Never in my wildest dreams, would I ever thought I’d have eagerly sprung out of bed before 6 am this morning to check the (live) box trap hoping to have caught a varmint overnight. But then again, I didn’t think we’d only have only 4 chickens in our chicken coop right now, either.
Yesterday started out like any other typical Sunday morning, we leisurely woke up and started working on a few projects around the house. We had a full to-do-list on our minds, since we just purchased the cabinets for our hallway/pantry remodeling project the day before at Ikea.
It was about 9 am when Ray complained that our ‘girls’ (chickens) were still in their coop hogging down their feed and not out visiting with us near the house like they normally do. Normally, first thing in the morning our chickens congregate near our house, looking all cute and lovable, begging for treats. Often we have leftovers from last night’s dinner or chopped up beef fat to give to them. The only chickens we had seen that morning were Zeus (our rooster) with a just a couple hens.
We reduced our flock last fall, to just 13 laying hens and 2 roosters (Zeus and Goldie – a small bantam rooster) in order to simplify things and cut back on feed costs. 15 chickens didn’t seem like much since we had over 30 chickens last summer and we’ve had roughly 20 chickens in our backyard flock for the past 8+ years.
Ray headed out to the coop and I was busily wiping down an old cabinet that we were repurposing. Before I knew it Ray was back, white as a ghost and said “Hayley, something got into the coop and killed our chickens.” Ray was calm as I ran past him, immediately crying and screaming “MY GIRLS!!”
I remember thinking he was joking or it was a mistake. It couldn’t happen. This isn’t true. Not our coop, not OUR GIRLS.
But it was undeniably true. I opened the coop door to find 10 of our chickens laid out on the floor of the coop, cold and stiff. They were all bitten at the back/base of their heads, with blood on their feathers. Miss Maran (our Black Copper Maran) hen was still alive, but barely.
I couldn’t fathom how this could possibly happen to us, to our girls in our coop. We took so many precautions against this type of invasion. When we built our chicken coop and constructed our runs, we spared no expense and put in countless hours of back breaking work.
I remember crawling on my hands & knees in the pouring down rain, burying hard wire mesh fence 6+ inches into the ground to make sure that when our chickens are locked up in their run, no predators can dig under the fence. And how difficult it was to put heavy duty bird netting over top of our 3 large runs to protect them against flying predators as well.
Although we have a large secure run attached to our chicken coops, our girls spend most of their lives free ranging on 3 acres of our homestead. We’ve always been comfortable with the risk of them free ranging during the day in exchange for the benefit of them having access to fresh grass & bugs. When ever there was any sign of risk we’d keep them confined in their run as a precaution (i.e. when we notice lots of hawks in the area or when we go away on vacation).
Their coop is safe and secure, at least we thought so before finding our beloved girls dead on Sunday morning. We have hard wire mesh cloth on the windows and an automatic door that closes when the sun goes down so there’s no risk of us accidentally forgetting to tuck them in at night.
Chickens naturally go back to their home before sunset, you don’t have to herd them into their house, in that respect chickens are completely awesome pets. After they are all safely in their house and on roost, when the light sensor on the automatic door senses that the sun has completely set the door closes.
But Saturday night, it was obvious that the door didn’t close. We visited with the girls Saturday evening and everyone was fine.
We’ve used these automatic doors on our 2 coops for years. It was not the fault of the door, we had below freezing temperatures and Ray said that it looks like the door got stuck/frozen open. We didn’t check to make sure the doors closed.
Ultimately, it is our fault that our chickens were killed.
I picked up Miss Maran (who was badly injured and barely alive) and held her as close to me as I could, crouching amongst my feathered friends, sobbing. Chica, Brandy, Thelma & Louise, both of the Buffs, Scarletts, so many of our friends …. even my little rooster Goldie were all dead.
I respect nature and understand how everything works together. Just as naturally humans eat animals for their survival, so do other animals. Over the years we’ve lost a few chickens to predators (mostly hawks) but they were isolated events and understandable since, at the very least, another animal took the life of one of our chickens to sustain it’s own.
Most of my guilt is in the fact that lives were taken but not used to sustain another. We are chicken self-sufficient on our homestead, meaning that in addition to having laying hens for eggs we also raise & butcher our own chickens for meat. We also have a lots of venison in our freezer from last year’s hunting season, both my husband and I hunt. The death of an animal to sustain our own life is something we’ve come to respect and take the responsibility upon our own shoulders.
This morning, we found boastful satisfaction in catching the mink that killed our chickens in the live box trap we set last night. It’s nearly unfathomable to comprehend that such a small (and cute looking) animal cause such devastating destruction of life – I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why it brutally attacked 11 chickens, when it would only need 1 for weeks of nourishment.
Sometimes nature is cruel.
Yesterday afternoon, I stood at the farm store, picking out our new flock with tears streaming down my face. I love baby chicks and it is so hard to find joy in them when still plagued with such overwhelming sadness. Although our homestead lost 10 friends yesterday, we gained 24 new cute little fluffy ones. (Luckily, local stores that had baby chicks available for purchase)
We are rebuilding, this will not break us.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining and although we’ve had to go through heart break we must learn from and grow from our mistakes. Ray made some modifications to the placement of the automatic door yesterday and is designing a closed door indicator light to help give us piece of mind going forward. But we’ve also put alerts on our iPhones to remind us to go out and see with our own eyes that the door did shut after sunset.
As for Miss Maran, it’s not looking good. She suffered 1 large wound in the back of her head/neck and lost a lot of blood. There seems to be some paralysis of her right leg and some neurological symptoms. She’s in the “chicken hospital” — a medium sized dog crate in our garage — she’s nestled in a blanket nest and the crate is covered for some dark/quietness for her recovery. I’ve packed her wound with coconut oil (which has worked for us very well in the past as an antibiotic ointment for chicken wounds) and I keep offering her electrolyte water/kefir/yogurt/egg yolks as nourishment (she took some yesterday but is refusing this morning). Only time will tell.
I respect and understand that each and everyone of us feels differently about the role that animals play in our lives. We share our home, lives and bed with our pets; black lab, Hercules and 2 cats, Lainey & Baloney. But we also hunt deer and raise chickens as a part of our homestead and ultimately use them to nourish our bodies, just because of how the story ends doesn’t mean we don’t love them every day they are here. We started on our journey as homesteaders to shoulder the burden of responsibility for the foods we eat. To ensure that the animals that are going into our bodies were loved and respected, as they should be. The biggest part of the burden is shouldering events like what we’ve experienced recently.
So, respectfully, if you have harsh words or want to remind me of the guilt we should have that lives were lost, I can assure you there is nothing you can say to me that can even come close to inflicting the guilt and sadness I am already carrying with me. I can, however, promise to do better.
** update Mon 3-23-15, Miss Maran passed away tonight, we did everything we could for her but she had refused food and water for the past 12 hours. She survived roughly 40 hours after the attack.