It took me far too long to get this story down, mainly because our chicken situation is abnormally complex. I’m not sure how that happened, but it did….
For the past year or so, we have had two flocks of chickens. We have a small, “pet flock” that contains chickens we have had for years, and a large flock we started last spring that includes Larkspur’s birthday chickens. (Larkspur’s chickens were not meant to remain part of the large flock for long, but there was a housing shortage…)
Last week, due to a communications mix-up between my older boys, our pet flock wasn’t shut up at dusk as is our habit. Jonny and I were up late that evening, and about midnight it occurred to me that just such a mix-up might have occurred. Jonny went outside, and sure enough the door to our smaller flock’s coop was open. Jonny shut it, and we assumed all was well. The next morning, I looked out the window and noticed what appeared to be feathers surrounding the coop. I can’t remember who went out to investigate first (I’m squeamish, so it wasn’t me) but one of the boys came inside to deliver the grim details. Evidently, by the time Jonny had closed the coop the night before, it was too late. Of one rooster (our big buff orpington, Wattles) and nine hens, only Wattles and two hens remained. Included in the carnage were the two babies that we so enjoyed watching grow up last year. The two that Mama Hen (snatched in an earlier raid) so carefully raised to adulthood last fall. (Photos of them here, here, and here.) Four of the hens were gone completely, and the other three bodies were scattered about. I cried like a baby, even more so than my girls. That flock has been with us for so long, and I just felt such a sense of loss in addition to guilt, because we failed to keep them safe.
Over the days that followed we used those poor hens’ bodies as bait in a few traps that we set out. One at a time the bodies vanished, but the traps were left empty. Two of the traps I can understand something being able to escape from if it tried hard enough. They are made for trapping feral cats, not wildlife. But the third trap, a nice big sturdy one, how something escaped from that is a mystery to us. Whatever it was, it did a lot of digging next to the trap before finally going in the entrance to grab the chicken. It must have been large enough to crawl in and grab it with it’s back end stopping the trap door from closing completely. We believe it could have been a coyote (we’ve heard them in the area, but not seen them), though we suspect it was a raccoon in the initial raid, owing to the fact that dead hens were left behind. Of course, these are all just guesses. We just don’t know.
There has definitely been some good to come out of the situation. Jonny spent every spare moment last week working on the giant portable henhouse he began about three years ago, at our old house. (Gabe put in quite a few hours as well.) It is constructed entirely of lumber he milled himself on an old hay wagon frame he purchased on Craigslist. He finished it a few nights ago, pulled it down the hill into the backyard, and we moved all the big flock except Larkspur’s black copper marans into it. Her chickens will remain in the coop that the big flock was living in. Just over a year after she received the chicks for her birthday, she can finally begin caring for her own flock, separate from the rest. She is so very happy about that, and checks on them all day long. I don’t think she understands how blessed she is. But someday she might look back and realize. She’s studying (affiliate link) Gardening with Chickens, and planning all the herbs she wants to grow for her little flock.
The other happy news is that in the days after the raid, a chance stop at the farm store yielded new chicks… A few will supplement Larkspur’s flock, a few will go to our little pet flock, and the remaining dozen or so will join our big flock.
My bathtub does its best work as a brooder, and as Beatrix stated so well, “It just isn’t spring without chicks.” At night, when I wake to tiptoe to the bathroom, I don’t have to flip on a light. The warm red glow of the heat lamp lights my way, and everything feels right in our little chicken world.
P.S. For those of you who are interested, here are links to all the chicken coops/henhouses that Jonny has built over the years. This was our first coop at our old house. That one is stationary and was left behind when we moved. The following houses were built after Jonny bought a sawmill and started using his own lumber. This was the small one that we moved around on our garden beds there. It now houses Wattles and his two remaining hens at our new house. And if you scroll through this post, there are photos of the “bacon coop” that Larkspur’s black copper maran flock is living in now, the house that the entire large flock was living in up until last week.