Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Special from Valhalla Part 3

Thanksgiving Essays – part 3

Turkeys as companion birds, check. Turkeys as food birds. Check. In helps to remind that while were talking turkey here in keeping with the spirit of the season, that these thoughts pertain to all of the birds here at Valhalla. We don’t want midnight visits from the chickens and ducks that might have felt slighted.

Yesterday when I glanced out to the high ground behind the main house I noticed a turkey hen quietly walking along, casually picking here and there at the ground. It took a moment to realize that this wasn’t one of our gang, but a wild bird crossing through the area looking for mast. With a combination of primarily hardwoods on the property we tend to be loaded in the fall with acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts scattered about. Prime grazing for our birds as well as the wild flocks that occasionally drift over the farm.

Life is short, so this is a cut-and-paste from our
November 9th Facebook entry:

Terror attack last night at Valhalla, and a very loud
reminder that "Free-Ranging ISN'T Free." Just about
every Soldier, Marine, and post-9/11 veteran who
has spent time here anytime since last spring will
certainly remember Speckles, the most friendly and
curious turkey hen on this property. She's still alive
as of this writing but remains in severe shock and
pretty much shredded after an apparent owl attack
that took place sometime before dawn this morning.
We have no idea why she didn't show up to dinner or
go to bed inside the safety of the Quonsets with all
her buddies last night as usual, but from the
widespread locations of the clumps of her feathers it
seems clear that she was hit down by Valkyrie's Villa
in the garden first, then hit probably from above
again three or four times again before finally making
it over the orchard fence to Hospital Row. Gordon
found Speckles crammed between the units there
right outside BlineGai's apartment; she collapsed into
his arms and he quickly rushed her off to Goat Manor
and treated her wounds with first aid spray. She was
doing alright after he let her go but then the rest of her
own flock saw the blood a little while later and attacked
(birds will do this to any of their own wounded -- rotten
bastards aren't human, after all). I ran over and poor
beat-up Speckles ran to hide behind me, I scooped her
up and threw her to safety inside an empty Quonset unit
up by the Ram Cabana yard. 
Unfortunately wild turkeys, red and gray squirrels, and rabbits are not the only creatures that come to Valhalla looking for a meal. (And, no, I’m not referring to the bunch of Cav guys who came here with massive appetites!) On the grim side we also play reluctant host to a wide variety of native predatory animals who find that domestic birds are tasty and easy prey.

Since we established Valhalla we have been visited by puma, bobcat, raccoon (the worst predator), opossum, skunk, foxes, and owls. Fortunately the lion was simply movin’ down the road and frightened a visitor who stumbled across it, but did no harm. All of the others have struck, some many times.

Chris’s point of view is that we have 200 acres of which less than 3 acres are currently used by humans and domestic poultry and livestock. With 197 acres of their own plus neighbors’ land to roam, any predator we catch invading thereby becomes a target. Before we received our Great Pyrenees dog, Sadie, every night presented a target-rich environment.

Prior to Sadie’s joining us, courtesy of Kenn and his wife Janet, it was an all-to-frequent occurrence for Chris to be startled out of a sound sleep by me leaping
from bed at the sound of something raiding one of the poultry houses. She claimed that it was not amusing for her to see me clad exclusively in T shirt and Crocs with a spotlight in one hand and the nearest firearm in the other blasting away at evil eyes glowing in the dark. If it wasn’t funny then why does she collapse with laughter every time she relates the story?

Florence the chicken following a predator
attack that occurred in broad daylight just
before evening chores. The cotton pad shown
here covered a very deep 3" wound -- we
think she was hit by a fox before Sadie
interrupted and chased (or ate) whatever it
was away just in the nick of time. Florence
stood tough and took the pain when we cleaned
her up, and later recovered completely despite
huge scars that can still be observed under
her wings to this day. She was very lucky.
Every homestead will lose some free-ranging
farm animals to wild predators on a regular
basis (even with livestock protection dogs
dogs alert and on duty). Even so, this reality
is worth the price of having birds and animals
allowed to run completely free during the day.
Anyway Sadie, and later Inga, Valhalla’s Akbash guard dog, acquired when we got our first group of sheep from a farmer in southern Missouri, have kept the place relatively predator-free for recent months.

While laughing at my performances, the reality is that predators attacking domestic poultry is not amusing. In their world a quick, painless kill is rare. More often raccoon hands reach through mesh wire to grab sleeping birds and rip chunks out of them. Finding suffering birds the next morning and having to put them down because of horrific injuries makes for an itchy trigger finger when a picture of Rocky Raccoon pops up.

Nor are we a fan of what is billed as “catch and release.” Some nearby residents will catch offending predators in live traps, drive them a few miles away, and release them “back into the wild.” They feel good about it. I don’t.

Maybe that few miles means they are now in Valhalla’s backyard. Perhaps the cuddly little critters will produce offspring that will raid and maim and kill our birds. Here we do use live traps around the bird houses (anything other is too dangerous to our own animals) but if captured they are “released” into raccoon or possum heaven.

They are dispatched quickly and humanely which is a better deal than they offer our ducks, chickens, and turkeys.

Sadie, Valhalla's roaming Great
Pyrenees who protects all domestic birds
and farm animals on the property after dark.

On a considerably more pleasant note, having Sadie and Inga around has dropped our night time stress levels considerably. Plus they are two of the friendliest animals you can imagine. When you come to Valhalla Sadie will bark at your arrival, remain distant for a few minutes while she sizes you up, then sidle over and nudge you to get petted. Ignore it and you’ll find a big paw petting you, in the instance that she judges you too obtuse to understand plain canine.

So in the season that emphasizes thankfulness and gratitude – two exemplary virtues that we strive for but rarely achieve to sufficient degree – it’s nice to step back and see what gratitude feels and looks like. If behavior alone is an indicator then clearly our varied collection of poultry and livestock are grateful for their time here. Anyone who may think that these guys cannot express happiness need but spend a few hours among them to dispel that notion.

Inga protecting Valhalla's goats while at the
same time wondering about some very unusual
"Frost Flowers" just outside the fence line,
November 2014. The flowers didn't move,
so in the end Inga decided not to kill them.
In turn we are extraordinarily grateful for them. They sacrifice themselves to keep us healthy and provide endless amusement (ever watch a pack of crazed ducks boil out of their house in the morning quacking irrationally in their frenzy to get to the grain? You don’t want to be in their path!) and they are amazing de-stressors for us and our Valhallans.

Every vet who spends even a brief time at Valhalla Project will chuckle at whimsical memories of the birds and animals that are integral to life here. Some will bond with one species or another, maybe picking up a special relationship with a particular critter.

So as we rapidly approach Thanksgiving we want to express our deepest gratitude to those who have supported Valhalla Project over the past few years and for the many veteran Valhalla participants who have enriched our lives with they stay here.

Happy Thanksgiving! -- Gordon

* * *

The Valhalla Project needs your help and support
We need YOUR help to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently - while at the same time expanding vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat veterans and war zone civilian workers to transition back into the civilian world. 

The Valhalla Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity recognized by the IRS.
Nobody, including cadre or board members, draws a paycheck here, nor will they ever: 
we simply give everything we have to make Valhalla possible. 

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