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Friday, July 26, 2013

Pheasant stealer on the loose.

We keep losing pheasants. Now, pheasants are fussy little critters to begin with. When you get them, they are each about the size of a loonie. You put them in a coop full of hay and they immediately burrow underneath the bedding, where they are in danger of getting stepped on. So you make them a smaller, contained unit and as they grow you expand its borders. You also have to make sure to keep their coop draft-free. Hang blankets in the windows for the first few weeks to cover the cracks, at least until warmer spring weather arrives. After a couple of seasons raising pheasants, we have figured out how to keep them alive. For the most part.

We have chicken wire in the corners of the log-barn chicken coop, to keep the feathered creatures in and the furry creatures out. But somewhere on our farm, there is a little Houdini pheasant-stealer. We have no idea how he is getting in – or getting the pheasants out. He must be shimmying down a wire from the ceiling and then shimmying back up again, pheasants in hand and mouth. He leaves no trace. The numbers just keep dwindling. We started with about 50 chicks when we started in early spring, I think. Now we are down to just 7.

On occasion, we catch thieves in the act of stealing turkeys and chickens from the bigger pen, which is wide open to the rest of the barn. The selected snacks are found in the aisle, sometimes with marks on them, as someone removed them none-too-gently from the safety of their pens. These birds, though saved from death because they are just too awkward to carry, have to be quarantined from the other birds until their wounds heal, or they might get attacked and killed by their own kind, in a weird survival-of-the-fittest practice.

I don’t have much to do with the birds on our farm. I find them smelly, and the chickens like to peck my ankles. I don’t mind the turkeys – they are polite and quite sociable. I am sorry to hear the pheasants are disappearing but I am even less likely to head into their coop to check on them now, for fear of encountering a murder scene or some scary biting weasel-like creature.

The Farmer has seen skunks and raccoons in the barn in the past, but they are usually pretty easy to spot. Whoever has been stealing our pheasants is much more elusive. At first, the blame was being directed at my colony of barn cats. They get a big scoop of food to share each day and they certainly aren’t starving, but their food of choice is always fresh rodents around the farm. After all, that’s why we have barn cats. So that I don’t ever have to see a rat and the Farmer doesn’t have to come across one of those long slithery things that rhymes with ‘cake’.

I told the Farmer that my cats are not interested in chasing and killing his penned birds. They prefer a good chase on an equal playing field. It’s all about the hunt for them. Besides, if they had killed his birds, it is far more likely that the tiny little bird offerings would end up on my back porch, right beside my shoes, as trophies or offerings. I could tell the Farmer was considering this theory and coming to agreement with me. So if it wasn’t the barn cats, who was it?

Then one day the pheasant-stealer, like all criminals in the end, made a fatal mistake. He left a tiny tuft of black fur on some of the chicken wire. A-ha! It’s probably a skunk, albeit a scentless one. Usually we can track the comings and goings of skunks on the farm by following their distinctive perfume wafting through the air. This one seems to have learned to mask his odour somehow, at least while he is in the pheasant-stealing act.

And so my cats are off the hook. As I watch them wandering past the back porch on their way to the mouse-filled meadow, I mentally catalog their colours. Dilute calico orange, grey and white; grey tabby; brown tabby; white with grey spots. Not a black one in the bunch.


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