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Heidi Chronicles II

It's getting toward fall on Walkabout Farm. And long-time readers might know what that means. The woodchuck is hungry. The woodchuck is always hungry. The woodchuck intends to bloat himself on soy crumbles that belong to the chickens. And so the epic annual battle begins.

Several years ago, we proved that you can pile concrete blocks on an aluminum trash can filled with soy and the woodchuck won't be deterred. Somehow, he will knock them off. The urge to gorge himself drives him until, about the time it gets dark and cold in early November, he finally hibernates.

This year is no exception as another bachelor woodchuck has taken up residence again (along with the rats). We've put the smoke bombs down his hole and while he vacates for a day, he never leaves permanently. So once again, the feed cans are under daily attack.

One can contains soy crumbles, his preferred food. The other contains two-grain scratch, which he doesn't much care for. I don't know why. I just know that even the new woodchuck prefers the protein diet over the high fat one. (The chickens prefer the scratch, but need the soy to make eggs.)

So for a while there, the can was being tipped over or opened every day. Knowing that concrete blocks were of no use, I tried a 5-gallon gas can. Oddly enough, he can tip that over, too. But at one point, I put a gas can on the crumbles but not on the scratch. And he didn't get into the crumbles, tipped the lid off the scratch, and was disappointed.

He's gotten better at it though. Really good, once he figured out where the crumbles were and now as the days have grown shorter. He's desperate for crumbles. Five-gallon gas cans, full or half-full have been found lying on the ground and the can tipped over. Argh. I do NOT want a broken plastic gas can.

So I got clever too. I started to barricade the trash cans with gas cans. As long as they're mostly full, I can put two around the base of the cans and one on top of the crumbles. And put the extra LP tank against the cans too. And a huge bag of pine shavings that's on a pallet. AHA! The woodchuck can't really get in close enough to get the leverage to tip the gas can off the crumbles.

Unless, of course, one of the chicken helpers decides both cans should have a gas can on top and he or she removes one of the ones from the base, giving him access to knock the other one off and get into the crumbles can. Note to self: make sure the rest of the household knows The Plan.

This is fall around Walkabout Farm. The pitting of human intelligence against the raw drive of a woodchuck's need to gorge himself.

Frog Out


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 21st, 2011 03:13 am (UTC)
Ah, nature. And you certainly have woodchucks in NJ - I saw one the last time I was there: my first woodchuck sighting, ever. I confess to having squirrels run off with okra pods, but that pales in comparison to your annual ordeal.
Sep. 21st, 2011 12:08 pm (UTC)
I think SC is too warm for them. They're in New England and there were scads of them on the AF base in Ohio (they were protected) and around here in VA. One is fine, esp. a bachelor woodchuck. A pair having babies is a problem. You end up with an over-sized prairie dog town. We looked at a house that had such a warren in the yard. We were a bit nonplussed at the idea of having quite so many living that close to us.

Deer are worse. Rats are worse. Rat story in another installment.
Sep. 21st, 2011 08:14 am (UTC)
Why do chickens need soy to make eggs?
Sep. 21st, 2011 11:52 am (UTC)
So are you thinking like someone who cooks or as a chicken farmer? Because I had this image of the girls out there in the coop making eggs out of soy in the night through some mysterious alchemist cooking process.

There are chickens and there are chickens. In the US, some are bred as meat and some as layers, though people also have traditional mixed-use chickens. Meat chickens need fat and protein to grow and be slaughtered. Layers need lots of protein to lay eggs, which are, well, heavily protein. Protein and calcium for the shells.

We would never eat our pets, so we buy hens that are layers. They have very little excess fat and muscle. Commercial egg producers feed their layers ANY protein, including other chickens and other animals. We don't do that by choice, but they are omnivores and eat bugs (good), frogs (not so fun to watch), and dead mice the cats haven't eaten (ugh). So a good source of non-animal protein for them is the soy. Their feed mixture is about 20% scratch, 80% soy. A bit higher for younger hens, a bit higher in the winter.

Your typical hen lays 2 eggs every 3 days and only when there's 12 or more hours of daylight. These are a cross-breed of Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds, two excellent layers. They can tell the boys from the girls at birth and I'm afraid it's not good news for the boys. The hens won't breed true so there's no point in having a rooster around to fertilize the eggs.

Our girls are beloved pets and lay eggs for us. About 1 a day, almost all year round with the light on in their coop in the winter to equal 12 hours of light. They lay for about two years, but we keep them on even when they don't. Six in their first year are giving us six eggs almost every day and the ten senior girls are giving us about another six, though sometimes the shells are too thin.

Presumably, there's less cholesterol in an egg from a chicken that's been fed a good diet of soy and bugs. Based on what I've heard commercial chickens are fed, I can well believe that.

They make lovely noises and can become quite attached to humans. And did I mention the fresh eggs that whip up like a dream?

TMI, I know. But you did ask...
Sep. 21st, 2011 01:36 pm (UTC)
No such thing as TMI, in contexts like this. Thanks for all the detail; that makes perfect sense to me now.
Sep. 21st, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
I wonder if there are restrictions on having a chicken or two in your backyard in that area of SF...

Fresh eggs are to die for, if you've ever had to work with our US idea of "fresh" eggs. They can be several months old in the stores and still sold as fresh. Plus they taste yucky to me now.

See what a nice, hawk-proof run they have now. Sometimes we let them free-range, but we end up losing a couple to the foxes when we do that if we're not watching them like sheep dogs the entire time.
Sep. 21st, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
Wait, what - several months old? Sheesh...

(I dream of really fresh eggs. The ones I buy are local and organic, but they're still maybe a week old by the time they reach me. Maybe more; no real way to tell. Expensive stores in rich areas sell that day's eggs - but not around here, and not within my budget. Sometimes I do think about keeping chickens. Then I think about the boys, and take pity on the poor hypothetical birds...)
Sep. 21st, 2011 02:10 pm (UTC)
Having read about your boys for some time now, I can see your issue. Where most cats would leave chickens alone, your cats are perhaps less predictable. Ours leave them alone, for the most part, though Mrs. Gaines (now sadly deceased) used to object to them standing on HER deck and would stalk them and chase them off of it when they were out loose. But even the dog used to leave them alone, accepting them as part of the family.

My father, who collects such trivia, said that at one time in the US, six month old eggs could still be called "fresh." This is why we have these conveyor belts and boxed layers in hen houses, living a stressed life. If they're refrigerated immediately, they do last. But, well, yuck to my tastebuds.

Fresh eggs have less air under the shell. In a bowl of water, they will sink, not float. It takes two weeks or more for there to be enough air under the shell for them to float. And that's also about when they're good for hard-boiling because you need some room under that membrane to peel them once cooked.

At a week old, they're still awfully decent if they were properly refrigerated. The water test works for that, too. If they're a week old and float, they weren't well refrigerated.
Sep. 21st, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC)
And that's also about when they're good for hard-boiling because you need some room under that membrane to peel them once cooked.

This is why I generally have two boxes of eggs in the fridge: older ones for hard-boiling, fresher for, well, pretty much everything else. But they're almost never fresh enough to poach decently; I've pretty much given up poaching.
Sep. 21st, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
We shall imagine that someday you shall visit Walkabout Farm and go down in the morning and collect your breakfast egg to poach while it's still warm. In some alternate universe, I'm sure this happens.
Sep. 21st, 2011 02:54 pm (UTC)
It's bound to, I should say. Yay quantum.
Sep. 25th, 2011 02:05 am (UTC)
and dead mice the cats haven't eaten (ugh)

What about dead rats that your husband killed? Then no one has to go to the dump with a bag of dead rats.
Sep. 25th, 2011 02:22 am (UTC)
spoken like a countrywoman!

"bag of dead rats" yeah. we wish. sort of like wishing for cats that would do their job.
Sep. 21st, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
Oh dear. It's nearly 10am and I forgot to let the girls out! Bad chicken farmer, no cookie!
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 21st, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
OMG, yes, the fall when the hawks were getting chickens every other day was a sad and sickening one on Walkabout Farm. The upside was that we finally knew what was killing them from inside their run and coop.

This morning, the lids were still on the feed cans! Hooray!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )