Bittersweet encounters with a magnificent creature

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My introduction to the Northern goshawk will never be forgotten. I arrived at the farm one morning, and instantly, as I glanced toward the chickens, a large accipiter cruised elegantly above the treeline of the autumn olives and plunged down effortlessly directly into the chicken area. Without a thought, I was off running, leaping over the fence to the rescue.  The large hawk had a hen pinned on the ground. A part of me hesitated. Do I allow this creature it’s meal? Do I save my hen? I continued forward, unsure, and the hawk released her and flew off as I approached. Tragedy averted. I was relieved, but I knew it would be back. I had just interfered with lunchtime.

Indeed, upon returning later in the day, the hawk was deep into a hearty chicken dinner. I carried the carcass to the top of the ridge, as an offering (and hopefully the last) to whatever powers that be – and to the hawk who I felt deserved to finish its meal. It returned within seconds. It had surely been watching my every move. I began planning for additional hawk protection. The half-covered in netting pasture area wasn’t cutting it. A few days later, another hen down. This one was fresh when I arrived, and being thanksgiving time, I took this one with me for dinner. The most delicious chicken I have ever tasted.

I’ve since lost a few more chickens and am working on solidifying a setup to keep them protected while allowing them some decent pasture. A tricky balance…

I didn’t realize at the time, but the Northern goshawk is a very rare visitor to our area – most birders have never seen one here. At first, I’d just assumed I had a Coopers hawk on my hands, but upon photographing, looking carefully at the photos and passing them along to some birder friends and colleagues, I had confirmation of a goshawk. I’ve spotted several predator hawk species and even bald eagles in the area, however, none have come close to posing a threat to the chickens. However, the goshawk is especially agile in thick woods, which serves as my main protection for the chickens, keeping the rest of the aerial predators at bay. Had this been ANY other species… Well, its not. Of all potential visitors to the farm, I get the goshawk.

As I welcome this opportunity to spend plenty of quality time with such a magnificent creature (i.e. 15 minutes just this afternoon sitting comfortably within 5 feet of the feasting beauty),  I have been forced to put my ego aside and alter my design for a chicken paddock system I was so proud to have created. This is just one of many humbling experiences continuing to enlighten my ever-evolving, co-creating relationship with the land.

The chicken or the egg

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What came first? The chicken or the egg? I’m not sure either… but meet the ladies! Day-old chicks arrived via USPS in May –  a small, peeping box of pure adorable-ness.

brooder-1It seemed as though you could see their growth daily. Plenty of fresh greens and veggies to supplement their diet, along with garlic and apple cider vinegar in their water weekly to boost their immune systems. I avoid vaccinations and medicated feeds.chick-forageAs soon as we had some warm days, the chicks were out foraging for the day.chick-lovin

A feathered friend.

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Finally, their house was completed and the chicks were soon to begin their new life at the farm.

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Moving day was a nice way to get to know the surprise rooster a little better.
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The move was a fun group effort.  
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I savored every moment.

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Fresh pasture – this couldn’t be a happier flock.
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Fishing net provided a initial attempt at protection from hawks.

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Caught in the act – dust bath. to-the-farm

Their forage area consists of diversity of vegetation: from open grassy areas to edges transitioning to dense shrub layers which provide some shade and protection from hawks.  fence-line-grass

Rotating their forage area allows them fresh forage. Here, you can see the contrast in vegetation cover where the fence line was set up.

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Chicken’s-eye view. 
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Visitor’s-eye view.

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And finally: eggs!

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