Dark Times

As the days grow dark and cold, the aspen, birch and rowan trees slowly withdraw the energy from their leaves, in an act of surrender, taking it down into the ground to await the long winter. The spruces, however, stand strong, like an army before battle. Way above, flocks of geese fly in formation, heading for the sun.

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13th October

Like the trees, we too are preparing for the winter. Everything must be gathered, everything must be stored. Like a living being, the farm draws all energy to itself, into the heart, to keep it going over the cold months ahead. Vegetables have been harvested and stashed beneath the house. Firewood is steadly arriving in the farmyard, to be stacked in the woodshed. The grain is still waiting to be tucked inside the barn. The animals reluctantly nibble the now fading grass. The sheep come and go, bells ringing, busily seeking anything green. The chickens, they cluck nervously to each other in the barn, for they have known fear. One morning, when I was making breakfast, two woofers came to me with worried faces. “There are dead chickens.” We went to take a look and walked into the chicken house to find chickens strewn about the floor. The survivors shuffled on their perches, too scared to come down. Judging by the feathers everywhere, there had obviously been a struggle. Several of the dead chickens were missing their head, and of one, only the skin remained. One was still alive, she had clearly been attacked but wasn’t in a critical state. We did a quick count- 5..6..7…more than 10 dead. We discussed the possibilities- Fox? maybe. Badger? probably. Lynx? Surely not. After breakfast we moved the survivors down into the outdoor pen with the older hens, and collected the dead. One was missing. We counted our losses, and went about our daily tasks, comforted that at least now the chickens were safe. How wrong we were. The following day three hens were found dead in the coop. The predator had come during the day. It had obviously tried to drag it’s kill away, but couldn’t get over the fence, so had made a small hole (in a metal wire fence) and tried to drag one of the chickens through. It had failed, so just ate as much as it could, leaving the maimed carcass wedged into the hole. I was baffled, as I was sure a fox could have easily jumped the fence with a chicken in it’s mouth. Confused, shocked, and worried for the safety of the rest, we herded them into the small chicken house (a different one) where we were sure they’re be safe. There was no way a fox or a badger could get in there. The following morning, we were greeted with horror once again. There were fifteen dead chickens inside the house. It was only then we began to understand what we were dealing with. It certainly wasn’t a fox, or a badger. It was something smaller, but no less of a killer. I tried to imagine a predator smaller than a fox, that could have squeezed through the small gap in the door. My mental picture slowly formed into some kind of weasel-like creature. We moved to the remaining chickens to the safety of their winter quarters, which is inside the old log-built barn. We did some research on small predators and the final suspects were stoat or pine-marten. The following morning I was up early to milk Hornfagr, and heard a strange noise outside. I rushed out and listened, and quickly realised it was a screaming chicken. The noise was coming from the stream, so I ran into the darkness, towards the sound. Getting closer, I crept through the trees looking for the source of the noise. Finally I saw it. Next to the stream, up in a tree, a savage fight was taking place. The light I had was faint, but I could see a white chicken struggling with a small, dark, almost snake-like animal. Surprisingly strong for it’s size, it was dragging the screaming chicken down the tree, with the poor bird thrashing for it’s life. Shocked, slightly scared, and not sure whether or not this was a dream, I ran back to the house to get Dan. When we returned, the beast and it’s prey were gone. Fortunately, that was the last chicken to be taken.  I’m still not completely sure what it was that I saw that morning, but we think it was a pine marten. There is still one hen that is roaming free, and we can’t catch her- she has developed impressive flying abilities, and runs away if she even sees us. The chicken that survived the first attack didn’t walk for several days but has now recovered. We will keep the chickens indoors for the rest of the year now. It’s a shame that they can’t roam free anymore but it’s just too risky. We hope that by spring the predator will have moved on…

 

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