The Farm on Oak Creek

The Egg Thief

I caught him (or her) in the act! Friday morning I was preparing to take a load of household goods to Prescott for donation. I had just called my friend who runs the organization to which I donate, warning her I was leaving, and stepped outside onto my porch. From my porch I can see the full two acres of pasture that fills Tier Two and a good part of Tier One, the lowest portion of my five-tiered property.

For the record, Tier One is Oak Creek and Tier Two are my pastures. Tier Three is bounded by Page Springs at the top and the Mason Ditch at the bottom. The hillside between the two waterways is filled with mulberries, elderberries, artichokes and apple trees. Tier Four rises from the flat area under which Page Springs runs and ends at Page Springs Road. That hillside is filled with peaches, plums, cherries, raspberries and…one tiny little olive tree! I cannot believe that little stick I planted four years ago has managed to survive (I practice the “STUN” method of farming: Sheer, Total, Utter, Neglect) and has even added a dozen branches.  I guess that goes to prove that olives will grow here, which is what I wanted to know when I planted it.

As for Tier Five, it’s across Page Springs Road, the hillside on which JoJo Lane runs. There’s nothing over there except scrubby native plants, and so it will always stay. It gives the dogs something to watch.  Yesterday, we all watched two deer make their way up to the ridge.

Suffice it to say, if I go anywhere on the property, I’m either walking uphill or downhill. This has generally been good for my health. However, the last few times I slipped while making my way across on one of those hillsides I’ve considered just how much it would hurt if I couldn’t stop myself and made the four foot drop into either the Mason Ditch or onto packed clay soil topped with all the rocks that preceded me off the hillside. Ouch.

So as I’m standing on the porch Friday morning with my purse slung over my arm and my truck overflowing with stuff I no longer use, I hear my turkeys make their “Predator on Property” sound.  It’s a very distinctive popping noise and is accompanied by one of two reactions. Sky predators require running under the nearest available roof while land predators–for some reason I don’t understand–require flocking up and moving closer to the threat to get a better look. My best guess is that they always expect winged predators to be a threat, but aren’t quite as certain about the four-legged creatures outside the fence. Might be a cat, which they love tormenting, or a cow! Cow poop is the best ever for scratching. Ask them, they’ll tell you. For this reason, they do their best to invite the deer inside the fence, thinking they’re bovine instead of cervine.

Both dogs long ago learned to recognize that popping sound. As I’m turn my head to see what has the turkeys riled up, Bear and Moosie take off at full speed. As always Moosie hits the bridge over the Mason Ditch first. He leaps around the bit of fencing that blocks the sheep and goats from using that bridge to reach the tree-filled hillsides. Bear stops at the barrier, stymied and barking. Leaping isn’t his thing. As Moosie streaks toward the back barn, I catch a glimpse of something small, four-footed and long-tailed shooting across the back pasture toward the fence. It doesn’t climb the fence. Instead, as I watch, it disappears under the blackberry thicket. It’s at this moment that I realize I’ve forgotten to switch from my computer glasses to my distance glasses.

I am considered very nearsighted by my eye doctor, but not so much by my siblings, who are very, very nearsighted. The plus side of this was when everyone else in my age group was discovering their arms weren’t long enough to read a menu, I was breathing a sigh of relief. I’ve never worn bifocals. Switching from close up to distance in a lens nauseates me. Instead, I’ve always read without glasses, holding my books almost up to my nose. Now, all of a sudden I could hold a book or a menu at a comfortable distance and read with ease. However, I could no longer see my computer screen with either my distance glasses or my naked eyes, so I graduated to computer glasses, only to discover that I can pretty much use them for everything except driving. Yeah, I have to squint a little if I’m looking at a bird at the top of a tree, but hey, wearing them all the time means I don’t forget where I put them when I switch pairs.

This is why I didn’t immediately recognize the critter racing away from the barn where a few hens have decided to deposit their eggs. It was definitely too large to be a bobcat and it wasn’t a skunk. I would have seen the black and white. That left me thinking it was either a small coyote–I’ve had enough of those little rogue males on the property–or a large, feral cat. I was absolutely certain that no matter what it was it was clearly my egg thief. But why hadn’t the boys caught it already?

After I returned from Prescott I walked the fence line and found where it was entering and exiting. Enough large tree branches have come down on top of my fences that all the gates now gape a little, some of them by about half a foot. To compensate for this, I’ve chained handy panels across them, especially the double gates. That keeps the turkeys from slipping out of the safe zone, unless of course they’re laying hens who will not be stopped from reaching their chosen nesting site by any means.  On the other side of the gate I found a smooth, rounded indentation in the earth that lined up with one of the larger square holes in the handy panel. Definitely too small to be a coyote, who prefer to climb anyway. I was back to wondering about a feral cat.

Then Saturday I was talking with Kyle, the guy with the Kubota I covet who is presently doing some cleanup work for me. He’s been moving fallen trees from Tier Two to Tier One where I someday hope to burn them. Somehow, the conversation circled around to the many critters Moosie has deterred and I mentioned that Moosie took the otter that killed one of my toms. That’s when he says, “The last time I was down here, I saw an otter in the creek. That thing was really booking, riding the current.”

And in my mind’s eye that feral cat resolved to what it was: an otter. That critter has been waiting until the dogs are sleeping up on Tier Four, then slithering easily through the square in the handy panel, trekking across the pasture to the barn to take my eggs. Then, later in the afternoon, it was crossing into the Mason Ditch and making its way to my chicken coop (which is only a yard or so off the ditch bank) to fill its belly on another round of organic eggs.

Bear is now spending his days down in the pasture, abandoned there by Moosie, who can get up to Tier Three as easily as he makes his way down to Tier Two. But Moosie doesn’t need to be held down on Tier Two. Even starting from the parking area, he’s fast enough to reach the fence line before Bear. Meanwhile, I’ll wire some hardware cloth to the handy panel.

@!*%*!! otter! You are not welcome to my eggs!


© Denise Domning, 2023