A Legendary Civil War Hero and a Little Iron Ball


A Probable Civil War Cast Iron Canister Ball

Yesterday my Dad gave me some little treasures from his collecting over the decades. In the box were some arrow heads, pieces of spear points, some pieces of Indian pottery we collected at Jones Island in the White Oak River.  Then there was this one piece that he said I had found when I was a child…a small rusty iron ball.

Dad said I had found this old iron ball on the Tram Road when I was a little boy. The Tram road is the lumber railroad bed I’ve written about before that transects the property we now own.  I thought, well, could this be some sort of ball bearing…no it’s really rough and it appears to be cast iron which simply isn’t a good material for bearings.  Dad heard me mumbling.  He said it’s probably a Civil War canister ball.  I said wow.

Holding this little iron ball sparked my curiosity.  So, I measured the ball.  It’s about 1.5 inches in diameter.  Then I got to looking at tables and charts about cannons and ammunition from the Civil War era.  Bumbling along the Internet I learned that some 12 and 32 pound cannons shot a cannister round that contained cast iron balls the same size as the little iron ball on my desk.  Interesting.

Well, I knew that there had not been any great Civil War land battles right here in the Swansboro area…at least not any that I know about…but the Union had captured Swansboro in 1862, had burned the salt works and had destroyed the Confederate fort at Huggins Island.  I wondered if the ships that participated in the siege were armed  with 12 or 32 pound cannons?

So, meandering through the Internet maze looking for US Navy ship actions in Eastern NC

I stumbled across the account of the sinking of the CSS Albemarle in 1864.  The Albemarle was a Confederate Ironclad.  The sinking of this warship opened up the Roanoke to the Union Navy and pretty much secured the rivers and sounds all the way from the Virginia border to just outside Wilmington for the exclusive use of Union forces. The sinking of the Albemarle was a mission conceived, led and executed by W.B. Cushing. Cushing had flunked out of Annapolis and had begged and pleaded to be allowed to serve in the U.S. Navy in the Civil War.  Giving him his commission was fortunate.  The sinking of the Albemarle was a significant personal achievement as well as a strategic blow to the Confederacy in North Carolina.

W. B. Cushing

I had read that the ship Cushing commanded during his Albemarle mission had been armed with a 12 pound cannon.  Since he had personally outfitted this ship specifically for the mission maybe he had experience with the 12 pound cannons in other exploits. Had Cushing had ever participated in any Union actions around Swansboro? He had. Cushing had earned his bona fides right here in Swansboro on a ship equipped with a 12 and 32 pound cannon.


“The captured gunboat Ellis” (from The Long Roll)

The gunboat Ellis, to which Cushing was assigned and would eventually command, was assigned to blockade Bogue Inlet and Bogue Sound.  Gunboats like the USS Ellis were equipped with 12 and 32 pound cannons.   Here’s an excerpt from the book, Three Wisconsin Cushings, Wisconsin Historical Commission, 1910.
















“You see I have a sort of roving commission and can run around to suit myself.  If under these circumstances I can not stir the rebels up in more places than one, it will be strange indeed.”

I can imagine the young Lt at the helm of his gunboat ordering cannister fire in the direction of the homes and businesses.  Being ruthless but still a gentleman he probably didn’t want to intentionally hurt any women or children so he had his crew aim a high warning shot over the town and the little iron balls fell harmlessly in the outlying fields and forests.

A couple of decades or so later it was likely former slaves and their sons who dug the rail road bed for the Swansboro Land and Lumber company.  The little iron ball could have been in a wagon of fill dirt or could have flown a mile into the forest right when it was shot from the cannon…we’ll never know how it ended up on the railroad bed.  In any event the men unknowingly made this little asterisk in the fight for freedom part of the lumber railroad bed.  Then, about a hundred years after it had flown out of a cannon, a little boy playing along the abandoned railroad bed found the now rusty and pitted little iron ball and gave it to his Dad.  A little iron ball that may have been shot from the cannon on a gunboat commanded by an intrepid American hero.

Who knows if there is any truth to my story? Judge for yourself.  Whatever your opinion, I highly recommend reading about the exploits of Cdr W. B. Cushing. There are many books written about him and his exploits.  In one book he is called the “Civil War SEAL”. He was the real deal who fought and won just about a mile down the street in Swansboro.  The stories one little iron ball can tell…are simply amazing.

Water Gardens: Lure and Kill Mosquitoes!


Mosquito Anatomy – Mariana Ruiz Villarreal LadyofHats – Self made based on this websites between others: [1], [2], [3], [4].

Water gardens: Lure and kill mosquitoes? Huh? Yes, build a small water garden for mosquito control. Why not attract the little pest to a lovely little water garden that is also the home to hungry mosquito predators? Building a small water garden is a way to introduce a low or no cost natural mosquito killing ecosystem in a yard, on a patio or even on a balcony. Interested? Read on about creating a water garden to lure and kill mosquitoes by attracting dragonflies, damselflies and creating a home for mosquito fish.

First a little info about mosquitoes


CDC Map of the Range of the two mosquito species which carry the Zika virus.

Mosquitoes are a problem in many parts of the world.  Mosquitoes carry many diseases that are deadly and/or debilitating.  Certain mosquitoes can spread specific human diseases. In some areas of the world mosquitoes and the diseases they carry are such a problem that they significantly impact settlement or development. For example in the early 1900’s the Panama Canal project was nearly derailed because of mosquito borne diseases. During the early days of colonization and exploration places like the Panama and even Eastern NC, where I live, were slow to be colonized and developed because of mosquito borne diseases. The Zika virus is the most recent example of a mosquito borne disease. The CDC map shows the range of the two mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus.

We certainly don’t want to catch a mosquito borne disease. So how about enlisting the support of three new friends: the mosquito fish, dragonflies and damselflies.  Each of these creatures can be quickly introduced into your back yard with minimal effort and at a low cost. How? Construct a small water garden!

Next let’s get to know the Mosquito Killers (your water garden will be their home)

FIrst, The mosquito fish:


Mosquito Fish – Clinton & Charles Robertson from RAF Lakenheath, UK & San Marcos, TX, USA & UK

These hearty fish can survive in a wide range of temperatures from near freezing to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Additionally the fish can survive in low oxygen environments. The fish are a bit larger than guppies.  The large females eat up to 100 mosquito larvae a day. If you look in a ditch and see a small fish swimming there there is a good chance that it is a mosquito fish.  I have mosquito fish thriving in Dragonfly Pond behind La Casita.

Second, Dragonflies and damselflies:


Dragonfly – HaleYadthore, KRNagar, Mysore India, on 13 Oct 2007.


Damselfly – Mathias Krumbholz

There are many species of dragonflies around the world and they all love to eat insects. The dragonflies can eat the insects on the fly. That’s right, they catch a mosquito or gnat and dine on the little pest while flying.  An adult dragonfly is a vicious predator of mosquitoes, gnats, flies and almost any other flying insect it can catch. More diminutive but no less ruthless are the damselflies. These flying jewels are smaller than dragonflies and eat smaller insects like mosquitoes and gnats. However, unlike dragonflies, damselflies usually ambush their prey from a perch rather than catching and eating their prey on the fly.  So, if you were unfamiliar with dragonflies and damselflies, now when you see these creatures flying you’ll have a better appreciation of these the airborne and waterborne insect assassins. That’s right dragonfly and damselfly nymphs attack mosquito larvae in the water.   For more information, pictures and video I recommend reading 10 Surprisingly Brutal Facts About Dragonflies .

If you build a water garden they (dragonflies and damselflies) will come (the mosquito fish will need your help).

An article from the National Wildlife Federation, Attracting Aerial Acrobats to Your Yard A small pond, coupled with the right habitat conditions, will help you attract dragonflies and damselflies to your garden, provides a good primer for establishing a dragonfly pond.  If you live in an apartment, a condo or don’t want to dig a large pond you might be saying … oh,  just another idea I can’t use.  Don’t distress there are right sized solutions that can be adapted to your patio, balcony or yard!

Use Water Gardens to Kill Mosquitoes!

So, you have a condo in the city and you have a mosquito problem.  What can you do? Simple.  Build a micro environment for your mosquito predators…a pond in a pot.  Two of the predators will love the new habitat while one may just come to visit.

What you will need:

1 – A sunny spot on your porch, patio, balcony or yard.

2- A container that has sloping sides like a birdbath or even a child’s plastic pool.

3- Rainwater, well water or spring water that is chlorine free.

4- Water plants like iris, pickerel weed, water weed, water hyacinth etc.

5- Mosquito fish

Assembling water gardens

1- Find and place your container in the sunlit location. Be creative.  Use what you have. Here are some container ideas: an old cooler, a birdbath, an old bathtub, a small children’s plastic pool, a half barrel… even a milk jug with the top cut off could be your micro environment (the smaller the container the less likely it will be to attract dragonflies).

2- Place some structure like rocks or sticks in the container where mosquito fish the nymphs of the dragonflies and damsel flies can hide.

3- Fill the container with water.  If you are using chlorinated water wait about a week before moving to the next steps.

4- If your container has steep sides consider placing a stick or rock in the container to simulate a sloping edge.

5- Find some native aquatic plants. Plants that you see growing in ditches and ponds in your area are what you are looking for.  Plants like cattails (for larger containers), water lilies or even water hyacinth are good easy to find plants that grow in many locations. Plants that are native to your area may be more likely to attract local dragonflies and damselflies.

Need more ideas?


Water gardens come in all shapes and sizes

Just do an image search on Google.  I searched for “pond in a pot” Here’s a picture of my search results.  As you can see there are innumerable ideas out there to help you build your small water garden which will host three new friends…mosquito fish, dragonflies and damselflies.

Build a Small Water Garden

Build a Small Water Garden

Need even more instructions? Ok, read this nice detailed article from Deep Green Permaculture . Now go and build some small water gardens to construct your own beautiful and elegant solution for controlling mosquitoes.

I’ll be building some small water gardens like these for both La Casita and my home next door.  I already have one…for my Facgardenebook Fans that visit my page La Casita in Swansboro…it is the birdbath to which I added water hyacinth and mosquito fish. Presto…an elegant solution for mosquito control in minutes

A final note: Sanitize, Sanitize

Standing water in gutters, children’s toys, swimming pools, ditches, trash cans, old tires etc can harbor mosquitoes.  Look around your home to sanitize those potential mosquito breeding areas.  Read University of Florida publication Tips for Mosquito Control for more detail on the importance of sanitation in controlling mosquitoes. Sanitation is a top priority! Even a hollow tree can be a mosquito breeding ground. Do you have standing water around your air conditioner?  Just check your yard, neighborhood, gardens etc for anyplace that has stagnant standing water for long periods after a rainstorm.  If those places seem to have water in them for long periods of time consider introducing mosquito fish. Eliminate problem areas and provide small water gardens as described above.  Use your imagination to create your water gardens and let them grow.  Soon you’ll enjoy an environment around your home that is healthy, natural and nearly free from mosquitoes!


All the Best,

Jim Hamrick

Introducing New Plants to Dragonfly Pond


Beard the goat at Dragonfly Pond

If you’ve stayed at La Casita then you know about our little Dragonfly Pond.  The pond is in the pasture next to a seasonal creek.  Last year we began to get a red algae that covered the surface of the pond at times.  This is understandable since the pond is not aerated and does not have any plants with the exception of bull rushes on the bank.

The mosquito fish (gambusia affinis) aren’t bothered by this nor are the snapping turtles that live in the pond. The namesake dragonflies are plentiful too.  However the pond is not very appealing to look at so I wanted to make some helpful additions of plants.

The goal is to oxygenate the water, provide shade, provide more surface area for nitrifying bacteria, cover for dragonfly nympths and add of course replace the algae with something more appealing.  I also want to add some additional wild life and household food sources.

I’m fortunate to have my old friend Norman Wells down the street.  He has had a koi pond for decades and sells a wide array of pond plants.  Here is a list of plants that Norman was kind enough to donate.

The New Plant Addtions for Dragonfly Pond

Lotus – American or Asian? I don’t yet know.  Either way if the planting was successful it will be an interesting culinary adventure since the seeds and roots are edible.


Water Lily – I think these are native white water lily variety.  I look forward to trying some of the leaves in one of the dishes described in this Mother Earth News article – Wild Food Foraging: Pond Lily, Squirrel, Nettles and More

Water Weed – A water oxygenating plant that provides cover for pond creatures.



Marsh Iris – With luck this plant will supply a spot of cover on the margins of my little pond.



Elephant Ear (Black Magic) – If it grows well I may introduce some more edible malanga or taro plantings.



Pickerel Weed – This native pond plant is an important food source for many animals.



windmillHopefully in a couple of weeks the Lotus and Lilies will have begun to populate the surface of the pond. I am still considering an aerator.  This aerator currently has my attention.  Maybe next year.



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Travel Destination Suggestions!


Martinn Provides Links to many different travel destinations!

Martinn Provides Links to many different travel destinations!

I’m sharing a link to a website designed and maintained by my online friend Martinn from Paris, France.  Martinn has been associated with operatting and owning Bed and Breakfast homes for many years.  She has collected from online friends a group of destinations from around the world that you might want to consider as you plan trips for business or leisure.  Martinn is very selective about the accommodations she lists on her site.


If you like to travel…anywhere from the US to South Africa please take a look at her site at  Key2Paris.com .  At her site you will find something for every taste…from humble self catered cottages like our La Casita in Swansboro to luxurious Bed and Breakfasts in large cities.

Of course if you’re destination is Paris I recommend contacting Martinn…she is an expert on the city and provides a wonderful place to stay!  The pictures below are of Martinn’s B&B.

In the heart of Paris, in the Halles district, Montorgueil, Place des Victoires.

In the heart of Paris, in the Halles district, Montorgueil, Place des Victoires.

Winter Fun at Redbay Farm…Trail building, Wildlife Habitat Improvement and Timber Stand Improvement


Me sitting on a pile of mushroom logs.

Winter is a wonderful time of year here at Redbay Farm and La Casita.  The weather is cool and the forest is dormant.  It is a great time for trail building, brush pile construction and timber stand improvement.

Trail building: I am planning to open my trails to guests who stay at La Casita this time next year (2017).  The trails will be open for bird watching and nature observation.  There are over two miles of trails that crisscross our roughly 40 acres of forest

A trail at Redbay Farm

A trail at Redbay Farm

  • Some of the trails are over 20 years old. Some are brand new. The trails are about 6 foot wide which allows easy single file walking without being in the brush. Trails mitigate but do not eliminate the need to take precautions for chiggers and ticks.
  • The terrain is relatively flat and the trails will allow visitors to experience various habitats to include high pocosinloblolly pine forestpine hardwood forest, succession forest and even a couple of acres of near climax forest (90 to 100 years

    A flower from a mature tulip poplar

    old). Due to the wet nature of some parts of our forest rubber boots are required especially during the winter months.

  • If you want to learn more about the various stages of forest succession I recommend this article on forest succession from physicalgeography.net .

Brush piles: Brush piles are a byproduct of trail maintenance and timber stand improvement. Actually, a brush pile is a type of wildlife habitat you can build in your own backyard even in a suburban environment.   Learn how to build your own wildlife habitat brush pile by reading this article from the Humane Society of the US and watch the accompanying video. 

  • Simply crisscross your larger pieces of trimmings from pruning and keep adding layers until you have a pile that is a few feet in diameter and two or three feet tall.
  • A brush pile will create small shelter habitat which will attract sparrows, amphibians, box turtles and small mammals like rabbits and chipmunks. Build your brush pile away from your home but within view so that you can observe the attracted wildlife.
Timber stand improvement: Developing marketable wood products requires management. Timber stand improvement (TSI).  


After Timber Stand Improvement (TSI)

  • Before

    Before TSI

    TSI is a multi generational project.  The results of my efforts may not be realized until my grand children are my age.

  • TSI involves removal of diseased/malformed trees and thinning of trees to encourage the growth remaining trees.
  • The primary TSI focus at Redbay Farm is loblolly pine production.
  • Some byproducts of TSI are firewood, charcoal, mushroom


    logs, poles and small saw logs.

That’s it in a nutshell on trail building, building brush piles and timber stand improvement. Winter is a great time to create habitat, explore forests and make forest improvements.  I hope you have as much fun exploring your local forests and improving wildlife habitat as I do!



News from Redbay Farm and La Casita

Thank you for carolina bays and pocosins?

What?  Don’t know what a carolina bay or pocosin is…then I recommend you read through this document published by the US Geological Survey titled “The Ecology of Shrub Bogs (Pocosins) and Carolina Bays: A Community Profile.”

La Casita, our guest house, is part of the development of Deer Run here in Swansboro.  Once the wetlands survey was done on the land where the development is located the developer learned that they could only build a limited number of homes on the few high places on the land that was once owned by the C.T. Russell heirs and referred to as the “Little Plantation”.

Deer Run is characterized by a dozen or so very large lots that accommodate the Small Wetland Communities characterized by pine flatwoods, pocosin, vernal pools and small carolina bays. Deer Run averages about 32′ in elevation and is relatively flat.  One accepted definition of a pocosin is “a high swamp”.  Carolina bays are eliptical ponds, lakes or depressions which are oriented northwest to southeast. Two small Carolina bays are located in Deer Run.  These are ephemeral ponds meaning that they dry up during most summers. The carolina bays are important fish free breeding bodies of water for amphibians.

Marginal Land for former Slaves?

Redbay Farm, was part of what was called the “Little Plantation” and about half of our forest is high pocosin and flatwoods pine swamp.  It is land that is very marginal for farming.  However it is amazing wildlife habitat. It and the land which surrounds it was land that was occupied at one time by the local African American population. While I don’t know for sure my guess is that the name “Little Plantation” was a bit of a throw back to the post Civil War era when I speculate former slave owners “gave” their former slaves land…albeit usually the most marginal land on their plantations and apparently in some cases “lifetime” non transferable rights.  The “Little Plantation” lies just outside the old city limits of Swansboro which fits with the racist characteristics of society at the time.  In my forest I have found numerous indications of a variety of homes and small farms (farm implements, plow points etc, trash piles etc.).  When I was a child I even remember John Moore harvesting corn using a mule cart.  In old house ruins on my property I have found remnants of newspapers from the early 60’s.  During the 60’s the houses were abandoned which corresponds with African American migration to the west and north.

Yet great habitat for wildlife!

At Redbay Farm we have superb wildlife habitat.  We have a large deer herd, coyotes, bobcats, raccoon, opossum, and many other mammal species.  Yes, we have reptiles too! Plus, many types of amphibians.  Stay at La Casita in the spring and the frogs can sometimes be so loud you have to yell for someone to hear you.  The habitat also attracts a wide variety of birds.  We see many birds.  Some are residents and some are just passing through.  Some are predators.  Unfortunately, yesterday a very large Red Tail Hawk killed my old rooster, One Eyed Willy right behind La Casita next to Dragonfly Pond.  He was very alert even in his old age.  But I Imagine the hawk came up on his blind side.  He was a good rooster.  I’ll miss his low soulful crowing in the morning.

Living here is a blessing.

I hope you enjoyed my ramblings on history, ecology and wildlife.  Gotta go.  I need to find the girls outback a new beau.  Have a Merry Christmas!  See you next year!

Make Lump Charcoal

Why buy charcoal if you can make charcoal that is of high quality with wood from your own forest or wood you can get free (pallets, tree trimmers, sawmills etc)?  You want to make lump charcoal don’t you?  It’s an easy process that can be done by almost anyone. Why do you want to make Lump charcoal?

Reason #1 – You Know What is in Your Charcoal

According to Everything You Need to Know About Charcoal, from Briquettes to Binchotan written by Sam Dean...”Technically, charcoal briquettes aren’t actual charcoal, but a combination of charcoal and other ingredients molded into easy-to-light lumps. Kingsford Charcoal, for example, by far the most popular brand in the US, is made up of bits of charcoal, coal, starch (as a binder), sawdust, and sodium nitrate (to make it burn better). For the same reason that SPAM is cheaper than a whole ham, briquettes are cheaper to make than all-wood charcoal.” I guess if you like using coal to cook your food go by yourself a bag of Kingsford…its safe, so they say.

Reason #2 – Ash is crimping your cooking style

Charcoal briquettes while handy create a lot of ash.  Burning hardwood lump charcoal does not create as much ash. Therefore hardwood lump charcoal is great for using in some grills like the kamado syle grills like the Big Green Egg.

Reason #3 – Making lump charcoal is easy…it really is!

However, If you live in the suburbs I wouldn’t recommend making charcoal using the method I am going to describe…or almost any other method because of the large amount of smoke made during the charcoal making process. Anyway it is super easy to make hardwood lump charcoal.

What you’ll need…

  1. A 55 gallon steel drum with a lid
  2. A tool (saw or drill) to cut holes in the bottom of the barrel for ventilation
  3. A supply of hardwood.  Preferably for the best lump charcoal it will be seasoned hardwood cut to no more than about 4″ thick.
  4. A place to make charcoal where the smoke won’t bother the neighbors
  5. A shovel, gloves, pieces of thin rebar about 3 ft long, a couple of flat bricks or rocks, some gloves, a dust mask and some containers for charcoal.

Steps in the process…

  1. Prepare your barrel by cutting holes in the bottom. I just used my saw to cut some 4 triangles about 3 inches long X 2 inches wide ( make two cuts and knock triangle Charcoal barrel filled.into barrel about an inch with a hammer…this protects the hole from getting clogged with coals).  This isn’t scientific so just make sure your holes are evenly spaced.
  2. Place your barrel in the place you want to make charcoal.
  3. Set the barrel on the ground open end up. Start digging a hole around the barrel using the barrel as a guide.
  4. Dig out the hole so the barrel will set in the hole about six inches below the surface
  5. Dig a trench about six inches deep and six inches wide starting at the edge of the round hole.  Dig the trench so Retortfilledthat it is about two foot long.
  6. Level out a earthen shelf all around the edge of the hole. This shelf will support the barrel. Make certain that air will be able to flow from the trench up through the holes in the bottom of the barrel.
  7. Place your barrel in the hole with the vented side down and make sure it is well supported and the barrel is fairly level.
  8. Begin placing your wood in the barrel.  I recommend a thin layer of kindling.  Then a Starting the Barrellayer of seasoned hardwood, then a thin layer of kindling and so on until your reach the top of the barrel.  Build a fire on top of the wood in the barrel.
  9. Let the fire burn down to the bottom.
  10. When the fire is good and hot take your shovel and tap the barrel all around to settle the wood down.  You could buy a fancy pyrometer to check the temperature but I just use a spray bottle of water.  When you spray the bottom of the barrel and the water instantly vaporizes the temperature is hot enough to move to the next step.
  11. Lay your piece of thin rebar across one side of the top of the barrel and then put the lid on close uplid on the barrel.
  12. Put a rock, brick or something else not combustible on the bung hole (if it is not plugged with a steel plug).
  13. Watch the smoke which will be white (water vapor).
  14. 2 or 3 hours the smoke will turn a translucent blue (nearly all of the water vapor is removed).
  15. Pull out the piece of rebar.
  16. Close the lid tightly.
  17. With your shovel fill in the trench next to the barrel to shut off the air.lid on distant
  18. Wait 24 hours (if the barrel is warm wait longer) and then carefully remove the lid. The lid will likely be stuck because of tar and creosote. To remove the lid I use a piece of thin rebar bent into an L shape and hook the lid though the bung hole to pop it off.
  19. Turn the barrel on its side.
  20. Use your shovel to empty the charcoal from the barrel and to put it in containers…make sure the charcoal is completely cool if the containers are flammable.  You may find wood that has not completely carbonized.  No worry.  Just toss it aside and place it back in the barrel for the next batch of charcoal.
  21. You are finished! Fire up the grill it’s time to cook! Lump charcoal light easily with lighter fluid or better yet a fire started with some kindling and tinder (for the purists).

Finished ProductConclusion

That’s it.  It is not hard at all to make lump charcoal.  Making lump charcoal is a great way to use those small hardwood trees that would just get burned or ground into mulch.  Plus, having a large supply of lump charcoal  is a great asset. Check out this article for 10 uses for lump charcoal. But, you may not want to use lump charcoal for anything but cooking after you use your product to roast a chicken, turkey or grill steaks.  Go ahead an make some lump charcoal.  When you use your own homemade organic lump charcoal you really can taste the difference, you get great satisfaction using a fuel you made to cook your food and you know exactly what went into making your charcoal.  Enjoy!

Do you want to learn more?

The technical term for the transformation of wood into charcoal is pyrolysis which simply means using heat to cause chemical decomposition.  Pyrolysis is a process used across a wide array of chemical applications from the oil industry to cooking a chicken in your oven.  If you would like to read technical information about the use of pyrolysis to transform wood into charcoal I recommend reading the article “Industrial Charcoal Making Technologies” produced by the Forestry Department of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

We sell limited quantities of organic lump charcoal

At La Casita we now offer our guests the opportunity to cook on our Weber grill using organic lump charcoal made from the trees in our forest.  If you are coming to visit just let us know that you would like to cook using our charcoal grill.  We also sell our organic locally produced lump charcoal for $1.25 a pound plus sales tax. (limited availability)


Tips to Protect Your Chickens!

About 10 years ago I bought a little house in a development that adjoins my 38 acre forested property called Redbay Farm.  One day my Dad asked if I wanted some

Our first chickens

chickens.  I said yes.  Thus began my often times painful journey in raising chickens. The crux of this article is to provide information that will help new chicken owners from repeating the many mistakes I made.  The number one point I’d like to make is that If you don’t protect your chickens your chicken coop will become a predator buffet.

Protecting your chickens is a full time 24/7 365 day a year job.  There are no exceptions. Sure you might get away with leaving the coop open for maybe a night, or two or even a week or more but soon enough a predator will be dining on your chickens.  I have lost chickens to raccoon, opossums, foxes, owls, hawks, snakes and probably coyotes (yes, we have coyotes in Swansboro).  These predators are common in almost every suburban, urban and country setting.  For example, coyotes have even been seen in Manhattan. The predators are always watching and waiting for a delicious chicken dinner.

The most effective means that I have found for protecting chickens is a chicken tractor made with a hardware cloth enclosed chicken run and a secure nesting/roosting area. The chicken tractor gives the chickens a semblance of free range living.  To remain effective and for hygiene, the chicken tractor must be moved regularly. Moving a chicken tractor around everyday is a chore that requires discipline and time. Chicken tractors are a great tool for raising chickens in a suburban yard or garden.  I still have the old “doghouse chicken tractor” I made several years ago.  I never lost a chicken that has stayed inside this nice secure chicken tractor. The doghouse is long gone and is replaced by a little chicken house made of plastic barrel pieces, trash can pieces and some scrap tin. You can purchase expensive versions of this type of chicken tractor or make one yourself. The key feature of the doghouse chicken tractor are hardware cloth which even keeps snakes out and a small roosting/nesting area suitable for about two regular sized hens.  Chicken tractos are only good for level ground otherwise there

Dog House Chicken Tractor

will be large gaps under the rails which will allow predator access.  If you do want to make a “doghouse chicken tractor” just visit my chicken tractor page which also has a materials list and plan I put together years ago.

The next level for raising chickens is the chicken coop with an attached run.  Most folks who have more than one or two hens probably gravitate toward a chicken coop with a run that is permanently sited in their yard or garden. Since chickens don’t enjoy being cooped up even with a nice run or even in a chicken tractor most chicken owners are inclined to let the chickens free range at least a little bit before sundown.  This is great for the chickens and the owner because the chickens become somewhat self sufficient and really help to keep insect control around the yard. But, letting chickens free range is dangerous for the chickens.

If you are not going to keep your chickens locked up in a chicken tractor or secured in their coop you need to be aware of the different ways chickens are susceptible to being eaten. I’ve put together four scenarios based on personal experience that will give you an idea of what can happen.

Scenario one: “Look at the chickens going after the bugs in the yard.” said my wife.  “That hen is so cute!”, she said as we shared a bottle of wine on the patio.  Later that night we heard chickens making all kinds of racket.  I ran out to the coop with a flashlight. I had left the door open on the coop.  There on the ground, laying headless, was the cute little hen. I got to sleep on the couch.

Lesson  #1 – Always shut and lock the door of the coop.

Scenario two: I put together a makeshift chicken pen for the chickens using a dog kennel with a tarp over the top held down with bungee cords.  Inside the dog kennel was a small chicken house.  It was a bit difficult to access the nest for egg collection but other than that the improvised chicken pen seemed to work ok protecting the chickens from hawks and other predators.  One night as we slept soundly a raccoon family climbed the chain linked fence and worked their way under the tarp into the pen. All of the chickens were dead.  I slept on the couch again.

Lesson #2 – Build a secure coop.

Scenario Three: We were eating Thanksgiving dinner.  We looked outside and found that a hawk was also celebrating Thanksgiving by eating one of our pullets! It seems cockrells are just not as tasty. Ah, Thanksgiving day memories.

Lesson #3 – Protect chickens from hawks and owls (yes, I have also lost chickens to Great Horned owls)

Rat snake eating a baby squirrel.

Rat snake (AKA chicken snake) eating a baby squirrel.

Scenario Four: I went to the coop to take a look at our young chickens.  Of course all of the cockrells are accounted for…but the one pullet was now a lump in a snakes belly. Chickens attract some varieties of snakes.  My career raising chickens was beginning to look more dubious by the day.

Lesson #4 – Young chickens require protection from snakes

Integrating the my lessons learned into your chicken defenses

Aerial photo of Redbay Farm and La Casita

Upper Left hand corner shows Redbay Farm and La Casita

If you are new to raising chickens I recommend that you carefully plan how you are going to secure and protect your flock.  If you already own chickens you might find some of my recommendations helpful to mitigate any predator problems you might have. As you plan your chicken defenses evaluate what predators and pest will be trying to eat your chickens. The list varies by geography.  Here in NC our main predators are raccoon, opossums, hawks (various types and at various times of years), Great Horned owls, foxes (red and gray), domestic dogs, bobcats and rat snakes (commonly called chicken snakes).  You can do a search for the internet for how to identify the predators in your area…better yet go talk to some folks who raise chickens in your local area. Predator activity can vary greatly from location to location.  My chicken coop is surrounded by over 100 acres of forest and swamp habitat…perfect habitat for a thriving predator population. In the aerial photo above, you’ll find La Casita and Redbay Farm in the upper left hand corner. As you can see our place is nearly surrounded by forest.  Our chickens are kept behind La Casita.  If you live in the city or suburbia then your predator population may not be as active or as large as it is here at Redbay Farm and La Casita. What ever your situation try to follow my painfully learned chicken protection tips. I think you will dramatically minimize the possibility that predators will kill your hens. My chicken protection tips follow:

Tip # 1 – Build or buy a Strong Coop with fully enclosed run AND install an Automatic Door (This is the minimum your chickens deserve)

This could be a chicken tractor or permanently sited coop.  It is very likely are not going to keep your chickens cooped up at all times so you’ll need to build or buy a strong predator proof Chickenhousecollagecoop. My predator resistant coop has a covered run (protection from hawks/owls) and is surrounded by electric fence. I installed an automatic door for the chickens.  No matter how diligent you are you or someone in your family will forget to close the chicken coop door for the night. I strongly recommend an automatic light actuated door for your stationary coop or chicken tractor. I purchased a VSB  Electronic Door Keeper on Amazon. The device costs about $240.  Sounds like a lot money but the cost to replace a laying hen is about $20 dollars and a predator can wipe Covered chicken runout your whole flock in one night. The door is powered by 4 AA batteries. The collage shows my coop.  The vents at the top of the coop are secured with hardware cloth. Also, I also have electric fencing on the outside of my coop as an added incentive for predators to not mess with my chickens. The electric fencing on the coop is secondary to the electric fence on the perimeter of the field where I let my chickens “free range”.  My combination chicken coop and goat shed won’t win any beauty contest but it is very effective doing the job of protecting my chickens.

Tip # 2 – Fence the Perimeter of the Area Where Your Chickens will Range

Good fences help keep predators out.  Chickens that free range in an unfenced area are just fast food for predators. Permanent non electrified fencing is merely a Billyjungle gym for most predators.  A raccoon or opossum will climb almost any fence with ease.  Snakes will go through most yard fences.  Foxes (gray foxes will climb), coyotes and other predators will go under the fence.  Perimeter fences are inconsequential to hawks and owls.  In a suburban or city setting a yard fence will help to keep your chickens safe from domestic dogs.

The best fencing option I can recommend for the perimeter of  a yard or garden is an electric fence about 4 inches off of the ground with another strand at about 12 inches and another at about 24 to 36 inches.  I use an intermittent pulsing electric fence since I have lost chickens to a continuously pulsing electric fence in the past.  Pulsing electric fences shock the predator and create a psychological barrier.  An electric fence, if you can install one, will be a great step forward in saving chickens. Please check with your HOA, town or city to ensure that you can have an electric fence.  If you can that is great and you’ll have a ring of defense around your chicken coop.  Make sure your neighbors know you have an electric fence.  You don’t want them to be shocked when they find out about your new electric fence.

Grazing behind La Casita

The goats and chickens at the back yard fence of La Casita

Pulsing electric fences are of little danger to people.  In fact I have had guests staying at La Casita accidentally touch my well marked electric fence.  I have been shocked on more times than I can count. If you have an electric fence you will get shocked. You’ll find the shock of the electric fence is much more invigorating than a cup of coffee! It is unpleasant but if intermittent the danger to you or your animals is low.  If you install an electric fence install it right.  Visit my Electric Fence Installation page for installation tips. Correct installation is very important. Additionally, an electric fence requires line maintenance.  I walk my roughly quarter mile of electric fence every couple of weeks checking for breaks, limbs lying on the line and to trim grass/weeds.  Many fence controllers or fencers have an indicator to show if the fence is shorted out.  My fence controller is a Fi-shock 1000SX AC current powered 20 mile fence controller. I have a backup 12 volt battery powered DC fencer just in case of an extended power outage.

Tip #3 – Use Visual deterrents, alarms and provide good cover:


Close up of the scare tape. Note the duct tape used for reinforcement

The last recommendation is to utilize visual deterrents and audible alarms.  Visual deterrents are overhead streamers, pulsing lights and perhaps a predator decoy (owl decoys seem to work for some people).  I use a streamer made by predator guard that is suspended on a cord about 8 ft high between my shed and coop and the coop and a tree. I place about a 3 to 5 ft long streamer about every 2 or 3 paces along the overhead cord. The purpose of the string of streamers is to physically block flying predators and confuse them with reflections and noise.  I use Predatorguard “Scare Tape” which is a foil product that makes a lot of noise, reflects a lot of light and moves easily in the wind.

Predatorguard Deterrent Light

Predatorguard Deterrent Light at work

Predator Guard Scare Tape streamers

Streamers made with Predator Guard Scare Tape strung between buildings and trees.

For nighttime defense I use solar powered Predatorguard Deterrent Lights which flash a pair of red “eyes” intermittently throughout the night.  I place these on the coop. One up high to deter owls and one down low to deter four legged predators.  Lastly, I keep a rooster.  My rooster, One Eyed Willy is the survivor of a coop attack by a raccoon.  Despite being blind in one eye he is alert and devoted to keeping his 11 girls safe.  If anything looks out of place he sounds the alarm and the hens run for cover. The hens stay close to treed areas, under equipment, under their coop, or under the shed when resting or taking a dust bath.  My coop was intentionally built elevated to provide a hiding place for my hens in addition to being a great place for a dust bath or resting out of the hot sun.

hens at dragonfly pond

My flock of chickens at Dragonfly pond behind La Casita

Another physical deterrent and alarm you may want to consider are crows.  Crows will drive off hawks and Great Horned owls.  If you have crows in your area and you raise chickens thing carefully before trying to drive them off.  While the crows may eat some pecans, corn or even raid bird nests for eggs and chicks (even in the hen house) I believe that generally their faults are outweighed by there predator deterrent benefits.  Put a little corn out for the crows every once in a while.  They are great watchers, alarms and will drive off a hawk or owl.

Enjoy your flock!

I hope my tips have been useful to both current and future chicken keepers.  So, far after several months of operation I have lost 1 bantam hen to a hawk.  After which I put up the scare tape streamers.  Since then each morning after the door of the coop opens One Eyed Willy leads his girls out to forage.  I enjoy watching them in the morning as I drink my coffee.  As I watch I know that just outside the wire of the electric fence the predators are watching and waiting!  The job of protecting chickens is never done.  Good luck protecting your flock!

All the Best,

Jim Hamrick

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