeled into the bedroom doorway and whispered "Hey beautiful, guess what? The chickens are loose..." Ahhhhhhh Adrenaline over dose Now! Heart racing, blood pressure soaring... My first thought was to the where abouts of Ellie, our Aussie Blue Healer - Border Collie mix. Those hens are her charge. Her obsession. she counts them several times an hour. Studies their behaviors for hours. Can open the doors to their egg boxes (she learned that day 1 watching me). Our Lab, Kachina, loves to chase anything that moves. But she is in it for the joy of running. Ellie is on duty, the chase and the kill, she lives for it. Merely killing a snake is not enough for her. Once dead she totes off her kills and shreds them into tiny bits. Aussie cattle dogs were bred to herd cattle and take down 2000 lb. Bulls. They are fearless and operate in stealth mode. No barking. Intense, focused, lethal.
We have had countless discussions on releasing the hens, building a run for the hens, penning the dogs, chaining the dogs, electrocuting the dogs... never agreeing on a method, or time, always agreeing the chickens need to be free during the day. Caged for protection at night.
Yes, the Hens were loose. For he had simply opened the door and let them out. He was really having fun with them, before coming to wake me and the Killer Hound from hell. It's was not fair that he did not warn me, yet it was a good thing for my protective instincts kept putting it off. The time had come to free the hens so i had to deal with it. To train the dogs to leave the birds alone. Get it into their protective herding brains that hens roaming the yard is a good thing and OK with Mom and Dad. I bound out of bed, muttering, cursing, shaking, still sleep blind hunting for glasses, pants, and boots, jacket.
The dog was at my feet, on the bed as usual. The other 3 dogs were not impressed with the hens cautiously strutting in the yard. in fact the older two came in the house, retreated to their own beds. But Ellie sensed my panic and reacted accordingly.
I was able to leash her before the door opened. Once we were all out i gave the leash to John so i was free to get feed to the birds. Ellie turned inside out, pulling him around in the wheel chair hell bent to get the chickens. Kachina barking, Game on!! Me still cursing.
Finally i was able to sit in my chair on the patio hauling on the leash sometimes with two hands until Ellie settled. Her birds were loose and that was not cool. There we sat for a good 20-30 mins with her whining and drooling. Eventually she sat down on her own and began to relax. We spent some time just like that, sitting watching the hens, stroking the dog, reassuring her. Enter the wild quail.
We took the dogs into the house. John stayed in there with them. I went back out with coffee, fianally, to watch the quail i have been nurturing for almost 2 years. Being ever selective to provide food and water without increasing their dependency on humans.
We have wild Scallies and Gambles. They have mixed flocks for protection. Have grown from 3-4 birds to a flock of over 50 consistantly. The coyotes take their share, and the numbers change seasonally. We have had well over 100 here.
Once quite, the quail came to scratch with the hens. I was enthralled with the interactions. The hens guarded their coop door aggressively, but otherwise acted happy to have guests.
All of a sudden everyone ran for cover, chirping, alarming away. The bushes rustled with activity. A good thousand feet overhead a pair of hawks were gliding on the winds. So far up, a good mile south. None the less, they were spotted by a Quail Scout, who sounded the alarm and sent everyone into safety.
Our hens were in their coop in a flash. All day i marveled that the drooling snarling death machine was of no concern - but silent Death from Above, a mile off, that was a different, serious matter. Who knew Quail were so alert? Who knew Chickens spoke Quail?
This morning I walked Ellie on her leash as the hens and quail enjoyed their Freedom! It's going to take a long time to get her to comply and be comfortable. Hopefully, my shoulders and hands will hold up!
How does that song go? "Life on the Ranch kind of laid back... nothing an ol' country gal can't hack....." what a load of BS!!
Can I PLEASE go sew now?