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July 7, 2009 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Day of the Dead…Farm Style

This actually happened several weeks ago, but I think I am finally able to post about it objectively.  It was a crap day with a capital K.  If you are easily grossed out it’s best to skip this one. 

***

I showed up to work in the gardens.  The driveway is a long one and I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of movement in the orchard.  The ducks and geese must be in the long grass, I thought.  I parked near the cabin and walked over to check on the greenhouse.  What a great little greenhouse.  Lots of things were growing and happening.  There was a long list of things to be done, so I decided to start by feeding the birds. 

I walked to the orchard where the geese and ducks lived, where they were busily forming their pond.  On the ground as I opened the gate was an upside down duck.  A decoy.  It had been in the shed for a while.  It freaked me out a bit, because for a moment I thought it was a dead duck.  I kicked the decoy aside, reminding myself to ask my dad why he has a duck decoy in the first place.  As far as I know, he has never hunted for birds.  Then I noticed a second upside down duck, a very realistic one, a few feet away.  My brain registered it as another decoy.  It took me a moment to realize that it was a dead duck. 

A few feet away, another dead duck.  I held my breath.  My ducks!  Then I saw my African geese.  Both were dead and contorted into ungraceful positions in the grass. 

There wasn’t much blood.  I picked up my dead goose and held back any feeling.  Just a goose.  But so much work went into these birds.  So much energy, food, and time.  And these geese liked people.  They followed us around.  When there was a bonfire, they hung close and honked at us, joining in the conversation.  They were much more exciting than the ducks.

Three ducks were still alive.  But all had been injured by some savage creature who was killing for fun, not for food.  Raccoon?  Badger?

“Dad!  Bring a bag!” I yelled, holding it together. 

He was horrified to see that all but three ducks had been attacked and left for dead.  He is a hunter, but does not like the sight of death anywhere.  He hunts for food, not for a trophy on the wall.  So the dead birds affected him greatly too.  He said that he knew where a new badger hole was, and that he had just found it yesterday, and he had meant to get rid of the badger this evening, and that he should have done it immediately.  It wasn’t his fault, it’s just the way things happen sometimes. 

We drove to town and purchased three hundred feet of hose.  We were going to drown the badger out of its hole and shoot it before it got the chickens.  To purchase the hose, set it up, drag it across the land and get the flood moving took quite a bit of time.  But I thought of my poor geese who couldn’t yet fly laying dead in the sun.  I shoved the hose into the hole.  My dad wrapped a circle of fence around the hole so whatever came out would also be helpless like the birds were.  The water was turned on. 

We had .22s aimed at the hole.  We expected a rabid, fiery badger to fly out and raise hell.  Instead, a small black-headed creature emerged slowly out of the hole, soaking wet.  You could see the look of what the hell on her face.  My dad pulled the trigger and shot it in the head.  It was a skunk.  It flopped a bit and then died. 

We removed the fence.  I walked over to make sure it wasn’t a badger.  There were no feathers nearby.  Perhaps we got the wrong suspect.  Not that we needed a rotten skunk around anyway.  The skunk was a fat one.  It looked like a furry sausage laying there, feet up in the air.  That is when it’s stomach started to wiggle.  The skunk wasn’t fat…it was pregnant, and now the babies were moving around inside the dead mother.  Between that awful sight and the smell of skunk rising into the air, I resisted the urge to retch. 

We tried to save the three remaining ducks.  But it was too late.  They started to paralyze, unable to hold their necks up.  My dad couldn’t shoot anything else that day, so I took each duck out to the grass, one by one.  They didn’t struggle.  I laid them down and gave them a pat on the head.  Their feathers were so soft, except around the necks where the blood from their bite wounds had dried.  I looked at the beak of each duck.  The short, stubby wings that were too young to fly.  The pretty gray-blue colors.  The duck looked back at me, and struggled to breathe.  Perhaps the internal injuries were too great.  I aimed at the duck and pulled the trigger. 

We had planned to slaughter a few chickens that day to put away in the freezer, but there were too many dead things at that point so we couldn’t even think about it. 

What a horrible day that was.

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8 Comments

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  1. elementaryteacher / Jul 12 2009 2:49 am

    I’m sorry to hear about this Maleesha. I think I might have done something to try to kill the unborn babies quickly.

    One thing that has helped me in my killing decisions (once I decide to kill a spider in my home, for example) is that once I make the decision, to at least to it as QUICKLY as possible, so as to minimize the creature’s pain.

    I agree it was a really difficult day.

    Eileen

    I thought about doing that…and if it hadn’t been a skunk I probably would have. Once a skunk dies…p-u!

  2. Christine / Jul 10 2009 6:16 pm

    I’m sorry you lost your babies. Skunks and opossums can attack chickens but generally go for eggs or chicks.

    Weasels will kill poultry/fowl by biting them around the head and neck. They generally leave the bodies.

    Raccoons may do the same.

    Foxes will kill just for fun or teaching their young how to hunt.

    It’s hard to say what it might have been but I hope you don’t have any more problems!

    Were the babies penned up?

    they were penned, but something got in through a weak spot. We are pretty sure it was a raccoon, although we have a lot of mink in the area and mink have a preference for waterfowl. Nothing has bothered the chickens except for hawks, so far. Knock on coop.

  3. David / Jul 10 2009 5:46 pm

    Nicely written post about one of those sad days on a farm. Thanks for writing it maleesha! It brought back memories of aiming a .22 between the two flashlight-eyeball reflections of a raccoon up in a big pine behind our chicken coop one late night … I got the bastard too, but it took 3 of our chickens first.

    It really sucks when varmints help themselves like that. So much work lost in an instant. But it’s also part of the rugged honesty of farm life. Interesting that this happened on a day when slaughter was in the plans, huh?

    Odd behavior for a skunk too, no?

    Yeah, sometimes I have the strong urge to go vegetarian, and this was one of those days…

    We don’t think it was the skunk. We just happened to get the skunk during the search for revenge…

  4. cherikooka / Jul 9 2009 3:42 pm

    Oh my God! I am so sorry!

  5. crisitunity / Jul 9 2009 10:01 am

    That’s awful, Maleesha. I’m so sorry. The poor geese. (The poor skunk babies, too.)

  6. morethananelectrician / Jul 9 2009 9:07 am

    What a horrific day…not something you can just forget about. I am sorry for the expereience.

  7. Taoist Biker / Jul 9 2009 6:32 am

    I’m a hunter myself (or I am when I’m not living in the city) and I empathize – nobody delivers the coup de grace without feeling at least a little bad about it. At least nobody you’d want to invite into your home.

    I wouldn’t rule out another suspect, but it could have just been the skunk, from what I understand. Either way, damn, what a crappy day.

    It could have been the skunk, but our “trapper/tracker friend” came out and after much staring at the ground and nodding while mumbling, he determined that it was a raccoon. Everyone needs a trapper/tracker friend.

  8. Mike / Jul 9 2009 3:52 am

    How very unfortunate.

    What really is puzzling is the decoy. Was it actually a decoy or was that just what your mind had seen it as? Was it instead actually a dead duck?

    It was actually a decoy!! I have no idea why, but it was a cruel addition to the whole scenario.

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