Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wild Kingdom: A Big Sunday Feast & A Mysterious Little Owl


Screech Owl in the Farmyard on January 20th

Note: I wrote this back on January 26th. Unfortunately it'
s only the beginning of the story - and at this point there is no happy ending in sight. There is, however, a small bright spot in all of this sadness and frustration. Two small bright spots, actually, which even qualify for Daily Dose Of Cute status. Stay tuned.

January 2009 Update: You can read the rest of this story here.

There are days when farm life sucks, and last Sunday was one of them. I was here by myself, it was zero degrees, and all the water pipes were frozen. But that was no big deal. That was just January in Missouri in The Shack. But then around 11:00 am, two coyotes killed a sheep in the hayfield. Yes, during broad daylight. Yes, while the donkeys were out there with them.

The time between looking out the kitchen window and realizing what had just happened and getting to the scene of the crime was agonizing. As Bear and I ran the several hundred yards out into the field I switched between sobbing "No! No! NO!" to screaming at the coyotes in a vain attempt to scare them away from the white, unmoving lump I knew was a sheep.

The rest of the flock had fled. I was pretty sure the sheep was dead, but I held onto the slim chance that it might still be alive. Not knowing who it was - that was the most awful part. I figured it would be 12-year-old Skinny Chip, one of my big pet wethers who has bad hooves and trouble walking. I prayed it wasn't Cary.

It wasn't. It was a healthy young wether who probably weighed 100 pounds and would have graced someone's table in a couple of months - and put a couple of hundred dollars in our pocket. Instead it had become this Sunday's dinner. It was a clean kill, and it had just happened. The body was still warm. The blood that covered my hands was still warm.

When I was a little kid I watched "Wild Kingdom" every week on TV with my dad, who loved nature and animals and died when I was just eleven. I want to say that it was on on Sunday nights, maybe at six o'clock, right before the Walt Disney hour. At least that's how I remember it. Mutual of Omaha sponsored the show. I had no idea what Mutual of Omaha was, but to this day I can still remember their 800 number.

We don't have TV reception down here in our little valley. Instead I look out a window and realize I live in Wild Kingdom.

I can't blame the coyotes. They live here, too, and they get just as hungry as I do. It's the dead of winter; food is scarce. I heard there weren't any acorns in the woods this year. Things like fences and property rights and animal ownership mean nothing to them. All they see is a field full of fat and easy targets. A lamb is a lot easier to chase down than a deer.

I do partly blame myself. We've become complacent about the coyotes. We know we're surrounded by them. We hear them at night, their howls and barks echoing through the hills. We know we've been extremely lucky all these years to have sustained so few losses to them. And yet a couple of weeks ago we chose to watch a mating pair of these beautiful creatures (because they are indeed beautiful) cavorting around in the hayfield through a set of binoculars rather than through the scope on a rifle.

We don't shoot 'varmints' for sport or to 'clean up' our property, and for that we have paid a price. This coyote couple had been hanging around, watching, scheming, waiting, wanting. We knew this, and yet we still didn't shoot them. People around here think we're crazy. Some of you reading this will think we're crazy.

On Sunday I watched the coyotes tear into the lamb. My lamb. Later I watched an enormous bald eagle eat his fill of fresh meat while he stood on the wooly body, nervously looking around between bites. I watched a flock of crows move in for their meal. I watched two friends shoot at the coyotes from the second story window of what will soon be our new bedroom and miss. I want them both dead, I said. They know the taste of lamb. They know how to get easy meat. They need to be killed. They need to be dead.

As he was driving the quarter mile from The Shack to the front gate late that afternoon, one friend saw a coyote standing in the front field by the sawdust pile, which isn't far from the barn. He shot and missed. His dad, one of the shooters in the bedroom, had seen a coyote at the top of our driveway that morning.

On Monday reinforcements arrived. A pack of men and a pack of dogs scattered themselves around the valley at dawn and spent the next 10 hours tracking and chasing and shooting. One dog attacked a coyote and had his face torn up.

At four o'clock in the afternoon I looked out into the hayfield and saw both coyotes back at the lamb. Their lamb. And despite my yelling and Bear's barking, not to mention their having been chased all day by a pack of dogs and men with guns, the brazen, hungry coyotes were hesitant to leave their prize.

Loss is inevitable when you're raising animals, whether they're packed into a giant building under horrid conditions or out on the open range. You expect it, and you learn to take it in stride. You do the best you can, and you learn from your mistakes. You worry yourself to sleep. And you tell yourself it's okay to cry.

None of that lamb went to waste. By Tuesday afternoon there was nothing left but the pelt.

We're doing what we can to ensure the safety of the flock. Skinny Chip is in a big pen. The hayfield is off limits to the sheep. We've installed even more spotlights at the barn and turned up the volume on the radio that plays down there all night. I'm learning to shoot the varmint rifle. Because there are two coyotes out there who will no doubt kill again.



Fortunately it isn't all just death and killing in the Wild Kingdom. In the midst of everything that was happening on Sunday, I came across this little owl sitting on a fence post in the farmyard. Armed with only my pistol, I could do nothing except stare in awe and curse myself for being without my camera. I'd never seen anything like it. It held its face toward the sun, eyes closed, its feathers ruffling in the frigid wind.



It popped open its eyes and stared at me as I stared back at it. It turned its head almost completely around like you've always been told that owls can do but have never really believed. It didn't seem bothered by my presence at all. I really wanted to reach out and touch it.

I ran back to The Shack to get my camera in the hopes that it wouldn't fly away. It didn't. I couldn't believe it.



It was neat. It was gorgeous. It was adorable. I snapped photos until my fingers went numb. I was shocked to see that it hadn't flown away when the shots had been fired from a window directly above its head. I proudly showed it to off to the donkey peddling cowboy and his four-year-old son, who had answered my coyote phone call for help.

"That's a screech owl," the cowbody informed me. "Don't touch it!" he said to his son, who had cautiously reached out a finger.

I took more photos. I moved closer and closer to it, until I was standing just inches away. I was mesmerized.



The little owl stayed on the fence post for most of the afternoon. I checked on it every few minutes from the kitchen window. It was starting to seem a little weird. "What's wrong with that owl?" the cowboy had asked as the three of us stared at it and wondered why it was just sitting there in the middle of the farmyard.



Eventually it flew over to another fence a few yards away, where it sat for a couple more photos. Then it disappeared up into a tree.

Like I said, Wild Kingdom.

Note: After a week of thinking about it, I decided I wasn't going to write this. I was simply going to post a neat photo of an owl I saw in the farmyard. No backstory. It isn't easy putting yourself and your actions out there for attack, admitting that you've failed or that you made the wrong choice about something and somebody died because of it. But I know a lot of you don't just want the photos. You want the backstory - even when it's bad. You read my blog because you want to know what life is really like out here on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately right now this is what it's like - and the killing hasn't stopped.

© 2008 FarmgirlFare.com, the in awe of nature foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares the good and the bad of life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

49 comments:

  1. Sorry about the loss of your sheep.... it's never easy on a farm. AMAZING experience with the owl! LOVE the photos!! Thank you for sharing - all of it!

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  2. I have enjoyed reading your blog for a couple of years now. I too, moved from city living to the rural Ozarks of MO. While our family is not on a farm, we have a few acres and like to play farm at times. We also have a wonderful group of people who devote several week ends a year to hunting the hunters. With dog and radio we see them tracking away. When we first moved here we had the thoughts of, "How could people do that?" As we have lost animals to coyotes an understaning of population control is needed for some of these animals. Seeing the beauty in all that is around is what keeps us living in the rugged hillsides all around.

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  3. I'm proud of you, friend FG, it IS hard to be real about our life in the country. My tiny bit of country is nothing compared to all your acreage and increased responsibility. We have to do things we don't like, I'm grateful my DH will shoot things so I don't have to do the shooting. We had an armadillo problem this week and we both were saddened by what he had to do. We've tried the "live and let live" unfortunately animals don't live by our rules. What you just did was an emotional and visual sandwich - you gave us a pretty owl picture, a very rough word picture and finished up with owl picture - as gentle a way as possible to tell a difficult true story of country life. It ain't all fluffy chicks and harvesting gardens out here. Bless you Susan - I hope the coyotes can be driven off but we know that doesn't happen often.

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  4. Am sorry about that lamb getting attacked and killed by the coyotes. He simply landed on the "wrong table" for someone's dinner. You do need to take care of the rest of the flock though -- so they will have to be dealt with accordingly.

    Thank you for sharing the pictures of that beautiful owl! I don't care if it is a screech owl -- they hunt the "little" vermin in the area -- mice, rats, and the like. Owl or not - that is a "friend" -- unless of course it goes after the baby chicks.

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  5. I'm so terribly sorry about your lamb, but I also understand that the poor coyotes are hungry so I hate for them to be shot at. But I also understand that farmers have to do what they have to do. Sigh... It's tough. But that's real life that you guys are living out there. Wow!! And how amazing is that screech owl? Double wow!

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing the story. Honesty is compelling, and it gives us a better appreciation for the reality of farm life.

    The owl is stunning.

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  7. Oh, sweet Farmgirl.

    The only thing I feel like I know for sure lately is that there are no easy answers, no one right way.

    Here's to Spring and happier days right around the corner.

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  8. So sorry about your sheep, but your story was worth being shared. We live in a suburban area with trees and a creek behind our house. Our neighbors found a dead deer recently and have seen coyotes at the golf course and park parking lot down the road. I love your owl pictures. He is adorable. I can hear one at night, but have never seen it.

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  9. CountryMidwife4/27/2008 12:49 PM

    And this is pretty much exactly why my farmgirl aspirations will remains dreams... I couldn't do it, any of it! Couldn't bear losing little animals I nurtured, couldn't bear killing the coyotes. Don't get me wrong - I respect what has to be done and what it takes out of you brave ones on each side. Prayers for peace, and thanks for your blog.

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  10. Thank you so much for posting that. It was a thoughtful, balanced look at the hard choices that have to be made when raising animals in what is essentially a wild place. I know it's very hard for some people to understand that one can be an animal lover, and yet choose to exterminate a wild animal to protect one's own. But for what it's worth, it's clear to me that you are a spectacular shepherdess, and your sheep are very lucky to have you. :-) Good luck.

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  11. Can't help but wonder sometimes how much more nicer it would be if we were to leave other life alone to live and raise their families, especially when we have enough alternatives to feed on.

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  12. I just wanted to let you know you aren't the only ones who have a hard time dealing with marauding animals.

    I grew up in a small farm, and I remember the troubles we had with coyotes and raccoons. It was a long time before my mother was able to pick up the shot gun and shoot a raccoon, owl or coyote.

    It is hard to shoot an animal; but my mom considered it her responsibility to keep her animals safe and healthy. So she did.

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  13. We stay down at a cabin on the Gasconade every spring and fall, we can hear the coyotes. Our hosts are very unsentimental about taking care of that problem.

    Oh, but the owl photos. Awesome.

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  14. I've been a devoted reader since June 06. Farm life and just life in general comes with sadness and laughter, and tough choices. But if we are lucky our laughter and heart-smiles outweigh our sadnesses. Thank you for sharing your stories and pictures (and let's not forget your recipes!). I've never read your blog that I'm not uplifted, inspired, or touched. Melody

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  15. I have a problem with a family of foxes. I heard them barking the other day and, after having to send over 1/2 of my flock of Shetlands to market because of a neighbor, the fox was in the ront pasture " dancing " up a storm. I've lost some of my ducks to them so now they are in a kennel inside of my sheep catch pen. No more ducks for the foxes.
    Benita
    www.asheepstail.blogspot.com

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  16. I just found your journal not too long ago. Thanks for writing. I love reading about your farm adventures, even and especially when it's a difficult experience. Although I was raised in the south and have had family who had farms, it's a good wake-up call to hear true stories of a farm. I have experience at hanging out at farms, but I am one of those people who cannot wait until we have acreage to have some animals. I just get a little fantastical about it and it's nice to be brought back down to earth by a true farmer. I have to realize it's not always sunshine, roses, and cute goats. Thanks for writing.

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  17. Your honesty with your writing is one reason you have such a wonderful blog. Not many people will find you at fault for weighing your options, having a genuine respect for life, and making the tough decisions that come with raising animals on a farm.

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  18. Thank you for the whole story. I know farm life isn't all good and I appreciate the honesty. And I'm sorry about the loss of the sheep. I'm trying to decide what type of gun to get when we move to our farm.

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  19. Living on a farm isn't always fun and cute. Death is inevitable. My husband tells me that all the time. But so are the good times and I thank you for sharing them. Seeing your "chick" babies have made me decide to "hatch"!!

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  20. life...watching babies come into the world...is magical. Death..watching them leave our lives is devastating. We never understand the whys. You have given us a peek into the heart wrenching details of your days with the animals. Thank you for sharing the sad days along with, thankfully, the mostly happy ones.

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  21. That's how nature is made... I'm sorry to hear about the coyote killing your sheep.

    That owl looks wonderful! What a pretty bird! Your pictures are stunning! I've never seen one in nature, but where I live A village), I hear them all the time...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  22. time to get a couple alpaca's.

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  23. What a cute little owl!

    Carolyn

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  24. I just want to say that I am sorry you are dealing with this. How sad for you. It is so hard to make the decision to take a life, even a wild predator, so I know you have thought hard over this. I hope that someone gets them so that the rest of your flock, and you, can rest easier.

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  25. FG, I completely understand. I remember coming home from school one day and headed out to feed my sheep (I was 15 yrs old), finding all but one slaughtered, yes in broad daylight, not by coyotes, but by some one's dogs they had some how trained to hunt down deer. Well they turned on my flock.

    I am almost 30 now and that site burns me to the core. My Lily (like your Cary) was mutilated the worst.

    Unlike your roving coyotes, the gamewarden game to the barn after he had reports of the sheep bellows and tranq'ed the dogs, who were later put down.

    you are right, not wrong or bad. I would want them dead too. I hope those pups help out in your cause.

    Am lifting you up with my thoughts for you and sheep family

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  26. A Farmgirl's gotta do what a Farmgirl's gotta do.

    Somebody mentioned Alpaca's - whatever happened to those cuties from the infamous day at the auction? Please tell the story again. :-)

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  27. I hate to hear of the loss. The bright side is that lots of mother nature were able to be nurtured through the carcass. I'm glad that nothing went to waste. That would have been a waste on so many levels.

    Good luck getting the coyotes! I hated hearing the the killing hadn't stopped. How many have they gotten)if you don't mind sharing?

    Remember the line from the movie The Patriot, "Aim small, miss small".

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  28. This story has touched my heart, I will hold you and your wonderful farm family in the Light. Thank you for sharing! There is beauty and light, even in the darkest times. Peace

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  29. I loved your post. I am always worring about other animals getting to our sheep. Even though we are in Maryland we live in a rural area. So far we have been very lucky. We have only had one death but it was pneumonia. It was hard for me and my Daughters.
    I LOVED the owl pictures. We have a pair here on our farm but I have never gotten a picture!

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  30. P.S. I just remembered the story is linked under 'Sold! To the little lady in the overalls!' And they are Llamas not Alpacas - Oh bless my ignorant socks.

    While I am here, I think you mis-filed Wild Kingdom post under Blog Her links.

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  31. Thank you so much for sharing your ordeal with us. I had just discovered your site a couple of months ago and have been very much enjoying farm life vicariously through you. Your writing is personable and witty and you make your readers feel like friends. It is good to hear about the challenges as well as the rewards of country life. I look forward to each installment and applaud your bravery and hard work.

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  32. hi susan...
    spent a little time this weekend on a friend's sheep farm in new jersey--about 5 miles from where george washington crossed the delaware...they've had 40 lambs this season--and all but 8 of them--along with their mothers...rushed--and i mean RUSHED to the gate when we got back to their pasture..all of them running full speed and bleating away...
    it was almost as cute a site as the 2 mini donkeys pulling up the rear...one named VICTOR--and his pregnant wife CHOCOLATE...
    talk about a daily dose of "in person" cute...
    so sorry to hear about you losing one of the sheep..feel like they are all part of my cyber-flock...

    and WOW--what a HOOT (sorry--someone HAD to say it) your owl encounter was!

    I just love coming to your place everyday and catching up...
    you're the best..

    love,
    rene.

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  33. A difficult story, beautifully told. I love hearing the real stories of life in the wild, I miss my 'in the wild' while I am staying here on the edge of theOtherCity.

    And if you could just get a photo with the owl and the pups in the same frame, the world will implode from the cute!

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  34. It's never easy to lose what you care for. Unfortunatly it is a battle all country people face. I would have wanted those coyotes too. We live amongst other houses but do have a pack of coyotes living here. We have had to take extra measures to protect our birds and our dogs. I have woken several times in the night to find the coyotes fighting with our dogs through the fence. Where we live we can't shoot them. (too many houses) I have stood at the back door drinking my coffee and watching the coyotes run through the empty fields and back yards hunting rabbits. Just at the crack of daylight they hunt and take their kill home to their den. Then the neighborhood comes to life with people. It is like clockwork.

    I am glad to see you left the lamb to nature. It would have been a shame to waste the meat. When it did make a lovely meal to many of mother natures creatures. I know that doesn't make it eaiser but it should help.

    Also the owl is beautiful! You can check out a picture of an owl we have residing here. I think it was posted in November '07.

    Thanks for posting...I cried and smiled right along with you!

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  35. One winter while feeding the animals I watched a fox pounching on moles tunneling under the snow. I would actually look for him when on that side of the barn, a rare look into his life. That spring I bought roaster chicks which I free ranged with the other animals. One day the dogs started barking on the porch and I ran out to see what was the matter...the fox was chasing the chickens. I went running toward it screaming and it ran away. I found six almost full grown chickens dead and one so injured we had to kill it. It would have been one thing if he killed one and ate it but he killed six and left them all, it was like it was for sport instead of hunger. I called my brother and he was able to find the fox and dispense of it. I have started to let people with furtaking licenses on my property to trap what they can trap. I learned my lesson...in the Wild Kingdom it is survival of the fitest and that is what they made me be. Good luck to you.

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  36. Dearest Farmgirl -
    The difference between your farm and the Wild Kingdom is that on a daily basis, all of your flock (donkeys, sheep, chicks, cats, dogs) are happy, healthy, and safe. And they undoubtedly know and feel that. Anyone who blames you for being "stupid" by not shooting the coyotes right off would probably be the same ones who would have told you to kill Cary. Or snorted when you wanted Dan. I think you should be proud and hold your head high. You've saved many a critter, physically and emotionally, and I don't think there is anything shameful or ignorant about that.

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  37. Sorry about the loss of your sheep....that owl, is BY FAR the cutest thing ive seen in a long time...wish i had one!

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  38. Growing up on a ranch in Montana I learned a lot of things. One thing that I always remember is that nature is not always cute and nice. The world is a food chain, something is going to die, always.

    We make a decision daily (usually in the grocery store) about what it is that will die. Sometimes you choose to let a predator live, and by making that choice you have almost certainly sealed the fate of the prey.

    I just wish the predators would stick to chasing deer!

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  39. I am sorry about your loss of lamb. I've been dealing with lions over the last few years and got to witness one "in action" three weeks ago when he killed my favorite goat...while it was still light out! I didn't pen them up until dusk before, but now, well, I look around me a little bit more carefully and pen them up while I can see more clearly. There are things that have to be done on a farm, whether or not they are pleasant and dealing approprietly with predators is one of them. Some people don't understand this and never will, but those of us who deal with farm life on a daily basis...well, it's just common sense.

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  40. So sorry for your loss....so thankful for your post.

    Brilliantly said

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  41. You're a rockstar farm girl.

    Because clearly there's more to farming than cuddling baby sheep and picking veggies from the garden - and the fact that you're doing it all is what makes you a farm girl, indeed.

    Even the owl knows. He's like, "Check this chick out - she means business and I intend to sit here and watch."

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  42. I'm very glad you did write the story. You're right, life isn't always fair, for us or the other animals on the planet. It would be nice if we could all get along and not hurt one another, but it won't be happening anytime soon. You have written about it in a very honest and brave fashion, and I thank you for that...

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  43. It's so sad when humans and wild animals cross paths. The fact that the coyotes were reluctant to leave their meal only proves how hungry they were.

    However, I understand how you feel. How horrible it must've been for you. My aunt owns a farm here in Australia with some sheep and they have problems with wild dogs.

    There is a huge pack and they seem to just kill for fun. Only eating one but killing five or six.

    I only wish there were more humane ways of dealing with these situations.

    Good luck. *hugs*

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  44. sorry about the loss of your sheep. you are correct though, when you are in the business of raising animals on a farm, loss is enevitable. Alpacas are good for protecting sheep. Also, a note about your screetch owl, many say that staring at them directly is a forshadow of death in your life. Seems his timing was appropriate. Keep your head up.

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  45. Yes, farm life can be so very sad and hard at times. Coyotes killed one of my favorite sheep a few years ago. Wild dogs came and killed even more. We have to try to kill the coyotes to keep the population down on our place or none of our anmimals will be safe. The only other thing I kill are the rattlesnakes. For those who think we should not kill coyotes then I say they have not had to watch loved animals be torn apart or have never nursed a baby who lost mom or mom who lost baby. When you farm and ranch there are things that have to happen even if unpleasant... sorry for your loss. I know I mourn every single animal we lose on our place...
    I LOVE your owl!

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  46. Wow, that was a terrific, if sad, story. It shows what real life is like. It's too bad things worked out that way with the cayotes, but there's not much you could have done about it. I'm surprised, but relieved, that some zealous animal rights person didn't give you a hard time for posting that.

    The owl was really cool. Sounds like he was enjoying the sunny day too.

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  47. wow! What a great story about your wild kingdom (btw I LOVED that program when I was little). Thank you for sharing the trials and tribulations of life on the great "frontier" (hehe)!
    Also, your pictures of the owl are AMAZING!!! And what a treat and beautiful confirmation of why you live the way you do. I enjoy your blog very much. I grew up on a farm but now live in a city - your stories and pictures take me back to my happy place ;) yay!

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  48. Susan, thanks for leaving a link to your pictures at my blog. I'm sorry about your poor sheep - hope this is no longer a problem. Your pictures of that owl are beautiful. I recently spent a long time looking for a shot of a screech owl's back, and never found anything good, but here one is! I'll come back to your blog for reference material:)

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  49. Susan, found you via Zoe's blog (and Illustration Friday)as I wanted to know more about Screech Owls, which were unknown to me. I love owls. I very much enjoyed reading your brave account of farm life, sitting all snug and safe here in my flat in London. Missing the hell out of the wilderness of South Africa where I'm from originally. I am full of admiration for the challenges you face(d?) and the honesty of your writing.

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