The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: Africa

A Predator Problem We Don’t Have In The South

I’ve mentioned previously that we work with Bible missionaries stationed in Sierra Leone, West Africa. We received these photos this afternoon. They were taken last night when they found this five foot long cobra in their chicken coop.

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As much as I don’t like having to deal with raccoons and possums and the occasional fox, I’ll take them any day over having to deal with cobras.

Here is what happened in the words of Mrs. Laura Holt, who took these photos:

Last night around 9:00, Stephen and I were enjoying the cool evening air on the veranda when I heard a ripple of distress pass through the chickens. I know the voice of my flock and was certain I knew what the problem was. Stephen and I grabbed flash lights and sure enough, there it was – a five-foot cobra! In recent months we have lost 4 hens to snake bites so we didn’t want to let this one get away.

While I ran to get two shovels, a machete and the camera, Stephen was able to keep the beast fairly well corralled with the flash light – they hate light so he kept it going in circles by strategically shining the beam of light in its eyes. At one point it tried to climb a tree just outside the poultry yard but with no branches low enough it was unsuccessful though it did reach a height of about 5 feet. It finally curled into a tight ball at the base of the tree.

While holding the flash light in his mouth Stephen dealt a hard blow to the back of the beast with the shovel. Despite its serious wound it still had strength enough to climb the gate to the chicken yard all the while spitting venom and emitting a low but evil sounding hiss and a growl-like sound; very creepy. Stephen then pinned it to the gate with the two shovels but it managed to slip out and went to the ground. With the snake thus weakened he then took the machete and severed its head.

All the while Mercy was a valiant assistant. At one point he did bite the snake though we tried to keep him back as best we could. But his maneuvers were a helpful distraction to the snake so Stephen was able to get a very clear shot at the base of the head. Mercy hates snakes and has a natural sense that they need to die. He has killed a few but they were not poisonous. He even has a special bark he uses only when a snake is present and I always take that alert seriously. I dread the day when he tries to face one of these deadly foes on his own. When I was doing my morning chores today I found one hen who had fallen victim to the snake.

Chickens in Africa

Following is a letter that I received from a missionary in Sierra Leone, West Africa who we work very closely with. They have plenty of experience raising chickens in America, but being in Africa changes the game completely. I am working on a reply – any suggestions would be appreciated!


I have some chicken questions and I was hoping that you could bounce them around your various hen-pecked friends. Any input is welcomed. I am seriously trying to get some notes together for you as you requested but it just has not happened. For now I will just address the troublesome situations with these incredibly neurotic birds. Rhode Island Reds they ain’t!

Problem One: they utterly refuse to go into the coop at night. Initially Mercy and I were herding them in. He is extremely good at it and we managed to force them in with relatively little trouble. Slowly but noticeably they became more difficult to persuade to go inside. We tried a light; a leg off the PV system. No way. For the last week I have given up and allow them to sleep outside. They are so content and my reluctance to force them in is that when they are in the coop they bunch up so badly that I regularly had suffocations. They tightly pack just inside the door as if to say, “Alright, you want us in but we will go no further.” There is plenty of room. They are not afraid of the coop; they go in and out all day; that is where the laying boxes are. I am just stymied by the behavior. When outside they loosely group together for the night but not in heaps like when inside. We are considering closing in the feeding shed, which is open on two sides, with gates that can be opened during the day to allow ranging in the yard and closed at night.(see picture at the bottom) The trouble with letting them just be out in the open at night is animals and particularly cobras whom we are told have a fondness for chicken. Suggestions?

Problem Two: we need a watering system. We have a water line running from the house tank to the poultry yard. Currently we just use plastic basins. It was never intended to stay that way and we have tossed around some ideas but are not settled on anything. I know that dirty water is a major source of disease and I am very diligent to keep it as clean as possible but it does get filthy. I told Stephen about your system, as much as I could remember anyway, so he is very curious about it. Currently we have about 145 birds. But keep in mind that we are seriously considering a major expansion. The market in this area for fresh eggs is huge and we want to take advantage of it to help fund the mission. So when considering water solutions think that we will have 1000 birds and a much larger coop. The coop will eventually have its own water tower and small PV system. The PV will more be for a few lights in the storage area but could perhaps run a small circulator pump. It needs to be effective but very simple; generator is not an option. But that is for the larger number which will be a year or more before it happens. Suggestions for both the small and large flock will be appreciated.

Problem Three: I have lost some hens to a strange illness. None of my books give me what I need to diagnose clearly. What happens is the birds develop a difficulty walking; their legs go stiff so that when they do walk they have to swing the legs out to the side. They look more like they are rowing than walking. Then they collapse and the wings go droopy. The head is alert and they are clearly in distress attempting to get back up on their legs. At the point of collapse the legs are straight out the back and extremely stiff. When I pick them up I can feel that they are having what I would call tremors especially in the shoulder area; sometimes these are fairly violent. Sometimes it is accompanied by raspy breathing, even gurgling. I have found that antibiotic given orally in a high dose (by force with a syringe) will generally keep them from dying. I don’t know if the illness itself is bacterial or if the antibiotics are merely treating secondary infection. Sometimes they appear to be improving and within an hour or so can be dead. I have an infirmary where I remove them to just in case it is contagious. The onset is rapid and death comes quickly if I don’t get it in time with antibiotic. Help!!

I have broad spectrum antibiotic which goes into the general water supply. I try to use it sparingly only as a treatment but it can be given at a lower dose for prevention. I have had a terrible time with cholera but thankfully not Newcastle. “Chickening” here is certainly different. I am weary of losing my beautiful birds.

This is the feeding shed.  The coop is to the right and opens directly to the shed; the roof joins the roof of the coop.  We are considering closing the two open sides so the birds can sleep outside but still be protected.  Here I am holding “White Boy” our only rooster to slip through the sexing process.  He and Mercy are sworn enemies and are very funny to watch.  These roosters do not have spurs!  White Boy is headed for the pot and has been put in jail as he was causing too many injuries to my girlies.  It is hard to see here but he is very pretty with lots of gold in his feathers.

This is the feeding shed. The coop is to the right and opens directly to the shed; the roof joins the roof of the coop. We are considering closing the two open sides so the birds can sleep outside but still be protected. Here I am holding “White Boy” our only rooster to slip through the sexing process. He and Mercy are sworn enemies and are very funny to watch. These roosters do not have spurs! White Boy is headed for the pot and has been put in jail as he was causing too many injuries to my girlies. It is hard to see here but he is very pretty with lots of gold in his feathers.

This is the coop.  The white portion to the left is cement block, ventilation screening on three sides, and a metal door.  The wooden part is the feeding shed.  The design is great but the dumb clucks will not use the coop at night.  I was wondering if it were too hot inside but they bunch up so badly.  It does get quite hot inside at night and I feel the temperature when I open the door in the morning.  But wouldn’t you think that if they were hot inside they would spread out like they do when they sleep outside?   Is it possible that if they are hot, they get distressed and bunch near the door thinking they can get out?  They are very neurotic and high strung so maybe that is the answer.   I know they go in there during the day because it can often be cooler inside but with them all inside and the door closed maybe the heat is too much.

This is the coop. The white portion to the left is cement block, ventilation screening on three sides, and a metal door. The wooden part is the feeding shed. The design is great but the dumb clucks will not use the coop at night. I was wondering if it were too hot inside but they bunch up so badly. It does get quite hot inside at night and I feel the temperature when I open the door in the morning. But wouldn’t you think that if they were hot inside they would spread out like they do when they sleep outside? Is it possible that if they are hot, they get distressed and bunch near the door thinking they can get out? They are very neurotic and high strung so maybe that is the answer. I know they go in there during the day because it can often be cooler inside but with them all inside and the door closed maybe the heat is too much.

Guess I’d better quit here. That really covers everything anyway. I will send you some more pix soon along with my notes about this breed – promise. I truly miss my RIR’s. Hope all is well with your little flock. Thanks in advance for your capable assistance.


Photo credit: Stephen and Laura Holt, Sierra Leone, West Africa

Dogs and Chickens

There are some photos that are just too good to not share. Below is a photo sent to us by our friends, who are Bible missionaries in Sierra Leone, West Africa. They have two Australian Shepherds named Goodness and Mercy. I’ll let Mrs. Holt tell the story in her own words:

The attached picture is Mercy as he plays baby sitter to our 200 chicks. They just love him and he is so gentle with them. He helps herd them into the coop at night. Then, upon the command to “check” he criss-crosses the fenced yard looking for any strays. He does an excellent job. He is very protective of them and recently killed a cat (his fifth) that was trying to get into the coop at night. The chicks will begin producing eggs by November or December which will be sold to the company.

“The company” she mentions is the gold mining company (run by Europeans) in the town they are near. A good farm dog is invaluable anywhere, but in a place like the African bush where hostile creatures – both two legged and four legged – abound, a good farm dog can literally be a life-saver. Their dogs have alerted them to a cobra trying to get into the house via a drain pipe, barked to alert them of a brush fire approaching their house, chased or killed several rabid dogs, and defended them against hostile natives trying to do them harm.

Photo by Laura Jean Holt
Sierra Leone, West Africa

Gardening in West Africa

This is a follow-up to a previous post in which I mentioned that some of the seeds that I have been collecting from my garden would be sent to Sierra Leone, West Africa with some of our missionary friends. These photos are some that they sent of their garden.

Although okra was originally brought to America from Africa, the variety of okra grown there today is typically a very primitive type. There is very little attention paid to developing improved varieties, so the best route was for them to bring seeds back from America and hope that they will serve as the foundation for a strain that will be well-suited for the West African environment.

In West Africa, the climate is tropical, but the dry season is influenced by the Sahara, to the north. The dry season is very dry and the rainy season is very rainy. In the words of Joseph, their local helper, “Sista, let de rain meet your seeds in de soil.” Very simple words from very simple people, but containing much wisdom.

Part of the garden. In the background is the classroom building where native men are trained in The Bible. The tree in the center is a Moringa tree - an incredibly useful tree that I hope to get growing here.

Okra from our garden now growing in West Africa. The variety is Clemson Spineless.

Blue Lake Bush beans getting started.

Saving Eggplant Seeds

Eggplant seeds are processed much like tomatoes. The main difference is that tomatoes are allowed to ferment in the same liquid that is used to separate the seeds, while eggplant fruit is rotted first and then added to water to separate the seeds. Fair warning – rotten eggplant has a really nasty smell (the seeds, of course, are completely odorless).

Processing the eggplant to remove the seeds is very much like panning for gold. The seeds are heavier than the pulp, and they sink to the bottom while the pulp and other trash is poured out from the top. After a few rinse and pour cycles, you are left with nice clean eggplant seeds.

Yes, this is far more seed than any gardener could possibly need, but there are two reasons why I process so many:

  • Eggplants are an in-breeding variety. Even though you may only need a couple of plants to supply all your needs, if you are saving seeds, you need to plant as many as possible (six is considered the absolute minimum) in order to maintain genetic diversity in your plants and their seeds.
  • Part of the joy of saving seeds is being able to give them away. A large quantity of seeds from this batch was carried to West Africa by missionary friends who will be planting them in their garden and sharing them with the natives in their village. They also carried a number of other seeds from our garden and seeds that others have shared with us.

Probably the single best reference book for saving seeds is Seed to Seed, by Suzanne Ashworth. Sub-titled Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, it is filled with detailed information about the best way to process and store seeds for maximum long-term viability. It is an essential book for any Southern Agrarian.

Eggplant fruit thoroughly rotted and ready for seed harvesting. One is not sufficiently rotted and was not used. A slotted seedling tray was used to hold the fruit as it rotted.

The eggplant fruits are added to a bucket of water where they are squeezed into a slurry.

Remove any chunks of eggplant that are large enough to pick up. These will be added into the compost pit.

Carefully pour off the water and the pulp. The seeds will have settled down to the bottom of the bucket.

Continue pouring until just before the seeds start to pour out. The pulp that accumulates can either be added to the compost or washed into the grass with a hose.

Add water, swish it around, and pour. Continue cleaning the seeds until you can't remove any more pulp, then carefully pour out as much water as possible.

Air dry the seeds until they no longer clump together.

The semi-dry seeds are spread on a sheet of parchment paper in the dehydrator and dried for about 6 hours at 100° F. The steel nuts are used as weights to keep the parchment paper flat. A better method is to use binder clips from an office supply store, but in this case, I only had enough clips for one of the three trays I was using.

After the seeds have been fully dried, pour them into a clean, dry canning jar and screw the lid down tightly. They should be stored in a cool dark place.

The dehydrator that we use is the Excalibur large 9-tray, Model #3926T. It is a forced air unit and has a timer and adjustable temperature control. A good dehydrator should be a part of any homestead. We have been well pleased with our Excalibur.