March 12th, 2007

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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By Denny Conrad (ConRanch Hackle)
Elk, Washington

Running a small business is always a difficult thing. Trying to balance a small budget is always a not fun thing. One of the ways we have tried over the years to keep our expenses down is to limit our employees. As most of you that know us here at the Ranch, it is just Liz and myself that do all the work. This is the way we want it and actually enjoy doing it this way. Yes, I suppose we could hire several additional workers and maybe make a few dollars more. I doubt it.

Insurance is a big thing in any home or business. We had a very good guard dog for 15 years. Shadow was not only an employee but our best friend. As Shadow was getting older we searched long and hard for a replacement for her. As many of you know, Conn was added a couple years ago after Shadow's passing. He is a very large (150 lbs) Kangal dog from Turkey. In his native country the Kangal is used for protecting sheep flocks from wolves. We do not have wolves around our NW Ranch. We do have more than our share of coyotes and a few other varmints.

Before Conn arrived we built a 6,000 square foot kennel that goes around the outside of the two barns, He has the run of both outside and inside. Anything that gets inside is his. There is another link to the "out at the barn" guard dog and that is the 10 year old house dog, Ghia. She is a Jack Russell Terrier. Whenever Conn sounds off she makes sure I know about it. As large and tough as Conn is, he fears or respects only Ghia. Ghia will put him in his place quickly. I think he may not fear her, just smart enough to know no matter what, Ghia will sleep on Dads bed at night. I am pleased with our barn employee, Conn, and he is head of Security.

Ghia and pups

About two months ago I started seeing what I suspected were casting from a bird of prey. Many years ago I had a license to practice Falconry. I was allowed to have and catch from the wild two of seven specie of hawks. I trapped and manned and hunted a four old female Gosh hawk. After eating a bird of prey will throw off a pellet of not digestible fur/bone/etc. So with my background in falconry I was suspicious of what I was finding.

One day I saw something out of the corner of my eye and the movement was a very small owl. In looking closer I could see where it had been roosting and it was not afraid of me at all and actually tolerated me to go about my barn chores without becoming overly nervous.

Point of note: Whenever one raises any animal such as birds, one will have a population of mice. It is an ongoing battle and many different means are used to control them. We try very hard to have NO mice but that is just a figment of my imagination.

As time passes by and I am getting to know my little Saw-whet owl better I see he hangs mice up in the rafters for later consumption. I have counted five stashes of mice at any given time. Looking in my bird books I see where this is one of the owl's ways of hunting and feeding. Like a squirrel stashing nuts, the owl stashes mice.

I got to thinking was it possible to try and attract another owl of the opposite sex and perhaps have them as a family of New Employees, "Mouse Control?" I searched the Internet and found a lot of information and even plans to build a nest box that should work. How to attract a female? (I was sure the one we had was a male as they are always smaller but with no comparison could not be positive as the books tell me they look alike except for size.)

One day a couple weeks ago I see where my lil' guy has called a friend into his barn to help with the mousing chores. The new owl is a bit larger (not much) but has a very different personality. She is not as tolerant of us feeding and watering as is our boy. Hopeful she will eventually settle down a bit more. I have not built and hung a nest box yet but this chore is high on my to do list.

Here is a photo of the male I will share here with all of you. I have not tried to photograph the new female yet. I do not want to put her under duress and or scare her off.

Saw-Whet Owl

If you've never heard one of these owls, here is a link.

I am happy to report that the numbers of mice seen hanging in the rafters has gone up a bit. One to two days is about the most they stay hanging before they disappear and new ones are added.

Liz and I are very pleased with our new Ranch Employees. We are truly blessed to be able to enjoy life away from the fast paced city life.

Just wanted to share our newest employees, Saw-Whet Mouse Controllers. ~ Denny

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