Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
love your food!
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Mighty Quail

Every morning, one of our neighbors (a nice couple of Quails) steps out for their promenade.  Mr. and Mrs. Quail live in our fence, which is not your usual barbed wire contraption.  It is a lean-to of large tree branches and small sticks, and resembles a very long dead tree, or perhaps a dead bush.  It is ideal habitat for quail, rodents, and other critters that don't like to be bothered at night by large predators.

Of course, the foxes love the fence too.  They and the coyotes and bobcats can easily pass through and over, but find it difficult to hunt in the fence.  They commute to work in our fields through the fence daily.

But, in the morning, the fence belongs to Mr. Quail, who gives it to his Mrs.  He climbs atop the tallest post and bellows out his territorial call while Mrs. Quail admires him from below, singing encouragement to him.  He then invites her up to see the view, and know that it is hers.  They then go about their work.

We love all the wild animals - they care for our fields, and their company presents that "universal sympathy" so expounded upon by the naturalist Enos Mills.  They remind us of our place in this world, and - with our customers - the reason why we farm.


Hawk Alarm!

The chickens were making this noise (click on the link below to hear it) and we instantly knew that high above us was at least one hawk.


The chickens instantly ran to their nearest rooster, knocking over the water jugs set out for them, running into walls and, in their terror, even flying into us! Rodney and Scuttle have been, recently, battling to become head rooster and each was giving the head-rooster hawk alarm call, nervously running here and there, checking on all the lesser roosters and the hens in their watch. The lesser roosters behaved well: they herded their hens next to trees, the truck, their coop, buildings and whatever tall object they could find that would make it difficult for a hawk to swoop down and sieze one of the hens.

We got a picture of these hens with Patrick, our Rhode Island Red Rooster:

The hens sought whatever rooster was closest, knocking water jugs about, running into walls - and us.  These hens felt safe with Patrick, who led them next to the coop for safety.

The hens sought whatever rooster was closest, knocking water jugs about, running into walls - and us. These hens felt safe with Patrick, who led them next to the coop for safety.

It’s clear who the hens and lesser roosters trust more, though: Scuttle gave the “all clear” signal for minutes before Rodney, but when Rodney sang “all clear,” the hens immediately relaxed and went about their business. This is due, in part, to Rodney’s good manners and courtesy: he dances and sings well, he greets all the hens and lesser roosters politely, he never mates the hens without their permission, he never is punitive with the lesser roosters whom he battles and wins against. Scuttle is as uncourteous as he is uncouth, and though he is twice Rodney’s size, Rodney is easily able to beat him in battles defact of his courage. Rodney is brave enough to be head rooster, and the other birds know it.

The hawks, for their part, were entirely disinterested in the chickens, having spotted a family of rabbits long before. They were stalking the rabbits since early in the morning, waiting for them to come out. However, our watchful roosters knew that as the hawk swooped wider and wider in a gambit to lure the rabbits out, if the hawk lost interest in the bunnies, chicken might be on the menu.

Good job to all the roosters!


Fox Hunting

This fox was telling us to keep back: we had gotten too close - she had smelled a grasshopper and didn't want our sight, smell or sound to interrupt her hunt. It is important to understand what the animals you are following for study are telling you if you are to learn from them!

We study our wild animal friends so we can work better with them.

Foxes love the hunt! They eat grasshoppers, rodents, small lizards and snakes, and sometimes even vegetation - they LOVE fruit. Contrary to popular opinion, they do not eat much chicken - when they can get the more nutritious and delicious foods they are used to.

They like to hunt along deer paths, but when people are around, they much prefer the human paths and roads. People are better at making paths than deer are.

They walk along, marking their territory, and sniffing for something delicious. They do hunt with their eyes, but their nose is what gives to them their greatest advantage. They can smell something they cannot see or hear, and can smell it before they themselves are seen or heard! They can then dive through the air like a cat and pounce on what food they have found before it knows even that the fox was there!

This is why we make paths down our aisles, so the foxes will be further encouraged to hunt among our crops. Our aisles are already path-like, but we make sure they are extra good for fox hunts. At the same time, we make them excellent hunting grounds for felines, coyotes and all kinds of raptors. We study our carnivore friends, and help them do their work - as we help our herbivore friends do theirs. By helping every creature in our fields find food and shelter, our crops do best!

If you are friends with the fox, it will let you come along on its hunt. We followed a fox we had become friends with for several days like this, learning how it hunted, what it liked to eat, and generally becoming more familiar with its magnificent species. We read books about foxes (including the excellent book, “RED FOX: THE CATLIKE CANINE, by J. David Henry and published by the Smithsonian Institution). We reccomend, if you cannot spend some intensive time with the foxes, to at least read this book.

All canines are carnivores, and are able to safely digest meat. They do not store up uric acid like herbivores do when they eat meat (most herbivores in times of need will eat meat, dead or alive).

They will hunt extra and store what they cannot eat - this is why they do not like to hunt large animals (like chickens): they have to hide and store all that extra food! They only eat about an ounce at a time, and even a small 1 pound baby chicken would present a lot of food to hide. Their pups learn quickly how to hunt through play.

Foxes are aesocial with other foxes, and family groups are rare. However, they are fairly social with other species, and will befriend you (as much as they befriend anything) if you demonstrate your respect and keep out of their way during hunts (keep quiet and back so your smell doesn’t get in the way).

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