When the Unlikely Occurs

My chickens are free to roam the property and over the years my chicken population has waxed and waned depending upon the predators in the area. A couple of summers ago I finally finished the last of the perimeter fencing and my coyote sightings fell significantly (as did my chicken losses). However, a short while ago I started losing chickens again. The occasional loss is something I accept as a consequence of my choice to let my chickens range, but when I lost four chickens in one day it was apparent I had a serious problem with predators again.

A few days ago I had finished morning chores and was back in the house for another cup of coffee. I was sitting at the computer in the breakfast room which has windows to the east, south and west. The south view is of the horse corral and sheep and goat pens. Lately the chickens have taken to congregating under a tree between the greenhouse and the animal pens. The chickens suddenly started squawking and the dogs went ballistic. All of the animals, horse, sheep and goats. were bunched up in the center of their respective corral/pens which was unusual behavior. I jumped up and opened the door and Tuck and Kip went tearing out, along the side deck, and to the chicken coop behind the house. Unfortunately, the problem was actually straight ahead — as a large animal ran past and disappeared into the wooded area to the east. I only got a glimpse but my thought was that it was the biggest coyote I had seen to date and was in exceptional condition.

Later that same day, the sequence played out again. Only this time the animal ran from the south past the windows to the east so I got a much better look as it went by. My impression was that it was not a coyote but a wolf based on the size and the shape of the head and ears. I have not had a wolf (that I’m aware of) on my property since the very first year I was here but evidently some of the Mexican Grey Wolves which were re-introduced into New Mexico in 1998 have wandered to the very edges of their range. While I was trying to convince myself I had been wrong and it was just a very large, well fed coyote, based upon the local newspaper there have been four confirmed sightings of Mexican Grey Wolves between San Antonio and Sevilleta and I am about halfway between those two locations, so I am now reasonably sure it was indeed a wolf.

While this comparison doesn’t show it, there is a substantial size difference between the two and my unwanted visitor was much larger than the coyotes in my area which are generally in the 35-40 lb range.

The chickens have been cooped for the past few days and while the dogs have let me know the wolf has scoped out the chicken coop I haven’t seen it again myself. I am hopeful it will continue its journey on now that the ‘diner’ has been closed.

Unintended Consequences

The first year I was on the farm I put up a bird feeder. I stopped filling it once I realized that there were thistle seeds in most commercial bird feeds. Even now, years later, I sometimes run across this . . . .

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Camouflage

When I got home this evening, I saw a lizard on a rock which resides on the top of a gate post. By the time I got my phone camera up and running, it had disappeared. I went ahead and opened the gate and then looked over . . . .

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Letter to the Editor

An slightly abbreviated version of the below letter was sent to the El Defensor Chieftan, the local newspaper.

During the almost nine years I have lived in Socorro County I have found most of the people I have met and with whom I have done business and become friends, to be honest and helpful. Quite frankly, over these past years I have taken for granted that my neighbors, friends, and other members of the community are genuinely nice people.

However, the events of June 10th were a stark reminder of how lucky I am to live in a community where one can rely upon total strangers for help and assistance. As a resident of Escondida, I wanted to express my appreciation for all of the individuals who responded so promptly to the Escondida fire. The work and effort by the paid fire fighters to control the fire and protect property is greatly appreciated. However, the level of professionalism exhibited by the first responders, who were not paid fire fighters but who left their paying jobs to respond to the fire, needs to be recognized, not only by those of us who live in Escondida, but by others in Socorro County who may not realize how lucky they are to know and live among individuals who care so deeply about their community and people they may never have met.

I count moving to Socorro County one of the best decisions I have ever made and am very thankful for all of the friends I have made while living here. I am even more thankful that there are individuals I have never met who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to ensure my safety. I would like to express my personal thanks to everyone who responded to the Escondida fire and also thank everyone who has stepped up to help out a neighbor or a friend when a hand was needed.

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Bosque Fire

Google earth map of my location. In the upper right is my house – the dark roof next to the circular drive. My barn is to the left with a gray (almost looks blue) roof. What is labeled 4th Street is really an easement along the south property line which my neighbors use to access their property. If you follow the easement there is a quonset hut at the end. This was converted into a house. Just west is the roof of my neighbor’s sheep pens. At the bottom left is a large rectangular building and just below that is a house. This is the property where the fire started.

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The next two photographs were taken off the website of an Albuquerque news station. The first is a picture of my neighbor’s property to give you an idea of how close the fire came to my property.

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And this shows the property where the fire began. FIRE1 It isn’t rotated the same way as Google Earth but you can see what is left of the workshop and house.

Inexplicably, when the fire jumped the fire break, it completely missed my property, and amazingly, when the wind shifted and the fire blew back, it again missed my property. As events unfolded, I did not need to evacuate my livestock. Power was restored within 24 hours and other than the smell of smoke, one could not tell there had been a fire by looking at my property. However, with the information available at the time, I decided leaving when I did was preferable to getting told I had to evacuate at 2 am and having to load animals into the trailer, in the dark, by myself.

Flood Fire Famine and Pestilence

In September 2013 flash floods flooded my property (see this post). Prior to that was the winter where the temperatures dropped to 14 below zero and all the pipes in the pump house froze and broke, leaving me without water from the house well as well as without water from the irrigation well used to water livestock. We have had several years of drought that impacted the farmers and made hay both difficult to find as well as expensive to purchase. I’ve lost countless chickens to coyotes and other predators as well as goats to coyotes and even a mountain lion once. With luck, the fire this year covers the last of the disasters.

Friday afternoon an explosion in a workshop to the southwest of my property caused a fire. Within ten minutes, the fire had spread to my immediate neighbor to the west and within thirty had burned a power pole to the ground cutting off power. No power translated into no water as the well pumps became inoperable.

View from my deck about ten minutes after the explosion.

View from my deck about ten minutes after the explosion.

This community is blessed with wonderful, dedicated volunteer firefighters who immediately responded. However, with limited access to water the priority became trying to prevent homes from burning and barns and other outbuildings were left to burn.

I had headed to my neighbor’s to offer whatever help I could provide when I was first called about the fire.

View from my south fence line - easement heads into my neighbor's property

View from my south fence line – easement heads into my neighbor’s property

(The photographs don’t really show how terrifying the fire looked.)

The neighbor was heading home but still some distance away so I called someone to help with my neighbor’s livestock. That friend swung by my place and picked up my trailer to bring to the neighbors. We were still trying to load livestock when the neighbor got home and made the decision to leave the animals. We took the trailer back to my place and swapped out trucks, hooking the trailer to my truck.

I had bought the stock trailer about four years ago, just because I was concerned about the possibility of fire. However, the SUV I had at the time would only tow the trailer empty – not real useful – and it took me another year or so to find an old Ford F250 which I could afford. The truck is a manual which wouldn’t be an issue except it has a very stiff clutch, making it hard to start and to get out of first gear. I don’t like driving the truck and can usually find all sorts of excuses not to use it. Fortuitously I had tried to start the truck a few weeks ago as I was running out of hay and needed to go pick up a few bales to tide me over until my hay supplier had hay, and discovered that the battery was stone dead. My mechanic (also a wonderful guy) swung by my place one day to take out the battery and bring back a new one. We had then disconnected the battery to ensure it didn’t drain itself again. The timing couldn’t have been better.

Although an evacuation was never ordered, without power and water, and with the increasing risk of fire on my property when the fire jumped the fire break crews put in at my neighbor’s, I decided to trailer as many of my animals that I could. Several friends had already phoned or texted offering any assistance they could provide. One, with a wonderful horse property on the outskirts of town, offered her facilities (and guest room). Another friend, without being asked, texted that he was hitching up a trailer and heading my way. He offered space at his place, but his fencing was less suited to my smaller livestock.

We loaded my trailer and started to load his, but it was getting late and I really wanted to be off the property before dark. I made the decision to leave the sheep, the pigs in the pasture and the chickens. I threw a few bales of hay in the truck bed and loaded the four dogs in the cab. I headed out, followed by my friend with his truck and trailer. By the time we got out my gates it was dark and by the time we got close to the bridge across the Rio Grande the smoke was so thick the only way to know where the road was, was by the lights of the emergency vehicles along the sides and the glowing orange embers in the tree tops which lined the road. I was too busy trying not to stall out the truck as I downshifted to get around emergency vehicles or was forced to stop for one to worry about photographs, but this one was taken by my friend behind me. IMAG0333

Another friend, driving home from Albuquerque, snapped these photos . .. the first is around Belen which is about 45 miles north. 20160610_190546 And this was from the freeway approaching Socorro. 20160610_191137

Photos of the area after the fire to follow. . . .

Snow in June

While I was working this afternoon, the wind started blowing. Not the gale forces we often get but more than a breeze.

Within minutes it looked like snow drifting down.

Cottonwoods are blooming.

Cottonwoods are blooming.

The Second Most Beautiful Sight

Rain (or snow) is the most beautiful sight when you live in a desert. The second most beautiful sight is a barn full of hay.

I had one third of my hay delivered tonight – 210 bales of wheat hay. My barn has four sections. On one side I have several dog kennels up and on the other side is a long bench with storage. That leaves the two middle sections to store hay. The other 400 bales of hay – alfalfa – is supposed to be delivered next week. I’m not sure I can fit 400 more bales into the remaining section of the barn.

Space for hay

Space for hay

Wheat hay

Wheat hay

Hay stacked to about six feet from cattle panel closing off front of barn

Hay stacked to about six feet from cattle panel closing off front of barn

Snow Update

It took me three times as long to feed this morning because I had to first break a path to the barn and then had to go back for the hay cart. The snow was deep enough that as I was walking, snow was falling into my boots (which are 15″ high).

On right, snow from yesterday and last night. On left, I had knocked off the snow yesterday evening when I fed so that snow is simply the overnight accumulation.

On right, snow from yesterday and last night. On left, I had knocked off the snow yesterday evening when I fed so that snow is simply the overnight accumulation.


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