"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Baby Birds (Wild and Tame)

My property is apparently the perfect habitat for killdeer.  I love these handsome, graceful birds, with their piercing calls and their swift, low flights across the fields in the twilight. They show up every year in February, and begin a months-long process of finding a mate and rearing young. They like to nest in flat, open, gravelly areas. For two years running, a pair of killdeer has chosen to nest in my sacrifice area, where I keep the horses. It has been delightful to watch the devoted pair incubating eggs - both male and female sit on eggs, and take turns guarding the nest - and especially delightful to see the tiny babies hatch. 

Killdeer babies are identical to the adults, but smaller, about the size of a golf ball. As soon as they hatch, they begin to run about, with that peculiar killdeer habit of running in short, straight lines and stopping abruptly, as though by a traffic light. The parents stand nearby, watching and, if anyone comes too close, pretending to be injured, dragging themselves athletically about and screaming, to distract a potential predator from their young. 

The nest in the horse pasture hatched out about three weeks ago, and the babies are already half the size of the parents. There were four eggs, but only three juveniles. However, there is another nest now. A pair got started late, I guess. This new mama found herself a supremely unsuitable nest site - right smack dab in the middle of my driveway (see above). When one of my broody hens nests in a poorly chosen site, I wait for dark and then move her, eggs and all, to a site of my choosing. Obviously I can't do that with a wild bird. The girls set up barricades made of pallets, instead. Luckily, killdeer are not much frightened by bustle and hubbub. Even when we (carefully and slowly) drive right by the nest, the parent bird only moves away a few feet, and then returns immediately.  I am looking forward to observing this new family. 

This year, we ordered 8 turkey poults. Turkeys are one of the more profitable animals on the farm - if I can keep them alive until Thanksgiving, and grow them out to a respectable weight, I can sell them for $4/lb, which means each bird is worth somewhere between $50 and $75. These poults, broad breasted bronzes, cost $6.50 apiece. 

Because I belong to the Gleaner's Pantry , I can feed them very cheaply indeed. I always start them off on expensive Game Bird food, but soon enough they can eat scraps, bread, and get out on pasture to forage. Last year, we lost two full grown birds to coyotes, which was a blow, but even so, the entire turkey operation turned a profit, and provided us with our own bird for the holiday. This year, we will have to repair the fences and make an effort to keep the predators away. On each bird that I raise to full weight, I can expect to make a minimum $40 profit. 

That's better than I can expect on a goat kid!