Hired Goons: Protecting My Backyard Chickens from Hawks in the Most Organic Way Ever. An Army of Crows.

Have you ever stepped out into your yard to admire your flock while sipping the morning coffee and scratching your butt only to hear that death scream from above and see a fattened hawk circling upon high? Your mind races as you try to figure out what you can do to protect your chickens while still observing state laws protecting these majestic raptors.

It was just such a scenario that took away my most prized and eldest hen, Piper the Silkie.

We got that forever love girl.

Something I still get sad about to this day. It was her passing that inspired me to find a way to once and for all find a solution to the death from above scenario.

is that Yanni?

Then one day as I was walking through Balboa Park I heard a kerfuffle above the trees a little ways off. There was a muster of crows (a muster mind you, not a murder. That would’ve been crazy) and they were repeatedly dive-bombing a dark form at the top of a tree. As I approached I could make out that there was a large something at the top that was most definitely their target. They chattered and cussed at this blob of brown as they swooped and barrel rolled in some ancient symphony of purposeful movements.

Then the brown something exploded in a smattering of wings, feathers and razor talons. It was a huge Redtail Hawk! The crows seemed dwarfed in size compared to this beast rising from the canopy like a phoenix from the ashes. The hawk headed in my direction in a low-angled dive trying desperately to get away from this mob of crows. And as she raced away, the crows followed in a dance of targeted rage. Dive-bombing one after the other. I could make out large tail feathers being plucked and gently wafting down to the ground as she pumped her wings faster and faster. It was truly a spectacle to witness.

It also gave me an idea. What if I began leaving out treats for my local crows to keep their watchful eyes ever upon my backyard!? They’ll likely begin nesting nearby to a good food and water source and may even begin to trust this fuzzy lumbering bald ape-thing. So I began setting out peanuts and various fatty nuts in a little tray on top of a dormant water fountain.

It took about two days before I began seeing an empty tray in the backyard. After that, the tray would be emptied within the hour. I sometimes wouldn’t fill it up fast enough and the unseen diners would knock the tray over like so many mysterious Karens wishing to speak to secret managers. But were these the crows I was seeking? I had no way of knowing because they were rather crafty and would only strike if I was long gone.

So I set up a video camera to try to confirm I was actually building my crow army after all. Here’s a few videos from my little experiment.

So I was indeed well underway to establishing my sweet crow army after all!! I began dreaming of the inevitable future of me perched upon the roof of my house in billowing wizard robes as hundreds of crows circled my upstretched arms in a cacophony of exultation and praise. All would fear and love me. Mwahahaha!!! Oh, sorry. Got carried away again.

About a month after this I was able to see the fruits of my labors. From inside my lil happy home I heard the distant scream of a hawk. I quickly ran outside to make sure it wasn’t my sweet hens the beast was circling above. I peered towards the heavens using my hand as a shield from the intense California sun. Hawks have a way of using the sun as a visual blocker from their prey before the attack. Clever beasts.

By the time I was able to see the intruder, there was a second cry from above. And then another. And another. Four smaller black silhouettes appeared in the distance. My eyes strained against the bright morning sky. It was my army!! Death from above was replaced with caws and chattering of four enraged hired goons!! The hawk immediately made a bee line away from my now protected lands! And again, small patches of feathers began gently raining down to earth as the crows literally began nipping my problems in the bud.

Talk about legal and organic pest management! And they literally work for peanuts! So, dear gentle reader, if you’ve come here for tips on protecting your flock, look no further than you own personal crow army.

The next year and change I spent trying my damnedest to provide you with actual video of this action. It’s always either been too far away to film, or I haven’t had a camera ready when the attacks happen. I couldn’t really write this post until I had SOME kind of video and I didn’t want to use someone else’s video either. Well, the other day finally provided me the opportunity to capture this miracle of backyard flock protection in action. Observe.

My local tribe has even occasionally followed my car when running local errands. It’s not love though, they only want an explanation as to why the hairless ape thinks he can stop placing peanuts upon the alter. They yell at me a lot too.

After almost a year and a half, I am no closer to my rooftop wizardry dream. I blame the out-of-town work load.

However, the hawks in my neighborhood are now nervous and jittery. Always looking over their shoulder and quivering in fear in dark nests as they try to sleep with an empty and chicken-free stomach. In the quiet of the night, you can barely make out the sounds of their tired weeping. Piper will not have died in vain.

And when she leaves her nest in the morning, if she dare come to my hen house, dark silhouettes will appear above her. First one or two. Then many. Blocking out the very sun on a wind of caws and beaky vengeance. The Mind Your Dirt Goon Squad. Working for peanuts.

Post post script:

You may have been wondering what the hell I’ve been up to this past year. Or maybe you’ve simply forgotten me altogether. This pandemic year has been such an amazing personal journey for me. I spent the beginning of it just hunkering down, and like so many of you, began learning how to bake sourdough bread. And then eating all my bread. I got fat and happy real quick. Having nothing to do for the first time since I was a little kid on summer vacation was possibly one of the best experiences of my life. In lieu of fear and panic, I decided to simply breathe and reflect. Having nothing to do for so long was EXACTLY how I imagined it would be all those years of morning alarms ripping me away from pleasant dreams. I just existed.

The weird thing was, I did SO MUCH in that backyard. I had about 500 posts to share in my head, but my soul just wanted to live in the moment and not stop to document it. Does that make sense? It was part of some weird therapy that had my heart singing for months and months. I woke up as excited as I ever get for no reason whatsoever. Just another day to do whatever the hell I wanted. So I grew my own wheat and watched turn golden brown. I shared the harvest with local birds and hand-ground the rest with rocks from the yard. I used my sourdough starter, aptly named Pam Demic, with the fresh flour and made some of the tastiest breads and hot pretzels ever.

I also FINALLY installed this turn of the century lamp post from the Panama-California Exposition that has been sitting back there waiting for years…

I’ve since added a cool hand-formed cement wall around the banana trees that meets up with the lamp post base. Has a slight Suessian vibe to it. As well as a strong CS Lewis vibe when you’re walking my garden paths and stumble upon this out of place lamp. No Turkish Delight though.

And my yard, my critters and house and soul were all singing.

The only real issue was that I had JUST started my own business. Contracting with museums is all well and good until they all shut down indefinitely due to the Covid19 pandemic. Yet, my soul was singing.

And then the phone began ringing. A lot.

The last year has been a whirlwind of traveling and billable hours. I’ve been working in Hollywood since October building mounts for The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. I can’t talk too much about this project until the exhibition opens unfortunately. But believe me when I say the collection is a movie nerd’s wet dream! I’ve been HEAVILY geeking out every single day since October. Keep an eye on my business social media for details when I can release them…www.sparkandanvil.com or @sparkandanvil.

I then drive down in my free time to tend to my garden and hens. Which have all been thriving since all those months of attention in the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve been super busy, yet full of so much energy and enthusiasm. I think I really just needed that total disconnection in the beginning of the year. It has seemed to reset something in my mind.

My only regret is that I all but abandoned my near decade-long Mind Your Dirt therapy session blog project. I abandoned you. Dear and precious reader. To the wolves of uncertainty in a world seemingly gone mad. And I did it JUST when you all needed content like this the most as you are walled into your homes. We should’ve been breaking bread together and laughing and sharing. I will say this though, there is still no email or comment unanswered on this entire website. Or on the MYD social media platforms.

I will ALWAYS be here for anyone, anytime.

So drop me a line or a comment and let me know how you’re doing! What you’re growing or crafting. Who in your house is driving you crazy? Anything. Until then, I will continue striving for awesome and nuzzling all the critters. No big whoop.

Welcome to the World Knuckles! See her hatch below…

Spring has brought an unplanned addition to the Mind Your Dirt farms. Last month, I borrowed my neighbors rooster to see if I could breed some of my more productive egg layers. I gave him two weeks with my harem of special ladies to work his magic.

With such a handsome boy, I thought it would be a simple task. But try as he might, and try he did, none of the hens were having his macho bullshit and posturing. All except for one. His sister Violet!

This unnatural coupling was very troubling for me and my rigid morals and world view. I did my best to sway them away from such sin, but to no avail. I finally had to remove him as he was really torturing all the other hens for not putting out and things got bloody with one of my girls! I had enough of the violence and was feeling like I was running some sort of a terrible sex slave trade. I ran into the run and he and I battled. All the girls, save Violet were hiding behind me while he and I sized each other up.

After some bites and cuts, I was able to get a hold of this brute. Back to the neighbors with you sir! While you’re there, I suggest you learn how a gentleman should behave amongst such high caliber ladies. #henstoo

I then set out to incubate all the eggs that followed. Out of the 30+ I tried incubating, the only ones that were fertile were Violet’s eggs. Just my luck, the one breed I didn’t want to hatch was the only one that would. English game hens are cool and all, but not much on the egg laying tip. So it goes.

Below is the incubator I’m testing out. It works great for a little hobby setup and turns the eggs automatically. It also has an “eggy” design that I kinda dig. Very groovy and far out. man.

After so many infertile eggs, I decided to allow one of Violet’s eggs to fully incubate. She was growing broody and motherly so I felt bad for her. Well, last Saturday, that egg has hatched! The process took most of the day so I set up my little viewing station and waited.

Hatching viewing station alpha

I’ve never hatched my own eggs before so I was curious if there would be any imprinting happening if I’m the first thing she sees. Imagine your very first sight being a drooling giggling idiot ape! Poor girl.

Gah!! Take it away!

The moment of truth, and the reason for this post, was when she finally struggled to break free of her tiny eggy prison. I was able to get a really lovely little video of it and I wanted to share with you good and noble folk. So without further adieu I present to you, the birth of Knuckles the English Game Hen…

Knuckles big debut!

Sorry about my stupid and sappy commentary. I was admittedly overly-moved by the whole experience as I have a rather mooshy core. But I was right about the imprinting! Knuckles and I are like peas and carrots already. I have her in my home made brooder now and she is all poofy and clumsy and adorable and perfect.

It seems like she won’t sleep until I put my hand inside the brooder. The she floops on over and nuzzles into my fingers before totally blacking out. Then I sit there for far too long afraid to move an inch and disturb her little nap. It’s all rather ridiculous. She even comes running up to the edge when Sasha comes in for a visit. This little poofball is all love.

Home made brooder with a view
Learning to walk

She had a hard time learning to walk. She kept on falling back on her bottom in the most adorable way. Her right foot had some issues with all her toes curling in an unnatural manner. I found this on Pinterest and am giving it a go. Toes crossed it works.

Baby chick shoes!

Now it looks like she has one flipper on as she pads around the brooder.

Learning to drink

There will undoubtedly be many many videos and photos coming up on the social medias, so be sure to check in on the regular! She’s also beginning the habit of trying to wiggle her way into my beard for safety and comfort. I’m trying to capture that on video but it’s not easy juggling so much clumsy cuteness. It’ll happen though. Until then, take it all in!

Putting the baby down for the night
Bedtime for Knuckles
My eventual future…

Guinea Fowl Suck: The Foulest Fowl that ever Fouled.


Intro:

“Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.”

-William S. Burroughs (an excerpt from Thanksgiving Prayer)

Some other possible titles for this post were:

When Life Punches You in the Taint… or

My World of Shit

After I slept on it, I decided that I should perhaps be a little more cheerful. God knows that this country has had quite enough shock, disappointment and all around shabbiness lately. Enough to last a lifetime. And I still refuse to wax political here even in the face of all this. Mind Your Dirt should be a safe place. So I’ll ignore the very real possibility that all the environmental progress we’ve made (what little there was) is now going to fall apart and unravel like a cheap cable-knit sweater while Muslim-Americans are goose-stepped into massive interment camps. I digress.


Aside:

Oh you sweet and beautiful reader. My rock. My everything. I’ve missed you all so tremendously. As for you, you most likely fall under one of two categories. Either you’ve missed me every day while you sat by your computer waiting with baited breath for words of merriment and mirth or snapshots of fuzzy-butted chicken cuteness; or you didn’t even notice I was away for so long. Almost two months actually.

If you fall under the former category, allow me to explain a little. If you fall under the latter, kindly kiss my entire ass.

October rang in the third year of Mind Your Dirt. Did you get me anything? No, that’s okay. I didn’t get me anything either. What I did receive was only what I can describe as a shit-storm of wants and woes. While still recovering from my werewolf bite (my dog bite got upgraded since we last spoke), my car decided to kick me while I was down with a slew of visits to the mechanics that are still going on.

Then, I broke up with my girlfriend of five years. Which I really wanted to talk to you about, but then my laptop decided to commit suicide and I was simply of the mindset to say fuck it all. So I did in many ways. I unplugged from Mind Your Dirt because I couldn’t find much inspiration to write (or a laptop to write with even if I could) nor inspiration to work in the garden. Which was getting its ass kicked by the summer heat and drought anyways.

So please bear with me while I vent and gather what’s left of my strength and carry on. My laptop now has a brand new hard drive and is slowly being rebuilt with programs and such. I find myself well into my 42nd year of life and am thrown back into the dating pool kicking and screaming. Commercials and every song on the radio make me cry now as well, so that’s pretty sweet. I’m so grateful that I’m truly in touch with all my feelings and have been using these cathartic moments to bolster my soul. But, damn, I do miss my baby girl. I thought for sure that she was The One, you dig? But the decision was the right one to make and I am good at adapting and adopting. Shit, I said I wasn’t going to write about this. Oh well, you all know by now that my life is an open book. So here I am all raw and exposed for the world to see.

So, I’m here to say that I’m back, I’m resigned. I’d also like to say that in no time in the last couple months have I lost my cool or diminished my smile. Like all great tests in life, I know that this all will pass and there’s no justification for being grumpy or short-tempered with people. I’m soldiering on and taking it all in stride.


The Meat:

But that’s not what I’m hear to tell you about. I’m here to report on the recent release of my four guinea fowl into my urban oasis. In doing so, I feel like those before me that accidentally introduced an invasive species into a balanced ecosystem. Probably the way they felt with the cane toads in Australia. I’ve made a huge mistake.

They have been a loud and destructive force in the yard for the last month. Eating plants and tearing up every bed and path I’ve so carefully crafted over the past four years. Every time I went out into the back yard to try to find some motivation, it would always end up the same way. I’d discover some new destruction or a fresh pile of guinea shit to step in and I’d just stop and stare at these ugly bastards with only one thought in my head.

“How to kill them?!”

They must be able to sense this, because they typically follow me all over the place waiting for a handout of some kind. But when I begin to go over the practical steps needed for their destruction, cleaning, and cooking they tend to back away slowly. Which is wise, because I WILL be killing them shortly.

guinea-fowl-up-on-the-roof

Continue reading “Guinea Fowl Suck: The Foulest Fowl that ever Fouled.”