Living on a farm in a rural area surrounded by raw natural land means at least one thing – we have front row tickets to the ebb and flow of the food chain. On almost a daily basis we see the life and death struggle all around us. And truth be told, we are glad that our kids have the chance to see this in real life and not through the two dimensional world that is the television. Now I’m not saying that it’s like living on the Serengeti Plains in Africa. We aren’t witness to a pride of lions taking down a Cape Buffalo, but we do get to watch nature’s fight. We have learned to respect this struggle no matter how frustrating.
One thing I can’t respect though is a snake in the chicken coop. No this isn’t an idiom, this is literal. A couple weeks ago we were getting ready to give a homeschooling group a tour of the farm. As I was feeding our chickens and turkeys my dog Ramadi – a Texas Blue Lacy – started barking at something in the grass in one of our pastures. It was one of his “danger!” barks as opposed to a “look there’s a deer!” bark, or “squirrel!” bark, or my favorite…“I’m scared of thunder even though I’m a tough-guy dog that tracks deer, eat squirrels and chases down wild hogs” whimper. Any who, I walk over to see what Ramadi was barking at. Low and behold, there in the green grass is a four-and-a-half foot long rat snake. As my “tough-guy” dog was going crazy, I noticed that this snake looked rather odd. Yes, I know snakes aren’t supposed to have arms or legs. This snake looked cartoonish – almost like a balloon animal. Oh, and this serpent was sluggishly moving away from….my chicken yard. DANG-IT! (sigh) Realizing that this snake had swallowed about five chicken eggs, I quickly dispatched her with a loving nudge to the head with a large stick. Not to mention, these eggs came from a clutch of eggs that a broody hen had been sitting on for 2 weeks – ugh! The cartoonish look was because the snake had swallowed the eggs whole. She was so full of eggs that when I swatted her scaly head, yoke came out.
Of course this isn’t the only example of how the food chain works around here. A few months back we had two young hens and two young turkeys called poults. I built a special pen/coop for them with chicken wire and tin siding to keep them “safe” from predators (owls, hawks, racoons, coyotes, snakes, bobcats, foxes….my dog). The two young turkeys kept getting out – before long we were down two little chicks. Two weeks later one of the young hens got snatched at night by an owl, which left us with one.
Let me tell you about these owls. They aren’t fluffy little things. No, these are the Great Horned Owls with a wingspan of up to five feet and talons like a T-rex. Originally these raptors were called “winged tiger” and “tiger of the air.” About two years ago, I was deer hunting here when we still lived in the suburbs. I inserted into my hunting blind – a spot at the base of a tree surrounded by Yaupon bushes – in the dark in order to wait for the sun to rise. As I sat there I could see the silhouette of a big bird flying around in the early morning twilight. As I was admiring this thing, it dipped it’s wing and came right at me. At first it was really awesome to watch but it kept getting closer and closer. Before I knew it, this owl was almost on top of me. I freaked. Here I was, some former marine that had “been there done that” flailing his arms about like a little girl (sigh, and maybe even let out a squeal) – not my proudest moment.
These examples, while amusing, are still serious business for the predator, the prey and the peanut gallery, whom on occasion, might suffer some collateral damage.