Wildlife

Although Crowes Nest is a farm, it is also a wildlife sanctuary. We were licensed rehabbers and currently provide homes for unreleasable wildlife, requiring registration with US Fish and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife. All of the wild animals on the farm have been injured, abused, or raised in captivity and are deemed unreleasable as they would be unable to survive on their own. Our goal is to provide these animals with the best life possible, while teaching the public about why animals are beneficial to ecosystems and food chains. 

The farm's property backs up to hundreds of untouched acres that are purely used for cattle grazing. The wildlife that are seen each day remind us of how blessed we are to live in a healthy ecosystem with a large diversity in species. To be a champion of agriculture and animal life, you must first be able to recognize what a healthy ecosystem is. Even in a neighborhood, there are age-old signs of a flourishing environment: frogs and toads, large volumes of insects, both flying and crawling, crickets and cicadas calling at night, song birds, and the occasional view of raccoons and/or opossums. Here's why: Frogs and toads only exist where water is present, and they feed on insects. Other animals that primarily eat insects are birds, bats, snakes, and lizards. Bats eat flying arthropods like mosquitos, flies, and moths, and are also pollinators of seeds and fruits. Most people are scared when they discover bats nearby, but fear not, bats are not going to suck your blood. The primary species we see here in central Texas is the Mexican Free-tail, and the presence of bats means there is a population of owls, hawks, raccoons, and opossums that eat bats as a major food source. So here is the food chain: Insects eat waste -> Frogs, toads, bats, birds, snakes, lizards, and turtles eat insects -> Raccoons, opossums, snakes, and lizards eat frogs and toads -> Owls, hawks, fox, bobcats, and coyotes eat birds, bats, raccoons, opossums, snakes, and lizards. So to sum it up, the presence of a few small things actually implies the presence of a very large and robust ecosystem. When humans step in and eradicate even one small piece of this system, it can damage the entirety of it. Each of these so called "puzzle pieces" plays a vital role in the consumer and producer processes in nature, ensuring that everything has a place and a reason for being. Certain things were created to be food for other things, and this harsh reality is something that everyone must understand; all the way from humans to animals to ants.

Being on the edge of "the country," the farm sees a larger volume of wildlife than most of our guests. We are also smack dab in the middle of a migratory path and see sandhill cranes and black bellied whistling ducks each fall and spring. The tell-tail sign that warm weather is coming is hearing the bleak squawking of the formations of cranes, miles up in the sky. They are extremely hard to see, but if you listen, you can hear the faint calls. We also see mallard, teal, pintail, shoveler, and redheaded ducks, along with great white egrets, great blue herons, and wild turkeys. In fact, an egret nested and raised a chick in one of our ponds through last fall and winter! But swimming and wading birds are not the only ones that make Crowes Nest their home. We have a large population of meat eating birds, or Raptors (Birds of Prey). There are five members of the Raptor family: Vultures, owls, hawks, falcons, and eagles. Central Texas natively sees members of each species family except eagles. Each morning, Caracaras (otherwise known as Mexican Eagles, but actually a member of the falcon family) are seen stalking prairie dogs, Kestrels are seen snagging field mice, and red tailed hawks are finishing their cotton tailed rabbits for breakfast. Just as turkey vultures and black vultures are cleaning up roadkill during the day, great horned owls and screech owls hunt silently at night for mice, rats, rabbits, small dogs, cats, and even ducks! I have literally seen a great horned owl fly off the ground holding a full grown male mallard duck in its talons. Because of urban sprawl, owls and hawks now inhabit most neighborhoods and pose a real threat to house pets. Think about this as you walk small dogs at night, listen for hoots and shrills. Something may be watching you from the trees!

Birds of Prey are riddled with what are called "structural adaptations." Let me explain: Structural adaptations are unique characteristics that organisms develop over time to better allow them to live more efficiently and effectively. Owls for example, are able to fly silently due to the presence of their fringe-edged feathers. One side of the owl's flight feathers has long, soft vanes, while the other side has short, stiff, separated vanes. Feathers like these enable the air to pass through as the bird flaps its wings, making flight almost completely silent. This is why owls are known as silent hunters and are so easily able to take their prey by surprise. Owls also bear omni-directional hearing, or large ears placed asymmetrically on their head. This is how night hunters may spot seemingly invisible meals at the sound of a tiny foot touching a leaf. Another adaptation is the flight lid. All birds have a second, clear eye lid that acts as a goggle during flight, keeping debris out and moisture in. Furthermore, all birds of prey are unique in having sharp, curved beaks which allow them to easily rip and dissect their prey. They have unbelievably strong and sharp talons that enable the breaking of bones upon impact and the ability to maintain an unrelenting grip on whatever vermin has become the present day's casualty. Binocular vision allows birds like hawks and falcons to hover high in the air but be able to spot and stalk small game from afar.

Now that I've covered the avian class, I want to talk about four legged predators. The farm has its slew of threats, primarily against sheep, goats, and birds. In 2016, the farm lost about half of its sheep and goat population due to coyotes and mountain lions. Never before had we lost more than one or two animals a year to predators. The change in infiltration was unknown, but extremely destructive. We have since built our herds back up and corral them into enclosed barns each night. Although this is significantly more difficult, it is effective. Crowes Nest has not lost a single sheep or goat since the nightly lock-up began. However, other predators such as fox and raccoons have increased their focus on killing chickens, pheasants, and other birds. These are two of the smartest and craftiest predators in the wild of central Texas. The smallest opportunity will be taken advantage of to find food. But raccoons for example, aren't always even looking for food, they just like to kill. Be aware of these types of threats when you have an interest in starting a coupe. Use wire with a small weave so that raccoons can't fit their hands through; make sure there are no holes around the bottom of runs or structures to encourage digging; place rungs and enclosed nesting boxes to keep poultry off the ground at night. 

Wherever feed is found, mice, rats, and shrews will also be found. There is little more aggravating than picking up a bag of food with an unknown hole chewed through it, and having the remaining feed quickly pour onto the ground through your arms. The farm chooses not to use poison to exterminate vermin due to the significant wildlife population that eats them. Please also carefully consider challenges like this when you begin raising animals. Not only is poison inhumane, but it can damage ecosystems. For example, a poisoned rat can be eaten by a raccoon, poisoning the raccoon, which can be eaten by a bobcat, potentially poisoning the bobcat, which can be eaten by a vulture. As an animal life center, our official take is to use traps which encage animals, but don't kill them. Traps like these are used daily for raccoons, opossums, squirrels, and skunks. But for pests like mice and rats, extermination is truly the only effective solution. Vermin can cause structural damage, tree girdling, carry numerous diseases, contaminate large surfaces by urinating and defecating on EVERYTHING, and are the cause of massive feed loss. There is no solution other than dispatching and feeding to our birds of prey. Nothing goes to waste.

Snakes. One of the worlds most feared, but helpful creatures. Texas is fortunate (or unfortunate to most people) to have a huge variety of snakes. The United States only has four types of native venomous snakes, and all four happen to inhabit Texas: the rattlesnake (multiple varieties nationally), the water moccasin (cotton mouth), the corral snake, and the copperhead. Most people carry their fear of venomous snakes over to non-venomous snakes. Not all snakes are bad. Some snakes are considered pests to farmers as they eat baby animals and eggs, but most are considered helpful. Rat snakes do just what their name implies: eat rats and mice. King snakes, like the milk snake, are extremely helpful and will eat other snakes, especially venomous ones. Most of the public is uneducated when it comes to limbless, cold-blooded, slithering creatures. Cold blooded refers to having a body temperature that varies with that of their environment. Humans, and all mammals for that matter, are warm blooded, meaning that our blood temperature stays the same, year round and only varies slightly with illness. Reptiles, which include alligators, crocodiles, lizards, turtles, and snakes, are cold blooded, meaning that the hotter it is outside, the warmer their blood is, meaning the more active they are. Reptiles also lay eggs, have vertebrae, and have scales. The forked tongue you see on a snake is used for "smelling." They aren't being rude, they are "tasting" what their environment smells like. The tongue has receptors that grab scent and place it into two pits in the top of their mouth that transmit what the receptors grabbed, to the brain. This is accomplished dozens of times a minute. There is only one rule when you see a snake, and please, tell this to any children you know: no matter what kind of snake it is, LEAVE IT ALONE. Snakes don't want to hurt you. Very rarely are snakes aggressive without being prodded. Primarily, they are doing one of two things: looking for warmth or looking for food. So next time you see a snake, keep your distance, try to identify whether it's venomous or not, and leave it alone. If it is venomous, call animal control and keep clear of the area. If it isn't, it will usually leave by the next day.

Daily, vultures fly in and sit and squawk with the our caracara, turkeys come gobble with our turkeys and graze with our bison, cattle egrets sit on the backs of our longhorns as they feed, snakes come slithering through gardens in search of mice, beautiful skunks and fluffy foxes lurk, looking for a snack. We consider each day to be a gift, seeing all of God's creation on display before us. The woods are just a blank canvas, willing to be painted with whatever beauty we welcome to come out of it. You may see a smelly striped fur ball, but I see another important reason to love, respect and cherish nature. Not only does this creature just want to go about his day; not only does he want to leave you and everyone else alone; he plays an integral role in the world around us. Our precious wildlife are the natural pest control, garbage men, conservators, and roadkill cleaners of Texas. They waste nothing, they don't complain, and they are free for hire. So next time you see a vulture eating a decomposing unidentifiable creature on the side of the road, don't be disgusted, be thankful. We need them, we're thankful for them, and we'd be much worse off without them.

Raising Animals

As with children, raising animals is a challenge. Some would say it is more difficult because they can't communicate or tell you what the problem is, but sometimes humans act the same as animals. As you can imagine, we raise lots of babies on the farm. Each year, dozens of infants are born, most without issue, but regularly staff are needed to assist. Small mother cows periodically require assistance pulling a baby at the end of pregnancy, goats need help cleaning up after birthing, chicks need warmth and cleanliness, and so on. 

Unfortunately, some animals aren't up to the challenge of being a parent. Goats are especially troubled with this. Each winter there are usually half a dozen unwanted kids left to die while their swollen-uddered mothers go about their usual lives. We attempt to save all animals, but depending on how long the baby was left before we found it, not all endure. There is little more heartbreaking than having to find and bury an infant that was given no chance of life. The heartache and tears that stream down our faces are the only thing that can properly describe it. However, our goal is to never have to feel the pain that is loss. Most orphaned babies take to a bottle in one to two days, but require constant care. They cry relentlessly, have uncompromising diarrhea, and must be fed every two or three hours. Infant kids will drink six bottles per day for the first two weeks, and increase to ten thereafter. Pasteurized goat milk from the grocery store will do in a pinch, but is very expensive long-term and not nearly as beneficial as raw. We always try to milk the original mothers, as their udders enlarge from the lack of feeding. I'm not kidding, the udder turns from a small milk sack to a stretched, swollen basketball with teets that look more like turnips. Mastitis, an infection in the tissue causing inflammation from clogged milk ducts is most common, and in my opinion well deserved to these abhorrent mothers. However, I can't hate them and feel the need to help them, regardless of their poor choices. It only takes about ten minutes to hand-milk each mother, but they are the longest ten minutes of your life. Imagine this: bent over, sweat dripping from every pore of your body, breathing manure-coated dust, holding a goat leg in the air with one hand and squeezing a swollen and purple teet over and over into a bottle with the other. All of this while your counterpart holds a screaming, kicking, belligerent animal for dear life, trying not to let the animal move too much as to disturb the milking. EVERY DAY. It's tons of fun. 

The amazing thing about animals, and one of the primary reasons we love them so much, is their compassion. Animals can sense when something is wrong, whether it be with humans or with another animal. I want to share a story with you about one of the most amazing animals at the farm that you've probably never been able to meet. Her name is Chloe and she is now an elderly simmental cow. This unsuspecting black and white cow is the most kind animal on our farm, you can see the gentleness on her face. Many years ago, another of our dairy cows birthed a healthy calf, but only a few days after, was killed due to scratching her udder on a fence, slicing an artery, and bleeding out. This was a horrific and terrorizing event. We immediately attempted to cauterize the wound, but the animal was manic. The vet arrived and attempted the same, but ultimately, we lost her. This poor calf witnessed a tragic event and no longer had a mother. She would not nurse from store-bought milk and thus, lost weight and started to show signs of starvation and deprivation. All of us were without words, we hated to lose such a beautiful baby, especially adding to the hurt from her mothers decease. As a last resort, we attempted to let her out to pasture with the other cows, in hopes that one of the other mothers would take her. Chloe immediately approached the calf and took control. She licked the baby clean, letting her know she would be loved and cared for. I have to imagine that a conversation took place, with Chloe quelling the baby's fears and letting her know that she would now be the loving mother that was so desperately needed, and the baby warily agreeing. Within two days, the calf was healthy and mingling with other calves. Over the years, Chloe has mothered countless other unwanted, or poorly taken care of calves. She even nurses healthy babies that are curious about what her babies are loving so much! She has never once turned anyone away that needed love and care. She is the epitome of gentleness, compassion, and endless love in which animals are so regularly regarded. It pains me to say that she nears the end of her days, but she will always be loved and adored by all her farm family, and looked to as a model of what we should strive to be every day. 

Crowes Nest receives orphaned, injured, and neglected animals all the time, but rarely are they the animals that define us. Over the years, we have cared for multiple wild animals and domesticated animals that were basically house dogs. Let me preface what I am about to say with a statement: Never take wild animals and try to make them a pet. Crowes Nest Farm is a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center with US Fish and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife. WILD ANIMALS DO NOT MAKE GOOD PETS. Now that I have a proper disclaimer, I can move on. 

Bill was given to the farm as an orphaned kitten that was taken from its mother by hunters that found it in the woods. NEVER DO THAT! Oh, did I forget to mention that Bill was a bobcat? One of the men believed he could domesticate the kitten and make it a cool house pet. He also had it declawed as to not pose a threat to his future safety. Unfortunately, a spiteful neighbor reported him and the kitten was quickly confiscated. After evaluation, Texas Parks and Wildlife placed him with us. If you have not put the pieces of the puzzle together yet, Bill was deemed unreleasable due to his lack of claws. He would be unable to hunt, which would mean he would starve to death in the wild. Because of his early handling, Bill did become a tame and affectionate feline. Even once grown, we were able to hold him, hand feed him, and play with him. What a sight it was for our visitors to see Farmer Dave walk into view holding a 30 pound purring bobcat in his arms for everyone to pet! Bill spent the rest of his days at the farm eating plenty of fresh meat, purring up a storm, and entertaining thousands of guests with his wild beauty and curious nature. Bill was truly a one of a kind creature, one that showed us the majesty of nature and why wildlife are so special and not to be taken advantage of. Although I do miss him, I would not want to replace him. I just can't bare the thought of putting a healthy wild animal in a cage to live out their days. It's just not what they were created for.

Another unique friend was Ricky the raccoon. He had a similar origin as Bill, and acted akin in his ability to be held and played with. However, Ricky was a companion more than anything. He was so loved that we fed him specially, played with him extra, and loved him endlessly. Our affection added unwanted weight to this creature that naturally would have been slender. But the plump little critter was made even more adorable by his rolls and voluptuous figure. Ricky reminds me of a baby-like "michelin man." He would waddle when walking, sit upright on his bottom like an infant, and reach out his hands when he wanted what you were holding or wanted to be picked up. Think a chubby sloth with a cheerful demeanor. Raising Ricky was a very positive experience, but losing him was one of the hardest losses we've had to endure. I was in middle school when Ricky was overcome with a form of cancer. All of the farm staff that had the honor of knowing this friendly ball of fur were heartbroken with the news. I remember sitting with my brother and father, holding this animal that most people would have killed, thinking that there would never be another friend in the world like him. Even though Ricky wasn't a "pet," he had found a very special place in our hearts. One that would leave a deep void. One that left even the hardest of hearts softened. It was truly a loss of grand proportions.

Loss is something that all animal owners must become acquainted with. It is unfortunately undeniable. If you are going to take on the challenge of bringing new life into the world, you have to be strong enough to bare the trials that come along with it. Animals are not human, no matter how much we want them to be. They can't talk, they don't always listen, and they don't live 80 to 100 years. But that doesn't take away from the fact that they can be family. No matter what you own, acquire, or raise, remember that you do have to open your heart just enough for love to spill out. As much as we need love as humans, animals need it and deserve it as well, and boy to they return it. Remember the simple phrases: "you reap what you sow," "you get out what you put in," and "Hard work pays off" if you are up for the task. There is nothing more rewarding than raising your own flocks, feeding your family food fresh from the garden, and living life as it was originally intended: full.

 

Introduction

Hi everyone! My name is Bryan Williams, or Farmer Bryan to all of our farm friends. I am writing this blog to open up a new line of communication and information between the Farm and our fans. To do so, I would like to start off with providing some basic information about the farm, how it runs, and who does what. 

Crowes Nest is a family-run organization that loves to have fun, but needs your help to do it! We typically have around 400 visitors per day as part of four to six schools or groups. The farm is closed for January and February due to weather and to allow for construction, improvements, and clean up. March through May, the Farm is booked on weekdays with scheduled tours, and on Saturdays with Family Tour Days and Birthday Parties. Once school is out, we offer small tours on weekdays in June and July. We are then closed in August and September due to the heat. October is our favorite month of the year. We welcome the changing weather, open for tours on weekdays, offer festivals every saturday, and typically celebrate the new baby from one of our dairy cows. We stay open for November and half of December and then shut down in time for Christmas.

Dr. Diane Crowe started Crowes Nest with her son, Dave Williams, who is my father. The farm has been family run and operated since its inception in 1983. Over the years, all of the family has participated in some way or another by working tours or festivals, assisting with curriculum development, taking care of new, injured, or orphaned animals, or managing business functions. Farmer Dave has three kids: Chris, Bryan, and Natalie. Chris helps at the farm from time to time, but primarily manages the farms' advertising efforts while he owns and operates his own audio production company. Natalie is currently in college but loves to care for the baby animals when she is home. As for myself, I have worked with State Law Enforcement as a professional trainer and law enforcement equipment procurement supervisor for six years. I manage the farms media pages and website, as well as the farms expenditures. My mother is an art teacher with AISD and a fantastic potter. She primarily works the fall festivals by running the face painting booth and selling her famous home made bread. I'm serious, if you have not had this bread, it is some of the best you will ever have. Make sure to buy it as soon as you get there, it tends to sell out quickly!

Although not all of our staff are blood relatives, we consider them family. Eric and Joyce are married and have been with the Farm for 22 years. Both of them were professional educators in their early careers. Clare has worked as a professional librarian all over the US and Europe, and as a librarian at Dr. Crowe's elementary schools. Now, she has been on staff at the farm for many years as well. Megan grew up attending camp at the farm, working summer camp, and now working tours a few days a week. Her primary job is a professional social worker in a medical care facility.

Now that you know who we are, tune in for later posts to find out why we do what we do, urban farming topics, and all of the crazy stories and adventures we have had over the years!