The pandemic and consequential change in people's shopping habits have made some things harder to come by. In my case, I need eggs. The hen turkeys only lay 20 or so a season. And now it's only hen turkey - singular: the Christmas Dinner turkey that Mike pardoned a couple of years ago died from old age. She was a monstrous lump of meat on legs but I'm glad she got to see out a few more Christmases. Her passing halved my already measly egg rations.
A neighbour decided he had far too many chickens and was happy for me to take a couple. Just bog-standard brown layers, perfect little egg production machines. I figured that I could just pop them in the turkey house alongside the two remaining turkeys, and await my fresh eggs.
By the time I'd finished my morning coffee, both chickens had got out and were exploring their new orchard paddock, totally unconcerned. I was concerned because they hadn't been here long enough to know where home is and where to go to bed. They're laid back so I thought I'd catch them up and rethink the housing situation.
Before I had a chance to do that, one of the chickens must have explored too close to the dog kennels. When I came back outside I heard very distressed chicken groans and saw brown feathers blowing around all the kennels.
I traced the poor hen to the spaniel kennel where she was pinned under Biscuit, who thought it was a great game making her new "toy" squeak.
I rescued the hen from Biscuit's unwanted attentions. The hen had a large tear in the skin over her tail - probably where a dog got hold of her and pulled her through the kennel bars. A few gnaw marks on the neck too. I resigned myself to losing her from the stress of the attack. Her wound was pretty significant too. God knows what internal damage there could be.
I cleaned and dressed her wound with that universal antidote - Blue Spray. I had no materials left with which I could quickly knock up a chicken house. But I did have a big fox cage. I covered the bottom of the cage with straw and made a little chicken recuperation bed out of a plastic tray, lots more straw, and food and water within reach of the patient.
It seemed perverse to house the chickens, even temporarily, in a cage meant to trap a fox. In there they seemed more like bait than pets. In this case, the cage was closed and kept them safe from fox (and spaniel) harm.
The injured chicken sat in her bed, feathers rumped up and eyes half-closed for the rest of the day. By morning, she was moving about and had laid an egg! Not only did she shake off the stress, she popped out a perfectly fine egg. I thought "this is one tough broad", so I gave her a suitable name: Chook Norris.
I've marginally upgraded their living accommodation from the fox cage to the small silver trailer (the trailer that is also the occasional sheep hospital, pig transport, and now Chicken Shed). They have more space, and better protection from the elements. It's not a perfect set-up. I have to use a plastic garden rake to roll the freshly laid eggs from their nest to the trailer door every morning.
Shortly after their relocation to the trailer, the eggs went missing. Every day. I watched until I saw a crow go in through the ventilation gap of the trailer and help itself to MY eggs! Believing that I was smarter than a crow, I started getting up earlier to beat the crow to the eggs. Within two days the crow adapted to showing up before me again. I think it recognised the sound of my back door opening.
It seems I'm not smarter than a crow.
However, I have opposable thumbs and access to a crow trap. The first morning I set it, I caught two pairs, and now my eggs are waiting for me every morning, even when I'm late with my plastic rake to go and collect them.
Crows can be a problem when it comes to sheep too. They will eat the eyes and tongue out of lambs, or sheep that have got cast on their backs and can't get up. My Dorset tup Aled has a touch of fly strike on his head. Flies find a damp patch and lay their eggs, and the maggots eat into the sheep's skin. It's really gross. I treated Aled with a proprietary fly killer, but he was still feeling a bit sorry for himself.
I went to check on him later in the afternoon, just to see how he was faring after treatment. As I drove up to the paddock, I saw Aled lying flat on his side. This is not a good sign. Sheep don't normally lay out like that. A crow was hopping nearby Aled. A doubly bad sign. Even crows recognise the usual pose of a sheep on its side as a dead sheep.
I hopped the fence, my heart sinking as I thought that I would have to call the knackerman to come get him and it's another bill for the farm, etc. At which point, my ram raised up his head and looked at me.
Phew. What a relief.
It was the outcome I was hoping for, though not the one the crow wanted. It took flight and curled away to go check other fields for an easy meal. I felt a bit smug at winning this battle, but quickly remembered how many others I've lost to predators and was instantly humbled.