Rural life doesn’t seem complete without chickens. Especially as we fought for them in suburbia. We’ve had two main flocks of mixed-breed chickens, including chicks born here. As of fall 2023, we are between flocks, as raccoons got into the henhouse at the end of summer and killed a great many. We will wait through the winter, buying eggs and composting table scraps until the spring brings a new flock to Oldmeadow.
When you have a garden, chickens complete the circle, eating bugs, weeds and kitchen scraps and producing rich manure and richer eggs. Occasionally we will also process some of the flock for meat. As much as I love to watch them wander, our chickens are confined to a very large run, as they can be extremely destructive to the root zone of most plants.
We are also between flocks of guinea hens, which normally prowl the property eating ticks and bugs and act like tiny velociraptors in sound and movement. Sadly they come down from their tree roosts very early in the morning, when fox are waiting.
We have also had ducks over the years, which delight us with their antics, and their sheer joy of the water that flows through Oldmeadow, wandering and playing in the shallow, gentle areas of the creek. Occasional duck eggs add to the dozens of rich, wonderful eggs the chickens give us each week.
Having poultry, whatever it is, means having to deal with unpleasant and terrible moments in a world of predators, but, all in all, it is absolutely net positive.
We have been keeping bees for thirteen years, both here and in suburban lots. The honey is wonderful, but watching them in and around the garden is almost enough to make suiting up in August worth the sunstroke.
Never let your twelve-year-old pick your barn cats. She’ll pick the sweetest, friendliest kittens and you’ll be forced to allow them into your house in winter. We have three total – Pepper, a black cat; Daisy, a calico; and Tiger Lily, a tabby. Thankfully they are all good hunters – rural life is filled with voles, moles & mice.
I have often been thankful that we moved to Oldmeadow just for Mungo’s sake. He is a rough-coated Jack Russell Terrier and is bred for rural life and to hunt ground hogs – which he does with great skill. He spends hours each day by my side in the garden, and often goes across the way to play with the crews working on our neighbors’ vineyard or to play with another neighbor’s dog, Marley. Mungo was chosen for his good-natured temperament; and though he is a little scrapper – as are all JRTs – he is a brilliant dog with a too-fine brain. May he always use it for good.
The Pandemic of 2020 brought with it many challenges, but it also allowed us more time at home, and more time to take on the puppy we had wanted for three years, but always put off. Nessa is a sweet natured, massive Irish Wolfhound who looks more like a muppet creature from The Dark Crystal than a regular dog. She towers over Mungo – and the two of them remind us of an animal version of Me and Mini Me. Both scruffy, both lovely. She still acts like a puppy — a fact that doesn’t amuse Mungo in the early morning when she wants to play and he just wants a bit of quiet time and a sniff ’round the garden.
I will defer to Jeanne’s detailed description of the comings and goings of wildlife at Oldmeadow, as they are little changed in the last forty years.
“Yours for the spotting are owls and hawks; a stray eagle may come foraging from the Potomac. Great blue heron often stalk their way upstream – when startled, their ascent is extraterrestrial. Indigo buntings, phoebe, goldfinch, warblers, gnatcatchers, waxwings, orioles, kingfishers, tanagers, bluebirds, cardinals, ruffled grouse. Most summers the bridge pool teems with fish and crawdads – I don’t know all the taxa…I do know the horned shad and shiners are fond of cat food. In September, there is the evening bat show above the kitchen-side deck. And always, eyes are watching you. Fox, skunk, coyote, opossum, muskrat, squirrel, turkey, deer, black bear. After dark in late summer, grab a flashlight and a blanket for meteor-watching and fireflies over the meadow.”