Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Predators and Protection Part One

Chickens aren't only tasty to us human folks. They are also irresistible to all sorts of predators that are lurking in every shadow and under every shrub on the farm. I have experienced first hand the heartache of losing a flock to gnashing teeth and sharp claws.
The main predators are (in no particular order)
mountain lions

     I am only really going to address the predators that I have had experience with or that live in our area. I'm sure there are many other wonderful blogs that discuss bears and mountain lions and psycho weasels. We live close to the coast on the Gulf of Mexico where there are NO weasels! The last time I saw a mountain lion was at the New Orleans Zoo. If I ever see a bear around here, you will know it because my screaming will be heard throughout the nation.
     My first chicken run was made the 'Snuffy Smith' way. It was just kind of thrown together with 3x2 wire, posts, zip ties and heavy gauge wire to use like bread ties to hold wire together. It worked quite well for a couple of years. Then, one morning, we found one of the 6 hens dead in the run. I thought that a hawk grabbed it through the wire and pulled its neck because the neck area was really torn up, and only one hen was dead. We looked over the run and could not find any issues. The next morning, we saw the same thing. We looked all over the run and couldn't find a problem. I had family members look everywhere too. We looked for hair caught in wire, scratch marks, disturbed dirt, etc.... nothing. I set up a trap inside the run and a game cam. This is what we found:

     We also finally found where the culprits were entering. Somehow, some of the wire had come apart where we had joined two pieces together. It was on top of a cross board and was not noticeable. We still can't believe the animals were able to find it, let alone wiggle themselves underneath it. But, I guess they have all night to figure out how to get in there. I was very upset with the whole ordeal. We razed the entire run and built a new and larger run with security in mind. I will be writing future blogs on our run project.

     One of the main predators of chickens that most people don't consider is the family dog and the roaming dog. We have had issues with packs of feral dogs in the past. Some of the other family members on the farm woke up one morning to a horrendous sight. Their beautiful flock of about 5 hens was completely destroyed. We knew it was a dog. Hair was found on parts of the wire run and there were prints in the dirt. They were also killed in a manner consistent with a dog, which is their backs were torn up. Dogs like to pin the chicken down and chew at them through the back and neck. The dog visited my coop and run as well, but he was not able to get my hens. I have seen dogs chew through hardware cloth. I have seen them chew right through chicken wire or poultry netting. On the coop, I have 3x2 wire and hardware cloth. The 3x2 wire is for dogs and raccoons, and the hardware cloth is to deter rodents and snakes from getting in and eating the eggs. The dog you see in the picture chewed through the hardware cloth. I wish that I had gotten a picture at the time, but I was not blogging then and didn't think about it! The bad boy below really tore up the outside of my coop. He scratched everywhere. I think this is the dog that also killed my brother's chickens. It is NOT our dog.

For a height reference, this was my horse, Jake. He passed away later that summer, unfortunately. He was quite old and was stricken with EPM. That's another story for another day. He is a tad over 15 hands, which makes him about 5 foot at the top of the wither. The dog was able to scratch up to about 6 feet high. He ripped the chicken wire at that height.

You might be able to see the dog scratches better in this photo. He scratched all along the sides, and as high as in between the top two vents.

So, the take away from this post is:
- Poultry netting and hardware cloth can be ripped apart by a dog and other larger predators
- use 3x2 wire to deter larger predators
- check for holes/gaps/loose areas in your run fencing

I'm going to be starting a series of posts documenting the building of a secure run. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Top Five Best Farm and Food Documentaries

      I am an avid watcher of documentaries. If they center around farming or agriculture, I'm especially interested. The majority of the food documentaries I find are on Netflix Watch it Instantly. They actually have quite a nice selection with different varities of nonfiction videos. I have had folks ask me what I reccommend. So, I thought I'd put out my top five favorites and then throw in some extra, "non-farmy" videos too.  My ratings are based on a few criteria and they are as follows:

          Cinematography (or how well the movie is ''photographed'')
          Pace (how the video moves along... are they dragging it out?)

1. Food, Inc.  ------------ Overall Best Documentary for a "beginner" 
Food, Inc. is a wonderful beginner's guide to having eyes opened about the current state of the food industry. It does not dive too deeply into political/social/cooperate issues. It introduces us to Joel Salatin who is one of the faces of the home farm movement. This is not a documentary for the well informed because you will not glean any new information.  However, I'm placing it at number one because it is a good, overall look at the issues faced with our food supply.... from cruelty to the farm animals to the big businesses behind the scenes. The cinematography is nice and the pace moves along nicely. Unfortunately, at my time of writing this post, Netflix does not have the watch it instantly feature available for Food, Inc.   
2. Farmageddon ----------- Best for showcasing plight of small farms
Farmageddon is a documentary that makes the big vein in the side of my neck bulge. It's a call to action and gets me fired up whenever I watch it. Your eyes will be opened to the ridiculous travesty of how small family farms are treated by the government. Big food cooperations are all about money, NOT food for health. The cinematography is pretty good and the pace is moves along nicely. This sits at number two because small scale farming is near and dear to my heart. The government control over small scale farmers is a HUGE issue. Farmers should not have to hide health sustaining crops in secrecy  for fear of ruin from the government.

3. Frankensteer ------------ Best for showcasing the beef industry
This is a must see for the meat eaters out there. Question: What percentage of the cows on an industrialized cow farm are fed antibiotics? You have to watch the documentary to find out. Follow the cattle industry to see how the animals are treated and how and what they are fed. This is a little more objective and allows both sides to speak. However, all of these food documentaries are biased towards eating cleanly, so it shouldn't be a surprise that your take away will be pro small farm. The cinematography was more journalistic in style and there's not much pretty scenery to look at. The pace is moderate. It sits at number three because I think it is important for meat eaters to know what they are eating, and this is an entire documentary dedicated to beef.

4. King Corn ------------ Best for showcasing the corn industry
King Corn was an enjoyable watch. It follows two young Bostonian males on a quest to plant and grow an acre of corn in corn country and then follow its plight in the American food industry. Although a little bit silly, it has some useful information. Corn is in almost everything. I especially liked the part of the film where they attempted to recreate high fructose corn syrup. Although they won't be winning any scientific accolades any time soon, it definitely made me stop and think about the nasty stuff that has oozed its way into every crevice of the food industry. It sits at number four because it was an enjoyable watch, and I no longer consume high fructose corn syrup because of it!

5. Ingredients ----------- Best cinematography
I love photography, and I enjoy watching some movies just for the scenery. This is a luscious documentary. Is it realistic? Maybe not as much as some of the other mainstream documentaries out there. Portions of it can come across as being a little bit pretentious. There is an introductory history lesson into the growth of the food industry in the US. The cinematography is top notch, the content is moderate and the pace is moderate to slow. It sits at number five because of the pretentious tendencies. I think small scale farming should be accessible to everyone from all demographics.

Some of the Food documentaries that I have seen that did not make it onto my Top Five List:

Forks Over Knives: boring, overly subjective without showing real science to back up claims

Hungry For Change: sensationalized. The first half was okay and then went downhill from there.

Food Matters: I'm a science person. This is supposed to be more of a science-based documentary. However, I found the information to be sensationalized, hand picked and very.... boring. I couldn't make it through the entire documentary.

Here are a few extra documentaries that I enjoyed watching: 

The Natural History of the Chicken
The Natural History of the Chicken is not what you think it would be. There is very little chicken history involved. This is more of a fun look at different chicken owners. It runs that gamut from a lady that bathes and diapers her pet chicken to a farm that free ranges and provides meat for their family. It's a cute little jaunt through crazy chicken territory.

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead
I found this video to be very thought provoking. Could I juice for 90 days... or 10 days? I doubt it. My body requires fiber. However, the journey that the two men in this video embarked on was refreshing to watch.

If you are ever in a down kind of mood, then check out this documentary. Whatever your circumstance, happiness can be found within yourself. Will more money make you happy? Will a bigger house make you happy? Travel along with folks from different walks of life and see for yourself.

I really can't tell you how many times I've watched this documentary. If you love horses, this is a must see. This story follows Buck across the country helping horses, yes, but he's really helping the people that own them. Horses are a mirror to our soul, and Buck has a good one. From a troubled childhood to raising a beautiful, happy family of his own, go see why he has become a true horsemen.