June 22. I was in the chicken yard the other day when Baxter slipped over the fence from the orchard with a fresh-caught gopher. Baxter is a tabby cat of feral ancestry, born under a storage shed here to a mother who appeared in the neighborhood only days before giving birth. When he sees a mouse he purrs. He’s our complete rodent control program. Before Baxter, ground squirrels had their own tunnel entrances into each enclosed outdoor chicken pen. They lay around in the grain bowls, flipping their tails in the face of any chicken who tried to eat. On Baxter’s watch, the ground squirrel village has relocated 100 yards from the chickens and we only have to concern ourselves with their forays into the big hoophouse in the pasture, which is a little beyond Baxter’s range. Before Baxter, if we went into the chicken house at night we were sure to hear the scurrying sound of mice running up the walls as we opened the door. Now Baxter asks to be locked in there for the night once every couple weeks, and we never see a mouse.
The hens, especially the Spangled Russian Orloffs, who are good mousers themselves in daylight, understand and appreciate Baxter’s talent. They keep an eye on the cat, following him closely in order to be ready to steal away his catch. (How does a chicken eat a mouse? She first holds it by the tail and bangs it on the ground to tenderize it, then swallows it whole, head first.) So why would Baxter bring his gopher into the chicken yard? He laid it on the ground under the manzanitas and gazed at the plump body for a few minutes, then started on the head. At the first little crunch, an Orloff hen ran over to investigate. Baxter ate the whole gopher, quickly, while she watched with great interest. Just showing off?