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Routine Change – Freezing Cold Nights

Routine Change – Freezing Cold Nights

 Routine Change

Routine change seems to happen quickly even though fall creeps in slowly, particularly this year. Last week we had daytime temperatures in the high 70’s and nighttime temps in the low 50’s. This morning the hose was frozen because the temp dipped into the high 20’s. At 10 am the water trickled through enough to get the thawing process started. Routine change: drain the hose during evening chores and make sure it’s stretched out where the morning sun will find it earliest.

Moving the Chicken Tractor

Every morning I let the Cornish Cross meat chickens out of the tractor to run for the day. I bring them a little corn to help them warm up quickly. Every evening I move the tractor onto clean grass or soil, move their five gallon waterer into the tractor, and wait for them to go in for the night. Routine change: As of today I’m moving the tractor in the morning and leaving the tarp over it so the sun can warm the ground during the day, giving them a warmer spot to sleep at night.

Building a Fire

checked firewood, routine change, dry firewoodMost mornings I’m up early, start the coffee, get the kindling and firewood, build a fire and get my shower while the coffee finishes. I dress by the fire that’s still catching, barely enough warmth to start the groan and pop of the heating metal. Routine change: Bring in the kindling and firewood after evening chores. Build the fire first thing in the morning, then start the coffee. Coffee takes a few minutes to make because we grind beans each time we make a pot. The spent grounds are stored to be scattered in the herb garden. Building the fire first won’t make a huge difference but it’s a few extra minutes for the heat to build.

I’m looking forward to days inside later this week, watching the rain fall while sitting by the fire, working without interruption, writing writing writing for something other than a paycheck. I’ll roast a chicken with potatoes, carrots and onions on an open fire by the pond on Wednesday and then use the leftover chicken for chicken salad with cranberries and walnuts, fajitas and a soup.

Coyote Problem

routine change, coyote, meat chickens, cornish cross, A coyote has been hanging out here for more than a week. One came through in April and July. A youngster very much attached to our back porch, backyard and orchard, visits nightly for the past week. It arrives a little earlier each night, just after Steve turned off the noisy saw and came in last night.

We can’t night hunt again until mid-December but if I catch it in the act of bothering the meat chickens, well, it’s days are over. The cold nights seem to have spurred its desire to hunt here. The deer haven’t been around since the coyote showed up. I will feel bad for ending its life. It’s not an animal I’ll eat and I won’t tan its hide. I really don’t know what I’ll do with it; it’s been quite a while since we’ve had to kill one. I hope it takes on a routine change before it’s too late.

And speaking of killing. <sigh> One of the meat chickens, a hen, is mostly likely developing pneumonia. We’re in wait-to-see mode. We have two choices. Treat her with antibiotics or slaughter soon. We’re two or three weeks away from processing all of the meat chickens. We don’t want antibiotics in our food when we have a strong alternative. She’s fryer size now, certainly large enough to provide three meals for the two of us. I’ll see how she is in the morning. I’m ready for the poultry routine to change, for them to move on to the freezer. It’s chilly during the day, cold at night, and sometimes so windy I have to tack down the tarp covering the entire tractor at night. It’s not good meat-raising weather now as it takes more food to keep themselves warm as well as grow.

Are you going through a routine change as autumn progresses?

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Beaver Damage in the Woodlot

Beaver Damage in the Woodlot

Beaver Damage

Beaver damage – a problem that creates beauty. Now what do we do?

beaver damage, woodlot
beaver damage, beaver lodge, woodlot
beaver lodge, beaver damage, woodlot, flooding
beaver damage, mud dam
beaver tracks, mud, beaver damage, woodlot

We had a surprise, unwelcome discovery in the woodlot late in the summer. Steve discovered a beaver lodge and bog a few hundred yards from the house. It looks like I need to spend more time poking around in the woodlot to see what’s happening out there. Beaver damage can happen fast and I don’t want the little buggers to get any further ahead of us than they already have.

The beaver lodge is four feet tall and six feet wide. There hasn’t been any recent activity in the area, probably because of the drought conditions. They’ve chosen a poor spot for their home, a seasonal stream that’s four feet wide and a foot deep for a few months of the year. It makes me wonder what they were thinking while scoping out real estate. There’s a nice stream lined with hardwoods and full of brook trout a half mile away, and the beaver damage there is remarkable. Nobody seems to care how much flooding they do there.

Muddy Beaver Dam

The beaver dam is a ring of mud around the low area, pressed firmly into place and stuffed with grasses. They’ve flooded an acre of land and made a huge vernal pool. Unfortunately, stagnant water has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Consequently, I can’t blame the drastic increase entirely on the lack of bats.

Now we have to decide what, if anything, to do about these new neighbors. We don’t have enough information to make an informed decision just yet.

Weighing Pros and Cons

Pro: They aren’t active right now and probably haven’t been this summer because of the lack of rain. It isn’t an area of the woodlot that’s useful to us as far as trees go so we really don’t have a lot to lose. Wood harvesting is heaviest in fall as they prepare for winter so I’m taking a walk each week to look for signs. We’ll know quickly if they return.

Black bear, coyote and bobcats prey on beaver. Coyotes and bobcats have been problems in the past. Better that they have a natural diet than snack on my domestic ducks. Fisher are another beaver predator but haven’t bothered our birds.

Moose and deer have trails passing through and around this area and are there on a regular basis. When there is water in the pool it’s so dirty I doubt animals drink. It would be a good place to set up a tree stand or ground blind for this month’s archery hunt. We’ve never harvested a large game animal from our woodlot.

It’s a pretty spot that I enjoy walking now. I’ve been picking fall mushrooms out there, and this discovery brings me back each week to a place in the woodlot I didn’t visit.

On the con list, we have a long-haired dog that loves water and all things smelly, and another dog that’s half duck toller. She loves to splash around the edge of water. We’re grateful this is outside their territory so they haven’t found the murky mess. In addition to the stench they’d bring home, I’m a little concerned about giardia.

It could be worse

Beaver damage could be worse if we have a wet summer that doesn’t allow the water to drain. In an already damp environment on the edge of a heath, there’s no real need for a bog in our woodlot.

Will they return when the fall rains arrive? The ground is naturally wet with springs that don’t freeze but there’s little water except in with fall rain, snow melt and spring rains.

Considering the tiny size of the stream a deceiver isn’t necessary.  If they become a problem, we can look into asking a trapper to take a look and determine whether this is worth his or her time. For now we’ll wait to see what happens and act on the information we get.

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Young Bull Moose on an Afternoon Stroll

Young Bull Moose on an Afternoon Stroll

Young Bull Moose

A young bull moose visits the food plot on his way to somewhere more interesting. He’s been here night and day, always coming into and leaving the food plot in the same directions. On Tuesday he swung a left at the Y and walked past another camera. We’re game camera junkies. They’re all over the place.

Living with wildlife is never dull and usually a joy. I’d like to see this little guy so I’m thinking of putting up a tree stand and calling. A bull in rut is nothing to fool with so I’ll be sitting up high instead of on the ground. For most of the year the moose are no problem at all other than a few trampled plants in the garden. The rut has started so if he’s within hearing distance and thinks there’s a cow around he’ll be easy to see. I moved one of the cameras this morning in hopes of getting face shots.

The white strip to his right in the first three pictures is one of the high tunnels in the backyard. He isn’t shy about being around the house during the day. I hope he doesn’t come into the yard and get tangled in the electro fence the poultry is in. There haven’t been tracks in the garden so he probably isn’t getting too close to the birds.

What do you have for wildlife in your yard?

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moose-4young bull moose, food plot

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Snowshoe Hare Kits

Snowshoe Hare Kits

Snowshoe Hare Kits

Last week, in the midst of our quest to add beauty to the homestead, Steve backed the bush hog under a clump of wild apple, pine, spruce and black cherry trees. Ava and Zoey followed their noses to a young porcupine two days earlier, and Zoey came out with quills in her nose, lip and mouth. We got them out but don’t think ZoMonster knows what happened since it was dark, and that she’ll do it again. We needed to clean out the area to discourage the porcupine from sticking around. We weren’t expecting snowshoe hare kits.

I stood by, watching for the porcupine. Steve motioned like a one-armed windmill, pointing in the direction of the pond. “There’s a fuzzy lump running over there,” he shouted over the bush hog and tractor.  A moment later another fuzzy lump ran toward the fire pit. Snowshoe hare kits!snowshoe hare, kit, leveretI didn’t know how much I didn’t know about snowshoe hares, and thinking their nest was destroyed, I scooped them up to keep them safe. “Rob,” he said, “you can’t keep wild bunnies. It was like he’d never met me… I called our warden to get permission to keep the little cuties to be sure they were eating and drinking on their own, and to figure out where we’d let them go. They couldn’t go back to the clump of trees, the underbrush was nearly decimated, and they needed protection from Zoey. If Ava found them she’d give them a proper bath before gently lugging them to me. Zoey would think “squeaky toy!” and it wouldn’t end well.

If You Care, Leave Them There

They spent the night nestled in straw in a cage in the shed, food and water beside them. Maybe we’d take them up on Democrat Ridge. With eyes open, fully furred, and able to hop, they’d be fine without their mother. They must have been close to leaving the nest, I thought. I was wrong.

A little research clued me in. Snowshoe hares are born fully furred, eyes open and able to hop unlike the naked and helpless rabbits I know well. Their proper name as babies is leveret. I’ll stick to kit. They’re born in a “nest” but then separate and remain nearby, a method of staying safe. They come back together when the mother returns to nurse them.

What had I done? I’d picked up and snuggled these nearly newborn hares. I couldn’t release them somewhere else, they need their mother. Ignorance usually isn’t bliss.

In the morning I dragged brush into the clump, took the hares back, and I let them go. Had I completely screwed this up and condemned them to death by dehydration? Long story short, they’re fine. I saw the snowshoe hare kits with their momma this morning, at the edge of the grass. I sat down to watch them until eventually the littles hopped separately back to the clump and momma went back to the woods. She’ll stay away from them until she returns to nurse them tonight.

Ava and Zoey are staying away. They pass the clump of trees on their way to see if there’s anything in the live trap (a skunk we were unaware of on Friday morning, thankfully found by Steve at 4 am, before he took the dogs out). “Stay out of there” is enough to keep them away. The hares should leave their clump when they’re about a month old so we’ll be keeping an eye on the dogs over there for a few more weeks. Living with wildlife is never dull, especially when they’re as cute as snowshoe hare kits.

Preventing Nuisance Black Bear Problems

Preventing Nuisance Black Bear Problems

Preventing Nuisance Bear Problems

There’s a rogue bear on the loose, being a pain in the backside, and scaring people. It’s probably a yearling that’s been through family separation and doesn’t quite know what to do with itself yet. Sows drive their yearlings away, sometimes violently, to prevent them from being killed by boars during mating season. If the youngsters haven’t mastered finding food they can become problems. Others can find food just fine but take advantage of easy opportunities. Gilman’s chickens looked pretty good and Betty’s dumpster was pillaged.

Maine has the highest black bear population in the lower 48 states, and the population in Maine is higher than biologists determined it should be. A short, easy winter means few bears died in their dens, and I thought it would mean they have enough food to not be jerks this year, but a few of them didn’t get that memo. They’re out and about and some are becoming nuisance bears. Preventing nuisance bear problems is easier than dealing with them after it’s too late, though sometimes we don’t know there’s a problem bear around until they make their presence known.
preventing nuisance bear. black bear, bear problems, problem bearsThanks to Betty Phelps for the photo. She didn’t know she had a bear problem until she woke up to this mess.

Prevent BEAR problems. Lock up your livestock and poultry like the Jack Link's Squatch wants to make them into jerky.Click To Tweet

Tips to Slow Down Nuisance Bears

  • Don’t put your trash outside. Secure it in a sturdy outbuilding or your basement, or take it away. Lock the dumpster. The doors not heavy enough to keep bears out. These big, silent creatures are strong.
  • Bring your grill in or at least clean it after every use. Burn off the food and bring in the grease cup, then give it a good cleaning.
  • Never leave food outside. Make sure everyone bring in their snacks and drinks.
  • Bring in your bird feeders from early spring until early to mid-November, and clean up the ground under the feeders.
  • Bring pet food and water bowls in as soon as the pet finishes eating.
  • Contain your livestock and poultry. Lock them up like the Jack Link’s Squatch is going to forget about jerky and munch on your critters. Lock them in before sunset. The bear that was hit by a pickup on Monday was hit before 5:30 pm.
  • Don’t leave any livestock and poultry food where a bear can get to it or be attracted by the smell. We keep food in 50 gallon drums that are tightly sealed and never have a problem.
  • Use the panic button on your vehicle’s key fob before you go outside to scare away any bears that might be in the yard. If you get up during the night for a drink, hit it again, for a second or two. This is best done if you don’t have neighbors too close.
  • When your dog barks at something you can’t see, let it bark. Bears are known as the “black ghost” because they move silently through the woods. The dog is likely to know a bear is nearby while you have no idea.

Bears and Dogs

  • Keep dogs and bears apart. Ava and Zoey are not afraid of bears. Instinct and experience don’t tell them to be careful enough, and their personalities tell them “oh look, a friend!” They don’t warm up to other dogs easily (they’re shy) but bears are a different story.

Preventing nuisance bear problems takes work. You have to stay on top of it and remind everyone in the household to do so, too.

Hit a Bear? Please Call for Help!

Hit a Bear? Please Call for Help!

Hit a Bear?

PSA. Attention please. :/ If you hit a bear please don’t assume it’s okay because it got up and ran. You seldom ever, or maybe never, have seen a dead bear on the side of the road in Maine. They have hard bones but their internal organs are still soft. If you hit a bear, please, please call the warden or police. You might be nothing more than shaken up and your vehicle might be just fine, but please get help for the bear.
black bear, bear tracks, hit a bear
 
Late Monday afternoon I saw the pickup in front of me hit a black bear. The driver did all he could to avoid it but it truly was unavoidable. He truck made contact with vital organs. The bear spun across the pavement across the other lane, rolled into the ditch, got up and ran in to the woods. The man parked in the road, stunned. I checked on him. He’s fine and there’s no damage to his truck. The bear is not fine. The man didn’t want to call the warden or police because “…I think it’s fine…a lot of fur but no blood…it ran.”
 
We don’t see bears on the side of the road because they’re tough. They can get up and run, but when you hit vital organs they aren’t gong to go far before they drop and die a miserable death. I can’t no do anything. It wasn’t my accident but I called it in to my warden. We couldn’t talk because of poor signals out here in the middle of no where but we could text. He looked for the bear and if necessary, put it out of its misery.

Tips to Keep Yourself Safe if You Hit a Bear

If you hit a bear it’s probably going to run off. If it doesn’t you should:

  • Pull over to a safe place near the bear to force vehicles away from it (in case they don’t see it), and put your flashers on.
  • Flash your headlights (low beam) at anyone coming toward you to warn them about the bear.
  • Stay in your vehicle.
  • Never approach the bear. It might look dead but be unconscious.
  • Call the game warden or police to find out what else you need to do.
Wildlife Observation Tips

Wildlife Observation Tips

Wildlife Observation Tips

I never, ever take the ability to see a tremendous amount of wildlife for granted. Steve and I went turkey hunting this morning. We didn’t see a single turkey but we did see four bears (more later!), a moose, a fox, three snowshoe hare, 100+ red stag and fallow deer and seven bison. Yes, you read those last three right. We knew about the red stag and fallow deer but the bison surprised us. They’re on two farms. The farm with the bison is large enough to give them a lot of room to roam. We’ve been by them almost daily for two weeks and hadn’t seen them until this morning. Anyway, on to wildlife observation tips. These tips will help you find and see more wildlife.

red stag, wildlife observation

I left as soon as the deer spotted me. They’re farmed deer but they’re still wild and spotted me a tenth-of-a-mile away. No need to upset them.flying duckWhen to Look for Wildlife

Look any time. Look all the time. Walking by a window? Look out. These days it isn’t uncommon to see wildlife in city limits. Coyotes in NYC and Cambridge aren’t unusual anymore.

Early morning, as early as dawn, and early evening are great times to see wildlife on the move. Wildlife moves during bad weather but not so much in a downpour or snow storm. They’ll be out and about after the weather clears.

Migration is an excellent time to see birds you don’t otherwise see.

During black fly season they’re moving into clearings as soon as the black flies are up. They’re looking for a heavy breeze the black flies can’t fight.

Where Should You Go for Wildlife Observation?

Look in fields. In a big field you’ll want to look for small dots. A rabbit is hard to see, a turkey easier, a bear certainly even easier, but in a very large field a bear can look like a small dot. Scan the entire field and take your time to slowly move along the edge of the field.

Logs and rocks are sunning places for turtles, water fowl, snakes and other critters that like to warm up or nap in the sun.

Look down side roads as you pass them. If you’re driving you should keep your eyes on the road and have your passengers be on the look out. You can turn around to go back if they see something.

What Do You Look For in Wildlife Observation?

Look for something that looks out of place. The black spot at the edge of a field might be a bear. Or a boulder.

Movement. A flash across a field or crossing a road might be a fox. A white bouncing object could be the “flag” of a white-tailed deer.

Tracks and signs tell us a lot about what wildlife is in an area. Tracks, scat, hair, chewed plants – all good places to start.

Once you’ve gotten familiar with spotting whole animals or birds you can start looking for body parts. Steve taught me to stop looking for a deer and start looking for a deer’s ear, tail or leg. This morning I spotted a moose in the woods because I saw its shaggy, shedding rump through the trees and recognized it for what it is.

How Do You Do This?

Good wildlife observation skills start at home. Don’t load up on scents. Avoid perfume, aftershave and smelly deodorant. Use an extra rinse on laundry or forego fabric softener (or both).

Find a place that’s safe. Wildlife observation can take a little getting used to. You want to start out safe and sound before you start dealing with animals. The city park, private land, your backyard, great places to start. If you don’t feel secure alone you should take someone with you.

Sit with the sun at your back so you don’t look into it.

Find a place to sit. Good wildlife observation calls for comfort. Bring a small folding seat or pad if you don’t want to sit on the ground, a rock or a stump. If you can sit inside the treeline at the edge of a field you’ll have cover while looking into open space.

If you’re in a spot where it’s allowed, build yourself a blind with evergreen boughs.

Now that you’re in your spot, settle in, sit still, be patient and wait. You’ve disturbed the area by showing up even if you were as quiet as possible. Birds and squirrels will return to normal first. Once you see an animal you should avoid eye contact. Don’t look it in the eye and don’t lose sight of it. On our way back from a woodcock singing ground survey last night our truck was charged by a cow moose. She’s probably pregnant and nearing the end of her pregnancy, hormonal and becoming protective. Keep an eye on animals.

Listen. Do you hear twigs snapping, leaves rustling, bleating, bird calls? What do you hear? Now look for the sound. Yes, really. Look for the sound. Where did it come from? Where did it go?

What Tools Do You Need?

I like to have a pair of binoculars, a camera or three, paper and pen, something to drink, maybe something to sit on, bug spray (you can buy unscented bug spray), sunglasses, and appropriate clothing. Avoid bright colors.

Safety

During hunting seasons you’ve absolutely got to develop and use common sense. Don’t traipse around in the woods in tan during deer season. Put on a florescent orange vest and hat. White mittens resemble a white-tailed deer’s tail. Overall, hunters are incredibly safe but just like everyone else, stuff happens.

If you pull over to observe something you’ve spotted you must be sure to pull out of the travel lane. Don’t forget to look to see what’s coming before you open the door. It’s easy to get excited and forget what you’re doing. Take a deep breath and double check your surroundings. If there isn’t a good place to pullover, forget about it. You’ll see something else in a safe place at another time.

Don’t approach animals. We know we’re not supposed to bother a sow with cubs but don’t forget the little things. People get bitten by mice and squirrels and it hurts.

If your presence is making the wildlife uneasy you need to back out safely and leave. I watched a herd of deer this morning until they spotted me and were uncomfortable. Watching me is fine. Watching me and leaving the area or approaching me isn’t alright. Wildlife observation ends when the wildlife leaves so be the first to go and let them be.

Living with Coyotes on the Homestead

Living with Coyotes on the Homestead

Living With Coyotes on the Homestead

Living with coyotes is a part of living in the woods. There were at least two coyotes on a game camera over the winter, far below the numbers we saw in our backyard 10 years ago. The population is under control now. In early March I had Ava and Zoey outside after sunset to run out some of their energy while I closed in the chickens and ducks. We know predators are here on a regular basis because we live in the woods. Still, hearing a coyote yip one hundred yards from where I was standing is alarming.living with coyotes, living with wildlife, predatorThe birds were tucked in for the night but noisy. Ava and Zoey played keep-away with a toy of some sort. The yip stopped them in their tracks. Ava’s familiar with coyotes but we doubt Zoey had heard or seen one. They were about 100 yards from the backyard. I put the dogs in, hid behind the edge of the garden shed with a rifle and yipped. A return yip, then a howl, and then my reply. We went back and forth several times until the coyotes moved away.coyote, game camera We had a coyote howling in the backyard, circling the meat chicken pen and trying to dig under fence to get into the duck and chicken pen this fall. There are pictures but we didn’t see it with our own eyes.

Tips On Living With Coyotes

  • Keep small livestock and poultry penned. Avoid offering a coyote any kind of temptation.
  • Make a lot of noise if you see a coyote. Don’t let it get comfortable near your home and any areas outdoors you use on a regular basis. If you hear them too close to the homestead you can hit the panic button on your vehicle’s key fob to set off the alarm.
  • Keep cats and small dogs indoors unless supervised.
  • A livestock guardian dog is usually enough to keep coyotes away.
  • Persistent coyotes can be removed. I asked a local trapper to deal with our problem. Five days later she stopped in to show me the first coyote she trapped. Problem solved.
  • In my state, predators may be shot if they’re caught in the act of harassing livestock. If I’d been able to catch the coyotes trying to get to the birds I could have shot it.

Living with a coyote or coyotes is a growing issue. Do what you can to avoid conflict and call a trapper or game warden when necessary.

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Mink, Two Dogs and a Fire Pit

Mink, Two Dogs and a Fire Pit

Mink, Two Dogs and a Fire Pit

What do you get when you combine a mink, two dogs and a fire pit? Chaos.

Zoey barked like a maniac. “Poor Ava, she doesn’t get a break…” Ava barked but not in the “rip your head off” tone Zoey has when she’s rough housing. I was on my way to the high tunnel to see if seeds were sprouting when Ava came barrelling at me in her timmy-fell-down-the-well urgency. At our house zoey’s-into-something is likely. Ava’s great at telling me when I need to deal with something and taking me to the problem. Realizing Zoey’s bark graduated from rough housing to ferocious, I picked up the pace. Ava raced between me and the fire pit where Zoey was having a major fit. Not once did the thought that they were trailing a mink cross my mind. I assumed snowshoe hare.

mink, wildlife, where do mink live, MaineOh the screaming! I could hear it a hundred feet away. Loud, raspy, desperate, pissed off. A raccoon? No, not pissed off enough. If you’ve ever heard them you know what I mean. They make one of the worst noises in the forest when they’re fighting and this was bad but not that bad. A baby raccoon? It’s too early. Possum? They haven’t come out this far yet and besides, I’ve never heard an angry possum so what do I know. I still wasn’t thinking about a mink but an ermine did come to mind.

Zoey was outside the fire pit still barking like a maniac while Ava stood in the opening, tipping her head back and forth. A mink. Wow can that little critter make a big racket. It screeched a few more times after I arrived then seemed to understand I had control of the situation. When I left to get Steve and the camera the screeching started again. I didn’t make Zoey stop barking and I knew it was unlikely she could get to it in the boulders. Minks kill birds. It has no business being that close to the hen house so the more uncomfortable the dogs could make it the better.

I snapped a few photos and hauled Zoey away by the collar. That girl’s determined. She’s a good guardian. She’s going to be one of those dogs that gets sprayed by skunks multiple times a year and keeps going back. We were 20 feet from the fire pit before her will to disobey broke and she came to the house without a firm voice guiding her. Guiding is a nice word for demanding.

mink, dogs, wildlife, Maine

mink, fire pit, dogs, do minks kill ducks